On Tuesday, April 10, the governing board for Santa Barbara’s high schools will have a chance to approve a most innovative proposal: the American Charter High School. This new school offers a tremendous opportunity not only to help the significant number of high school students now falling through the cracks, but also to strengthen our whole community.

The American Charter High School will offer its 500 students three unique choices: One school, Construction Technology and Design, will teach hands-on construction and a general introduction to civil engineering and architecture. A second will be a Liberal Arts program designed for “B” students who are capable of performing at a higher level, but who need the support of small classes. The third option will be the School of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, which is scheduled to open in 2008. It will teach community-based policing methods, search-and-rescue techniques, firefighting skills, and disaster planning. The two schools of career/technical education are based on a new paradigm that integrates academic courses with the teaching of professional skills. All three schools will emphasize physical fitness, character development, and academic standards. But the main point of the new program is to engage students in their school work.

The American Charter High School already has an amazing array of supporters in our community-including our most experienced firefighters, law enforcement officers, and educators. Many have already pledged both financial and technical support. Even more significantly, the American Charter High School was awarded a $405,000 startup grant from California’s public charter school grant program last July. Selected from among hundreds of applicants, this proposal received an outstanding thumbs-up from those most knowledgeable about charter schools.

However, if the school board does not approve the proposal on April 10, $360,000 of that money will be lost-even though it meets the 19 major points required by law and even though it will not drain money from the existing school system except for small amounts from the central administration offices. In fact, it will improve the working conditions for school principals and their faculty because many of the students needing the most attention will be getting it on the new American Charter High School campus.

With all this going for it, who could possibly stand in the way?

Well, at the last board meeting it looked as though it might be the school board. All members except Bob No»l, who first proposed this concept during his reelection campaign, seemed displeased. (No»l, of course, cannot vote on the proposal.) So far, most of the board complaints seem strongly off-base, ill-founded, or even petty.

Here is a proposal based on programs that are successfully operating in other school districts throughout the state, that is well financed, exceptionally supported at the community and state level, and determined to help students succeed. Yet the board shows little to no enthusiasm. Why?

Some comments by voting boardmembers suggest they resent or dislike charter schools in general because they weaken board power. Some members have had personality conflicts with Bob No»l in the past and perhaps this has blinded them to the advantages of the proposal. There is always room for improvement and the group sponsoring the proposal should be willing to make some reasonable compromises. But time is of the essence if we don’t want to lose the substantive state grant. It would be a shame if the school district lost this great opportunity to advance the cause of students.

We urge all boardmembers to support the American Charter High School. It will be a great legacy to leave for the future of Santa Barbara.


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