Nevada City Charter School voted to close after school year | TheUnion.com

Nevada City Charter School voted to close after school year

Sam Corey

February 15, 2019

The small room inside Nevada City Charter School's district office was packed as a huddled mass of people leaked out of the open back door, trying to catch a glimpse of the superintendent and board members sitting up front. Parents and kids, awaiting the meeting planned six days prior, mostly stood behind the 12 chairs made available for attendees, hoping for the best and dreading the worst. Photos of Nevada City Charter School's former administration's lined the room's walls, documenting the school's history. A handful of individuals brushed up against a projector with the agenda hanging, ignored in the back.

Superintendent and Principal Trisha Dellis made sure to inform the crowd that "none of [the students] have done anything wrong," and that they were not to be blamed for the meeting taking place Tuesday night. Many of those students, as well as their parents, sported Nevada City Charter School t-shirts, with the signature owl on the front. Others held signs saying "We Love Nevada City Charter."

For those aspiring to save the school, however, their worst fears became affirmed: The Nevada City School District Board of Trustees unanimously voted to not renew the charter for the next five year cycle, thereby closing the 24-year-old school after the end of the school year.

Low Test Scores

Nevada City Charter School was voted to not be renewed because of low test scores, specifically those related to the math portion of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. The math test results, in addition to results from the slightly lower English Language Arts/Literacy section, were well below that of Nevada County and California schools.

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The decline of math scores at the charter school slightly precedes the arrival of Common Core Math, a new strategy for learning math, which became mandated by California schools in the fall of 2014, and was tested statewide by the spring of 2015.

In 2016, 2017, and 2018, the percentage of students who met or exceeded the standard of achievement on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress in math was nine, 16, and 18 percent, respectively. These low scores, according to the superintendent, was cause for closing Nevada City Charter School.

"The board is required to consider academic performance as the most important factor when reviewing renewal," said Dellis at the meeting. The charter school, she added, has not been keeping up with state standards, which is why she advocated its closure.

The school's closing was not related to students who had not taken the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, according to Board Member President, Sandy Hakala. The academic performance of Nevada City Charter School students only included those who participated in taking the statewide test.

"I want to correct what appears to be a common misconception," said Hakala at the meeting. "Those students who opt out of testing and receive a zero do not bring down the average."

'Where Was The Accountability?'

While it was no surprise that the superintendent and board members were focusing on low test scores at the meeting, there was great shock as to why parents and teachers were not informed about the issue prior to last week, and that they didn't have more time to try to remedy the problem.

"One question that keeps coming to mind," said parent Dawn Simmons at the meeting. "Where was the accountability? There has been no communication of concern to the charter school that it would not be renewed."

Austin Wilson, parent to a former student at the Nevada City Charter School, highlighted the collective anguish at the sudden push to close the school.

"I think it can be repaired," said Wilson at the meeting, "as soon as there's a conversation about repairing the problem. [Instead], it's, 'Oh, everything's fine until we cut your head off.'"

Distress was not shared by parents and students alone, however, but also by teachers. Michael Pettengill, a teacher at the school, known fondly as "Mr. Mike," said that the teachers were not aware that the possible closing of the school was an urgent issue, and that they were equally as startled about the current situation as everyone else.

"At our last charter meeting," said Pettengill on Tuesday night, "we sat down and said, 'We need to take a look at this charter.' And [the response] was, 'Well, we need to put this on hold because there are other things going on.'"

The board members knew nothing of a potential vote to close the school until last month, according to Hakala.

In an email to The Union, Hakala wrote that the board did not begin discussing the possibility of the school closing "until the January 2019 meeting when Superintendent Dellis shared her concerns with the Board in open session regarding the Charter School's academic performance."

A Little History

Within the last decade, two other schools have closed in the Nevada City School District. First, there was Nevada City Elementary in 2010. Before the school closure, a committee was constructed in March 2010 to investigate both Nevada City Elementary and Gold Run School schools. Two months later, in May, Nevada City Elementary school had shut its doors. Many of the students from Nevada City Elementary went to Gold Run School.

About one year later, though, in April of 2011, Gold Run School was voted to be shut down too. The issues these schools faced was an unbalanced budget, and dwindling enrollment numbers.

'The Greatest Educational Experience'

While some test scores are low today, Nevada City Charter School's test results use to augment a district that was once on par with some of California's top schools, according Hakala at the meeting.

"I am aware that at one time, [Nevada City School District] was competing with Marin County schools, which were considered the best in California," she said.

Nevada City Charter School has a non-traditional model, whereby parents homeschool their children for part of the week, investing more in their educational lives than typical. Matriculated students of this educational style at Nevada City Charter School attended the meeting, in addition to the current students and their parents. They spoke of their exceptional experience at the school. Lindy Oliver, an alumnus of Nevada City Charter School, was one of those individuals who publicly spoke at the meeting.

"I attended Nevada City Charter in 8th grade, and it was the greatest educational experience of my school career," she said to the crowd. Oliver's sentiment was regurgitated by many current students and parents at the school.

As the meeting progressed, many tears could be seen, and muffled cries could be heard, around the room. By the meeting's attendance of dozens in a school of 69 total students, the importance of Nevada City Charter School to those attending, teaching, and those surrounding the school, was made clear.

"Choosing to close the only charter school in the district would be a disservice to the community," said parent Stacey Smith, who has two kids that attend the school, at the meeting.

By the meeting's end, there was little that could be done to persuade the board from keeping the charter open for another five years. Pettengill summed up how teachers felt about the school's immanent closure.

"We're heartbroken for students and families."

You can contact Sam Corey at (530) 477-4219 or email him at scorey@theunion.com

Percentage of students who met or exceeded the standard for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math CAASPP Test Results

Schools

California

49% 2016 ELA

37% 2016 Math

49% 2017 ELA

38% 2017 Math

49% 2018 ELA

38% 2018 Math

Nevada County

52% 2016 ELA

38% 2016 Math

51% 2017 ELA

39% 2017 Math

51% 2018 ELA

39% 2018 Math

NC Charter

42% 2016 ELA

9% 2016 Math

58% 2017 ELA

16% 2017 Math

42% 2018 ELA

18% 2018 Math

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