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By Felix Adamo / The Californian
BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A group of Tehachapi residents hopes to open a new charter school to give area parents another schooling option, and focus on preparing middle and high school students for higher education.
And although the Abernathy Collegiate Charter School is named after prominent Bakersfield Republican consultant Mark Abernathy, school officials said it has no partisan agenda.
ABERNATHY COLLEGIATE CHARTER SCHOOL
* Grades 6-12
* Named after Mark Abernathy, GOP political analyst
* Opens (if approved): August 2013 for grades 6 through 9, adding a grade each year up to 12th grade.
* Extended school day: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
* Teachers will hold office hours, similar to college professors.
* Students will be expected to take an Advanced Placement class by their senior year; understand "American exceptionalism;" develop critical thinking and a world view consistent with American founding principles; use computers for classroom instruction.
* Mandatory study halls with teachers available for free tutoring.
* "Absence of teachers union influence."
* Other highlights: required community service, wearing of uniforms.
Source: Abernathy Collegiate Charter School petition, Facebook page
Founders introduced a 206-page charter petition on Monday to Tehachapi Unified School District's board, which has about a month to decide whether to approve it.
The tuition-free charter school aims to teach students a challenging curriculum in no more than 25-student classrooms, during a longer school day than regular campuses and in college-prep courses that are technology-driven.
According to its petition, Abernathy charter would emphasize critical thinking skills and "a world view consistant with American founding principles" of community service and an understanding of "American exceptionalism" -- the belief that the United States is special and responsible for spreading democracy.
"We want to give another option for the community," said Teresa Foley, a founding member of Abernathy school, a Tehachapi-area resident and a former aircraft engineer. "Our students just need to be challenged more."
Foley homeschooled two children -- fourth and sixth-graders -- until last school year, when they attended Tehachapi Unified schools. She called the school administrators and teachers there "excellent" and the state standards rigorous.
"My complaint was the curriculum," Foley said, adding that she wasn't satisfied with math and language arts textbooks, for example.
But why the name Abernathy?
Foley had the idea for a charter, but didn't know where to start in developing one. Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner introduced Foley to Abernathy, who she said volunteered to organize the charter petition process. Each of the seven listed founding members of the charter are Tehachapi-area residents.
"I'm thankful," Foley said about naming the charter after Abernathy. "He has a passion for education."
Abernathy, through his Bakersfield firm Western Pacific Research, has represented many local and regional elected officials holding seats at all levels of government -- from school board to city council to Congress. Abernathy was on vacation this past week and not available for comment.
If the district approves the charter, officials hope to open the campus in August 2013 with sixth- through ninth-graders, adding a grade each year after. Charter founders said they'd like to keep the school within the southeast Kern mountain district.
Charter schools are public with more flexibility to develop curriculum and experiment. They still follow state or local rules and regulations -- providing free and equal education to all types of students, for example -- and must meet testing accountability standards the same way regular public schools must.
CHOICE IN TEHACHAPI
If Tehachapi Unified approves the Abernathy charter, it would manage finances, allow the district to keep state funding for student enrollment, and potentially capture students enrolled at other area charter and private campus, said Richard Swanson, former superintendent of Tehachapi Unified.
Swanson, who retired as superintendent last year, offered to help Foley establish the charter to make sure it was a sustainable campus for the community, he said.
"I don't want a charter school established here that collapses after a year or two," he said. "But this is a group of well-intentioned folks. I see them as very seriously trying to do something positive."
Tehachapi Unified officials are currently reviewing the petition, meeting with legal counsel and Kern County Superintendent of Schools representatives. Superintendent Lisa Gilbert said she couldn't yet speak about a district recommendation because they are still investigating all implications, including financial ones.
"We thought the petition was thorough and well put together," Gilbert said.
If Tehachapi Unified doesn't accept Abernathy, charter officials said they will seek approval through the KCSOS. If denied there, it could seek approval from the State Board of Education.
Kern is host to 11 charter schools and programs spread throughout the county, state records show, including Valley Oaks Charter in Bakersfield, Kern Workforce 2000 in the Kern High School District, Paramount Bard Academy in Delano and Grimmway Academy in Arvin.
Many of them have had some difficulty securing approval from local school boards. The most recently opened charters -- Paramount Bard and Grimmway academies -- were rejected by their local school boards, which argued that their proposals lacked details about how the school would address funding issues and serve all students, including those in special education.
Finding money to develop and run the school admittingly will be an issue with the economic troubles hitting all California public schools, Foley said. Charter officials assume the school -- with its $900,000 budget for the first year -- will be awarded state grants to start, and anticipates the district will provide facilities.
School district officials also feared they would lose state funding from student attendance, although that cannot legally be used as a reason to reject a charter.
Sierra Sands Unified School District in Ridgecrest lost scores of students whose parents placed them in the non-district Ridgecrest Charter School. That led to staff and other budget cuts for Sierra Sands Unified, officials said.
Abernathy school is targeting students who currently attend area private or home schools. Tehachapi-based Heritage Oak School administrator Rich Engel said he doesn't see Abernathy charter as a threat.
"We're a school with a strong religious emphasis," said Engel, who manages the 90-student, K-12 Christian campus. "If parents are looking for that, this is the place to be."
David Ellms, a school teacher and administrator and Abernathy founding board member who enrolls a child in the local Valley Oaks Charter, said their charter will prepare students for college.
"Not that every child needs to go to college, but they should be prepared academically," he said. "It's good to have choices when deciding what's best for your child's education."
To read the Abernathy Collegiate Charter School petition, go to www.bakersfield.com.