Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include comments San Clemente resident Trudy Podobas gave on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
By Collin Breaux
A few years ago, Kevin Pratt moved to San Clemente from Frisco, Texas. Pratt had his kids enrolled in a new charter school there called Founders Classical Academy, which had uniforms and taught kids Latin and logic.
“We were very pleasantly surprised. It was very rigorous, really hard,” Pratt said of Founders. “The kids learned a ton of history. Of course, they had the other subjects, too. It was a really great experience. The staff dressed very professionally. There was a lot of focus on gratitude and other virtues.”
Now that Pratt has come further west, he looked for something similar but couldn’t find a charter school that was close enough to his liking—not to mention there was a wait list for students at a school in Orange he investigated.
“Essentially, we’re trying to figure out, can we do our own?” Pratt said. “We met this guy. His name is Gary Davis. He’s at the California Charter School Association. He had this vision for a leadership academy focused on servant leadership.”
From there, Pratt and Davis have been working together—and with others—on opening California Republic Leadership Academy.
No exact location has been set yet, but Pratt has his eye on somewhere in San Clemente or San Juan Capistrano. He is also prepared, if necessary, to use an existing underutilized Capistrano Unified School District campus where attendance is low.
“There’s Prop 39. It’s a law that says if a charter is approved, then you also have to allocate them space in the district,” Pratt said. “We’ll apply for that, because we know there’s underutilized campuses. … It would be wonderful if the district approves a nice space and we can give them a lease payment, help them cover the cost of the property.”
Pratt has looked at enrollment data for CUSD schools within their size range from the previous 14 years. Marblehead Elementary School and San Clemente High School, along with Harold Ambuehl Elementary School in San Juan Capistrano, are listed on a compilation of underutilized campuses provided by Pratt.
The district will make a final determination on the campus California Republic Leadership Academy uses under the Prop 39 process.
If someone wants to start a new charter school, they have to create a petition proposal and submit it to the school district for approval.
“Originally, we submitted our petition Aug. 1. Our understanding was we needed enough signatures to represent 50% of our planned enrollment,” Pratt said. “Our planned enrollment was 375 (students). Basically, we needed signatures for 188 kids. We turned that in, got the signatures. That ended up being a little over 100 families.”
Pratt said the district’s “interpretation” of the signature requirement was that the signature of a mother of three elementary-aged children counted as one toward the requirement, not three. The number of signatures they had then limited their Year 1 enrollment to 200 students.
“We took 30 days and came back with over 250 signatures,” Pratt said.
The CUSD Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the new school in November, according to Pratt. District staff is expected to issue a recommendation on the district website at capousd.org on whether to approve the charter on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
If CUSD turns down the proposal, Pratt plans to appeal to the Orange County Board of Education, which is generally pro-charter schools.
“Our intention is to spread the word these next few weeks before the public hearing,” Pratt said.
He has a principal identified who has charter school experience and plans to have Davis serve as the executive director.
“Once we’re approved, then money is unlocked from the state for the charter. That’s when we’ll actually start the execution portion of it—hiring teachers, locking down the facility, starting the actual enrollment process,” Pratt said.
As for what he hopes students and families get out of California Republic Leadership Academy, Pratt said it could be “a total change of pace from the world right now.”
“For example, uniforms. It’s wild what kids wear on campus these days. There are no standards, it seems like,” Pratt said. “You put everyone in the same uniform and then girls aren’t feeling self-conscious because they can’t dress like the other girls. Disparities in income are less transparent. Everyone’s the same and focused on learning.”
Students will also not be allowed to have free access to their smartphones during the day.
“They’ll actually have to communicate with each other face to face,” Pratt said.
California Republic Leadership Academy also intends to foster respect from teachers to the students and vice versa, as well as with parents. That aspect is “obviously hit or miss” in the usual school system, Pratt said.
“We want students to know what public service and servant leadership is and just have that appreciation for helping others. We want that ingrained throughout all grades, so it’s instilled in them to look for opportunities to help others,” Pratt said.
“We’ll aspire to an integration with the community where we’re using mentors and actual interaction with community leaders as part of our education experience, whether it’s service-based projects or assignments or civic assignments where they’re interacting or at least participating in the civic process or observing it,” Pratt continued.
Some residents, such as Trudy Podobas—who is a homeowner in the Marblehead community—have spoken against the proposed new school. Podobas said her issue with the potential school is a concern that it could displace existing public schools such as Marblehead Elementary.
The plan for California Republic Leadership Academy has been put together “very quickly,” and the leaders behind the school are “rushing” through a targeted November approval, Podobas said.
She further said her tax dollars paid for Marblehead Elementary, which should remain a public school.
More information about the proposed academy can be found at calrepublicleadershipacademy.org.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.