After not getting approved by the Capistrano Unified School District, a proposed new charter school in South Orange County named California Republic Leadership Academy is instead looking to get the green light from the Orange County Board of Education.
The OCBE, which hears appeals for charter school petitions, is expected to give a final vote on whether to approve CRLA in February.
Leadership Academy had an appeal hearing before OCBE on Wednesday, Jan. 4.
Proponents behind the charter school—which would have a classical-focused education and require students to wear uniforms—turned to OCBE after the CUSD Board of Trustees rendered split votes on both approving and denying the charter, which essentially resulted in no definitive action.
Several OCBE trustees announced their support for CRLA during Wednesday’s hearing.
“How many charter schools have we approved that are doing extremely well? All of them,” Trustee Ken Williams said. “This is the type of public school that parents want. They want to have leadership. They want to get back to the basics and teach our kids critical thinking skills. That’s what this classical education is going to do.”
Williams also said he disagreed with CUSD staff’s earlier assessment of the charter that said the curriculum was unclear and would not be successfully implemented by the school’s operators.
California Charter Schools Association Vice President of Civic and Political Affairs Gary Davis and San Clemente parent Kevin Pratt, instrumental figures behind the charter petition, spoke about the school’s aim during the hearing.
CRLA plans to instill an appreciation for America’s national heritage, and foster creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit in students.
“Our goals are to develop thinkers, entrepreneurs, statesmen and stateswomen to lead our community, our state, our nation,” Davis said. “We’re putting our faith in our ability to impact the next generation and get it right. We will teach our scholars how to think, not what to think, in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical way.”
Cellphones will not be allowed in classes. CRLA will also make use of mentors and community service projects to emphasize servant leadership.
Pratt said their model is based on the John Adams Academy in Northern California and FranklinCovey Leader in Me program. Pratt’s children were previously enrolled in a Texas charter school, which he’s using to pattern CRLA’s rules.
He found no similar options after moving to South Orange County.
“We did a little survey, just through our grassroots efforts, to say if there was a K-12 classical academy, would you be interested in it?” Pratt said. “Ninety-eight percent of the people said definitely or maybe so. Now, of course, that’s biased. That’s just our own network. That’s not totally representative of the whole area but it was encouraging.”
Cary Johnson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for CUSD, said district staff identified several categories of concern when recommending CUSD trustees not approve the petition.
“One, the petition presents an unsound educational program. Two, the petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to implement the program set forth in the petition,” Johnson said. “Three, the petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions with the 15 required charter elements. Four, the charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate.”
Johnson said the educational philosophy is “copied” from multiple sources but the program itself has not been developed into a “coherent” plan specific to CRLA.
“While the petition does include standards and multiple resources, specific curriculum and instructional designs are missing,” Johnson said. “This is evident in the fact that the curriculum map, by grade level, does not integrate the FranklinCovey curriculum, nor do they include the specific classical literature being taught with the standards and activities.”
An exact location has not been selected for CRLA. Pratt has mentioned looking into using existing campus space at underutilized schools under existing legislation known as Proposition 39. A list of campuses viewed as having low enrollment provided by Pratt included Marblehead Elementary School in San Clemente.
District officials and staff have said, if Proposition 39 were enacted, the district would need to first do an analysis of available school sites before making any such decision—and that decision would be up to the district.
CRLA’s proposal has drawn backlash from some parents and community members, including in the Marblehead community, because of concerns the new school could take over an existing school’s campus.
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