Vista charter school plans are modified

Immersion would be in Spanish and English

VISTA — The head of a for-profit company wants to run a charter school here with immersion programs in Spanish and English.

Allen Ratta, chief executive officer of Advanced Education Management, was still waiting at 9:30 last night to pitch revised plans to trustees. His new proposal modifies an earlier charter petition that drew criticism from some trustees and the community.

His initial proposal focused on literacy and English immersion for low-income Hispanic children. The revision targets both English- and Spanish-speakers with the intent of making them fluent in two languages.

“He had to change his plan because it was violating laws by excluding some students,” trustee Valerie Wade said before the meeting.

Before last night’s meeting, however, some board members had remained critical of the plan.

“I haven’t heard from one parent on the English side who wants their children to become bilingual,” said trustee Letha McWey. “And the
(Spanish-speaking) parents in this district are not going to want this either. I can guarantee you.”

Others, like trustee Stephen Guffanti, a longtime charter school supporter,
said he was anxious to hear what the group had to say.

A public hearing on the charter plan will be held within 30 days.

Alan Dorward, volunteer spokesman for the charter group, said the English-immersion portion of the curriculum would resemble the Oceanside Unified District’s program.

“English immersion has proven itself in a neighboring district, Oceanside,
to be a better curriculum than bilingual, which is essentially what Vista Unified offers now,” said Dorward.

Oceanside Unified, unlike most districts across the state, has thrown out bilingual education. Oceanside has since shown success on the state standardized test of basic skills, where English learners have made significant gains.

Ratta’s charter school would serve up to 520 students in kindergarten through sixth grade in the first year, said Dorward. The school would aim for class sizes no larger than 20 students.

Advanced Education Management is a local consulting firm that has not previously operated any schools, said Dorward. Ratta has two children in the Vista school district.

This is only the second charter petition to come before the Vista school board.

Guajome Park Academy, which has a project-based curriculum, is the sole charter school in the 24,000-student Vista Unified School District. It was approved in 1994.

Run on public funds, charter schools can operate independent of most state education code and local regulations in exchange for meeting specific student achievement goals.

Changes to California’s charter school law went into effect Jan. 1, 2000,
making it easier to apply for charter status and making it more difficult for local school boards to deny charter applications.

The new law has increased the number of charter schools allowed in the state from 100 to 250. School boards can reject a charter application only if it falls short of specific criteria.



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