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Place for both traditional & charter schools?
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Even as students attending traditional public schools are moving in droves to public charter schools, some education leaders are not convinced this is the wave of the future.

Tuition-free charter schools in the area such as the K-8 Great Valley Academy in Manteca, K-12 Delta Charter School in Tracy’s New Jerusalem School District, and River Islands Technology Academy in Lathrop, which was dedicated this year, all have their enrollments dominated by student transfers from public schools. At Delta Charter School alone, transfers from public schools account for 96 percent of its total enrollment, according to statistics compiled by the school.

But even in the face of those hard numbers, New Jerusalem School and Delta Charter executive director Jeff Tilton is not convinced that ongoing charter-school trend will become the dominant factor in the near or far future of the educational system, or even make public schools obsolete.

“I don’t think traditional public schools, as we know it, will go away any time soon. As long as school boards, administrators and teachers’ unions can find a way to work together, traditional school programs will remain,” Tilton said.

Great Valley Academy Principal Russell Howell hopes the trend will never get to a point where charter schools will take over public schools as we know them today.

“I would prefer to see traditional schools and charter schools work collaboratively to improve our educational practices to better serve our students. Charter schools were implemented back in 1992 to spark innovation in education. We need to ensure that charter schools are sincere and purposeful in their pursuit of educational innovation. This innovation ought to result in a greater number of highly effective schools and educational practices across the country, in both traditional and charter schools,” he said.

“I am sure that there will be more and more charters, but a ‘wave of the future,’ I don’t think so,” commented San Joaquin County of Education Superintendent Mick Founts.

“I believe that there are not as many advantages for districts to do charters. It does, however, allow others to get into developing schools. The real issue is a fundamental commitment on charter school founders to create schools that are truly and significantly different from what exists today. If charters just create slightly different versions of what is currently in place, then what is the point?”

What can be done to improve the quality of education for students in charter school? Founts offers some insights and food for thought.

“Your school facilities can be very unique, and you can build or rent them outside of the State requirements that traditional public schools must adhere. Your board does not have to be elected, but can be founders of the school, or selected in numerous ways. Your teachers can be selected where they do not need a teaching credential. So a scientist from the Lab could be a teacher, or a famous author could be a teacher, or a great business owner could teach, etc.,” he noted.

The real question, he said, is: “What is the key to a quality education?” And the real answer?

“It is important to realize and embrace the basic concept that all students do not learn in the same way, in the same setting, or in the same time,” he offered.

“Then it is important to design schools and build schools that reflect this basic concept. We should not force kids into a place, but rather create places for kids. We should create schools that fit the learning needs of the child. Some learn by doing, some learn by lecture, etc.

“Let parents and children go freely to any public school that they want, without restrictions. There is no need for ranking or testing. Parents will find the right school for their child, and will leave those schools that do not meet the needs of their child. Simple. Kids and parents will ‘vote with their feet.’ If the school is good, kids will stay. If the school is bad, kids will leave. Simple.”

There are more than three-dozen charter schools in San Joaquin County including the Venture Academy Family of Schools sponsored by the San Joaquin County Office of Education. Included in this list are more than half-dozen Aspire public schools. These are “small, high-quality public charter schools in low-income neighborhoods,” located in Stockton. And New Jerusalem Elementary School District in Tracy, one of the smallest school district’s in the county, accounts for about half-dozen charter schools under its sponsorship.