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Call it the ‘close- a-school-&-make- Ripon-Unified- even-better’ plan

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POSTED April 10, 2013 1:13 a.m.

It’s not every day parents – even if they are educators – suggest to a school board they should close a school especially when all are performing more than decently on state test scores.

That is exactly what a parent group dubbed Parents Linked Actively to Student Success (PLASS) recommended the Ripon Unified School Board consider.

They see a problem: Declining enrollment and financial constraints are limiting education opportunities. The solution they proposed is closing one of five elementary campuses to increase average enrollment per campus from 400 to 600. It would allow more flexibility with teaching staffs and reduce costs. They then see the “vacant” campus being turned into a magnet school or a charter school.

Another variation is making Ripon Elementary the “vacant” school to allow the continued expansion of Ripon High near the heart of the community as growth occurs. That would deviate from plans to eventually build a new campus on South Clinton Avenue and perhaps turn the existing campus into a junior high or middle school.

What makes this all the more intriguing is many school districts would love to have the high test scores that Ripon Unified enjoys at all of their elementary campuses.

The PLASS proposal is an astute reading of a trend that can no longer be ignored. Ten years ago only about 2 percent of students whose K-12 education was funded with California tax dollars attended charter schools. Today, it is 7.8 percent and would be at 8.9 percent currently if there were enough charter schools.

The state Department of Education reports there are 70,000 students on charter school waiting lists with 484,000 actually enrolled in California charter schools.

It isn’t too hard to see where the trend is heading.

What’s novel about the PLASS proposal is the fact it doesn’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Nor does it deal in sentiment or emotion which can unintentionally blind people to seeking better education opportunities for youth.

Unlike parent groups in districts struggling to teach the basics, they don’t want a takeover of underperforming schools. Instead, they want to use what Ripon Unified has built and take it to the next level.

They acknowledge what is happening in Ripon classrooms is good but good shouldn’t be considered good enough. It is a departure from the trap that many districts get into in California. Ever shifting financing, funding uncertainties, and the need for one-size-fits-all approach to students who aren’t struggling and in need of mandated special programs tends to make goals fairly pedestrian. But instead of just surviving and aiming for the middle, PLASS wants students to thrive and shoot for the stars.

Again, that is not an indictment of Ripon Unified. By all measures, they are doing a solid job and doing it well. But what it does is acknowledge structural underlying problems created by Sacramento aren’t going to go away. It takes into account the limitations of small campuses not in favor of mega-campuses but “just right” sized educational settings. And it seeks to find a way to challenge and in turn strength the education of as many students as possible without them having to flee the community to get an even more intense education experience.

Charter schools are meeting the needs of students in a changing world because they aren’t bound as much by the draconian chains of bean counting bureaucrats in Sacramento. They empower teachers.

At the same time, there is a real concern that the day is coming when public schools as we now know them will be left with the “problem” students where parental participation in education is extremely low, learning problems are a big issue and those youngsters who simply don’t want to be in school.

Ripon Unified can avoid such a fate.

And while what PLASS has suggested may not be the exact framework needed to keep improving education in Ripon schools, it is a good start for serious conversations and action down the road.

Ripon Unified educators and board members – as well as the entire community – should take the PLASS initiative as a compliment. Not only are they saying that Ripon Unified schools have a good thing going but in light of complex challenges they have the confidence they can do it even better.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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