“These are challenging times for charter schools,” says Cameron Curry, chief executive officer of Classical Academies (Escondido).
Curry was recently able to report renewal of Classical’s five-year charter for one of its seven campuses, Classical Academies Vista (Oceanside), but it was a circuitous, ten-year long journey. And just this month, Epiphany Prep, an Escondido charter school that has had enrollment growth to around 750 students, was denied five-year renewal by the Escondido Union Board of Education (Times-Advocate, February 18).
Curry describes the path to charter renewal littered with a whole array of challenges: updated state regulations, last year’s cancellation of federally mandated testing because of the pandemic, questions as to whether or not that testing will be held this year, and insufficient state funding.
Still another challenge is the state’s mandate of strict reliance to a single metric — test scores – used as the basis, EUSD board members said, for making their non-renewal decision for Epiphany Prep. And then there’s the seeming hostility to charter schools by public school boards, exacerbated further when their students move their enrollment to charter schools — as has frequently happened during the pandemic.
For Classical Academies Vista, the pathway to renewal approval was particularly circuitous. It began nearly ten years ago when the Vista Unified School District Board of Trustees denied the approval of Classical Vista (TK-8th grade). So in early 2011 Classical Academy Vista operated as a Learning Center – a designation the state then eliminated four years ago.
The Vista campus then transitioned to requesting charter school status from Vista Unified School District —and was again denied. This triggered an appeal with SDCBE that resulted in Classical Vista securing a three-year charter term in 2017, its five-year charter renewal now granted by SDCBE.
Curry says that SDCBE based its decision largely on the school’s testing scores of two years ago – newer scores unavailable due to testing eliminated in 2020 — those scores putting it in the renewable “Middle Performing” category. Additionally, Classical Academies provided an application including other academic and financial information, along with presentations at two public hearings.
“We are pleased that the Board of Trustees with the San Diego County Office of Education values the quality and excellence of Classical Academy Vista,” Curry says. “Their decision to approve a five-year renewal for the school speaks to their commitment to doing what is right for students, parents, and the community.”
Expected to follow a somewhat similar path to hoped-for renewal, Epiphany Prep President David Rivera told The Times-Advocate that it too will go to the county board of education to appeal the denial of its five-year renewal.
Besides reporting renewal of Classical Vista’s five-year charter, Curry said he is hoping for additional good news from a lawsuit filed late last year versus the State of California.
In that suit, Classical Academies, along with Springs Charter Schools (Vista) and The Learning Choice Academy (San Diego) charged that SB-98 and SB-820 – California’s new state funding laws – have failed to provide up to nearly $30 million for the thousands of additional students they have enrolled, largely because of the viral pandemic.
Curry said he expects a positive court ruling on the suit in late March or April.
The Classical Academies provides charter school education at seven campuses, three of them in Escondido: elementary school (TK-8), middle school (7-8) and high school.