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Horizon Charter School continues search for new site

Parents, administrators team up to find learning space
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald and Press Tribune editor
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Students, teachers and administrators have teamed up in not only a search for a new site for the recently shuttered Horizon Charters Schools Rocklin school, but also to cause as little interruption to students’ education as possible.

“There is a focus group of six parents who are working hand in hand with our CEO and Horizon in trying to locate both temporary and permanent facilities,” said Carol Repetti, president of Horizon’s Accelerated Learning Academy Parent-Teacher Organization and vice-chair of the focus group.

On Oct. 11, parents received an email from Horizon CEO Craig Heimbichner informing them that, due to safety concerns regarding traffic and kids in the parking lot, the school would be closing in just a few days. The Technology Way site was home to 391 students in the third- through eighth-grade ALA and the Rocklin Academy of Science, Math and Engineering for ninth- through 12th-graders.

“We could honestly say it was a complete shock,” Repetti said.

“We did not see it coming,” added Debbie Spray, chair of the parent focus group.

Many parents took the closure as a call to action to find a new home for the school While they were given the option of “virtual learning” online, for many that type of homeschooling is not ideal.

“So much is gained in the classroom setting with a teacher leading the discussion,” said Spray, whose daughter Bina attended eighth grade at ALA. “You learn more from your peers being in your room with you than you do over a computer screen, and the socialization of it, I think, is important.”

There’s also the logistics in the case of a working family. If no parent is home to supervise, a young student can’t be left at home alone, Spray added.

While Spray, Repetti and many other parents are taking the independent study option during the site search, some, like Rebecca Fong of Loomis, have opted to place their children elsewhere. She chose to enroll her twin fourth-grade daughters at Franklin Elementary School.

It was yet another big change in a short amount of time, she lamented – just six weeks into starting a new school, ALA, they’re in another unfamiliar classroom.

“They feel so isolated right now,” Fong said. “They don’t have any friends. They have no idea what’s going on in the class right now.”

Fong questioned the reason behind the closure, saying that all public school parking lots are unsafe. The day of the closure, Placer County Assistant Public Information Officer Mike Fitch issued a statement saying the county did not compel any immediate closure of the school, nor did it set a specific deadline for the school to come into compliance with the terms of its business license.

According to the terms of the business license issued for the Horizon Distance Resource Learning center in 2011, daily attendance is limited to 75 students at any one time and no more than 200 students on site throughout the day.

Roseville attorney Glenn Peterson confirmed that he has been hired by Horizon Charter Schools to investigate the terms of the lease for the site. Horizon subleased the site from GroupAccess, the firm that controlled lease for Horizon’s Technology Way site and other premises in Auburn and Elk Grove. GroupAccess has the master lease from the site's owner, Wells Fargo Bank, and Horizon subleased the site.

In reading through the sublease, Peterson said, "I have found nothing yet to indicate that the limitations on the use of that space were shared with Horizon."

Reasons aside, Repetti and Spray agreed the focus is on moving forward in cooperation with school administration. Both praised the teachers for going above and beyond in setting up face-to-face time with students doing independent study, and in being trained to teach online.

Bina said she and her friends are using Skype to help each other with geometry homework, but it’s just not the same as having a teacher there.

“It’s hard to get the same knowledge you would with your teacher sitting right there, making sure you understand everything before you move on,” she said.

In an Oct. 30 letter to the parent focus group, Heimbicher said all involved in the search are firmly committed “to resolving the crisis that has been brought upon Horizon – all of us – by a landlord that misrepresented our program and put us ultimately into a convergence of mandates and safety issues.”

He said he is looking at several options to provide short-term facility relief for families. Some possibilities include working with the existing Horizon Roseville Independent Study Enrichment facility, and classroom at the Maidu Center, for which an impact study must be done. Horizon’s special education facility on Sunrise Boulevard is also an option.

 

“We’re making some adjustments and trying to move forward, and doing it with as much partnership and transparency with the parents as we can,” Heimbichner said.

In a letter to Heimbichner, parents set a Dec. 13 deadline for Horizon to find a new site. That date was chosen based on the upcoming holidays and the school’s schedule.

“We’ve all said that at that time we all have to decide for ourselves what our next course of action is for our children,” Repetti said.

So many parents have stayed committed to Horizon, Spray and Repetti explained, because of the quality project-based program overseen by dedicated teachers. Repetti said she appreciated the way art, music and history was incorporated into her children’s education at Horizon, and loved seeing her kids so involved in school.

Spray said another reason for setting the deadline was so administration could know how many students would be attending classes in the new facility.

“We’re very committed to our program,” she said. “And we’re willing to stay with the idea that we’ll have a new facility at this date. And at that date, we can’t guarantee enrollment.”

Fong, who remains committed to helping parents, said that for her family, the best choice is to keep her kids in a steady school environment. She’d gladly put them back in ALA if a site opened, she said, but not under its current management.

“I know it’s not horrible,” she said of enrolling her kids in a traditional school. “I know they’re getting a decent education, but it was just nice having so much more. I was joyous at first to get involved with something that gave my kids so much more. And now it’s gone.”

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For more information about the search, visit www.parentadvocatesforhorizoncharter.com.