“Parents are the primary educator,” according to The Classical Academies. Parents, with the support of teachers, are at the center of this public charter school system which offers a mix of distance and hybrid learning strategies at its campuses in Escondido, Oceanside and Vista.
At first, Karen DeVault, with four children enrolled at the system’s Escondido campuses, admits that the central role of parents was “a little terrifying.” But she says her experience with the approach has been totally positive. Alexi, age 13, Kelcie, age 11 and twins Carson and Landon, age 8, are all in the school’s five-days-a-week distance learning program.
Karen says that when the virus hit in March, her children were enrolled at traditional schools in Poway where the DeVaults live. But the distance learning then provided to them “was a disaster. We didn’t know what was going on – they weren’t getting an education.”
So she says she was fortunate that Classical Academies was still accepting new students for the fall at the Escondido campuses. And that whenever she has had questions or problems, an “education specialist” assigned to her is always available for help. This has relieved her early anxiety and she says her children are doing really well with Classical’s emphasis on its individual “personalized” offerings.
The personalized approach was essentially embedded in the DNA of this public charter school – with plenty of training and support for parents— when it launched in 1999 — says Cameron Curry, CEO of Classical Academies. He explains that parents are expected to be “totally involved” in their children’s education in grades TK through 5, that they can “step back” a bit in grades 7 and 8, and then can totally step away at the high school levels to encourage students to be self-directed.
With rise of the pandemic, Classical Academies has had enrollment grow from 4,880 students to 5,914, a 26% increase, about half of these at its four Escondido campuses. This is a trend seen at several charter schools throughout the state as families have grown unhappy with the offerings of traditional public schools.
With the increase in enrollment, the school has maintained the 1/25 statutory requirement of student to support staff, Curry says. This has meant a large increase in costs, which the State of California has failed to cover.
In response, Classical Academies last week joined two other public charter school systems — Springs Charter Schools (Vista) and The Learning Choice Academy (San Diego) — in filing a lawsuit to seek the constitutionally required financing (Times-Advocate, October 1). Curry expects this to be decided by the courts early next year.
Curry reports that before the pandemic 30% of the system’s students had adopted the total distance learning approach, the other 70% a hybrid system. With the pandemic, distance learning is provided to all students, and special ed students and those needing additional academic support meet with teachers in “targeted small groups.” As schools are allowed to be more open, Classical expects to expand its hybrid offerings.
Curry attributes the enrollment increase to Classical Academies’ history of developing and perfecting the distance learning and hybrid models, in contrast to the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional public schools and their difficulty in pivoting to distance learning. This greater flexibility is especially appropriate, and positive, for students with special needs, Classical Academies says.
In his website introduction to the Classical Academies approach, Curry says, “As a parent whose children have attended our schools, I can say with great pride and certainty that our team truly values the connection with each and every student. This results in a positive and heartfelt school culture where differences are celebrated and students find a place to excel.”