Updated: Hollister charter petition squeaks by in 3-2 vote

Principal James Dent, top center, stands with second grade teachers Heather Parsons, top left, and Crystal Toriumi, top right, with Gilroy Prep School second graders. The school received the highest API score in the Gilroy Unified School District. Califor

Founders of a Gilroy charter school who have their eyes set on opening a similar school in Hollister next fall were “thrilled” with the outcome of a Hollister School District board vote Tuesday offering conditional approval of the petition.

“We are absolutely thrilled and we are honored that they allowed us to have this opportunity to work with them,” said Sharon Waller, a cofounder of Gilroy Prep,  also vice principal and president of the charter school’s board. “The Hollister staff – Gary McIntire and his staff – have been so supportive of us. I don’t think it would have happened without his support.”

The board of trustees voted 3-2 in support of the resolution offering conditional approval of the petition and a memorandum of understanding, with outgoing Trustees Dee Brown and Judi Johnson voting against the charter school. Trustees Rebecca Salinas, Elsa Rodriguez and Jennifer Bagley voted in favor of the MOU and resolution.

The team behind Gilroy Prep submitted a petition to the Hollister School Board in August, with the school district following up by hiring a law firm to examine the document. Initially, the firm and district superintendent urged against approving the petition, but that was before revisions were submitted by the applicants.

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,” he said. “If you are spending those as general fund it can be a major compliance issue.”

With some notes from the firm, along with questions from district staff members, Gilroy Prep Principal James Dent, Waller 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. 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 fellow board member Elsa Rodriguez also supported the petition because it gives parents another choice. If they find it doesn’t work, she said, they could 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. She said she thought that had colored their view.

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

Waller said the charter school staff members were on “pins and needles” as they waited for the outcome of the vote.

“Once some of the board members who were naysayers started speaking – we were fearful one (other board member) might change their mind or be swayed,” Waller said.

She said the staff members were shocked when Brown, one of the dissenters, said publicly that she hoped the charter school would fail. Brown did not return calls for comment on the vote.

“It caught us off guard that she felt like we had treated her so badly,” Waller said. “But we want to move on.”

Waller said the charter school group has had support from district staff as well as some of the Hollister teachers. At least 10 teachers from R.O. Hardin School and the principal visited Gilroy Prep to see the teaching methods. When the charter school holds trainings in the future for teachers, Waller said it will open those sessions to Hollister School District teachers who are interested in learning new methods.

“We had a really great meeting with the staff to say whatever we do in Gilroy – the material we create – it all needs to be in a form that can be replicated to a brand new teacher,” Waller said. “It gives our current teachers an opportunity to be part of a movement beyond now myself and James … they are not just changing their little classroom, but potentially thousands of kids.”

The school is also working on a partnership with California State University, Monterey Bay’s teaching program. Students in the beginning teaching classes will have a chance to audit the program, and when the students complete their teaching degree, they will have a chance to get jobs with the charter schools.

McIntire said school district staff members will meet with the charter school representatives to complete a final contract. The next step after that is for the school district to identify possible facilities for use for the charter school. R.O. Hardin has been mentioned as a likely option.

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