Horizon’s Accelerated Learning Academy to close

Parents left with more questions than answers
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald and Press Tribune editor
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Families are still reeling after Horizon Charter Schools announced last week that it plans to discontinue its K-8 Accelerated Learning Academy program.

“I was shocked, but then I wasn’t shocked, because this is just the same type of behavior that they have been doing the entire time,” said Carol Repetti, former president of the ALA Parent-Teacher Organization and vice-chair of the focus group that had formed to find a new school site.
Horizon closed its 391-student third-through-eighth-grade ALA and high school Rocklin Academy of Math, Science and Engineering site on Technology Way in October, citing safety issues with traffic at the site. Horizon later hired an attorney to look into the terms of its lease, which the attorney said was administered by the firm GroupAccess and to his knowledge did not address attendance limits at the school that were part of Horizon’s business license for the site.
According to the terms of the license issued for the Horizon Distance Resource Learning center in 2011, daily attendance was limited to 75 students at any one time and no more than 200 students on site throughout the day.
After the closure, students had the option of an independent study program, with “virtual learning” programs via the Internet and face-to-face sessions with teachers.
The group formed almost immediately after the site closure, as parents banded together to work with Horizon and its CEO, Craig Heimbichner, to find a new site. Several were looked at, according to parent and former chair of the site-search focus group Debbie Spray, including the Maidu Center in Roseville, but all were turned down.
Horizon announced in early November that, due to a bleak funding situation compounded by the fact that Horizon still pays $18,000 per month for the Technology Way site, a new facility was not an option at this time.
Most recently, according to Repetti and Spray, the Harvest Ridge Cooperative Charter School in Newcastle was discussing forming an arm of its school to absorb the  ALA students with no change in staffing, site or curriculum, but last week’s announcement has put a damper on those plans.
“The Horizon administration has tried to sustain a  commitment to the program during necessary changes while watching enrollment trends and receiving feedback from the parent community and teachers,” reads the statement, signed by “Horizon Administration.”
“Horizon provided virtual learning training for ALA teachers, met and worked with parents and sought a new facility. Finally, after recent ALA community messages were delivered to the administration and/or publicly posted, it became clear that the program in its current form is largely unwelcome to the community upon whose support the program itself depends.”
The ALA program will be discontinued effective  Dec. 21, the announcement said, and will include ending the K-2 classes in Lincoln.
Janet Sutton, Harvest Ridge director, did not comment on the ongoing discussions with ALA parents, as nothing has been finalized or even gone through boards or councils yet.
Spray agreed that the virtual learning model was not what the ALA parents signed up for.
“We signed up for the dynamic program,” she said. “There have been kids who have left ALA and they are now in the local public schools and they are bored.”
Repetti’s sixth-grade daughters have been using the virtual learning model, she said, but they are on the waiting list for Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, as is Spray’s eighth-grade daughter.
“The problem that’s happening now is they’re getting a lot of just basic, tedious work to do,” Repetti said. “And the problem is that some of it is just second nature to them. They can just do it to be done with it. Other subjects they’re definitely struggling with, because they don’t have a teacher to actually teach them.”
Repetti also has a kindergartner at ALA in Lincoln who now faces the same challenges. Another option, Repetti said, is to look into public schools.
Heimbichner did not return requests for comment for this story, and Repetti explained that Horizon’s administration has largely kept mum in regard to questions from parents, as well.
“Time and time again I have asked them, ‘You’ve moved us to this model. What monies do we have left over if I need to get my child some tutoring or I need to get into something athletic?’ I have never once gotten an answer. They just ignore the question.”
Those concerns have to do with Average Daily Attendance monies, paid by the government for each child who attends school.
“I truly believe that they are saying, ‘Well, you’re still ALA, so all of your money still goes into this program,’” she said. “Which makes no sense, because there is no program.”
RAMSE parent Shannon Rice said her children, who are in 10th grade and college, benefited from the project-based learning offered at charter schools, as opposed to traditional teaching in public schools. 
And as a parent who has homeschooled her children, she added, parents need more than just a few days to prepare for home-based learning.
“When I went into homeschool, I knew what I was getting into,” she said. “I was prepared to get the schoolbooks, to make my own lesson plans.”
“They sent us home with no tools,” Spray said.
Parents who choose to keep their children in Horizon will use the independent study program, the announcement said. Each student will be assigned a former ALA teacher as a supervising teacher, should those teachers choose to remain with Horizon.
“I think that Craig Heimbichner is in over his head,” Spray said. “I don’t think he knows what he’s doing. He has overpromised and underdelivered time and time again.”