Two Navigator charter schools, Gilroy and Hollister Prep, are up for renewals of their charter school petitions by their host districts. All early indications point to new five-year pacts at both sites.
Gilroy Prep, Navigator’s flagship school, opened in 2011 with authorization from Gilroy Unified School District’s Board of Trustees, which is scheduled to vote on that charter’s second such renewal at its March 22 meeting.
Hollister Prep, which opened in 2013 on the RO Hardin Elementary School campus, is authorized through the Hollister School District and is seeking the same five-year renewal (2018-2023) through Hollister’s Board of Trustees.
“We realize how rare it is to have such strong relationships with our authorizing districts, but both are very progressive and supportive of charter schools,” said Kirsten Carr, Navigator’s director of community outreach. “We have large parental and community support for both sites. A huge part of our mission is to make an impact in both communities.”
Both Navigator schools conducted their initial public hearings, mandated in the state charter renewal process, in front of their respective governing bodies. At both hearings, Navigator staff and families spoke to the positive experiences and innovative instruction given at their schools. They will be allowed to be heard again prior to the upcoming votes. The vote on Hollister Prep’s renewal will take place at the Hollister board’s March 27 meeting, five days after Gilroy Prep’s scheduled date.
“We’ve offered something special to the kids of Hollister by approving (Hollister Prep’s first charter petition). It just gives parents another option,” said Hollister Board President Patricia Moore. “The kids seem to be thriving, and I know that the teachers at RO Hardin spent some time in training done by Navigator, learning some of their methods to try to improve the outcomes for their kids at RO Hardin.”
Moore also pointed to other school choices in Hollister, such as the Hollister Dual Language Academy, which shares a campus with Gabilan Hills Elementary School, and the Accelerated Achievement Academy, which is on the Calaveras Elementary School campus.
Navigator students have shared the campus at RO Hardin, an elementary school on Line Street in southwest Hollister, since that school’s inception nearly five years ago. Hollister Prep has 420 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and is to grow over the next two years to serve seventh and eighth graders.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have a strong relationship with the Hollister school district and being able to partner with them at RO Harden,” Carr said. “I definitely think being on the RO Hardin campus truly makes us part of that neighborhood and part of a neighborhood school.”
Gilroy Prep is situated in the former Mexican American Community Services Agency school buildings adjacent to South Valley Middle School on IOOF Avenue. While they are next door neighbors, the two schools do not share classrooms on the same campus as Hollister does. Gilroy Prep is in its first year at full capacity, serving 540 students in grades K-8.
“I would say the relationship between the district and Gilroy Prep is very positive. What I see happening in the classrooms is pretty exciting. They are getting really good results,” said Gilroy Board President Linda Piceno. “The two major issues to look at (when evaluating a charter school) are student achievement and financial budgetary issues, and those are both fine. The kids are making good progress and they have no financial issues we’re aware of.”
Piceno has visited Gilroy Prep and toured the campus on multiple occasions. She said, “communications are good between the charter school and (Gilroy) district.” Similarly, Moore pointed to a “very successful relationship” between Hollister Prep and the Hollister School District.
That was not the case in nearby Morgan Hill, where the Morgan Hill Unified School District’s Board of Trustees rejected Navigator’s petition in 2013. The Morgan Hill teachers union and district leadership also were successful in arguing their case at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which denied Navigator’s Morgan Hill Prep petition during the appeal process in January 2014.
In addition, Navigator charter petitions were denied by local school boards at the Salinas City Elementary School District and the Alisal Union School District (also in Salinas).
Even in Hollister, school district officials were initially against the Navigator petition, first submitted in 2012, hiring a law firm to find deficiencies. However, the board gave its conditional approval with a split 3-2 vote. And in Gilroy, a 2015 audit prompted GUSD officials to question Gilroy Prep on a number of issues. That matter was eventually cleared up, and Navigator’s relationships with both Gilroy and Hollister districts have improved since then.
Gilroy Supt. Debbie Flores, who confirmed “a strong working relationship” with Gilroy Prep, said her staff is recommending approval of the five-year renewal.
“Regular visits to the site by myself and the educational services team indicate that there is a strong academic program in place with many innovative practices,” said Flores, who headed up the 2015 probe. “GPS students perform quite well on state tests.”
Carr said that Navigator is working on another petition to open its third charter school, this time within the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz County.
“It’s heartwarming for us to have such strong relationships (in Gilroy and Hollister), and hopefully we will be able to share that with other districts as we hope to open another charter school,” Carr said.