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Squaring off: Charter vs. traditional public schools

There are differences in class, scores, between the two
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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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. 
Wednesday: How Horizon’s $800,000 investment, other facilities went awry
Thursday: Snapshot of Horizon’s finances; a look at its CEO (online)
Friday: Horizon issue reveals oversight is a delicate balancing act
Today: Comparing charter schools to traditional public schools
 
Snapshot: 2012 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) results
Percentage of eighth-grade students proficient and advanced at four subjects
John Adams Academy
English/Language Arts: 80 percent
Algebra 1: 40 percent
History: 70 percent
Science: 72 percent
Eureka Union School District
English/Language Arts: 88 percent
Algebra 1: 89 percent
History: 79 percent
Science: 88 percent
Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District
English/Language Arts: 73 percent
Algebra: 45 percent
History: 68 percent
Science: 79 percent
Roseville City School District
English/Language Arts: 77 percent
Algebra 1: 30 percent
History: 77 percent
Science: 82 percent
Source: California Department of Education
 
By the numbers: John Adams Academy …
Can accommodate up to 879 students
Spends an average of $960 per student
64 percent of budget goes to salary/benefits
27 percent goes to facilities
5 percent goes to supplies
2 percent goes to equipment, 2 percent to 
miscellaneous
Source: John Adams Academy
 
2012 Academic Performance Index (API) scores
John Adams 
Academy: 899
Eureka Union School District: 918
Dry Creek Joint 
Elementary School 
District: 866
Roseville City School District: 881
Source: California Department of 
Education
 
 

 

 

As soon as visitors enter a science classroom at John Adams Academy, the Roseville charter school shows one way it distinguishes itself from traditional public schools.
 
All of the students stand to greet visitors as a sign of respect. This is another reminder of how the school, which opened in September 2011, aims to develop “servant-leaders” and focus on traditional values. The school emphasizes the principles of the Founding Fathers, and students all wear red, white and blue uniforms.
 
The eighth-graders in Jason Turner’s science class quickly return to their seats and resume their lesson on balancing chemical equations.
Over in Rosemarie Groth’s humanities class, seventh-graders prepare for a service-learning project. On the wall is a poster with the school’s nine principles — core values incorporated into lessons.
 
“We’re comparing medieval serfs to homeless people today and we’re helping by one night making a dinner for all the people at the Gathering Inn,” says student Constantine Yerocostas, on an afternoon in late January.
 
The students will write a letter to solicit money and food donations from local businesses. They need to raise $200 to serve 70 people.
As charter schools have emerged in the public conversation about education in recent years, John Adams Academy has managed to carve out its niche in the increasingly competitive market, offering students a different approach to learning and giving parents choice in how their children are taught.
 
But, in the process, charter schools may be attracting students away from local public school districts that have faced stagnant or declining enrollment in recent years. The Roseville City School District — within which John Adams physically resides — has seen an overall increase in student population in recent years, with declines in more-established parts of town. The district is building its 19th campus within a new west Roseville development, which is scheduled to open later this year.
 
The Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District, with 10 schools in Roseville and Antelope, has faced declining enrollment. This is true, too, for the Eureka Union School District, which operates seven campuses in Roseville and Granite Bay. The Roseville Joint Union High School District has seen only a slight increase in student population over the past few years at its eight campuses, which includes an adult school.
 
Hard to attract high schoolers
The kindergarten through 11th grade academy currently has about 700 students and can accommodate 850. The school will add 12th grade this fall. The school has a long waiting list and will conduct a lottery this spring — as dictated by federal grants it received — to fill open spots. 
 
The academy managed to end its first year’s budget in the black, says Development Director Jane Dildine. The campus operates out of three buildings in a commercial space on Sierra Gate Plaza. Unlike charter schools that run out of strip malls or churches, the classrooms are large so teachers can be creative with their space.
 
Each morning, students gather outside for a flag ceremony and perform the “Pledge of Allegiance.” For special occasions, the cafeteria (or “Independence Hall”) doubles as an auditorium. Unlike traditional public schools, John Adams doesn’t provide hot lunches; students bring their own food.
The campus boasts two computer labs, one of which was donated by the Sacramento Kings. Additionally, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and his wife, charter school proponent Michelle Rhee, have been big supporters of John Adams, according to Dildine.
 
All of the library’s books were donated, and each student has a Kindle. Every student takes Spanish, and seventh graders get the option of learning Greek. There’s also a visual and performing arts class for high schoolers. While other public schools have cut art classes, the academy has an arts program.
They also have a choir. 
 
Dildine said it’s challenging for the academy to attract teenaged students because John Adams doesn’t offer as many extracurricular activities or sports teams as a traditional public or private high school. 
 
Despite these obstacles, John Adams has managed to enroll students from not only Roseville and Granite Bay, but also Rocklin, Sacramento, Loomis,
Folsom, Yuba City, Antelope and other cities in northern California.
 
The academy’s students are predominantly white, at 86 percent, according to reporting conducted as part of the 2012 Academic Performance Index. That’s compared to a district-wide percentage of 63 percent in the Roseville City School District.
 
John Adams is the only site-based charter school in Roseville, although its charter is held by the Loomis Unified School District. According to Founder Dean Forman, the John Adams’ board chose Loomis as its chartering district because LUSD already had an existing, successful charter school — Loomis Basin Charter School.
 
The first choice was to open to the school there, but an exhaustive search to find a facility that could accommodate 850 students turned up empty. Two years after the search began, the board secured the Roseville site. 
 
The academy rests within the Roseville City School District boundaries, which currently has an average daily attendance (ADA) funding per student of $4,986, according to Superintendent Richard Pierucci.
 
“We do have concerns about the draw of charter schools, private schools and other districts regarding the enrollment in our school district,” Pierucci said. “We are aware that some parents like to ‘shop around’ for programs that may fit their family needs. This is one reason why we have chosen to implement the International Baccalaureate program (at) Eich and to begin offering all day kindergarten classes at a nine of our elementary schools next year.”
 
Eich Intermediate School will become a sixth through eighth grade middle school with the start of the 2013-14 academic year, and is in the process of applying to become an IB middle school, which would be the first comprehensive middle school in Placer County to do so.
 
Parents heavily involved
Unlike traditional public schools, which each have a principal, John Adams has three deans, although it went through two principals before opting for a different structure. Twenty-nine teachers work there — who are non-union and non-tenured — such Randy Minsky, who teaches math. 
 
“I get a lot of support from administrative staff, which is helpful, and we’re a small, tight-knit group, which makes communicating easier,” he says.
 
Minsky was drawn to the academy because it provides choice for parents, but as a public school, he’s fulfilling his philosophy that education should be free. He says he’s allowed more creativity in developing his curriculum off Common Core and California State Standards to fit the school’s vision. 
 
The school advises parents to prepare their child to be a scholar at the academy by reading, “A Thomas Jefferson Education,” by Oliver Demille. A school handout suggests parents then apply the book’s principles, such as use of the Socratic Method, at home. 
 
The then-32-year-old Demille published his book in 2000, and has since become a sort of rock star among charter school and homeschool advocates, who often preach support for his educational ideology. Demille is also a founder of George Wythe University, an unaccredited school in Salt Lake City, Utah that proclaims to train modern-day “statesmen.” 
 
Second-grade teacher Niki Swagerty joined John Adams after teaching for 13 years at a non-charter school. 
 
“I really like the value system here and the freedom I have as a teacher to help the students succeed,” Swagerty says. “The parents we have are absolutely fabulous.”
 
This isn’t a school where parents just drop off their children and leave. They are expected to get heavily involved. Parents sign a commitment of 40 hours of community service per school year, says Communications Director Amy Evans. 
 
Fourth-grade teacher Heather Brown says she appreciates that she’s not tied to a list of rules in her curriculum, allowing her to better meet the needs of students.
 
“I use the standards as a baseline, not as a goal, because it’s too low,” she says.
 
First-grade teacher Erin Benson didn’t know much about charter schools before joining the academy. But she has a hard time finding a job after recently
earning her teaching credential, and then heard about John Adams and believed in its philosophies. 
 
“We’re not only providing a strong educational foundation, but creating good people,” Benson says.
 
 
Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT