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Mantecas new charter school opens Aug. 3
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All systems are go for the Manteca Great Valley Academy after its charter application was unanimously approved by the New Jerusalem School District board.

The first day of classes is Aug. 3 for the first 430 students who will be attending the soon-to-be former Manteca Christian School of the Place of Refuge (Assembly of God) church on Button Avenue. Great Valley will be leasing the facilities of the private school which is closing its doors at the end of the school year due to dwindling enrollment.

“Our staff evaluated the (GVA) charter and it met all the criteria that were set forth in our Charter Petition Review form and (the board) approved it,” said New Jerusalem Superintendent David Thoming. The board voted in favor of the charter school at their Tuesday night regular meeting which was attended by Great Valley founder and longtime Modesto optometrist Eldon Rosenow, Russ Howell who will be the Manteca school principal, Place of Refuge Pastor Mike Dillman and members of the church board, and some parents of GVA students.

“We see it as a sound education option for the students in our area and we’re very excited that Great Valley is going to be out there for our family,” Thoming said of the newly approved charter school.

The third time turned out to be the charm for GVA after Tuesday night’s favorable vote by the New Jerusalem school board. Their application was turned down in December by the Manteca Unified School District, followed by a similar action in February by the board of the San Joaquin County Office of Education. Instead of appealing the county board’s action to the state board of education, the next level of authority, Great Valley instead turned to New Jerusalem which is generally viewed as a charter-friendly district. New Jerusalem, one of the smallest school districts in San Joaquin County, runs a traditional school with the same name as the district and oversees the Delta charter school as well.

“We serve just under 800 students between Delta and New Jerusalem,” Thoming said.

With the addition of Great Valley in Manteca, and based on the number of students expected to attend the new campus on Button Avenue, that number will jump to more than 1,200 by this summer.

First order of business for the new charter school
Now that the new charter school is approved, the first order of business will fall on GVA to get the new campus up and ready for the August opening.

“Most of the work now is going to be on GVA. It’s time for them to get their site ready to go and enroll the kids. The real work is done by them to get it up and going,” Thoming said.

As the sponsoring district, New Jerusalem will oversee the charter school’s financial system and will, “with good diligence,” make sure that the school will be “doing the necessary reporting in a financially responsible way” and that they are complying with all the special education laws and all laws that charter schools need to comply with, added Thoming.

Manteca Great Valley Principal Russ Howell said their first order of business at the Button Avenue campus will be “building community.

“We need to complete the enrollment process. We’ve taken applications and now we need to take care of business,” he said.

They have had several informational meetings in the last few months which included parents signing up their children for the new school once the charter application is approved.

Setting up the faculty and staff is another priority for Manteca GVA. Howell said they are now starting the process of hiring teachers and are beginning to interview applicants. They have been receiving “fantastic applications,” he said.

While it is a difficult time for a lot of teachers with school districts cutting down budgets and laying them off, the result of that “for us is positive,” Howell pointed out.

He said they are looking to hire 16 credentialed teachers, and are enrolling the 430 K-8 students who have signed up for the school. They also expect to hire teacher’s aides as well as Spanish and physical education teachers.

“We will have a limited (school office) staff to begin with,” Howell said.

At least one Manteca Christian office employee, the school secretary, will be absorbed by Great Valley.

The other priority that needs to be tackled will be “facility issues, to make sure we have space” for the first group of students attending the new charter school, Howell said.

“Those are the big ones, and there are all kinds of things that fall under that umbrella,” he said. The rest of the preparatory work will be “(investment) in time and labor.” he added.

In the summer, before the official school opening, “we will have a family gathering to get the families together and to celebrate the charter approval. It will be a celebratory social,” Howell said.