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On the rise: Charter schools gain ground in SCV, around nation

Posted: January 2, 2012 2:16 p.m.
Updated: January 2, 2012 2:16 p.m.

The Santa Clarita Valley is in the forefront of a nationwide movement toward charter schools, which advocates say provides the opportunity to go beyond the one-size-fits-all model of traditional schools.

Across the country, the number of students attending charter schools has soared to more than 2 million and represents the largest increase in enrollment over a single year since charter schools were founded about two decades ago, according to a recent study released by the nonprofit National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

In all, more than 500 new charter schools opened in the 2011-12 school year nationwide, with the most in California. And about 200,000 more students are enrolled now than a year before, an increase of 13 percent nationwide.

Locally, the charter school movement has been taking shape in recent years, most notably with growth of the Santa Clarita Valley International School and the 2010 opening of the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Both schools are chartered through the William S. Hart Union High School District and have waiting lists for families due to high demand.

SCV International opened in 2008 and counts 725 students in grades kindergarten through 10 at its Castaic campus. In the coming years, the school will become the only K-12 charter school in the Santa Clarita Valley and has promoted itself as a model of project-based and hands-on learning for kids.

Locally, Amber Raskin, SCV International's executive director of business development and operations, says the charter school growth is due to parents' drive to find the right education for their children, which isn't always their neighborhood school.

With many junior high and high school charter schools in the SCV, Raskin hopes to see more elementary school charters so parents have a choice for their kids' early education years.

"What if a parent is looking for something other than a traditional model, but cannot afford private school or isn't interested in religious-based instruction?" Raskin said. "What if the traditional model doesn't work for their child's learning style? This one-size-fits-all model of education is outdated.

"Choices are imperative for parents to find the right environment with the right philosophy that best appeals to each of their children."

That thought is taking shape nationwide and has been fueled by the Obama administration's $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition, which rewarded states for taking on ambitious educational changes that include expanding charter schools.

Yet charter schools within the SCV have faced criticism. Many traditional public school educators say the charter school model isn't necessary given the high test scores of local elementary, junior and high schools.

Proposed charter schools that have been denied charters include the Einstein Academy's elementary school proposal and Aspire Plan Achieve Reflect Thrive, or APART, proposed for the Sulphur Springs School District.

Some traditional public school educators say the two schools offer faulty models that would provide students with an unsound educational program.

Charter schools are funded by taxpayers but operate independently of many of the laws and regulations that govern traditional public schools.

Raskin says that works to a charter school's advantage.
"SCVi and other charter schools can be much more nimble because of their relatively small size and on-site governing board," she said. "SCVi surveys parents and students to find out what they want from their schedule, curriculum, staff. We also have the ability to integrate technology and new curricula more broadly and quickly."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.




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