District: Charter school’s first year was a good one

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Board members of Sweet Home District No. 55 met June 19 with representatives of the Sweet Home Charter School to review the charter school’s first year.

District 55 Superintendent Larry Horton reported that, overall, things appear to be going well at the charter school, which had 83 students enrolled at the end of the 2006-07 school year. The school meets at the Church of Christ multipurpose building at 18th Avenue and Long Street.

Charter school Principal/Business Manager Mary Northern said after the meeting that is was “positive, real low-key.”

In a report to the board, Horton said a team of district personnel – Student Services Director Elena Barton, Curriculum Director Jan Sharp, School Board Member Diane Gerson, Business Manager Kevin Sharp and Horton – visited the charter school on May 29. Their visit was part of the oversight the school board is required by law, and the charter school’s contract, to maintain over the charter school.

They met with Northern, Principal/Board Member Jay Jackson and three parents, and, according to Horton, “greatly enjoyed their visit.”

“I think, overall, the year has been a very positive one,” Horton said following the meeting.

“We found they were compliant in nearly all areas. The parents were very pleased with the program in which their children are participating. It was a very positive first year for the new school.”

Northern said her school’s first year was “phenomenal.”

“It was much better than we anticipated,” she said, noting that parental support, as well as cooperation from the district exceeded school organizers’ expectations.

She said the charter school has gotten a number of out-of-state calls from people interested in possibly moving to Sweet Home.

She said that another first-grade class and a fifth-grade class will be added next year and that current kindergarten teacher Scott Richards has been named to take over as principal next fall. Northern, who has 15 years in charter and alternative schools, said she’s been working as a volunteer this year.

The district review team visited classrooms and “were impressed with what they observed,” he said. “The facilities look good, the kids are having fun, the kids appear to be learning. What we heard from the parents overwhelmingly supported what goes on at the school.”

Horton said the school district has had some problems getting information from the charter school, which has been an ongoing complaint since charter school backers first presented a proposal to the district to establish the school.

“The only area where there is room for improvement is the area of communication – making sure we’re doing a better job of communicating with each other,” Horton said.

He said in his report that, after the initial visit, an attempt at a follow-up visit by Barton was “denied.” Northern said she talked to the secretary with whom Barton had spoken and said Barton was never denied access, but that the issue seemed to be more one of communication.

“We do need more communication,” she said of the school’s relation with the district.

Horton presented a list of 10 questions or pieces of information he said the district needs answers to.

The list includes:

– requests for information about training for charter school staff in administering medication to students and reporting child abuse;

– documentation about the school’s complying with fire and earthquake drill requirements;

– an asset inventory;

– a copy of the school’s audit;

– documentation relating to special education, ELL and TAG students;

– OSAT results;

– minutes from school board meetings that were open to the public;

– a list of 2007-08 staff members, PIE Board members and Sweet Home Parent Advisory Committee members;

– a copy of the charter school’s annual report.

Northern said the district personnel already have or can easily access on their own computers some of the information it’s requesting and will get more later as it becomes available, and added that some of the difficulties between the district and her school comes down to “a different way of handling things.”

“They have all access to our attendance and accounting,” she said. “They just have to pull it up on their own computers.”

Northern said charter school leaders question the legality of the evaluation process the district is using for their school and would like the district to modify it.

She said the district and school need to meet again.

“(Last week’s) meeting was very positive,” she said. “We should probably have talked about a lot more than we did.”