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River Islands Technology Academy dedicated
Principal Brenda Scholl, center, was in attendance during Wednesdays dedication ceremonies for the River Islands Technology Academy. - photo by HIME ROMERO

LATHROP – The two-hour dedication ceremony Wednesday evening was just a blip in time. But in a historical perspective, the official opening of the River Islands Technology Academy was a giant leap for the City of Lathrop, the River Islands at Lathrop development, and for Banta Elementary School District.

For a number of “incomparable” reasons.

The campus is not just the first charter school for San Joaquin County’s second-largest incorporated community in terms of geographical area. It is also the first school in California – perhaps, even in the western United States – to open in an area where there’s not a single residential home around it. That was noted by Banta School District Superintendent Albert Garibaldi who emceed the brief dedication program inside the school’s multipurpose room.

While a single residential home has yet to break ground at the award-winning planned-community project west of the San Joaquin River in Lathrop, in 30 years’ time this 11,000+-residential-unit development will be the burgeoning home to some 35,000 residents, noted River Islands project manager Susan Dell’Osso in her speech before a crowd of about 100 city and school officials, parents and a few of the children who will be starting the school year in their brand spanking new state-of-the-art classrooms on Wednesday, Aug. 14. The master plan for River Islands calls for 10 elementary and high school campuses at build-out.

And while the charter school opens with an initial enrollment of 400 K-6-grade students – more than 300 are on the waiting list – for the school year 2013-2014, it will continue to grow with the addition of more elementary schools and a high school campus in the River Islands area of Lathrop that is a part of the Banta Elementary School District. The academy’s first principal, Brenda Scholl of Manteca, said they will be adding a new grade level each school year. Eventually, the technology academy will be a K-12 campus, she said.

Garibaldi described the opening of the technology academy “a momentous occasion” in the 137-year history of the small Banta Elementary School District. Three members of the school district board led by president Frank Silva were among the special guests.

“Today is a very proud day for us,” said Silva as he recalled the moment “about 10 to 12 years ago” when the Banta school board was notified about the River Islands development’s plan to build a school at the site.

“Then the challenge began. Today, we have something to be proud of,” Silva said.

He acknowledged the significant work done by former Banta school district superintendent William Draa of Manteca and Dell’Osso who were instrumental in shepherding the charter school to reality. Draa, who has been involved with the school project from the beginning, retired last year from the post he held for more than a dozen years.

Silva also expressed his thanks to Dell’Osso and her team at River Islands. “She’s been at it from the beginning,” Silva said of the tremendous help from the River Islands project manager.

With Banta being such a small school district, and given the enormity of the charter school project, “how are we going to do that?” Silva said recalling their first reaction when they were notified about the proposed new school addition to their district.

Dell’Osso said not just “hundreds of hours but thousands of hours” went into the charter school project.

She also noted that in her 30 years in the land-development business, she has never seen a school built before there were even rooftops on the horizon. She credited the contributions of hard-working members of the school district, principal Scholl and her staff, and many others who “bent over backwards” to get the school built.

“What a phenomenal undertaking. This has been such a team effort,” Dell’Osso said.

“This is history. This is not only our history. This is our future,” commented Lathrop Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Kennedy-Bracken.

It’s a future not only for the City of Lathrop “but for the surrounding communities” as well, she said.

“Now, other communities are looking at Lathrop. We’re on the map,” Kennedy-Bracken stated.

Becoming part of the local history is one of the reasons parent Stephanie Chervellera decided to enroll her daughter, Destiny, at River Islands. The former student at North Elementary in Tracy Unified will be in fourth grade at the academy.

Like many of the parents of students who will be attending the charter school, Chervellera was “happy and excited” that her daughter was one of the lucky ones to get accepted at the charter school.

“We were very lucky. We read (about the school) in the Tracy Press the day they were doing the enrollment. We’re very fortunate to be able to get her to this school,” said Chervellera who liked the charter school’s “technology devices” offered in the classrooms.

She was already considering transferring her daughter to another campus in the Tracy Unified School District when she heard about River Islands, she said. She is hoping her daughter will get “a better education” at River Islands.

“I wasn’t very happy with Tracy Unified,” she added, saying her daughter’s school had “the lowest test scores” in the district.

School said class-size ratios at River Islands will be 27 students to one teacher in Kindergarten to third grade, and 32 to 1 in grades four to six. There will be two classes per grade level, she added. The school has 15 teachers, all certified, with an office staff of five including the principal. Custodial service will be on contract.

School was also happy to note that after a whole year of working in their temporary office, a 10x30-foot trailer next to the River Islands at Lathrop offices, they were finally able to move to their new work stations last Saturday at the new school site.

At the conclusion of the brief dedication program, guests were invited to a guided tour of the new office and classroom facilities.