Charter school up for renewal

District to consider 1- to 10-year extension so school can continue

Posted: Monday, December 17, 2001

In April 1997, the Juneau Community Charter School won a green light from the Juneau School Board to begin operation.

That fall, it opened its doors to 40 students in two classrooms covering kindergarten through fourth grade. The school was housed in trailers outside Glacier Valley Elementary School.

Since then the parent-run school has relocated to Fourth and Harris streets downtown; grown to 60 students in three classrooms, grades kindergarten through six, and expanded its music, art and language offerings.

Now, as the school's initial five-year charter from the Juneau School District is set to expire, the School Board will discuss extending its charter to operate at its meeting Tuesday.

The charter school is requesting the maximum 10-year extension; the board has the option to renew for one to 10 years. In addition to the charter, an operational contract also must be signed by the School Board each year.

At its core, the Juneau Community Charter School mandates parental involvement in day-to-day operations, and uses a project-based curriculum for instruction that incorporates the arts and seeks to teach students in a variety of ways.

The school follows Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences the idea that individuals perceive and learn in a variety of different but equally important ways as well as using the Waldorf Teaching Method of educating the whole child.

"The emphasis has been hands, head and heart making sure you teach to the hands, head and heart of each child every day," grades four through six teacher Lorrie Heagy said.

"What we want to happen is that they figure out what they care about," kindergarten-first grade teacher Linda Torgerson said. "Most skill-driven programs start with what kids lack. This program starts with our kids' interests, their strengths, and they pick up the areas they are lacking."

If a student is not catching up in certain areas on their own, teachers step in to guide them in the right direction, she said.

The school is governed by a seven-member group called the Academic Policy Committee. Six of the positions are parents; the three teachers rotate in the seventh spot.

Parents of charter school students are required to volunteer five hours per month per child enrolled, whether through putting together the school newsletter, assisting in the classrooms or doing janitorial work.

Torgerson said having parents in the school on a regular basis has created a close connection between home and school.

"Parents know where their children are (in school)," she said. "They know what the teacher says, what the teacher does. ... School is a little bit more like home here, and the homes are a little bit more like school."

Student scores on the district's standardized tests show a high level of achievement. On the California Achievement Test for district fourth graders, the charter school has ranked highest in the district in the four categories 11 out of a possible 12 times in the past three years; the 12th was second-highest.

School officials have also heard positive feedback about graduates.

"When we were in front of the School Board last May (for contract approval) two or three middle school teachers came up to us and wanted to let us know how well our kids were doing in their school," said Academic Policy Committee Chairman Mike Stark, who has two children in the school.

As the school looks ahead pending charter renewal, it continues to eye expansion of classroom and recreation space. Students currently walk to the Terry Miller Legislative Office Building to use the former Capital School gym and playground.

Heagy and Torgerson noted many of the original core group of parents who founded the school have stepped aside in the past few years to let new parents take leadership roles. The ease of the transition is a good sign for the future, they said.

Stark said the charter school does not work for all students or families, but said he is confident it is a good model for other schools to follow.

Superintendent Gary Bader said he is pleased with the school's results.

"Parents are happy, the kids are achieving - that's what I'm interested in," Bader said. "All the evidence is that this is a good choice."

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