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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 7:49 pm | Fair 50º


Santa Barbara District’s New Home-School Program: What Is It?

While parents would serve as the teachers, Home School Santa Barbara would differ with similar local programs in several key ways.

Many people tend to associate the home-schooling movement with Christian educators and hippies. But the leader of an effort to launch a K-12 public home-schooling system through the Santa Barbara School District believes it’s the wave of the future.

“It’s a big movement, and I think it may be one of the new ways that education is going to happen,” said Pat Morales, a retired principal from the public Peabody Charter School, who is now spearheading the effort as a district consultant.

Called Home School Santa Barbara, the new program comes at a time when home schooling is on the public’s radar in California. In March, a California appeals court ruled that home-school parents must obtain a teaching credential – a degree that can take years to obtain. But Morales said the ruling doesn’t appear to be in danger of affecting the Santa Barbara program – or any California home-schooling program – anytime soon.

Indeed, both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell have issued statements objecting to the court ruling, and in support of the home-school movement. (Click here for Schwarzenegger’s comments.)

In any case, Morales said her vision for the Santa Barbara program is less a traditional “home school” model – although she said parents can opt for that – and more of a menu approach, in which families can customize the educational structure of their children.

While parents would serve as the teachers, Home School Santa Barbara would differ with similar local programs in several key ways.

Students, for instance, could sign up for elective courses at the regular schools, meaning they still couldplay on the high school football or soccer teams, take choir or jazz band, or enroll in a foreign-language or industrial-arts class, space permitting. The jury’s still out on whether they could attend prom.

On three days of every week – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – students would have the option of coming to a centralized location to participate in group-enrichment activities. Morales isn’t sure where yet, but one of the hubs could be the Page Youth Center at 4540 Hollister Ave.

Those enrichment options, Morales said, would be wide-ranging, from music programs to painting to jazzercise to hiking.

Also, the district would provide families with a “mentor teacher” who would consult with them as often as needed – even traveling to their homes if necessary, Morales said. “I think it’s hard for people to wrap their mind around it, because it is so unique and different, and really the possibilities are so vast,” she said.

In order for the school to be viable, Morales said she thinks Home School Santa Barbara needs to enroll about 120 students – that’s 60 in each of the elementary and secondary divisions. If that happens, Morales said she will hire two full-time teachers for each of the elementary and secondary halves.

Already, some families are showing interest. On Tuesday night, about 30 parents – representing 42 students – attended an informational meeting about the elementary school program. The meeting for parents of middle school and high school students will be next Tuesday.

Some parents already had been planning to home-school their incoming kindergarteners, others were feeling out their options, and still others were checking it out because they have been jettisoned from the highly desired public Hope School District, which, for financial reasons, is ridding its three Upper State Street elementary schools of students from outside its district boundaries.

Among the parents who attended was Michele Martin, a local teacher on leave for one year. Martin said her third-grade son is intensely interested in trying a year of home schooling.

“He loves science, and he’s pretty good at math,” she said. “But he’s needing to work on his writing skills. He’s someone who likes it quiet when something is hard.”

Although Home School Santa Barbara is a new program, it is not the area’s first home-school program, or the Santa Barbara School District’s, for that matter. All told, home-school insiders estimate about 300 children are taught at home on the South Coast.

The private Santa Barbara Christian Homesteaders Inc. enrolls about 100 students and charges a nominal fee for enrollment. This past year it was $42, but a spokeswoman said the cost is going up next year.

Strangely enough, another, little-known local home-schooling program is also run through the Santa Barbara School District – in a way. The school is a subsection of Santa Barbara Charter School, which, as a charter school, is part of the Santa Barbara School District, but enjoys near complete autonomy. That is, the charter school’s curriculum and budget decisions are made primarily by the faculty and parents. As a result, the school receives money from the state directly, skipping over the middleman of the district.

Nancy Friedland, a founder of Santa Barbara Charter’s home-school component, known as the “home-based partnership,” said the program has grown steadily since its 1993 inception, from 12 students that first year to 75 now. Twenty-five more students are on a waiting list.

Friedland attended Tuesday night’s informational meeting at Home School Santa Barbara’s new office at 487 N. Turnpike Road, the location of Center of the Heart church. The church has no affiliation with the school, Morales said.

In general, Friedland said she was impressed by the preliminary concept of Home School Santa Barbara, which would not be a charter school.

“I’m thrilled that the school district is finally behind the idea that home schooling is a good alternative for families who the schools are not working for,” she said. “That’s been a long time coming.”

But Friedland, being a parent of Santa Barbara Charter – a progressive school that over the years has butted pedagogical heads with the school district – also voiced some skepticism. “They are making a lot of offers – we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that,” she said. “I think it remains to be seem how much they can actually accomplish given the conservative nature of the district.”

For instance, Friedland said many parents of home-schooled kids choose to exempt their children from taking assessment tests. Although the exemption option is legal in California, she said the Santa Barbara School Board in the past has put pressure on Santa Barbara Charter’s home-based partnership to take testing more seriously.

“Home schooling often doesn’t fit into the same kind of timeline that a standardized education does,” she said. “But it works out fine in the end, in almost all cases.”

For its part, the cash-short Santa Barbara district rolled out the home-school plan largely as an effort to exercise fiscal prudence, officials say. In the wake of last month’s devastating round of budget cuts, the district is doing everything it can to generate revenue. Officials say home schooling helps because the vast majority of districts are paid by the state based on enrollment – generally, to the tune of about $5,500 a year per pupil. As such, retaining students who otherwise would have left the district for homeschooling – and luring back those who have already left – saves money.

Those interested in learning more can contact Morales at [email protected] or 805.896.2634. The informational meeting for parents of middle school and high school students will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at 487 N. Turnpike Road.

“The superintendent of California and main leaders are against the ruling, so I have a feeling once it goes back (on appeal) they are going to change their mind,” she said.

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