Educators are energized
The former San Bernardino County public school teachers are among dozens of teachers recently hired at Oxford Prep. The charter school is set to open Sept. 7 at the site of the former El Rancho Elementary School.
"We're getting the freedom to create our own programs, which is going to allow us to be more positive and excited and promote that excitement and energy in the students," Jackson said.
"I'm coming from a school that was very boxed in by the district and the administration. Now, I don't have to follow the same curriculum as everybody else. I can do my
Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools that receive public funds, but don't have to follow rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools.
About 1.65 million students are attending about 5,000 charter schools in the United States. In the past year, about 450 charter schools have opened, said Nelson Smith, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Charter schools are increasing in popularity because they offer greater power for site administrators over the operation of programs, new and innovative teaching practices as well as a performance system through competition, said Steven Holguin, senior manager of school development with the California Charter Schools Association.
Oxford Prep, which will be under the direction of Sue Roche and Jason Watts, may be the largest independent charter school in California. When its doors open in September, Oxford Prep will enroll about 850 students and about 100 independent study students, according to the California Charter Schools Association.
"When teachers at district schools have new ideas, it's often difficult to have them implemented because of the scale and size of the district," Holguin said. "In the smaller environment of a charter school, decisions made at the site ... can be more quickly enacted."
The creation of Oxford Prep followed increasing frustration from Rhodes Elementary School parents, teachers and administrators. In 2009, they successfully petitioned for an independent charter school due to a desire for more freedom and autonomy from the Chino Valley Unified School District.
In a petition to Chino Valley Unified officials, the supporters of a charter school cited several reasons for the move. They included the need for more school community autonomy over program decision-making, an interest in protecting teachers from layoffs and allowing students to consistently follow a set of programs into their middle school years.
Roche and Watts, who were administrators at Rhodes Elementary, said they had grown frustrated about funding for equipment being denied by Chino Valley Unified.
There was also concern that Rhodes Elementary could lose valuable teachers due to a declining district budget, Watts said.
Roche said she is excited to have more decision-making power when it comes to hiring teachers and acquiring resources.
"I think charters are really the next big innovative way to educate kids because I think it gives people an opportunity to really plan the education for their children and make it more centered for the community," said Roche, who will serve as executive director for the Oxford Prep.
"The parents get to help decide how they educate their children and what programs are there for the kids."
Watts said Oxford Prep is "site-based learning at its best.
"I think that, provided you have strong leadership and people willing to be innovative, you take that innovative thought process and not worry about the bureaucracy of system and implementing the kinds of things you want to do to make school fun, exciting, and rigorous at the same time for kids," said Watts, who will serve in a principal-like role of director of educational services.
Ontario resident Tina Kaiser, who starred as Tina Yothers in the 1980s NBC-TV sitcom "Family Ties," said she was excited about the possible opportunities at Oxford Prep. Kaiser said she enrolled her 4-year-old daughter at Oxford Prep after having been impressed with the school's proposed music program, which will involve all of the school's students.
"I was raised with music and I had a big passion in the arts in general," Kaiser said. "One of the things that drew me at the parent meeting for Oxford was how open the music program will be and how interested they are to teach music. My 4-year-old beats the drums at home and she's really excited about music."
Oxford Prep is located at the Oaks Avenue and C Street intersection. El Rancho Elementary was shuttered in 2009 due to Chino Valley Unified budget cuts.
"We now have the freedom to do what we feel is right musically," Fritz said. "We're not bound down by any restrictions. Sue's given us pretty much the greenlight to develop whatever we want to develop."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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