Buoyed by support from parents and students in the audience, Ridgecrest Charter School officials and staff made their case for a petition renewal at Thursday’s Sierra Sands Unified School District board of education meeting.
RCS must renew its charter for the next five-year period, beginning July 2019. The K-8 public charter school opened in 2001 with 150 students and has grown over the last 17 years to serve approximately 530 students.
“We provide a small, individualized learning environment where we emphasize parent and community partnerships,” said Dr. Steve Martinez, RCS’s Executive Director.
Martinez presented the petition at the Sierra Sands board’s August meeting.
Under California’s education code, charter schools need to submit their renewal petitions to public school districts for sponsorship to operate within its boundaries. The school district cannot reject it without providing specific comments as to why it cannot support the charter school.
Should Sierra Sands deny the petition, RCS can appeal to the California Department of Education for sponsorship, which it has done repeatedly for most of its existence.
“Although we are a state board-of-education-authorized charter school, we welcome the opportunity to partner with the district,” Martinez said. “We are ingrained in the community through our students, staff and families.”
Martinez noted that RCS strives to provide solid programs otherwise unavailable in the community, “where all students are empowered to reach their full academic and social potential.”
He also noted that the quality of RCS is comparable to other local schools in its grade level.
Miriam Hogg, RCS’s assistant director, noted the school offers lessons beyond a specific grade’s core subjects. At the middle school level, several types of mathematics, including Common Core-aligned topics, are offered, as well as integrated instruction, after-school tutoring and English Language Learner support.
“At RCS, every student has a individualized learning plan that focuses on their strengths and areas of needs,” Hogg said. Middle-school students create their own plan.
She noted enrichment programs are also offered including after-school club, science camps, music, athletics and Junior Olympics, as well as a middle school financial literacy program called Millionaire’s Club.
Karen Greenshaw, the school’s RSP administrator, noted RCS implements a 45-minute block for intervention to target student needs at all levels and analyzing data based on essential standards.
Teachers are afforded a weekly 90-minute period where they can meet and collaborate on student-focused data and plans skill-based interventions.
Greenshaw added that the school participates in numerous partnerships and programs with outside organizations including American Legion, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital and Cerro Coso Community College.
Martinez noted RCS has been investing in its facilities since summer. It recently completed an access road on West Church Avenue to ease congestion on South Downs Street and facilitate a safer student drop-off/pickup area and repaved its parking lot.
RCS plans to add on more classrooms and renovate its current ones, add solar-based shade structures and construct a multipurpose gymnasium. It also upgraded its main office building.
Eric Bruen, president of RCS’s governing board, said he was full of optimism that Charter and the school district can move beyond past difficulties and look at the benefits in the future.
“Our community is growing,” Bruen said. “Right now our Navy base is hiring new, young engineers, we have new housing projects under way, have new families coming here and Ridgecrest remains an attractive oasis for young families.”
He said it’s economically feasible to own a home in Ridgecrest, to have a safe home and schools and organizations that support the community’s youth.
“Having a charter school here as part of the educational options available to parents is good for our community,” Bruen said. “We support over 500 students, which would constrain your equally growing school district.”
According to the most recent enrollment numbers, Sierra Sands enrolls more than 5,150 students across its 11 schools, up from 5,095 in the 2017-18 school year. Elementary school enrollment stood at 2,264 students, while Murray and James Monroe middle schools enrolled a combined 1,088.
Bruen noted that from his perspective as a father, RCS inspires children and their creativity and allows for parental choice in selecting a school.
“I’m a parent, I looked up every option for where I wanted my child to be,” Bruen said. Those included homeschooling, public and private options. “I’m an invested parent and I remember the most important thing in that process was that I was given a choice.”
He called it competition in reverse, because both agencies would strive to do their best for students.
“This is an opportunity for our community to come together and be the best we can be,” Bruen said.
RCS IT manager Josh Cotterell read a letter from Burroughs High School student Makenna Saxton, who was a former RCS student from kindergarten to eighth grade.
“It was some of the best years of my life, granted that I’m only 15,” Saxton had written. “The staff were and are some of the greatest people and greatest teachers.”
She also wrote that she still has tight bonds with teachers and staff who check in on her.
“Charter’s curriculum helped advance me in my freshman year in all honors classes,” Saxton wrote. “The environment was perfect for me, especially my math class, where I struggled with the most. All of the teachers wanted the best for me.”
Other RCS staff members and parents spoke on the charter school’s behalf, urging the board to support the petition.
RCS Governing Board member Deanna Lukens noted that as parent of a child who had attended the school, she had concerns of what the next steps would be for her daughter who struggled through her first year of middle school.
“Thanks to a dear friend of ours, we discovered Ridgecrest Charter School,” Lukens said. “After completing middle school at RCS, not only did my daughter do very well there, she also made honor roll. You can only imagine what proud parents we were and how grateful that there was another option in our community academically.”
She said she was hopeful Sierra Sands will support the renewal petition as it provides an additional educational resource in the community.
“We need to have options in our community for our children because their education is what we’re all here for,” Lukens said. “Never forget that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Sierra Sands will evaluate the petition and come to a decision on what level of support, if any, it will offer Ridgecrest Charter School’s petition. The petition material is available online at www.ssusd.org.