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Verdict next month for Great Valley School plan
From right, appointed principal of the Manteca Great Valley Academy Russ Howell, Stanislaus County School of Education Superintendent Tom Changnon, and Veronica Ford of Manteca whose son attends the Modesto campus, listen intently at the presentation being made by Great Valley founder Eldon Rosenow before the San Joaquin County Board of Education Wednesday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
For the second time since December, Great Valley Academy is on waiting mode.

In about a month, officials of the Modesto-based charter school will know whether they will get the green light from the San Joaquin County School of Education Board of Trustees to open a new campus in Manteca.

Great Valley founder, longtime Modesto optometrist Eldon Rosenow, along with four other supporters went before the county school board at their regular meeting Wednesday to appeal the Manteca Unified school board’s decision in December which denied their charter application to start a new campus in Manteca.

After Wednesday’s public hearing of the appeal, the county board of trustees will have 30 days to decide if they are going to approve or deny Great Valley’s Manteca charter. They will make that decision at their regular meeting in February.

At the public hearing, Rosenow once again outlined the reasons why he believes their charter application should be approved. He also expounded on the optometric-based learning process called Integrated Visual Learning that the school uses to teach their students. Great Valley is the only one in California that is applying this unique program designed to strengthen visual learning of students. This is based on the belief that 80 percent of information that people receive is processed visually, and that the better the students learn visually, the higher is their achievement level.

His presentation was further bolstered by a parent and grandparent of two students currently attending the campus in Modesto, and by Dr. Tom Changnon, the superintendent of Stanislaus County School of Education which approved the Modesto Great Valley’s charter application three years ago.

Changnon made several pointers in support of what Great Valley is doing to teach students.

“Great Valley Academy teaches kids how to be lifelong learners,” he said.

Furthermore, the school does not stress scores. Rather, it gives students the desire to learn, Changnon said.

“They learn because they want to learn,” he said.

“We rarely get opportunities to learn about good schools,” Changnon added. But at Great Valley Academy in Modesto, he said, “I get parents e-mails all the time thanking me for sponsoring this school. Without question, I’d love to see San Joaquin County become a partner where we can have another school like this.”

He also said that if his two children were still young, “there’s no doubt that they’d be at Great Valley Academy.”

As for the fiscal health of the charter school, Changnon told the county board that Great Valley Academy in Modesto is “the most solvent school in Stanislaus County, so money is not a problem. They’re solvent, while our school districts are losing money.”

Changnon’s statements were further supported by the personal experiences shared by Valerie Ford of Manteca who drives her son to the school in Modesto every weekday, and of retired schoolteacher Joan Boblitt who said Great Valley “saved my granddaughter,” Laurel, 10, who “possessed all the earmarks of  a school dropout” until they “found Great Valley Academy.”

Today, the young girl who used to be petrified to stand and read before the class “would rather be in school than go to Disneyland,” Boblitt said about her granddaughter’s transformation which she describes as “miraculous.”

Ford, who was part of the Humpty Dumpty Co-operative Parenting Program at Lindbergh School in Manteca which used to feature Rosenow as a guest speaker, described how her son, Joshua, came home one day and told her, “Now, I’m comfortable reading before the class because my class is behind me; they always say, ‘Good job, Joshua.’”

Russ Howell, who will be the principal of the Manteca campus, said Great Valley Academy’s philosophy is “not just about (students) growing academically but about character growth.”

The fact that 480 students have already signed up for the school in Manteca that has not opened yet “speaks profoundly of the desire they have” to see a Great Valley campus open here, Russell added.

Great Valley is seeking to expand because they are already bursting at the seams at their school facility in Modesto. And even though their charter application is still being processed, nearly 500 students have already signed up for the branch campus in Manteca which will be housed at the Manteca Christian School of The Place of Refuge, formerly Assembly of God church on Button Avenue. Manteca Christian School is closing at the end of the school year due to dwindling enrollment.

About a hundred students from Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy and Lodi already attend the Great Valley Academy in Modesto.

While the purpose of Wednesday’s public hearing was for the school to present its reasons why they believe their charter application should be approved, some of the trustees asked a few questions.

Trustee Dave Sargent asked about the school’s fiscal situation and how it is funded. Rosenow responded by saying that their first year of operation, the school had $800,000 in reserves, followed by $1.2 million the second year, and $2 million the third year.

“So in a financial crisis, we still have money in reserves,” said Rosenow who described Great Valley as “an independent charter” that is “run as a business.”

In response to another question from Sargent about teachers’ salaries at the school, Rosenow explained that the salaries are comparable to that of a small school district. He added that their teachers received a 3 percent bonus the first year and were given a 3 percent raise in August, plus a 3 percent bonus at Christmas.

Rosenow also clarified that although Great Valley in Modesto is using the facilities that was once the Modesto Christian School, they don’t have any ties to any religious organization.

He added that the school is non-profit and is all funded by ADA (Average Daily Attendance) federal funds, with no private funding involved. Also, Great Valley is like a public school in that students don’t pay a tuition fee.

To the question asked by Trustee Anthony Gutierrez, Rosenow said that Great Valley has anywhere from 80 to 100 parent volunteers at the school on any given day.