Charter schools dominated the discussion at the Three Rivers School District Board of Directors’ Feb. 1 special work session, held at 4 p.m. at Illinois Valley High School. TRSD Superintendent Dave Valenzuela also addressed the myth busting he has spoke of at the “Coffee with the Superintendent” events.
Valenzuela said that although there were no pressing issues to discuss where charter schools are concerned, he felt it was important to “really dig into our charter schools,” adding, “I wanted to do a quick update of things that are coming down the road.”
There are currently three charter schools in the district, soon to be joined by the Kalmiopsis Community Arts High School in the Illinois Valley, whose charter was approved by the board late last year.
Sunny Wolf Charter School, which operates out of Wolf Creek Elementary, is the district’s longest-running charter school. According to Valenzuela, they have a 10-year free lease to operate at Wolf Creek Elementary, and “they’re super good stewards of our assets.”
Elaborating, the superintendent said that Sunny Wolf has made improvements to the building they lease and has purchased portables for additional space, has a good partnership with Josephine Community Libraries and has good student performance.
Valenzuela praised Jody Hoffman, the administrator at Sunny Wolf.
Woodland Charter is the district’s second-longest running charter school. Valenzuela noted they serve first through eighth-graders and are seeking to add a kindergarten program as well, which is something the TRSD Board of Directors will be asked to sign off on.
Woodland’s charter will soon be up for renewal, and Valenzuela said he would be recommending the board vote in favor of this, noting how responsive Woodland has been in recent years to the board’s desire for revamped student assessment methods, and praising the charter school’s new administrator who was previously a teacher at Woodland.
Valenzuela believes Woodland will soon ask to purchase the property it currently leases at Hidden Valley High School from the district, “a super nice piece of property” that contains one of the district’s three water rights irrigation ponds and a well for Hidden Valley.
The superintendent also believes the property would be an ideal location if the district ever needed to relocate an elementary or middle school so that the district’s schools are more “consolidated,” citing a rural school district he visited where the elementary, middle and high schools are all within walking distance of each other, which is much different situation than the “spread out” schools in TRSD.
He said that since the property has such “high leverage value for the district,” a sale should not be executed at this time.
Last but not least, Southern Oregon Success Academy was discussed. Valenzuela said SOSA operates over three campuses spread throughout the district and has an enrollment of over 280 students.
He said SOSA’s main campus in Merlin is “thriving,” to the point that enrollment has had to be limited recently.
Valenzuela joked that he doesn’t know what it is about TRSD that four charter schools have moved in while neighboring school districts don’t have any charter schools, but there is no limit on how many charter schools a district may have so theoretically a fifth school could apply for a charter.
Kalmiopsis Community Arts is set to open its doors in August, and Valenzuela reported there is currently a lot of back and forth between the district, KCA and the Oregon School Boards Association to finalize the charter agreement. He predicts this agreement will be available for the board to review in April and hopefully approve in May.
The superintendent listed some of the standards a charter agreement would set, including human resources, student assessments and enrollment processes.
It was pointed out that KCA will be operating out of Rusk Ranch just outside Cave Junction, which houses several nice buildings and outdoor settings for the charter school to utilize.
The board wanted to know if KCA being at Rusk Ranch would impact how other district schools could use the location, as they have in the past. Staff said they would work on getting more information on that.
After Valenzuela turned the floor over to the board members to ask questions or comment on charter schools, Board Member Rich Halsted said he agreed that consolidating schools in the future makes sense, and therefore he said Valenzuela’s assessment of not selling part of the Hidden Valley High School property is one he seconds.
Board Chair Jennifer Johnstun concurred, saying, “Property is one of the biggest assets we have, and once it’s gone it could be gone forever.” She added, “I think hanging on to what we have is important.”
About halfway through the meeting, the topic switched from charter schools to community engagement.
Valenzuela reported on the three “Coffee with the Superintendent” events he attended at Lorna Byrne Middle School, North Valley High School and Fruitdale Elementary School, respectively.
Among the things he talks about at these forums are the district’s core values, including creating lifelong learners and a culture of care, as well as school safety and community involvement in school operations.
Valenzuela said he also took these opportunities to clarify how the district can spend state funds and bust the myth that the funds are being misused.
Transportation was also a topic parents wanted to hear about. Although bus ride times can be long, Valenzuela said this is an unavoidable problem given the size of the district. Reducing route lengths would be inequitable to families that live in the far reaches of the district.
The superintendent also said he was accused of violating state law by some at the forums over sexual education curriculum. He summarized his response to these accusations by saying, “I get you’re angry and if you are angry you need to do something about it, but I’m not the guy to tell at. You need to go to Salem and yell at Salem.”
Valenzuela added, “We left maybe not friends, but we left in a good place.”
He confessed that the North Valley forum was poorly attended with three parents who also happened to be district staff members; Lorna Byrne was better with nine attendees; but the Fruitdale forum was where he received the most negative feedback.
Valenzuela claimed the district was “blasted” on Facebook for holding these three forums at 9 o’clock, when many parents would not be able to attend, with detractors asking if the superintendent was afraid to hear from parents. He said it was just the opposite, as 9 a.m. is just after middle school dropoff so many would-be attendees would have cause to be there already.
In spite of that, Valenzuela plans to have his next Coffee with the Superintendent event at 5 o’clock Feb. 15 just prior to the board’s next regular session at the board office on New Hope Rd. Though he clarified he does not plan to actually drink coffee at this one.