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Charter school back on track
Great Valley partners with New Jerusalem
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Pastor Mike Dillman, left, and Eldon Rosenow’s shared vision of bringing Great Valley Academy School to the Manteca Christian Schools campus for the upcoming school year may become a reality after all. - photo by Bulletin photo
A charter school that is patterned after Modesto’s Great Valley Academy and its Integrated Visual Learning approach may yet become a reality in Manteca by the beginning of the next school year.

Turned down by both Manteca Unified School District and by the San Joaquin County Office of Education, educational proponents have launched a plan to make use of the small Tracy based New Jerusalem Elementary School District in partnership with the Great Valley Academy of Modesto.

The New Jerusalem Superintendent of Schools David Thoming said Tuesday afternoon that he has only two basic rules in the educational decisions he makes:  “What is wrong is wrong!” and “If it’s good for kids, do it!”

The Manteca campus already has a waiting list of 400 students hoping to attend the school where visual learning claims to build gifted students – according to its web site.  Children are also expected to randomly perform     acts of kindness to fellow students and staff members alike and to say “thank you,” without hesitation.  There is the promise of little homework and the absence of bells ringing on campus.

Thoming said he is confident that his staff’s recommendation set to be presented to his school board next Tuesday night is on track to establish the implementation of a charter school in Manteca at the Manteca Christian School that was going to be empty at the end of the current school year on due to declining enrollment.

Charter schools secure state funding that goes to where a child attends school. In other words, if a student now going to Manteca Unified attends Great Valley instead the average daily attendance - the biggest source of non-restricted funding from the state for educating kindergarten through 12th grade students - would go with that child to his new school. Christian schools per se are not eligible for the state refunding. As a result the economy has taken its financial toll on Manteca Christian School that had flourished for more than dozen years.

Manteca Christian is located on Button Avenue adjacent to Highway 99.

After the Great Valley Academy’s failed attempts to create a charter school in Manteca in the last few months, the two schools’  administrators met together and discovered they shared many of the same educational philosophies – working side by side they would make it work for the good of children, the Tracy educator offered.

The California Education Code allows for a school district to establish one “out of district” charter school within the same county.  New Jerusalem opened its first charter school in 1997 and two more that were “blended together” to serve 800 kids named Delta Charter followed.   New Jerusalem alone has only 150 students in its small school district.

“It looks like everything is a go,” Thoming said Tuesday.  “It would be very hypocritical for us to take any other stance” than to support Great Valley’s proven success story.

The two big issues in the decision were financing and Special Education costs – two of four items that Manteca and the San Joaquin County Board of Education found as being insufficient in their reviews of Great Valley’s initial charter school application.  Those have been worked out, Thoming said.

The two reluctant boards – Manteca and the county - also cited the lack of assurance for a successful operation, governance and administration issues, and student policies and facilities as being beyond their approval.

“We never expressed concern about the educational program that was coming forward,” Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer noted Tuesday.

Staying fiscally solvent over the long-term was a major concern for the Manteca Unified School District board, Messer added, as was who would be paying for the Special Education issues above and beyond the normal costs of service to those students.

“We don’t have any concern for them operating within the school district boundaries,” Messer said.  “As a district administration we are not opposed to charter schools.  We are going to insist that a charter school operating under the district umbrella would have to be successful.”

The Manteca charter campus is expected to follow many of Great Valley Academy’s three year long success stories that ask students to wear uniforms, have jobs assigned where they earn salaries, pay their bills and learn how to be an entrepreneur in creating their own businesses.  Parents are usually mandated to volunteer in the charter schools.

The Great Valley campus was chartered by the Stanislaus County Office of Education in February of 2008 and opened the doors to children in a vacant campus of a Christian school located on Tully Road in Modesto.   It, too, had been turned down by a local school district.  That district had also challenged the school’s business plan and classroom philosophies.  

Great Valley Academy charter school Principal Cy Cole explained recently that the students use the Integrated Visual Learning methods where they work at their own pace through a computer based instructional program.  He further noted that students are regularly seen having fun and developing   confidence as they see their successes develop before their eyes in school.

The Integrated Visual Learning concept comes from optometrist founder of Great Valley, Dr. Eldon Rosenow, who first visited a charter school in the Midwest, Traverse Academy in Traverse City, MI, and recognized the successes the school was experiencing with its children.

Rosenow has a history of caring for children any way he could in his nearly 40 years of practice as a Modesto optometrist.  

According to the Modesto charter school’s website, the children first gain coordination, then their eyes track line to line for fluent reading,   and finally they develop higher abilities to organize lessons and comprehend reading.

Stanislaus County Schools Superintendent Tom Changnon said he was convinced of the value of the visual based charter school after visiting the campus of Traverse Academy himself in Michigan over three years ago.   He stressed that it will undoubtedly change the landscape of education – the only school of its type in the country prior to Modesto.  Manteca would be added to the list if the New Jerusalem Board of Trustees accepts its staff’s recommendation next Tuesday night to establish the new school on the east side of Manteca.

Changnon said when he was visiting the school in Michigan, there were also educators touring the facility from foreign countries.  He added that he could also understand the reluctance of board members in Manteca and San Joaquin County for not wanting to take a risk on the program.