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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 1:50 am | Fair 47º


School Board Approves Plan to Save Cesar Chavez, But with Conditions

While the decision is deemed a victory, school supporters had hoped for fewer strings attached

With Cesar Chavez Charter School — the Santa Barbara School District’s dual-immersion elementary school — in danger of being forced to close, there has been a mad rush to amend its charter, then abandon it for an entirely new model under the name Adelante Charter School.

Tuesday night’s school board meeting was no exception, as district officials waded through the result of five months of work in three hours to determine the fate of the proposed new school.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to approve the resolution outlining the new charter and its shortfalls. Although the conditions to the approval are extensive, many of the issues have already been addressed by Adelante and the interim board’s legal counsel. Others will be included as memorandums of understanding rather than language in the charter, as overly detailed language is a recipe for board-approved amendments down the line.

Adelante needs support — of any degree — to get a state Department of Education-issued charter school number, with a meeting scheduled for May 5. Having local agency approval that comes with so many caveats could harm the charter’s chances when it’s evaluated by the state, which recently placed Cesar Chavez Charter School on its list of lowest-performing schools.

One area in which the school has never been lacking is community and parent support, and the district has recognized the over-the-top effort put forth by the school’s advocates to keep the promise of a bilingual elementary school education alive.

As Tuesday’s meeting went on, there was no question the revised charter resolution would be approved, but rather how big the asterisk would be. Throughout board discussions, which ranged from broad, mission-based issues to specific wording of a sentence, the commitment to starting over was reiterated by everyone.

Cesar Chavez Principal Juanita Hernandez addresses the Santa Barbara school board Tuesday night.
Cesar Chavez Principal Juanita Hernandez addresses the school board Tuesday night. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“It really signaled the petitioners’ willingness to make this a new school, a new start instead of continuing the old school,” Superintendent Brian Sarvis said of the charter revisions and collaboration between the district and the school.

Although 52 conditions were initially listed in the resolution, four areas Sarvis focused on for improvement were curriculum and instruction, accountability, budget and governance structure.

Juanita Hernandez, Cesar Chavez’s new principal, agreed with Sarvis, saying that those issues are central to core questions any school must answer in its overall vision: What do students learn, how do you know if they learned it, what do you do with students who haven’t learned it, and what do you do with students after they’ve learned it?

Having a clear plan for educational curriculum, goals and assessments would help the district get assurance that the school would provide a full program for students, Sarvis said.

Michael Macioce, a teacher at Cesar Chavez who has worked as an interim principal and helped extensively with the new charter, presented the board with a list of Cesar Chavez’s greatest flaws and how the new charter would correct them to achieve success.

A renewed focus on achievement, assessment and coordinated learning across grade levels would help create a more cohesive, adaptable educational plan, he said.

The board’s decision is a victory, given where the school was just last fall, but the petitioners were hoping for fewer strings attached. If the school doesn’t meet all of the conditions by June 30, the school would virtually be nonexistent. An appeal of the decision most likely wouldn’t be heard in time — whatever the outcome — to open in August as planned.

“I’m surprised to get it back with that many conditions given all the times it went back and forth,” said Holly Gil, a member of the school’s interim board and parent of two Cesar Chavez students.

Counsel Jennifer McQuarrie said the petitioners, a group consisting mostly of parents and teachers, presented the board with a “stoplight document” outlining the easily implementable conditions (green), ones to consider including in an MOU instead of the charter language (yellow), and language that they may not want included (red).

Regardless of intricacy, having conditions included with the approval leaves the school’s teachers, students and families with two more months of wondering, will the school even be there at the end of summer vacation? The question made the practice of nitpicking the revised charter for policy language seem a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

With board support of the school’s mission, district staff are directed to take the conditions into consideration and draft a letter to the state explaining that most of them have been, or will be, resolved in good faith.

Many members wanted to see a complete document, including MOUs, before voting to approve it without conditions, but still wanted the school to be reviewed favorably by the state.

“As far as where we were several months ago, this is a quantum leap ahead,” Macioce told Noozhawk after the decision.

While they were hopeful of receiving unconditional approval, being able to tell the community that the school will exist next year is a real victory, he said.

He and all of the other Cesar Chavez teachers have received pink slips and would have to reapply for their jobs. Hernandez will preside over the hiring process for Adelante if its charter is determined valid by June.

Adelante Charter School will be located at Cesar Chavez’s facilities at 1102 E. Yanonali St.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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