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Santa Barbara Charter School Petitions for Renewal

School District Boardmembers Note Areas for Improvement


Monday, October 14, 2013

Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) boardmembers have a few weeks to decide whether or not to grant Santa Barbara Charter School’s petition for renewal.

The school recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and talk of the petition was a focal point of a potluck held last weekend in Elings Park. Close to 300 past and present students and their family members gathered to reminisce about their experiences at the school and enjoy barbecued chicken.

Several parents told The Santa Barbara Independent about the “holistic education” their children received at the charter school, which they said emphasizes critical thinking, conflict resolution, and self-awareness.

When speaking about the importance of test scores, one parent, Alyson Bostwick asked, “Why would parents send to SBCS when they could send to other higher test-scored schools?” She explained charter school teachers are able to avoid the pressure of “teaching to the test,” and that students receive a more well-rounded education as a result.

Bostwick added that two out of four students chosen to attend the Westmont Leadership Conference — more than 400 students were nominated — had “graduated” from SBCS. Her daughter was one of them, and she attributes much of her daughter’s success in honors courses in junior high school to SBCS’s excellent guidance and ability to produce leaders.

A group of four high school girls also spoke fondly of their charter school education, highlighting SBCS’s flexibility, hands-on parent involvement, long interactive field trips, engaging elective courses, respectful teachers, and lasting friendships. They all added they experienced a smooth transition to public schools, even with their much larger student bodies.

Director of Operations Dave Weisman started the nontraditional school after he picked up a flyer advertising the possibility of creating a charter school in a preschool in 1993. A relatively short time later, SBCS was born. The campus is located at Goleta Valley Junior High School and holds 234 students (an additional 70 are home-based), 14 teachers, eight aids, and two directors. Weisman and Director of Education Bev Abrams tag-team as administrators and part-time teachers.

Nearly 100 parents and faculty flooded Tuesday’s school board meeting to urge the trustees to grant the charter renewal. The board had recently expressed some concerns about the school, including the following: test scores, diversity, Common Core State Standards, potential new outreach, mixed grade level classrooms, transparency, and an overall improved approach since the 2008 renewal.

Weisman and Abrams addressed several of these issues and offered potential solutions during the 45-minute public hearing. Abrams admitted SBCS has always struggled with having a diverse student body. “We had to struggle with the issue of being a commuter school … hard on families with working parents, long drive early in the morning from Santa Barbara, but that is not an excuse to stop trying.”

She explained the process of admitting new students is based on a transparent lottery, which gives priority to students who have siblings already attending SBCS or those students who live in the SBUSD. She suggested outreach in Latino neighborhoods and advertisements in Spanish as potential options to expand its applicant pool. The difficulty, she explained, is that SBCS only has a certain number of available spots to fill, so advertising the school too much seems like a “bait and switch” situation. Each year, roughly 40 new kindergarteners enter the school, and only a handful of new students joins the school in grades 1st through 6th.

According to the SBCS ethnicity and race report for elementary families in the 2012-2013 school year, about a third of the families declined to report their ethnicity or reported multi-ethnic. Of those who did identify their race, 53 percent of the students checked “White” or “Non-Hispanic,” and 47 percent said they were “Non-White” students of “Asian, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Hispanic or Latino, or African American background.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Boardmember Kate Parker acknowledged the school’s dislike for test scores. “If one-third are not performing at grade level, how are we knowing that they’re learning that math?” she asked. She suggested potential alternatives for measuring student achievement like tracking former SBCS students’ success in high school.

Weisman and Abrams both believe their school’s teaching model has basically aligned with the Common Core for years. “It much more closely matches our philosophy, focuses on critical thinking and language arts,” Abrams said.

Board President Monique Limón said she hopes for greater collaboration and communication with SBCS, while respecting its independence.

Acknowledging a responsibility to approach the renewal process thoughtfully and judiciously, Boardmember Parker said, “Really, we look at the renewal process as an opportunity for charters to self-reflect … what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, how to address things differently.”

Boardmembers will hear district staff recommendations regarding the school’s charter at the October 22 meeting and decide whether or not to renew the charter in the November 12 vote.

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