by Margaret Liles
It was item 301 “Conduct a public hearing on a request for a material revision to the Heritage K-8 Charter School petition…) on last Thursday’s EUHS Board meeting agenda that caught my attention.
I have written about the infamous takeover of what used to be the East Valley Branch of the Escondido Library by the Heritage Digital Academy. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/04/21/heritage-back-to-the-same-old-way/ https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/04/15/150/#comments The part of the request that caught my eye was: “With this material revision, Heritage K-8 will expand its program to include a full-time Independent Study educational option for approximately 150 students (10-15 per grade level) and will consolidate its middle school programs by closing the Heritage Digital Academy during the 2016-2017 school year and absorbing the HDA students into Heritage K-8. Approximately 25 staff from Heritage Digital Academy will also be absorbed into Heritage K- 8 (recognizing, of course, that enrollment and employment is voluntary on behalf of students and staff).” http://www.eusd.org/Board_agd/041416_bd_ag.pdf . Was there any chance the city would get its library building back?
The first public speaker was Patricia Borchmann who asked why this revision was being rushed through. It was difficult to understand what Heritage was asking to do. Board Member Jose Fragozo agreed, and added it would be nice if Heritage Executive Director Shawn Roner would review the revision.
Roner said they were asking for two major changes. First, they wanted to start an independent study program for about 150 students to “expand learning opportunities.” Second, they wished to merge the Heritage Digital Academy with the Heritage K-8 School. They had started the Digital Academy as an experiment, and now wished to blend digital methods with their entire program and to combine the two schools accordingly. They would continue use the old library site. When asked by Fragozo if their kindergarten classes would be full-day classes, Roner answered, yes. Fragozo pressed Roner about how many students at Heritage were from outside the EUSD. Roner said he didn’t have that figure with him, but would be glad to provide it, and claimed that he had given Fragozo that information before. Fragozo said that was not the case.
Katherine Fromm was the next public speaker. She asked just what was meant by a rigorous liberal arts program that Heritage would provide for its independent studies program. She decried the resources spent by the EUSD Board on charter schools. That focus she avowed, should be spent on the regular public schools.
John Ward said he too wanted to know just how many students at Heritage did not live in the EUSD. How many were from Vista, San Marcos, etc.? He pointed out that Heritage’s large sign purporting to have been selected by USC as the best school in California was untrue, since that honor had been given by USC in 2011. He had called USC and learned that the Heritage schools were not even in USC’s top thirty schools. He went on to note that Heritage’s test scores were far from stellar, even though only 1.3 percent of Heritage students were English language learners—a far cry from the regular schools where the figure was more like 70 to 75%.
Roner tried to rebut Ward’s statements by bragging that there were 1,500 on Heritage’s waiting list. Heritage out-performed many schools he said, and politics had added to the misinformation expressed in the public comments. Heritage he repeated, performed at a very high level.
Tania Bowman noted that Roner had never answered the question about the number of Heritage students from other cities. She believes that independent study programs do not work well for young children. What research justified their proposal for such a program? The majority on the board had been elected by a pro-charter school contingent. The School Accountability Report Card (SARC) scores of Heritage were not outstanding.
Nina Deerfield said the demographics in the Heritage Charter schools weren’t even close to those in EUSD regular schools. The independent studies program would be targeted to families with one parent who could stay home all day, and did not need a lunch program, again far from the demographics of the larger student population in Escondido. She said that a cynic might say that the reason for creating the Heritage Digital Academy was an excuse to take over the old library, just to allow more room for the existing school. The Board was basically rubber stamping the requests from Heritage. Turning to Roner, she said that just because he said the schools were doing well, didn’t make it so. The charter schools in town were teaching false science and false history.
Gardner responded that the request from Heritage to merge the Digital Academy into the K-8 program made sense. Charter schools were developed to allow more flexibility in the system. The Digital Academy was an experiment, if the experiment didn’t work, then it was OK to try something different.
Patricia Borchmann was allowed to finish her comments, and did so last, as she had requested. She said she appreciated the information that Roner had provided. She then asked a question that made the most cogent point of the evening. Fragozo’s district, she said, was not a unique district, all the other board members’ districts had similar schools that had a high number of English language learners. Why, then, was Fragozo the only member of the Board who asked questions, and seemed to be concerned about the situation?
Why indeed! The Board will vote on Heritage’s revision at their next meeting. Don’t think there’s much question about the outcome.