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Big charter choice by 2013
Manteca Unified welcomes competition
The new River Islands School is just a half mile outside the Manteca Unified boundary. - photo by RYAN BALBUENA

The fact Manteca Unified by mid-2013 will have a large charter school targeting students in Manteca, Lathrop, and Weston Ranch is not a major concern of Jason Messer.

The Manteca Unified School District superintendent said he “welcomes” the opportunity to have more options for students in public education.

Banta School District is expected to open the new state-of-the-art $25 million elementary school designed to employ cutting edge technology such as tablet computers instead of traditional textbooks now under construction on River islands at Lathrop as a charter school.

When its doors open it will have room for 750 students. And since it is likely it will be four years before the first home is expected to even be built in the 11,000-home planned community on Stewart Tract, most of the students are expected to come from adjoining school attendance areas in Lathrop, Manteca, and Tracy.

The campus is being built within the city limits of Lathrop and about a half mile south of the San Joaquin River and Manteca Unified district boundaries.

When the massive housing development was first envisioned, there was some discussion of annexing the area to Manteca Unified so Lathrop would be served by one school district. Manteca Unified officials passed on the suggestion noting the river created a formidable – and natural – barrier.

Messer noted last month that options serve students well as not every youth learns best in a traditional school setting.

He also noted that Manteca has a history of a close working relationship with St. Anthony’s Catholic School. Messer also pointed out that Manteca students already attend private schools such as Ripon Christian Schools where Manteca students make up the second largest segment of the student body. Great Valley Academy also just opened a school this past summer with 420 students at the former Manteca Christian School campus on Button Avenue.

Manteca students also attend other private and charter schools such as St. Mary’s High in Stockton and Central Catholic in Modesto

Messer said he doesn’t anticipate the 23,000-student Manteca Unified district will suffer financially from charter schools. He pointed out that normal attrition through retirements and such would mean that Manteca Unified would not get caught with too many teachers for students

The first phase of the River Islands School will serve 750 kindergartens through eighth grade students with 25 classrooms, a multipurpose room, and ball fields. The site - when a second phase is done - will handle 1,500 students. The campus ultimately will consist of two schools in a kindergarten through fifth grade configuration and a sixth through eighth grade facility.

River Islands developer Cambay Group is providing the $12.5 million match to state funds to build the new campus in addition to paying for infrastructure.

River Islands ultimately will have six elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.

The campus will make River Islands an extreme rarity in California housing development circles as it would actually have a school built and paid for before the first house is even sold.

Manteca Unified is also exploring the possibility of opening its own charter campus. The proposal is for a vocational school comprised of grades 11 to 13. Interested high school juniors would be brought into the three-year program and receive their high school diplomas and/or an Associate in Arts or Sciences (AA or AS) degree after finishing 13th grade.

Once they get on board the program, the students would have four fields of study to choose from in order to receive an AS or an AA: medical, industrial technology/fabrication, law enforcement, and culinary arts.

The goal is to make students employable upon graduation.

The charter school is envisioned for the district office complex on Louise Avenue.