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School district and charter school bid goodbye to high school partnership

Almost a year to the day that students protested following the March 2016 Plumas Unified School District board decision to dissolve the partnership, the “collaborative” effort between Indian Valley Academy and Greenville High School operating under one roof has dissolved. This time permanently.

On March 14, PUSD Superintendent Terry Oestreich and Plumas Charter School Executive Director Taletha Washburn released a joint statement citing the need for both programs to “ shift their focus internally” instead of “trying to make it work.”

The reaction to the press release hit residents as both no surprise and out of the blue.

A meeting was jointly held and fairly well attended at the Indian Valley Elementary School cafeteria Wednesday, March 15, to address lingering questions and concerns the Indian Valley community might have over the dissolution of the partnership after the 2016-2017 school year.

The audience had some questions for representatives from both the charter school and the district. Will Charter ask PUSD to consider keeping or agreeing on a multi-campus agreement? Lisa Cavin, PUSD chief business officer, confirmed that “all options were on the table, but ultimately the board would have the final say.”

Cavin told the audience that PUSD was committed to Indian Valley having a full K-12 experience which led to a discussion about the role of sports at the high school and how that would play out with IVA leaving the building and partnership.

In the last few years, on any given team — or cheerleading squad for that matter — IVA students have made up a significant portion of team rosters. According to some players and their parents, this has been true of nearly all sports teams — football, basketball and baseball.

Given the split, some in the audience asked if the charter school can continue to pursue membership in the California Interscholastic Federation. CIF is the governing body for high school sports in the state. It was unclear at the moment what high school sports teams will look like going forward with two small schools less likely to have enough team members for all sports.

Concerns about the viability of sports teams included whether PUSD and PCS will go their separate ways and cancel sports programs when there are not enough students to play. For the moment, those questions are largely unanswered.

Both Cavin and Washburn reminded the assembled audience — made up largely of teachers, retirees and some current parents of enrolled students in both school systems — that the partnership experiment had been tried for five years and stressed the difficulties presented in trying to get two entirely different systems to mesh together.

For example, PUSD — and traditional public schools in general — receive funding for students based on the number of students in seats every day; whereas charters function not on day-to-day attendance, but on the amount of work accomplished by the student. That simple difference in funding and approach can make for huge difficulties in planning trips, hubs and classroom attendance, for example.

No doubt the 2016-2017 school year negotiation for rent played a part in PCS’s decision not to pursue another lease with PUSD. After paying roughly $44,000 in rent for the prior school year, the price for a year in the GHS school building went above $165,000 for the single site.

Notably different in this year’s decision from last year’s was the tone and resignation of families. Whereas last year’s decision to dissolve the partnership by the PUSD school board sparked indignation and a student walkout — this year’s decision seemed to spark sadness.

Greenville High School junior Moriah Fitch said, “I am sad to see the dissolution of the partnership of the two schools. I wish both schools the best of luck in their future endeavors though I am sad to see them split.”

GHS senior Hannah Lambach echoed the sentiment, reiterating that no matter the fights at the district level, “It’s sad for the students.”

IVA student Cameron Scully felt that IVA’s removal from the campus building and the partnership dissolving was “not a great use of local resources.”

One IVA student, Julianne Cook, expressed hope. “I know some students will be disappointed, but I think the split may be for the best. I am so thankful that both students and staff gave the partnership another try after the walkout, but there is still so much turmoil. I think at this point both schools are holding each other back and that was never the goal. Some programs such as sports will suffer, but some will prosper. I think it’s time to embrace the change and wish the best for everyone involved,” she said.

Over the past week, teachers and administrators at IVA seemed to know that the decision would be coming down soon.

The Tuesday morning press announcement seemed to catch GHS principal Jerry Merica-Jones off-guard. “’I’m going to the meeting to find out. This was not a school-level decision,” he said in reference to the Wednesday night meeting regarding the dissolution.

After the Wednesday meeting, his sentiments were similar. “This was something that came from both schools at the district level, and not a site based decision,” said Merica-Jones.

Merica-Jones also assured that filling sports teams with GHS students would not be a problem. He pointed to both boys’ football and girls’ volleyball as both being sustainable. “We only play an eight-man football team,” he said. “Schools smaller than us play teams.

Ryan Schramel, co-director of IVA, reflected that, “While the dissolution of the collaboration is unfortunate I remain confident that a viable long-term solution is achievable. My confidence rests upon the shoulders of community that has regularly overcome hardships in the past because they refuse to yield and will ultimately support one another when it matters most.”

Dave Keller, PUSD board member, said, “It’s extremely disappointing. To say I’m heartbroken would be an understatement. I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around it. At the same time, I think the Indian Valley community will survive this. It’s a tribute to the community’s strengths that it is able to support both a charter school and the flexibility it offers a great number of amazing students, and a traditional public school and its 200 equally amazing students.”

Underscoring the sentiment widely expressed by parents, Jenay Cogle, who was a parent representative on the collaboration committee this year, summed it up, “Quitters. Both admins and both boards unwilling to bend or work together for our kids and our community. They don’t want it enough.”

“There is only so much bending you can do before you break. Both sides have a bottom line and neither could move on those things, money and schedules. And like both sides said last night, the decision wasn’t made lightly,” said Renee Cervantes.

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