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Horizon Charter Schools CEO: ‘I don’t have anything to hide’

Craig Heimbichner puts life on display after rumors rise
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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CHARTER SCHOOLS SERIES

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.

Part 1: How Horizon’s $800,000 investment, other facilities went awry

Part 2: A snapshot of Horizon’s finances; a look at its CEO

Part 3: Horizon issue reveals oversight is a delicate balancing act

Part 4: A charter success story

Part 5: Comparing charter schools to traditional public schools

Craig Heimbichner said his office at Horizon Charter Schools headquarters in Lincoln has received a bit of a makeover since all the drama unfolded with the closure of one of its programs.

The CEO felt a more personal touch was required after rumors about his eclectic background started emerging.

“I don’t have anything to hide,” Heimbichner said on a Friday afternoon in mid February when he welcomed a Journal reporter and photographer into his office, a few doors down from the board room where the post-closure conflict culminated just a month earlier.

Heimbichner’s bookshelf is a martial arts shrine with artifacts and memorabilia representing his 40 years of practicing. He said he is up for a Legends of Martial Arts Hall of Fame award this May in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a big part of my life, but all the rumors that I was cutting into company time are just so far off,” Heimbichner said.

On the back corner of his desk stands a copy of a book he co-authored, “Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society.” The illustrative book sets out to show how such an influence is “hidden in plain view,” according to a synopsis from Barnes & Noble.

Heimbichner’s literary credits also include “Blood on the Altar: The Secret History of the World’s Most Dangerous Secret Society,” though his author’s biography on Amazon.com says the publisher ghostwrote sections of the book, changing it and adding a religious tone that Heimbichner did not intend to take.

The book delves into the Ordo Templi Orientis, or OTO, fraternal organization.

A group of parents whose children had been enrolled in the shuttered Accelerated Learning Academy, which Horizon closed Dec. 21, 2012, questioned at a governing board meeting whether “the background published books” of “recently hired personnel” had been scrutinized.

In the acknowledgments section of “Ritual America,” Heimbichner writes, “I would like to thank my father, an Elk who passed through a particularly grueling initiation, for taking me to a magic show at a young age in which a disappearing girl kept a finger visible from within the place of alleged invisibility, tipping me off to the nature of a good hoodwink. The resulting impression lasted.”

Heimbichner wrote that he joined “a few fraternal orgs over the years,” though he is no longer active.

Also on his desk sits a photo of him with Grandmaster Samuel Kwok, a leader in furthering the Wing Chun discipline portrayed in the popular “Ip Man” movies. The picture had been taken during a martial arts retreat to Europe that Heimbichner took in December, the same time parents were seeking answers on why the Accelerated Learning Academy closed.

Heimbichner said he had planned the trip months in advance, well before the ALA issues became of imminent concern.

“A lot of my personal stuff was highlighted as some sort of a problem, and I heard about it later and I said, ‘Well what do you want for an educational leader? Someone who’s a boring bureaucrat or somebody who actually has outside interest?” Heimbichner reflected. “At Horizon, I think that’s what we’re all about is breaking the mold for these kids and that’s why we’re here.

“We’ve been around since 1993. I don’t see us going away.”

A month before, in that crowded boardroom, Heimbichner sat a foot from the podium where parents of the former ALA program aired their concerns. Red-faced, he would make notes from time-to-time, gazing downward while listening.

“I worked with them for two weeks,” to try to find a new facility, Heimbichner later told the Journal. “And when I went home, every night … my wife is saying, ‘You’ve got to come through for those parents. Think about how they feel. Think about how the kids feel. That’s what I’m coming home to every night. My own wife telling me you have to make this happen.

“So, believe me, I tried my best and I was not happy when I realized I could not come through for them.”

Horizon hired him in the summer of 2010 for a curriculum instruction role and he was promoted to CEO in October 2011 after the retirement of Luann Boone. Heimbichner’s base salary for 2012-13 is $138,600, about $21,000 less than Boone made annually, according to Horizon’s records.

When Heimbichner was Placer High School principal from 2000-02 before leaving for a job with the California Department of Education, his daughters had been enrolled in Horizon independent study followed by the site-based Montessori program, he said.

Heimbichner’s educational background combined with his understanding of Horizon made him a fit for the position as CEO, and he was unanimously approved for the job, he said.

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews