RICHMOND -- More than 50 students are finishing up a summer school program this week hosted by Caliber K-8 charter school, after which the fate of the school is very much in doubt.
The West Contra Costa School Board unanimously rejected the school's charter petition in the spring. At the time, district staff said the organizers were unlikely to successfully implement their plans due to questions about finances, special education and programs for students who don't speak English fluently.
Since then, however, the proposed public charter school, which hopes to open permanently in 2014-15, has attracted more than $1 million in funding commitments from prestigious foundations and other donors and widespread support from charter organizations, including the California State Charter Association.
School supporters who appealed the district's decision to the County Board of Education disputed the district's findings at a recent meeting, and they urged the county trustees to overturn the district's decision. Many parents and members of the community said students need alternatives to the low-performing campuses operated by the district. The county board expects to vote on the charter appeal Aug. 14.
"I support Caliber because they provide another option," said Mason Salvador, a parent whose son is attending the summer program. "My son is learning computers; they are giving him something to fight for." County Trustee Pamela Mirabella visited Caliber's summer program Monday, but declined to comment on her impressions.
"I am still doing some research," she said.
Natalie Walchuk, a founding school leader who is principal of the summer program, said Caliber could help better educate students to meet the needs of area employers.
"Our city is in a renaissance," she said. "We are committed to making our students project-based learners, fluid writers, voracious readers, adept mathematicians, curious scientists and capable computer programmers so that they can fully participate in this new economy."
During the school's summer program, some students broke into small groups for literacy instruction, while others solved problems on laptop computers. Tiffany Acevedo, a 9-year-old who will start fifth grade in the fall, said she hopes Caliber opens as planned in a year so she can attend the school.
"Caliber is very exciting," she said. "I love computers. Before, I didn't want to come, but now that I'm having so much fun here, I never want to leave."
Jennifer Hill, who taught in the West Contra Costa district and is also teaching in Caliber's summer program, told county trustees that the needs of four of her special education students in a district school were not met last year.
"We should listen to what our students have to say and what our parents have to say," Hill said. "The district had its chance, and it is failing miserably."
Jennifer Moser, a co-founder of the school who has started up a network of charters in the United Kingdom, said the school has met or exceeded all legal requirements and is well on its way to securing all the necessary financing.
"Most importantly, we have hundreds of parents who told us they were desperate for better school options for their children and were very interested in what Caliber has to offer," she said.
Walchuk presented a PowerPoint to county trustees that showed the West Contra Costa district earned a D-minus overall grade in a recent report card from the nonprofit student advocacy group Education Trust-West, when compared to other districts statewide. The district earned Ds on the report card for educating students of color and low-income students and Fs for the size of its achievement gaps between African-American and white students and Latinos and white students.
"Just as a parent would intercede if a child brought home this report card," Walchuk said, "we must work together to fix this."
Details about the proposed Caliber K-8 Charter School are available by calling 925-942-3380 or by going to www.caliberschools.org.
Additional information, including videos and a PowerPoint about the school, are at www.contracostatimes.com/education.
To find out more about the Contra Costa County Board of Education's public hearing regarding Caliber Charter School's appeal of the West Contra Costa School Board's denial of its petition, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.