Friday, March 23 , 2018, 6:12 am | Fair 50º


Orcutt Trustees Grant Enrollment Preference for In-District Students

Parents and teachers speak out about the proposed change for the high school

Despite the pleas of parents and teachers to maintain diversity, high school students living within Orcutt Union School District boundaries will have enrollment preference over non-district students in the next Orcutt Academy Charter program lottery.

The Orcutt board of trustees voted 4-1 on Wednesday night to grant in-district preference at Orcutt Academy High School.

Although a majority of the five-member board said they were “torn” about the decision, board member Jim Peterson cast the lone dissenting vote.

The change was prompted by the growing popularity of the charter’s K-8 Casmalia campus and Orcutt Academy High, which opened with the charter’s creation in 2008.

The Casmalia campus caps enrollment at 81 students, with nine students in each grade, and the high school serves up to 600 students, with 150 students in each grade.

Last year, 167 students applied at the K-8 charter, and 286 students applied to Orcutt Academy High, according to Joe Dana, director of charter programs.

The enrollment change will go into effect for the next computerized lottery in February.

All eight of those who spoke Wednesday before the vote stood against limiting the school to Orcutt residents.

Steve Blackie, one of three Orcutt Academy High teachers to speak, said he was concerned the change would eliminate diversity and damage the campus environment.

“Coming to the academy is no guarantee,” Blackie said. “There is a real sense of reward for being accepted. If we change the program … it almost seems like an entitlement program. What makes it special is that mix.”

Jan Brown, a founder of the charter, called the change a “slippery slope” that closes the door to students.

“We didn’t want a select group,” Brown said. “We want choice.”

Parents spoke of a need for Orcutt children to interact with kids who are different than them, and teachers questioned whether the change would jeopardize the integrity of the charter.

Orcutt Academy math teacher Jimmie Johnson broke the change down in numbers, noting that many students in his upper-level math courses, on sports teams and in leadership positions are not district students.

“We’re losing academic leaders in our schools,” Johnson said.

Board members Peterson, Jan Zilli and Kathy Meissner said they struggled with their decisions.

Peterson and Zilli suggested the board table the matter and consider changing the weighting to favor Orcutt residence without full preference. 

That was an option that Dana had earlier presented, noting the district already grants preference for children of members of the charter founder’s committee, children of district teaching staff and siblings of current students.

Board President Rob Buchanan said the phone calls he has received from Orcutt parents upset their children did not get into the charter swayed his decision.

“The diversity has been a byproduct,” Buchanan said. “I’m not convinced that we will completely lose that diversity.”

With the change, trustees also approved decreasing the weight of district residents at its K-8 campus from 2-to-1 to 3-to-2 because the school was meant to add students in a time of enrollment decline.

Dana previously said that about 60 percent of students at the Casmalia campus live outside the district, whereas 80 percent of students at the high school already live in Orcutt.

After the meeting, Dana said non-district students would still end up in the high school because of the K-8 campus students and staff children that feed into the district’s only post-elementary option. Students already enrolled at Orcutt Academy High will not be affected.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >