SLO's Teach Elementary can stay, for now

School board opts to keep the accelerated learning program open while searching for solutions to campus capacity problem

acornejo@thetribunenews.comFebruary 19, 2013 

The San Luis Coastal Unified School District meeting was crowded Tuesday, Feb. 19, for budget discussions. The largest group appeared to be supporters of Teach school, but comments included support for librarians and counselors, too.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted San Luis Coastal schools Superintendent Eric Prater. His quote should have read, “I want to apologize to you if I offended you,” not “failed you.” In addition, the decision to keep fourth grade at Teach will likely result in two combination classes, but not one configured with fourth, fifth and sixth grades in one class.

Teach Elementary School will stay put — for now.

San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s board of trustees Tuesday night unanimously took the middle road in its decision to keep the controversial school open, modifying the school’s enrollment, among other things, until a committee can come up with a permanent solution later this year.

The emotionally charged meeting led to a limit on public comments to only 20 minutes, with the microphone being cut off when anyone went over the allotted three-minute limit and school board President Walt Millar walking away and calling a sudden recess until order was restored after being accused of violating the Brown Act.

Superintendent Eric Prater also publicly apologized for statements he made last week calling some of Teach Elementary’s advocates bullies.

“I want to apologize to you if I offended you,” said Prater as he faced a crowd of more than 200 people.

Tuesday’s temporary decision had some commonalities with Prater’s recent recommendation that the school board approve a one-year moratorium on fourth-grade enrollment at Teach Elementary to allow for further discussion on how to manage capacity issues on the campus.

However, fourth-graders will be allowed to attend the school next year. It was not clear Tuesday night how that will be made feasible, but Prater cautioned that it could lead to overcrowded classes.

Although the school board rejected Prater’s plan to temporarily cut fourth grade at the school next year, it endorsed the creation of a task force composed of staff, administration, experts in instruction for high-proficiency students and community members to delve deeper into the issue. The board also agreed to put a moratorium on transfers into Bishop’s Peak, where the Teach program is, unless applicants have a sibling already attending.

“Is this the best model to educate the most advanced learners?” Prater asked. “What if we find that Teach school is the ideal model? If so, how do we find a suitable and sustainable model for it?”

The goal will be to have a recommendation to the school board by December.

The district considered closing the school because of a capacity limit at Bishop’s Peak, where the program shares a campus. A growing number of students enrolled in both schools would lead to an impending shortage of classroom space. Enrollment is currently limited to a lottery system because of the campus size.

A philosophical debate by some school administrators has also played into the discussion, questioning whether it is appropriate to provide such an opportunity to some students in the district, but not all.

The school board and administration have come under fire in recent months by supporters of the accelerated program at Teach Elementary, who said the board has not been transparent.
Trustee Ellen Sheffer defended the process, saying, “This began as an issue of capacity and it has stayed that, although it spun out of control at some point.”

Options discussed by the school board have included keeping the school, phasing it out to allow current students to finish their time there, or closing it altogether and sending those students to Bishop’s Peak Elementary.

Some parents have vociferously argued against the closing, while others have characterized the school as “elitist.”

Closing the school because too many students want to attend it is like “closing a city like New York or Chicago because it is way too crowded,” said Teach sixth-grader Emile Naccasha, who said the vigorous course load at the school has increased his passion for education.

“My parents and my friends’ parents are passionate ... not bullies,” he added.

Helen Sipsas, a parent, said she has collected more than 700 signatures on an online petition to save the school.

“I am asking that you postpone a decision on the future of Teach until the public has an opportunity to participate in the discussion about its future,” Sipsas said.

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