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Fall start ambitious but possible for Cascade Locks Charter School

June 8, 2011

According to both sides in discussions between the Cascade Locks Charter School Committee and the Hood River County School District, progress is being made toward a charter school in Cascade, and it may be a question of when, not if, the town gets a charter school.

George Fischer, head of the charter school committee, said the committee is hoping to have a decision by the end of June from the Hood River County School district regarding sponsorship so that it can move forward on having the school open next fall.

"We always want to work with the school board … it's been a long, hard battle," Fischer said. "The school board was supposed to give us a decision in April and what we want from the district is that we would want an answer by the end of June."

Hood River County School District Superintendent Charlie Beck said that opening the school by September would be taking an optimistic view on the situation, but could be doable.

"September is an ambitious time schedule," he said. "But we are optimistic."

He added that the school district will still need to see that the curriculum proposed by the school, the main sticking point in the school's proposal to both the school district and the state, is up to its standards.

"We've certainly been very clear about what we need to see, and we've shared that with them," Beck said. "We're currently not in a position where we would recommend it."

To bolster its curriculum and move the school toward approval, the charter school has brought in some heavy-hitters for consulting work.

Bob Dunton, the superintendent of Corbett School District and its charter school which formed in 2009, helped draft the initial plan and framework for the Cascade Locks effort. Recently Cascade Locks School has tabbed Connie Kennedy, formerly assistant Superintendent with the Hood River County School district until she was hired to lead the Nestucca School District in 2008, to help bring its curriculum up to par with Hood River County School district standards.

Kennedy has worked as a curriculum director, special education director, principal of a junior-senior high school and now as a superintendent at Nestucca, where she will be retiring after this school year.

Given her experience, "I think HRCSD can be assured that the program that will be offered by the charter school will provide a quality educational experience that will meet or exceed all state standards," Kennedy said.

Beck said that working with Kennedy and seeing the work she has done has greatly helped the process.

"Experience has a lot to do with it," he said. "It's been good working with someone who knows curriculum and truly understands it."

With another school year winding down, and seventh and eighth grades due to be cut from Cascade Locks School in the fall, the project has taken on a greater urgency in the charter school committee, and Kennedy believes they could be close to reaching the benchmarks the school district wants to see.

"When I met with Mr. Beck he shared that what he wanted was a scope and sequence for the classes that would be taught. I've asked Mr. Beck to accept an overview for those courses for now and guaranteed that once we have the charter accepted and the teachers hired, then we will provide the professional development time for our teachers to map their curriculum to the state content standards, design the projects that will be required and also be trained on proficiency-based assessments and differentiation to meet the needs of lower-achieving students." Kennedy said via e-mail.

"If Mr. Beck will support this plan, I believe that we can sign a contract by the end of June and move forward and be ready to open in September."

After the Oregon State Board of Education declined to sponsor the charter school independently of the school district in April, it conducted a review of the process between the charter committee and the school district up to that point.

It found that the school district had failed to adhere to Oregon law during its rejection of the school last spring.

According to a letter sent by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo and State Board of Education chair Brenda Frank:

"Through this review and state board meeting discussions, it has come to our attention the HRCSD did not comply with Oregon law: ORS 338.055 (3) The school district board must approve a proposal or state in writing the reasons for disapproving a proposal within 30 days after the public hearing held under subsection (1) of this section.

"The information provided by CLCS and the HRCSD School Board website indicates the board held a public hearing on April 26, 2010, and voted to deny the original proposal on May 26, 2010. The official written notice from HRCSD was dated June 25, 2010; 60 days after the public hearing."

Fischer felt that due to the violation the Cascade Locks charter school proposal should have been automatically approved, but the Oregon Department of Education disagreed, referring to the incident as a "procedural oversight" and encouraged both sides to go back to the table to work toward a solution.

"Our hope is that you would continue to work with the CLCS developers and your constituents in Cascade Locks to meet the needs of your students and community," the letter stated.

Beck said that since he has been on board, he would categorize discussions as positive and improving.

"The relationship with Cascade Locks charter school has been positive since I arrived on July 1," he said. "We would like to see them be successful."

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