Bilingual charter school proposed in Oceanside
North county Times
February 24, 2006

By: LOUISE ESOLA

OCEANSIDE ---- A Virginia-based company and a local nonprofit have joined forces to seek a bilingual charter high school under the wing of the Oceanside Unified School District ---- a district that has garnered nationwide attention over the last decade for its tough stance against dual-language education.

At their meeting Tuesday, district trustees will hear a presentation about Imagine Charter School, a program that is being put together by Imagine Inc. that has established almost 40 charters nationwide, and Integracion Latina Inc., an Oceanside-based social service organization.

Superintendent Ken Noonan said Friday that he doesn't know enough about the program to comment and is more skeptical of the company promoting the charter.

 

"Right now, my concerns are 'Who are they? Where do they get their money? Why are they investing in a charter school? And what's in it for them?' "

Meanwhile, the program's proposal states that it will zero in on dropouts, recent immigrants, and students who are still learning English.

Juan Martinez, a consultant for Imagine schools, said he wouldn't call the charter program bilingual, even though students will be instructed in English and Spanish. He called the program a "transitional language" program because it will gradually teach students English.

"Our whole purpose is to get the students to learn English as soon as possible," he said, adding that the program will feature an eight-hour school day and a college-preparation curriculum.

"We want students to learn English to help them move forward with college," he said.

Martinez said that students who are not fluent in English will be instructed in English for about 30 percent of the school day. As they improve their English skills, he said, the students will be taught more in English.

Putting students on the fast track to English is also the goal of the Oceanside district, which in 1998 embraced a state law that virtually banned bilingual education in California public schools unless parents signed waivers asking that their children be taught in two languages.

In Oceanside, the district has routinely denied all waivers and pushed forward with a strict program of English immersion.

While officials boasted that test scores improved as a result of their decision to fully embrace English immersion, bilingual education advocates criticized the district. One group ---- a recently dissolved, San Francisco-based civil rights nonprofit ---- even sued the district, claiming it was not providing an adequate education for non-English speaking students.

That suit was resolved last year after the California Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights completed a six-year investigation of the district. Both departments required the Oceanside district to shore up its program for beginner-English students, but did not require the district to offer bilingual education to students.

Martinez said that Imagine is aware of the district's stance on bilingual education and argues that the charter would fill a need for dual-language instruction in the area.

"We have talked to the superintendent and the various departments and we have analyzed the students in Oceanside and the needs to prepare them for the exit exam and college," he said.

Noonan said he is also concerned with participation by Martinez, who was involved with the California Charter Academy, a program that had campuses throughout the state and was forced to close them down last year after a state investigation found that the schools misused millions of state dollars.

Martinez was employed by California Charter Academy from 2001 to 2005 and ran five charter campuses for the company. He said the company itself was found at fault by the state and not individual campuses, which he said could have continued had they not been affiliated with the California Charter Academy. Martinez said he was not found to be at fault.

"All of my sites that I had were excellent," he said. "We were not in any way affected negatively except for when they shut us down."

By state law, a charter school can operate only with the approval of a local school district, which must ensure that the proposed charter has a sound budget and an adequate educational plan in place.

One of the first steps in developing a charter is for the petitioned school district to hold a public hearing within 30 days of receiving a charter proposal. The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the district meeting room at 2111 Mission Ave.

The board will not vote on the charter proposal at that hearing. By law, the board must vote within 60 days of receiving the proposal, which was dated Feb. 7.

Imagine, if approved this spring, would become the fourth charter school under the Oceanside district.