After one year at Bear River High School, SAEL may be forced to relocate
The Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning may be forced to relocate next year from its current site at Bear River High School.
The Nevada Joint Union High School District last week offered the charter high school space at Silver Springs High School, located at 140 Park Ave. in Grass Valley, for the 2015-2016 school year – despite prior conversations between SAEL school leadership and the district that pointed to the district offering the school continued use of facilities at Bear River, said Erica Crane, SAEL’s principal.
“We were very surprised,” Crane said.
The charter school, which opened its doors last August, secured space for its inaugural group of 80 students on Bear River’s campus from the district under Proposition 39, which was passed by voters in 2000.
One of the provisions of the state law, designed to ensure that all students have equal access to facilities built with public money, required that school districts make their facilities available for use by charter schools upon request.
The space offered by a school district must be contiguous, equipped and furnished similarly to other facilities used by district students and located near the area where the charter wants to be located, according to the law.
In exchange for using space at Bear River, where SAEL occupies a section of the campus’ G-wing as well as access to its cafeteria, gyms and fields, SAEL pays a fee to the district.
The district’s offer to host SAEL at its Silver Springs campus comes amid concerns from Bear River staff, parents and students who say the charter high school isn’t a good fit on their campus.
At the district’s Feb. 11 board meeting, five staff members, one parent and one student from the school used the public comment portion of the meeting to voice concerns that Bear River is not only losing classroom space to the charter school, but is losing students as well — in part, several staff members said, because students view SAEL as being an easier, less academically rigorous school than Bear River.
Staff members also said they believed SAEL students were a bad influence on Bear River students, with Bear River English teacher Kristina Stroeve saying that SAEL students use inappropriate language and have been “loud and disruptive” on campus.
At the board’s March 11 meeting, Matt MacDonald, the activities director and a social science teacher at Bear River, read a statement prepared by staff at Bear River asking board members “to formulate a new, viable plan” that involved an alternative site for SAEL.
Crane said there is “no validity” to the negative claims made during the public comment session of those board meetings against SAEL, and pointed to the opinions of SAEL’s parents and students — who used the public comment section of the board’s March 11 meeting to laud the school for its project-based learning, individualized attention to students and strong sense of community — as proof of the school’s standards and character.
“Anybody who’s actually here and doing the work and seeing our program, we are not hearing negativity. We’re seeing students in the past who were struggling, but now they’re rising,” Crane said. “So the fact that you’d use that to say the school is easy instead of the school is working does not make sense to me.”
District Superintendent Louise Johnson did not confirm that the district offered SAEL space on the Silver Springs campus as a direct result of the concerns voiced by members of the Bear River community, but said that the district considers several factors — including the availability of space, the desires of the schools involved and the impact on district programs — when offering space to charter schools in compliance with Prop. 39.
“We’re exploring all of our options at this point in time,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the February board meeting was the first time the district leadership was made aware of any tensions between the two schools.
After that board meeting, Johnson said she assigned Trisha Dellis, the district’s assistant superintendent of personnel, to work with both schools in an attempt to help resolve issues and foster collaboration.
“The board and I are very concerned about the concerns that were addressed by the staff (at Bear River), but the board has also been very supportive of the SAEL charter school,” Johnson said. “We’re working hard to resolve the differences.”
Both Crane and Johnson said the process of determining where SAEL will be located next year is an ongoing negotiation, and the two will meet Thursday morning to continue discussions.
Crane said she will work with the school’s stakeholders to closely examine all of its options, including placing the school at Silver Springs and leasing nondistrict space, but that the group would also look carefully at whether the state law under Prop. 39 entitles the school to retain its space at Bear River.
“It’s very difficult to figure out the necessary reason for us to leave a campus where we have been verbally promised space and verbally given a rationale that this is where the district has space,” Crane said.
She said she will continue to communicate regularly with her staff, students and parents throughout the process.
While she said moving would provide a minor setback in the stability the school has worked to establish during its first year in operation, the strength of the program, which is expected to grow to around 140 students next year and eventually serve about 250 students, would not waiver.
“We’re just going to keep working very hard to figure out how to minimize negative variables and amplify the positives that are happening in our program,” Crane said.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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