Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Misty Volaski
By this time next year, Ojai youngsters and their parents may have new choices in public education.
Tuesday night, board members from the Ojai Unified School District will host a public hearing to discuss the possible addition of one or two new charter schools to the Ojai public education system.
The district already has one charter school, Valley Oak, which has about 60 students. Founded 10 years ago, the independent study program combines home learning with some on-campus classes, as well as teacher support. It’s a public school, so it receives state and federal funding, and, like their traditional school counterparts, Valley Oak students are still required to take standardized tests and meet certain curriculum requirements. According to Valley Oak’s website, it is designed “To support families who home-school and to add to the diversity of options in public education.”
New charter school petitioner Caprice Pitcher claims her charter schools would offer a different approach to education than either the traditional classroom setting or Valley Oak provide.
Called SelfDesign and supported by the SelfDesign Learning Foundation in Canada, Pitcher said her charter schools “really serve children or youths that don’t fit so well into the conventional classroom.” Currently, Pitcher’s two children, ages 6 and 10, attend Valley Oak.
The first of Pitcher’s petitions is for the online-only SelfDesign Learning Community of Central California (LCCC). Along with their parents, the students — called learners — and their fully-certificated teachers — called learning consultants — would design an annual learning plan centered around each individual child. They’d then meet weekly via email, phone or video conference to track progress.
It’s about “designing a curriculum and learning environment around the child’s interests, gifts, learning style and multiple intelligence profile,” said Pitcher. “It’s acknowledging that every learner is unique, and how we design learning from the inside out so they can reach their full potential as a human being.”
The Krishnamurti vision — implemented at Ojai’s Oak Grove, a private school — is similar, Pitcher said.
Starting out as a kindergarten- through eighth-grade model, SelfDesign LCCC would expand by one grade each year to eventually include grades nine to 12.
Pitcher’s other charter petition, dubbed SelfDesign Young Entrepreneurs Soar (Y.E.S.), would include what she called a “flexible learning center,” although, like the LCCC, it would not be site-based. “Its mission is to help create young entrepreneurs who can solve problems they see in their community and world,” Pitcher said.
Through hands-on experiences, the students would ask themselves, “What situation or problems do we see in the Ojai community that we think we could really engage in and help with?” Pitcher said. “We’d be designing projects in collaboration with community service groups .… so, it’s not just picking up trash, it’s, ‘Why does trash exist?’ We’d examine the system. It’s a deeper approach.”
Although both of the SelfDesign schools would be charter schools within the Ojai Valley, one of the big issues OUSD board members will consider is whether they will directly compete with Valley Oak.
While that school’s director, Laura Fulmer, helped provide Pitcher with some tips to help her get started on the SelfDesign schools, Fulmer hesitated to throw her full support behind the project. However, Fulmer emphasized, “I support the idea that parents have a right to choose the education that works best for their children. Will it (SelfDesign) affect us? It may. There may be some overlap. But I don’t believe that that’s a reason to dismiss it.”
Valley Oak, currently a K-10 program, is also seeking to expand it offerings to eventually include K-12 education in the next couple of years.
The OUSD board members will not make a decision Tuesday night; rather, they’ll hear the petition details from Pitcher and listen to comments from the public. Also in attendance will be the county’s charter schools expert, Tiffany Morse, to provide input and support.
According to OUSD superintendent Hank Bangser, the board could make a decision on the charter school petitions at its Oct. 16 or Nov. 13 meeting. At that time, they could approve one, both or neither of the charter school petitions. “One thing we have to address,” said Bangser. “We have Valley Oak, so is it appropriate to have a school that might compete with one we already have?”
Assistant superintendent Dannielle Pusatere also pointed out that, should the OUSD board deny one or both of Pitcher’s petitions, she could go to the county or state to appeal. Ultimately, she said, “We’re going to have a thorough review … if we’re going to charter something new, we need to make sure it’s viable and of benefit to the students.”
The public is encouraged to attend Tuesday’s meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at the OUSD office, 414 E. Ojai Ave., Room 1. See www.ojai.k12.ca.us for additional details.