Hollister charter school gains district approval in 3-2 vote

Engaged students answer questions from the teacher during class at Gilroy Prep.

The Hollister School District on Tuesday approved a contract and conditional approval of a petition to open a charter school in Hollister for the 2013-14 school year.

The board of trustees voted 3-2 in support of the resolution and contract, with outgoing Trustees Dee Brown and Judi Johnson opposing the charter school. Trustees Rebecca Salinas, Elsa Rodriguez and Jennifer Bagley voted in favor of it.

The team behind Gilroy Prep School submitted a petition to the Hollister School Board in August, with the district following up by hiring a law firm to review the proposal.

Superintendent Gary McIntire said in large part, the firm and staff members asked for clarification in the petition on categorical spending.

“There are certain federal dollars that can only be spent – Title 1 dollars – on serving students who are eligible. If you are spending those as general fund (money) it can be a major compliance issue,” he said.

With some notes from the firm, along with questions from district staff members, Gilroy Prep Principal James Dent and others petitioning for the charter revised it.

“We got all that clarified and that’s the heavy lifting,” McIntire said. “That’s behind us now.”

Leading up to the vote, McIntire said he was optimistic the petition would be approved. Trustee Salinas came out in full support, with two other trustees backing her position.

“We recently worked as a board on our mission and vision – and within those guidelines we talked about allowing innovative programs to take place in the district,” said Salinas, who will be stepping down from the board at the end of her 2012 term. “I referred to that last night. Remember, we said we would welcome innovative practices and I believe that fits the bill.”

Salinas said Rodriguez also supported the petition because it gives parents another choice. If they find it doesn’t work, she said, they can pull their kids out. Salinas said board members who were not in support of the charter school had past experiences with them that were not positive.

“It has a track record in Gilroy,” Salinas said. “They’ve had wonderful success working with English learners and lower achievers.”

Gilroy Prep School recently received word it scored above 960 on its first round of statewide Academic Placement Index testing – the highest figure for a first-year charter in state history. The most recent districtwide score in Hollister was below 770.

McIntire said school district staff members will meet with the charter school representatives to complete a final memorandum of understanding. The next step after that is for the school district to identify possible facilities for use for the charter school.

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