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Tech Academy opens enrollment
Huge interest in River Islands charter school
J. Kirk Brown, director of Science and Special Projects at San Joaquin Office of Education, answers questions from eager young students about hissing Madagascar cockroaches and the carbon dioxide they emit during Tuesdays presentation on the new River Islands Technology Academy in Lathrop. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

To download a registration form go  to the school’s web site –

LATHROP – Tears welled in Jill Schrank’s eyes as she left the Dell Osso Farms Country Store. She could barely wipe the teardrops off her face fast enough as she walked to her car. And it was not because the blinding setting sun was hurting her eyes. She was crying because she was so happy. She was finally able to enroll her two young children in a charter school.

In her hand were the papers that turned the dream she’s had for her kids since they were born into a reality. She tried getting them into Great Valley Academy last year, but the first charter school in Manteca in so many years was already impacted so they were put on the long waiting list.

This time, her fourth grader and kindergartner who are currently attending Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary School at Stonebridge in Lathrop will be going to the brand-new River Islands Technology Academy when it opens its doors for the first time in August 2013. The school is currently under construction at 100 Commercial Street in Lathrop with the temporary mailing address at 73 West Stewart Road, Lathrop 95330

Schrank and her husband Jose were not the only ones excited about the new charter school which is under the Banta Unified School District. At the 3:45 p.m. presentation session, which was also an opportunity for parents to sign up their children for the 2013-2014 school year starting in August, the country store at the Dell’Osso Family Farm off Interstate 5 in Lathrop was standing room only.

There were supposed to be only two presentation sessions held – the first one at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and a second one on Thursday, Feb. 28. However, the response to the first session – attendance was by RSVP – was so overwhelming that an earlier one at 3:45 p.m. had to be added. The session on Thursday will be held at the same location starting at 9:30 a.m.

“It’s very exciting. It’s a great opportunity for Lathrop,” parent Teresa Vargas said about the school as she patiently waited in line after the presentation to sign up her son who is currently in third grade at Lathrop Elementary School.

“Hopefully,” she said, her son will be accepted at the new charter school.

“It has a lot of new exciting opportunities to learn with the new technology which a lot of public schools don’t offer,” said Vargas who, like Schrank, lives in Lathrop.

While the parents lined up to get their children signed up, their eager-faced children gathered around the scientific and high-tech experiments on display in the tables set up by the San Joaquin County of Education’s Da Vinci Center, “a creative learning sanctuary with a STEM-based model.” The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and mathematics. There to answer questions from the children about a scientific presentation involving hissing Madagascar cockroaches and the carbon dioxide they emit was J. Kirk Brown, a Manteca High graduate and now the director of Science & Special Projects at the county office of education. Bill Engelhardt, the director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology of SJCOE, was also there. Engelhardt’s demonstration of a small prototype that was capable of taking off the ground and then hover and fly overhead by remote control was one of the highlights of the session, with parents and children alike totally captivated.

“If you’re in agriculture, how about doing your crop-dusting like that,” Engelhardt said, explaining one of the practical uses of this type of high-tech development.

The county’s Da Vinci Center has a lot more of these high-tech toys, said Engelhardt, and invited the parents and children to “stop by” anytime to look at them. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said of the things they have presented that afternoon.

“We have a national need to have more kids in science,” Brown told the parents.

River Islands Technology Academy’s first principal, Brenda Scholl, who took over the presentation after the welcome talk by River Islands of Lathrop Project Manager Susan Dell’Osso, said the school will have a total enrollment of “approximately 350” students during its first year. There will be 25 students per class for kindergarten through third grade, and 30 students for each class from grades four to six, or an average of 50 students per grade level, she said.

While the school will open with grades K-6 in August, another grade level will be added with each new school year – for example, a seventh-grade class will be added the following school year – until the K-12 maximum curriculum is reached.

Parents who are ready to enroll their children are asked to bring the following to the sessions;

• completed registration form, printed and filled out (can be downloaded from the school’s web site –

• the student’s birth certificate

• copy of immunization record

• current or previous report card.

For more information about the new charter school in Lathrop, visit the web site mentioned above.

River Islands Technology Academy is in the Banta Unified School District because when the 10.1-square-mile Stewart Tract was annexed into the city of Lathrop in 2005, the project area west of the San Joaquin River was part of Tracy. The original project planned for this swath of land which catapulted Lathrop to being number three in geographical size among San Joaquin County’s incorporated cities at the time of the annexation was the much touted, and highly controversial, Gold Rush project which was described by some as the future Disneyland of Northern California. Those plans crashed, and the project later evolved into Califia, which also did not materialize. From Califia, third time was the charm for the project that is now the River Islands at Lathrop.