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Rocklin Academy: A charter success story

School plans expansion; administrators chime in on impacts of program
By: By Stephanie Dumm, Gold Country News Service correspondent
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The midyear closure of a popular Horizon Charter Schools program in Placer County displaced hundreds of students, angered parents and sparked questions about what led to the sudden problems with one of the longest standing charters in California.
The Journal and its Gold
Country Media partners launched an effort to shed light on the state of Horizon and charter schools in general.
Wednesday: How Horizon’s $800,000 investment, other facilities went awry
Thursday: Snapshot of Horizon’s finances; a look at its CEO (online)
Friday: Horizon issue reveals oversight is a delicate balancing act
Today: A charter success story
Tuesday: Comparing charter schools to traditional public schools
Miss a story? Visit auburnjournal.com for complete coverage.

 


Parental involvement and a challenging curriculum are behind the lengthy waiting list and success at the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools.
That’s according to Superintendent Phil Spears, who said Jan. 31 that the Rocklin-based charter school is “intending to expand to a new K-8 charter in 2013.”
The Rocklin Academy Family of Schools currently consists of two elementary school campuses and Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, which serves students in sixth through 12th grade.
There is currently a waiting list to attend all three Rocklin Academy campuses, according to Spears, with 764 waiting to attend at the elementary school level and 161 waiting to attend middle school through high school.

Why are so many students waiting to get in?
“I think there’s a desire for the curriculum that we offer, and sometimes the smaller size,” Spears said. “We are Core Knowledge schools for K-8, a curriculum many parents are interested in having their students take part in.”
The key components of the Core Knowledge curriculum are, according to Spears, English language arts, math, science, history and social science, with “a music component and performing arts component.”
Western Sierra Collegiate Academy features college preparatory classes, according to the school’s website.
“A lot of people think and see that the school has good academics, and hear of the academic focus,” said Gregg Moses, principal of Western Sierra Collegiate Academy. “It’s rigorous, and they (students) are going to have AP classes, and a choice of classes.”
Moses also said the “small-school feel” is another aspect that attracts parents and students to Rocklin Academy.
Juliette Monaco, an art teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, who has also taught at traditional public schools, said she “loves working with the staff and how we all collaborate.”
She also said that the students are “good kids and fun to work with.”
“The students enjoy being here,” Monaco said. “There’s a difference in attitude, and the majority are happy (to be here), have fun and feel comfortable.”
Gold Country News Service talked to a few students in Monaco’s afternoon art class about why they enjoy attending Western Sierra Collegiate Academy.
“There’s way less drama, and people actually care about each other,” Krizelle DeGuzman, 16, said, which she chalked up to the small class sizes.
DeGuzman said the small class sizes allow “individuals to learn better” if they need extra help with a subject.
“They try to make sure everyone learns and not just the majority,” DeGuzman said.
Academic honesty is a feature of the school that Josh Berensen, 17, likes.
“In my experience with this charter school, you can’t lie through high school,” Berensen said.
Fellow classmate Alisa Maggard, 16, agreed.
“If you fail a test, you have to turn in the homework assignments for that chapter,” Maggard said.
Spears also said the Rocklin Academy schools have a “strong parent-school partnership” and requires parents to contribute 30 hours per year to the school.
“It pays dividends if parents are tuned into the student’s education,” Spears said. “We work together to create a successful culture that is a joint effort to educate the young people.”
Parents contribute in various ways, Spears said, including transporting students, working in classrooms, installing equipment at the schools and running snack bars.

What are the plans for expansion?
Spears and Moses both say there are currently plans to address the hefty wait lists.
Moses said the future addition of five classrooms on the second floor of his campus, at 660 Menlo Park Drive in Rocklin, would make room for “about 100 students.”
At the elementary school level, “our board has decided to pursue a new charter school,” according to Spears.
“We are pursuing an authorizer at this point in time, (which is) the Newcastle Elementary School District,” Spears said. “We are limited. We have an agreement with the Rocklin Unified School District that limits us to a max of 558 students (at the elementary level) so we can’t expand that charter any further.”
Due to space limitations on campuses, Rocklin Unified School District entered into an agreement with the charter schools to allow them a set number of classrooms at Ruhkala and Rocklin elementary schools, explained Kevin Brown, RUSD superintendent. The agreement, in effect through 2017, allows a certain number of students in each class, for example, 24 in grades K-3.
In 2017, Brown said, the agreement will need to be renewed. He added that changes could conceivably be made, as well.
Spears explained that there is a charter written for each campus in the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools, and even though each campus has its own charter, all three are still part of Rocklin Academy.
The charter school’s elementary school campuses are housed at two elementary schools in Rocklin, Ruhkala Elementary (known as Rocklin Academy Turnstone) and Rocklin Elementary (known as Rocklin Academy Meyers).
Rocklin Academy’s schools fall under the Rocklin Unified School District.
“They have some obligation to monitor our program and our financial situation, and so they get part of our funding,” Spears explained. “That’s the way the state puts checks and balances on us.”

What impact do charter schools have on traditional public schools?
Michele Schuetz, superintendent of the Auburn Union School District, said no students from her district have left to attend Rocklin Academy.
“I am familiar with Rocklin Academy. It has an excellent reputation and the program is producing good results,” Schuetz said. “There is a long waiting list because the program supports the format some parents are looking for in educating their children.”
Schuetz listed two reasons she thinks students from her district have not left for Rocklin Academy.
“Partially because of the driving distance. However, we have excellent district charter schools in the foothill area,” Schuetz said. “Our charters offer many different programs to meet the needs of the children in our area.”
Brown said there are “about 350 Rocklin students that to go Rocklin Academy” that would otherwise attend Rocklin schools.
There are “about 11,200” students currently enrolled in the Rocklin Unified School District, according to Brown, and the district gets $5,200 per student enrolled in the district.
Gold Country News Service asked Brown whether Rocklin Academy has impacted his district financially, to which he said “yes and no.”
“With the growth in the city and new development, we continue to grow in our enrollment,” Brown said. “If 10 students from each of our 11 schools decide to go to a charter, at $5,200 per student that’s $550,000 of lost revenue.”
Brown said losing 10 students per school “didn’t change the expenses at a school.”
“Just because 10 leave, we will have the same number of teachers, utilities costs, administrative costs and clerical.”
Brown said having a charter school in the district has impacts in other ways.
“It impacts the district in that the charter schools have a right to have the school district boundaries they reside in. We have to provide them facilities, and they impact our campuses because they set up school.”
While Western Sierra Collegiate Academy has its own building separate from the school district in an office park, Rocklin Academy’s two elementary schools have set up shop on two Rocklin elementary campuses.
“Now our programs and students and administration have to share our campuses,” Brown said. “It makes things difficult to figure out schedules, what time they get the library, the playground. It’s a tremendous inconvenience and burden on a school when (a charter school) sets up a campus.”