PLEASANT HILL -- More than 100 teens could be scrambling to find a new school if the Contra Costa County Board of Education denies a petition to renew West County Community High's charter.
Dozens of parents, students, staff members and community members crowded a public hearing to support the charter last week, and urged the board to overturn the West Contra Costa school board's unanimous decision in June to deny the charter.
That decision was based on a district staff report that found deficiencies in the charter, along with a California Charter Schools Association recommendation to deny the charter because it didn't meet academic standards set by the association. The changes exceed those required by law.
The county board will vote on the appeal Wednesday. County staff recommends upholding the denial, saying the educational program is unsound and the financial plan is insufficient.
Although trustees did not reveal how they would vote during last week's hearing, some raised questions about the charter's student body, how the school compares academically to nearby district high schools and how much weight should be given to the charter association's assessment.
Francis Spruit, president of the charter's school board, disputed the district's findings and said the school meets all the legal requirements for renewal. He pointed out that the school serves a large population of special education students, which could account
"We provide a quality educational option that is not offered elsewhere within our district," he said. "West County Community High School is the ideal school for students who have struggled academically in the past and for those who are high-achieving and want new challenges."
He said the school offers its 123 students smaller classes and more individual attention, which helps them succeed. Its Academic Performance Index score of 594 -- which is based on standardized tests -- is higher than Kenney High's score of 518 and close to Richmond High's score of 600, he said.
Yet, more than 75 percent of the charter's students scored below proficient on standardized tests in 2010-11, according to the county's staff report.
Linda Jackson, a district administrator, said charters were initially created with the expectation that they would surpass local schools academically. Even with a high percentage of special education students, she said, the school is still expected to outperform district schools.
She also said the charter's petition did not adequately describe its plans for educating special education students and English language learners. After five years of operation, she said, it was not successful.
However, some speakers disagreed.
Teacher Rosemary Thomas praised the school's college pathway program, which provides students with early admittance to Holy Names University, and mentoring, tutoring and scholarships. She said 90 percent of recent graduates are attending postsecondary institutions.
Student Dante Spruit, whose father is the charter school's board president, said he felt safer on the charter campus than he did when he attended Hercules Middle High School. He has developed strong relationships with the charter teachers, he said, which have given him more confidence in his ability to succeed.
"They've taught me I can actually do things on my own," he said. "All these people are becoming role models in my life."
The Contra Costa County Board of Education will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the County Office of Education Board Room at 77 Santa Barbara Road in Pleasant Hill. More information is available by calling 925-942-3380 or by visiting www.cccoe.k12.ca.us. Click on School Board.
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