The Santa Barbara Unified School District board room was packed Tuesday night as Santa Barbara Charter School parents showed up in force to defend their school before the Board of Education begins deliberating whether to renew the school’s charter.
Board members have expressed concern about the school’s lack of diversity and its low test scores in mathematics and English language arts, but at least 100 people came out to support their school.
Tuesday’s public hearing was a chance for the district’s Board of Education to hear from the community and confront school leaders directly about concerns. The district will prepare a report and recommendation on the charter renewal — based on whether the school satisfied the Education Code state requirements — on Oct. 22, and the board is expected to make its decision on Nov. 12.
Santa Barbara Charter is a K-8 school located on the Goleta Valley Junior High School campus at 6100 Stow Canyon Road in Goleta. It just celebrated its 20th anniversary and has about 200 students enrolled every year.
Parents lauded the smaller classes, attentive teaching staff and supportive environment that focus on problem solving and creative thinking. Students at Santa Barbara Charter are well-rounded, confident, work well with other people and learn to solve their problems, parents and teachers said.
Leise Thomason said her daughter would score well anywhere since “she excels at sitting quietly and listening,” but she went to Santa Barbara Charter to find her voice and stand up for herself.
Ryan Smith, a father of two Santa Barbara Charter students, said the school fosters arts and an emphasis on critical thought and creativity, which isn’t a skill that’s adequately measured with standardized tests.
Teachers and staff members also help children empathize with each other and work well together, which really impacts someone’s ability to perform later in life, he said.
“Our children are not one-size-fits-all, and neither should our schools be,” parent Owen Bailey said. “My son’s successes have been so obvious over the last few months that I can’t wait to see where he’ll be by the time he finishes Santa Barbara Charter. I urge you to give us the chance to find out.”
Several joked that, had the members of the U.S. Congress gone to Santa Barbara Charter, the country wouldn’t have a government shutdown right now because the legislators would know how to get together and work out their issues.
Director of Education Bev Abrams and Director of Operations David Weisman spoke at the meeting as well, and updated the board on the school’s work over the last five years.
Abrams said the school’s scores are admittedly lower than usual in math, so the school has invested in extra professional development in that area.
“We attract, and we always have, students at extremes — students who don’t fit in in other situations,” she said. “They’re at the bottom of the curve and the top of the curve.”
Board member Kate Parker said the charter renewal process is a chance to do some “serious self-reflection,” and the petition looked like a lot was simply copied from the 2008 charter.
She said she was especially worried about test scores and the number of students below grade level. If they really do know the material, she asked school officials to prove it — maybe with grades from high school math classes.
Several board members asked about diversity and outreach efforts. The school is mostly white and non-economically disadvantaged, even with a lottery system for enrollment.
Abrams said the school does plan for more recruitment efforts, particularly to Latino families. Past lack of advertising comes “from us being … softies,” she said. “It kills us when we can’t let someone into the school and they call us crying.”
Board president Monique Limon encouraged the school to form a stronger relationship with the district, despite its independence.
“If we’re going to have Santa Barbara Charter School here as a core part of the district, then it really should be more than popping up every five years,” she said.
The Board of Education will receive the district’s recommendation for renewal — to approve or deny — for the Oct. 22 meeting at the Santa Barbara Unified School District Office.