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MUSD board to decide on Great Valley charter school petition Dec. 6
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Advocates and supporters of the proposed Great Valley Academy charter school in Manteca have spoken.

Now, all they have to do is wait to see whether the Manteca Unified School District Board of Trustees will say yea or nay to their charter school petition in conjunction with their plan to open a second campus next year at the Manteca Christian School of The Place of Refuge Church (Assembly of God) on Button Avenue.

They will have a 20-day wait. The trustees actually have 30 days to look at the charter petition and weigh all the facts gathered at the public hearing held Tuesday night, and then vote on it. However, they will be taking action on the petition at their next meeting on Dec. 6 which shortens the waiting period for the charter school proponents.

The public hearing, designed “to receive any relevant public comment to determine the level of support for the petition by teachers, other employees of the District and parent/guardian,” is part of the mandatory process for the establishment of a charter school. No board action was required at this time.

Only four speakers spoke at the podium in favor of the Modesto-based Great Valley Academy’s petition, but they were backed by the overwhelming support of scores of people, which included teachers and parents with children in tow, who packed the school board meeting room but did not speak. No one stepped forward to speak against the proposed charter school. The meeting room was practically empty save for a few school officials and a handful of residents after the Great Valley’s roughly 20-minute presentation.

It started with Dr. Eldon Rosenow, Great Valley founder and “co-developer,” laying out the three reasons why school charter petitions are usually denied.

1. Lack of preparation. Establishing a school is an upside-down business, Rosenow explained. There need to be a facility and faculty, among other necessary things, in place before an application is even filed. “We have complied with that. We have secured the Assembly of God’s Manteca Christian School” facility, he said.

2. Poorly written charters. Rosenow said “thousands of hours of work and thousands and dollars” were poured into the establishment of the Great Valley School in Modesto. “We feel it’s one of the finest charters in California,” he said. It is also fiscally healthy, he noted, saying they ended their first school year with three-quarters of a million dollars in their coffers and with $1.5 million by the end of the current school year.

3. Poor academic design. Rosenow proudly pointed out that Great Valley Academy’s Academic Performance Index (API) jumped 36 points at the last STAR testing (Standardized Testing and Reporting).

Rosenow described Great Valley Academy as “a most unique and innovative school,” adding, “we have screening programs so students can achieve higher levels of learning with no stress.”

He concluded his presentation saying, “This charter school fulfills the letter of the law.”

60 students from Manteca attend Great Valley in Modesto
There are currently 60 students from Manteca who are attending Great Valley Academy in Modesto, said Rosenow during an interview after the presentation.

The K-8 Modesto Campus currently has a total enrollment of 640 students with some of them coming from Lodi, Lathrop and Tracy. There are 200 students on the waiting list, which prompted their decision to expand.

As luck would have it, while Great Valley was looking for a place to expand its campus, Pastor Mike Dillman of The Place of Refuge in Manteca came knocking on their door to obtain information on how to start a charter school.

“It was unfamiliar territory, so I went to Great Valley to see if they could coach us,” Dillman said in his speech before the school board.

Due to the declining economy, enrollment at Manteca Christian School had plummeted from some 200 at one time to about 60 today, the pastor said. The low enrollment number was such that the school won’t be able to continue “after this school year,” he said.
His attempt to seek out other possible venues such as turning the Christian School to a charter school was blessed by the church board and by the members of his flock, Dillman said. They simply did not want to have a “ghost-town campus.” They also did not want their school facility to “go to waste.” Those desires, coupled with the need of Great Valley to expand, brought about the issue of opening a charter school at their Button Avenue church property, Dillman said. He said he sought out Great Valley because he had heard great things about the school.

The charter school, he told the trustees, would be “a quality addition to our church.”

Dillman wrapped up his speech in support of Great Valley saying, “We are committed to impact people in a positive way.” He then asked the trustees to “put your blessing on this journey.”

John Kramer, a Manteca parent whose three children have been attending the charter school in Modesto for three years, said Great Valley Academy “is an amazing campus for our kids. Parents are passionate about their kids being at school.”

Before they enrolled their children at the school, he said they heard a lot of “feel-good slogans” about Great Valley. On the strength of those slogans, they “took a leap of faith” and enrolled their children there.

“After three years, we saw the slogans turn into this school called Great Valley Academy,” Kramer told the school board members.

“My kids are anxious to go to school, and they get mad when it’s summer break,” he said.

The school, he added, has “great educators and teachers that love their students. It’s been an amazing experience for our kids and for our kids’ friends.”

Goodbye, Manteca Christian; hello, Great Valley Academy?
Pastor Dillman said the goal is to open Great Valley at the soon-to-be former Manteca Christian School with 350 students next year, pending approval of the charter school by the school board.

He said the church will be leasing the school facility to Great Valley Academy.

As for the remaining Manteca Christian students, he said their families will have the opportunity to sign up as “founding families.” But more than that, he said, the families will have the opportunity to participate in the opening of the new charter school.

While Great Valley Academy would operate as a public school, Dillman said the church has a Day Camp program that would be available to provide before- and after-school services and programs for the families if they so choose.

Hope springs eternal
Should the Manteca board of trustees decide not to vote in favor of the charter school locating in Manteca, Rosenow said they will be ready to appeal that decision before the board of the San Joaquin County Office of Education. If, at that stage, they fail to get the approval, their appeal could go to the state level, he said.

But Rosenow and Great Valley Academy know a lot about persistence. When they filed a charter petition for their Modesto school campus, Rosenow said they were denied three times.

“You don’t give up; you just keep beating on doors,” a smiling Rosenow said.