Wednesday, February 22 , 2017, 10:45 am | A Few Clouds 60º


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.

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