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Rincon Valley district may expand charter school

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.

The Rincon Valley School District is moving toward expanding its charter middle school program to accommodate an additional 180 students on a second campus by 2014-2015.

The district on Santa Rosa's east side now operates Rincon Valley Charter School on the campus of Sequoia Elementary School. It serves seventh and eighth grade students.

The district received more than 190 applications for the 90 seventh grade openings for the current school year, according to Superintendent Casey D'Angelo. To accommodate more students, the district proposes adding a seventh and eighth grade program to the Matanzas campus of the Spring Creek Matanzas Charter School.

“If families weren't asking for this, we wouldn't be doing this,” he said.

Families who had spent years in the Rincon Valley system were leaving the lottery drawing upset, said Matt Reno, principal at both Sequoia Elementary and Rincon Valley Charter School.

“There is a need and request for more. We can't build this one any bigger,” he said. “Now you have a number of people in the community, contributors here in the Rincon Valley community, who are disgruntled. They know the program works, they toured with their child and now they can't get in.”

“This is a public business and we are in the business of making a difference in kids and when you make a difference in kids, people notice and word travels,” Reno said.

The school board is expected to approve the move next month.

The prospect of adding an additional campus to the existing middle school puts additional pressure on Santa Rosa City Schools, which traditionally takes seventh graders from eight surrounding feeder districts, including Rincon Valley.

Students from Rincon Valley's district would typically matriculate to either Rincon Valley or Slater middle schools, two campuses within the Santa Rosa City School system.

But D'Angelo, who credited both Slater and Rincon Valley with running strong programs, said families have demanded smaller settings for their students.

“It's not like this is good or that's bad,” he said. “Rincon Valley Middle School has 800 kids. I think a lot of families get worried about having their kid with all those other kids and think they'll get lost.”

Rincon Valley Middle School, which boasts the highest Academic Performance Index scores among Santa Rosa City School's middle schools at 896 out of 1,000, is projected to have approximately 845 students in 2013-14.

Slater Middle School had an API score of 793 in 2012 and a campus with approximately 826 kids.

Rincon Valley Charter School's 2012 API was 852 and has about 170 students.

More than 1,000 students who traditionally would have attended a Santa Rosa City Schools middle school now attend charter schools housed within a feeder elementary district.

“It's not a secret that the existence of these charter schools have affected the enrollment of some of our middle schools,” said Doug Bower, associate superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools.

Rincon Valley's Reno said parents are drawn to the small setting but also the emphasis on technology at the eight-year-old school.

“We are a one-to-one laptop school,” he said of the program in which all students are issued a MacBook. “Students are being exposed not only to content and curriculum but they apply and showcase what they are learning.”

Socorro Shiels, first-year superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools, said the district needs to improve its outreach and communication to parents in the feeder districts to better sell the advantages of the district's larger campuses, including a wider range of elective courses and extra curricular programs.

“For us, what we are seeking to do is make sure parents see all aspects of the decision they are about to make,” she said. “We need to get out and toot our own horn and share with families whenever and wherever we can.”

That can be difficult in the feeder district system that exists in Santa Rosa, she said.

“They do have long-term relationships with their home schools and they don't know us as well,” she said. “We need to get them on campuses, have them talk to our families, have them talk to our alumni. Certainly we recognize that we need to build a relationship with them.”

The school board is expected to vote on the expansion and changes next month.

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