The Santa Barbara School Board meeting ended with shouts of joy this week. Less than six months removed from being only one boardmember vote away from closure, Santa Barbara’s only dual-language immersion school — formerly known as César Chávez Charter School — got a unanimous vote of support on Tuesday night from the very same board that nearly pulled the plug on it last November. Though details still need to be worked out and certain stipulations met, the newly named Adelante Charter School had its petition for an entirely new charter approved via a 5-0 vote this week — a crucial hurdle to clear as it aims to reinvent itself in the eyes of the state and the district after years of chronically poor performing test scores.
Faced with an expired charter, darker than dim prospects for renewal, and the dubious distinction as one of California’s 188 worst performing schools, the K-6 bilingual school had only one chance if it wanted to continue: It would have to become an entirely new school, and fast. Since that fateful night just before Thanksgiving when the board narrowly voted to buy the hugely popular school some time, parents, teachers, and school supporters have been hustling virtually nonstop to put together a distinctly new charter proposal in hopes of gaining approval from the board this spring and thus being able to continue offering its unique — albeit improved — blend of bilingual and bicultural education when school starts up again next fall.
To that end, with the new name of Adelante firmly in place, supporters presented the board of education with its charter proposal early this month. Seventy-eight pages long, the charter detailed a new program of study that, among other things, would forgo the 50/50 style of Spanish/English instruction currently at César Chávez and replace it with a 90/10 model. (That is to say, incoming kindergarten students, regardless of the language spoken at home, would spend 90 percent of their class time learning in Spanish before slowly phasing to a 50/50 blend by fourth grade.) The charter also called for a rigorous standards protocol that clearly outlines the performance expectations for students and teachers alike, school-sanctioned assessments to be conducted three times a year, and an added two weeks of class time to the school’s calendar. It was a step in the right direction said the board at that time, but they wanted to hear what district staff had to say about the proposal before actually taking action.
Presented Tuesday night by Superintendent Brian Sarvis, the district’s take on the new charter, with input from attorneys, identified some 52 ways in which the proposal needed to be tweaked or clarified to get its endorsement for final approval. Though he allowed that “a number of these changes are very minor,” Sarvis explained to the board, “There are very critical elements that still need to be included in the petition.” Specifically, according to Sarvis, the proposal needed a better description of curriculum and instruction plans, a more detailed explanation of accountability, better budget analysis, and a different governance structure than what was being proposed.
Racing to make the grade in the eyes of the school board in order to qualify for a May 5 state deadline for funding grant applications, Adelante supporters actually turned in a revised version of their charter before the meeting was over Tuesday night — one that, in Sarvis’s words, addressed “probably 75 percent of staff’s concerns.”
In the end, the board voted to approve the charter proposal with the condition that the 52 areas of concern are handled either by way of actual charter language changes or a subsequent Memorandum of Understanding document sometime between now and June 30. “I don’t have any qualms about approving the charter with conditions,” explained Boardmember Annette Cordero shortly before the vote was cast, “because they have proven again and again, over the course of the past six months, that [the Adelante community has] good faith and are willing to work with us.”