Rocklin Academy looks to expand

Possible new K-8 site could open in 2013
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald and Press Tribune editor
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The hundreds of families on the Rocklin Academy charter schools wait list could see spots open up more quickly than they’d expected.

Superintendent Phil Spears gave the school board an update Monday evening on the work he and a committee of experts have been doing to research the feasibility of opening a new charter school in Placer County. It looks promising, he said.

There are 764 kindergarten through eighth-grade students on the waiting list for Rocklin Academy’s elementary school sites, Turnstone and Meyers. Due to facility and contract limits, Spears said, the district is limited in the number of students based on its charters – Rocklin Academy can’t exceed 558 students, while Western Sierra Collegiate Academy (grades seven to 12) is closer to 700. And the academy’s long-term housing agreement is in place until 2017. So the families wait.

“The alternative, in my point of view is to establish a new charter at a new location,” Spears said.

He and the committee have been researching commercial sites that are zoned for schools throughout Placer County, and the square footage leases they’ve been looking at seem to be “very attractive.” He said that based on the waiting list and potential for growth, a K-8 site with more than 600 students is not unrealistic.

“It puts us in a much stronger position to make sure that we have all of the things that we need to offer the best education to the students who come to our schools,” Spears said.

Board members gave positive responses to the proposal, at the same time urging caution and thoroughness in moving forward, especially in ensuring that current learning is not interrupted.

“As a parent, I’m excited about the educational opportunities,” said board member Nate Pomeroy. “This could enhance a lot of kids’ and families’ lives.”

As a board member, he added, he wants to make sure that existing schools and students are extremely stable throughout the process.

Board member Margaret Broussard asked for an analysis of what the costs would be for the Rocklin Academy family of schools prior to a new site opening, and what the consequences would be if for some reason the new site didn’t open.

“I am absolutely confident that whether this happens or not, this school is in the condition that we can sustain it,” Spears said in response to a question about Rocklin Academy’s financial sustainability. “There is no question in my mind about that.”

While no formal vote was taken Monday evening, the board encouraged Spears and the committee to move forward in gathering information, with all due caution and consideration for current families, and to return to the board for all major decisions. Those include submission of the charter and lease of ta new building.

In addition to preparing financial reports, the process will include finding a charter school authorizer and preparing and submitting a charter petition.

Spears said that the goals of the new facility are that it is in Placer County, is of sufficient size, is in a school-friendly location, is cost-effective and has amenities necessary for Rocklin Academy students. He’ll also be looking at the possibility of expanding the program to include specialized academies such as performing arts or science and technology.

Several parents in attendance at the meeting are parents of the recently shuttered Horizon Charter Schools Accelerated Learning Academy in Rocklin. Several who were on the waiting list have entered Rocklin Academy since the closure, but others are still waiting. Of the 764 students on the list, Spears said, 234 are kindergarteners.

“This gives me great hope for my children’s future,” said Roseville resident Chris Carson, who has two children on the waiting list. “I cannot tell you how impressed I am being here tonight, seeing the dedication of the board members … I just feel very blessed that there might be a possibility.”