Guidance Charter files

The site of the former The Guidance Charter School’s campus could be the location of Scholarship Prep Palmdale Charter School, which is seeking to open its doors next year.

PALMDALE — Former California State Sen. Gloria Romero is a co-founder of the proposed Scholarship Prep Palmdale Charter School that seeks to open its doors next year, despite strong opposition from a few Palmdale School District employees who spoke during a public hearing on the proposed charter school Tuesday night.

Romero, co-founder Jason Watts, and Andrew Crowe, the proposed charter school’s chief academic officer, gave a brief introduction to the school during the public hearing.

“We are firmly committed to the belief in closing achievement gaps for every student, and in particular for highlighting the needs of underserved youth, particularly high poverty African-American, Latino youth — overall that’s reflective of our aspirations and goals,” Romero said.

Scholarship Prep has three existing campuses in Oceanside, Santa Ana and the South Bay. The proposed seat-based Palmdale campus would served at-risk students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade.

The proposed charter school’s mission is to create a school with a college-bound climate and atmosphere with a scholarship pathway via academics, arts and athletics, Romero said.

Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement awarded Scholarship Prep a competitive $12 million grant to expand and replicate its program to meet the needs of educationally disadvantaged, underserved students.

“With the grant we were able to significantly expand our capacity to provide educational opportunities for all,” Romero said.

Watts said the foundation of Scholarship Prep’s instructional program is project-based learning. That includes research, writing, public speaking and the infusion of technology. The proposed charter school offers comprehensive special education services, English language development, and free after-school instructional support.

Scholarship Prep offers up to two elective courses each year for all students, regardless of grade level. Students can choose multiple electives, such as arts and athletics, to build on their proficiency and skill. The courses are designed to align with possible college scholarship pathways down the road, Watts said.

The charter school also integrates character traits such as respect, hard work, and perseverance, based on the late legendary UCLA coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

Crowe discussed the charter school’s academic performance at the Santa Ana and Oceanside campuses, noting the schools’ students outperformed neighboring districts in English language arts and mathematics.

Scholarship Prep students’ test scores in English language arts at the Santa Ana campus grew by 23% over two years, from 2017-18 to 2018-19, and 40% in mathematics. Students scores at the Oceanside campus grew 16% and 18%, in English and math, respectively, over two years.

Watts said the $12 million grant Scholarship Prep received is to be divided among its campuses. More than $850,000 can be allocated for the proposed Palmdale site in its first year of operation. Scholarship Prep also has a projected $4 million ending fund balance for its three school sites.

“We’re very proud of that, and even though you have this large fund balance, it’s important for us also to put that back into the school for the kids,” Watts said.

The proposed Scholarship Prep Palmdale campus is projected to have a budget surplus of more than $1.3 million after its first year of operation, and over $5.8 million over five years of operation.

District employee Gilbert Borquez said the proposed charter school is not welcome in Palmdale.

“Scholarship Prep, I do not want you coming to Palmdale playing under a different set of rules, and dismantling the structure of our public school system, or destroying the educational fabric that our citizens employees have fought hard to create,” Borquez said. “Please understand, we are a close-knit and humble community, and we don’t want outsiders coming in to disrupt the positive progress we are making.”

Teacher Mike Thacker said his opposition to the proposed charter school petition stems from his belief that under the current system in California there is no level playing field when the District is trying to compete with charter schools.

“How will all of this affect our students? I argue that the affects of losing $12 million a year will be quite devastating,” Thacker said, in reference to lost revenue from students who leave the District.

Teacher Stasia Gar said she was concerned about the charter schools taking thousands of the District’s students.

“I’m not concerned with the (average daily attendance); I’m concerned with the education level of our students,” Gar said, adding she wants to keep what the District has promised its students.

District employee Andrew Ramirez said the District has the best programs and teachers.

“You’ve done so much to make this District better than any other place in this Valley that I’m very proud to be a member of Palmdale School District,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez added the District could lose $10 million should the proposed charter school get 1,000 students from the District.

“I think it’s a heinous intrusion that they would even step into this Boardroom to try to get us to back them,” Ramirez said. “So I really hope that it gets denied. I would expect that it was denied the minute they walked into this Boardroom; the minute they tried to give their presentation to say they’re going to steal our students.”

Speaker Maria Morales, who said she is also a teacher, said students and parents need to have options.

“If you are sick and you really want another opinion, you go to another doctor,” Morales said. “This is what Scholarship is giving to this community. … It’s giving another option.”

Morales urged the Board to consider the proposed charter school for approval.

“They are bringing something that is working for them, for the parents to have another option,” Morales said.

The petitioners seek a five-year term for the proposed charter school, to run from July 1 of next year through June 30, 2025.

The petitioners expect to serve at least 355 students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade in its first year of operation, according to the petition. The projected second-year projected enrollment is 770 students, followed by 910 students in the third year of operation and 1,090 in the fifth year of operation.

The Board held Tuesday’s public hearing to consider the level of support for the proposed charter school by District teachers, employees, and parents. District staff is also required to review the petition according to state Education Code.

“At the conclusion of District staff’s review of the proposed charter petition, the District’s Board will be provided with District’s staff evaluation of the petition and recommendation for the Board’s consideration as to whether the petition should be granted or denied,” attorney Lori Chiu, of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost said during the public hearing.

The petitioners intend to locate their new school, if the charter petition is approved, at 3838 East Ave. R in Palmdale.

That is the location of the former The Guidance Charter School’s new campus. The campus never opened after Palmdale School District’s Board denied the 17-year-old charter school’s petition to renew in Jan­u­ary 2018. Dis­trict staff said the school pre­sent­ed “an un­sound edu­ca­tional pro­gram.” District staff also ques­tioned the char­ter school’s finances re­lated to lease payments for the new campus.

Scholarship Prep’s Board first had closed session negotiations for the Avenue R property on Aug. 20, according to an agenda posted on the charter school’s website.

The proposed charter faces some tough competition for the campus. Palmdale School District officials started closed session negotiations for the same property beginning with its Nov. 5 meeting, according to the agenda, about 12 days after the District received Scholarship Prep’s proposed Palmdale charter school petition.

Palmdale School District trustees will consider the proposed charter petition for approval or denial at its regularly scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17.

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