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600+ on charter waiting lists
Public charter schools growing trend in Manteca Unified
Great Valley Academy -LT
Great Valley Academy students at the Manteca campus scored 800 on the state API test during their first year of operation. - photo by Photo Contributed

Since 2011, three public charter schools have opened for business in Manteca and Lathrop.

During the school year 2011-2012, the K-8 Great Valley Academy took over the former Manteca Christian School facility on Button Avenue. It is the Manteca branch of the first campus of the same name founded in Modesto and is sponsored by the New Jerusalem School District in Tracy.

The next school year, 2012-2013, the Manteca Unified Vocational Academy was officially launched with Culinary Arts as its first class offering. MUVA, which is under the aegis of the Manteca Unified School District, focuses on programs that prepare junior high school students to job readiness while they earn a high school diploma at the same time. This school year, 2013-2014, MUVA is offering its second career-oriented program, Industrial Technology & Design, for 11th graders interested in that career direction.

On Wednesday, Aug. 14, the history-making River Islands Technology Academy will have its first day of school in an area where there are no houses around it. The first houses at River Islands at Lathrop master-planned community has yet to break ground, but the school, which held a dedication ceremony on Aug. 7, will be opening with 400 K-6 students.

The number has been growing since 1992 when charter schools were first born in Minnesota, noted Jeff Tilton, executive director for New Jerusalem School District in Tracy and the district’s K-12 Delta Charter School. Now, there are charter school laws in 44 states. And as the local picture as illustrated above shows, charter schools continue to grow.

And their popularity is such that, in the case of Great Valley Academy in Manteca and River Islands Technology Academy, at least, the number of students on their waiting lists is almost as large as the number of students enrolled. River Islands principal Brenda Scholl said there are 300 on their waiting list. On August 19, Great Valley Academy will open its third school year with 615 students on Monday, Aug. 19, their first day of school. Enrollment for all K-8 grade levels, with two classes for each level, was filled before the summer was over. As in the first two years of the school, many were placed on the waiting list. This year, more than 300 students were on that list.

According to the numbers from area charter schools, the majority of their enrollments are transfer students from traditional public schools. At Delta Charter School alone, those students account for 96 percent of the total enrollment. The rest are transfers from other charter schools – 2 percent; from private and parochial schools – 1 percent; and, home schooling – 1 percent.

Howell did not have the exact numbers or percentages at Great Valley Academy, but acknowledged that “the vast majority of our students have come from traditional public schools.”

Scholl reported a similar situation at River Islands, but like Howell, did not have specific numbers to report.

The high rate of student transfers from traditional public schools is reflected in the Manteca Unified School District’s enrollment statistics. In the 2013-2014 budget report, average daily attendance from K-12 grades shows a decline in enrollments from 2006-07 to 2012-13. In 2006-07, for example, enrollment declined by 114 from the previous school year. The highest number was reflected in 2008-09 when enrollment during that school year went down by 325.

Prior to school year 2000-01, enrollments in the district were all on the plus side. The exception was 1998-99 when enrollment dipped at 116.

The report, though, did not indicate the specific reasons for the decreases in the enrollments. The total enrollment in the district for both elementary and high school campuses stands at around 23,000.

There’s usually a misconception when it comes to charter schools, Tilton pointed out. What needs to be clear from the very beginning is that charter schools are public schools, and as such, are tuition-free, he said.

And that’s one of the big attractions of charter schools to parents like Stephanie Chervellera who said she was “very fortunate to get (her daughter, Destiny) to the River Islands Technology Academy in Lathrop. She hoped the “technology devices” at the academy will help her daughter “get a better education,” Chervellera said. Fourth-grader Destiny has been attending North Elementary in the Tracy Unified School.

“Families traditionally vote with their feet, and when there’s an opportunity to seek an alternative like charter schools, they will seek that competition if they’re not finding success in that traditional setting,” said Tilton, a Manteca High graduate and former journalist who once worked for the Manteca Bulletin while in high school and college.

“Charter schools are offered greater flexibility in some areas than traditional schools,” Howell of Great Valley Academy added on some of the reasons why parents opt for public charter schools.

Having said that, however, Howell explained, “I would say the greatest flexibility comes from stepping out of a system that in some cases has become too large and cumbersome for its own good. There’s a point of diminishing return inherent within larger schools and districts that limit the responsiveness at the site and classroom levels. Charter schools are typically smaller, steam-lined, and better suited to adapt and change. This ability is crucial when pursuing innovation. It is also something we have to work hard to protect as we grow and expand.”