Charter-district collaboration gears up for third yearLaura Beaton
Marriages aren’t always easy, and the collaboration between Plumas Unified School District and Plumas Charter School has proven that statement out. When the partnership was created two years ago, of all the comparisons the partnership task force team made, then-assistant superintendent Bruce Williams said the partnership most resembled a marriage.
That marriage, between Greenville High School and the charter school’s Indian Valley Academy, celebrated its second anniversary in June. A report on the PUSD/PCS partnership was presented at the June 26 PUSD board meeting by task force leaders Sue Weber, IVA director and Aurora Westwood, PUSD program coordinator.
Quarterly reports acknowledged that the partnership experienced a rocky first year, as both parties struggled to incorporate new practices into their existing philosophical beliefs and practices.
Second year reports also acknowledged challenges, but said progress toward a successful joint venture was made.
There were and still are some big differences between the partners, the report noted: chief among them is that district teachers are unionized while charter teachers are not, and class periods differ in length.
GHS classes will average about 45 minutes next year, down from 50 minutes, in order to implement an “advisory” period. The second year, final quarter report says the advisory period was added “for the purpose of creating a positive school culture, team building and fostering social and career skills which will potentially positively impact G J/S HS as a whole.”
IVA favors a block schedule of about 90-minute classes. Creating a master schedule that allows students to enroll in classes from both schools has been and still is a huge challenge, task force members said.
However, it appears that the partners have reached a compromise wherein students will be allowed to leave a few minutes early or arrive a few minutes late to accommodate each school’s schedule.
Currently only elective classes are shared; the different class lengths create too much of a challenge at this time, IVA director Sue Weber said, to include core classes. However, the partners will continue to explore ways to integrate core classes into the offerings students can choose from.
Last year, 15 electives were taught. GHS offered junior high, beginning and advanced band; culinary arts; woodshop; greenhouse; and Spanish. IVA offered drama, robotics, study skills, choir, chess, fitness, drawing and German.
Crossover enrollment was similar, with 29 GHS and 21 IVA students choosing their partner school’s electives.
Athletic teams were strengthened by allowing athletes from both schools to join teams, partnership task force members said. The task force also noted that greater student participation inathletics, dances and other crossover activities improved both school spirit and school culture.
Another success reported by the taskforce is the support of both boards of directors, as well as that of Superintendent of Schools Micheline Miglis.
In the conclusion of the PUSD/PCS partnership second year report, several changes for the coming school year were outlined.
The district said it is confident that recently hired GHS principal Dr. Travis Ross will expertly represent GHS in coming years.
The schools’ administrative staffs will be co-located in the high school’s offices, allowing daily communication and collaboration.
IVA will conduct some of its classes on the GHS campus, and several classrooms, such as the technology lab and shop, will be shared equally by both schools.
IVA will pursue certifying its courses as A-G accredited in core subject areas. Additionally, staff not highly qualified will pursue HQ status via the same method as district staff — verification process for special settings.
A smaller task force comprised of at least two teachers from each site will streamline the process of establishing agendas for strategic collaboration occurring during partnership taskforce meetings.
The report concludes with the following statement:
“The objective of the partnership is to maximize the learning opportunities for all students. Both schools aspire to continue to offer electives to students at both campuses and expand to core classes, as can be accommodated by schedules …
“The sites will continue to build a common culture for next year and creatively address how to best utilize both the faculty and site resources to the advantage of all students.”
Both schools are looking forward to continuing the partnership and providing as many quality offerings as possible for students.
As enrollment continues to decline and budget woes continue, district-charter partnerships like this one may provide a viable solution for small rural communities struggling to offer students top-notch education and services.