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Western Sierra academy finally opens its doors

By: Lauren Weber, The Placer Herald
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After a lengthy battle for approval, Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, a seventh- through 12th-grade charter school, welcomed its first students Tuesday. Located in a vacant building connected to the Sunset Christian Center on Destiny Drive in Rocklin, WSCA staff, students and parents spent much of their summer preparing for the school’s opening. Classes began Tuesday, with 150 seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. Principal Steve Carney moved from a role as a county office of education coordinator/ director of curriculum, instruction and staff development for two counties, to oversee the new school that will eventually cap out at 550 students. Carney said the plan for the school is to introduce 10th graders to the school next year, 11th graders the following year and within a few years, the school will house seventh- through 12th-grade students. With a staff of nine teachers, the student to teacher ratio will be 25 to one and will be dependent on high parent involvement. Last Friday, the school was still undergoing final preparations to welcome the new students — maps were being hung on the walls, last minute touch ups were being done and the paint smell was still fresh. “Most of the work done here has been by parents,” Carney said. According to the California Department of Education, a charter school is a public school that can not discriminate against a person and has a set of goals and operating procedures that are agreed upon between the sponsoring board, in WSCA’s case, the CDE board, and charter organizers. “It’s a choice school,” Carney said. “Kids want to be here, parents want to be here.” Cynthia Ramos of Rocklin chose to send her daughter Kaylee to WSCA this year. Kaylee, now a seventh-grader, was previously home schooled and the plan wasn’t to send her to public school until high school, Cynthia said. A fellow home school mom heard about the new charter school and was intrigued enough to attend an orientation, with Cynthia going along. “That was all it took,” she said. “I just really felt comfortable with the school. It’s got a private school atmosphere as a charter, that helps because right now we wouldn’t be able to afford that.” Cynthia said what really caught her interest was the small size of the school and low student to teacher ratios. She was also pleased with the extra curricular plans, she said. In addition to the traditional classes, the school also implements a core knowledge curriculum for seventh- and eighth-graders that prepares them for college preparatory high school courses. Carney said they expect WSCA students to begin taking AP classes in 10th grade. The school is also taking a somewhat untraditional approach to the order of classes. Carney said the curriculum uses a backward map — looking at what level they expect seniors to reach and working backward grade by grade to reach the goals. For instance, students will take physics before other science classes, to build the base of science knowledge, Carney said. The campus has wireless access throughout, allowing students to bring their laptops to class if they wish. Every month, along the hallway leading to the administrative offices, a new college or university throughout the U.S. will be highlighted to keep students on a focused track to what comes after graduation. But in addition to the courses, the décor also sets the school apart from others. Along one of the campus’ hallways is the lodge where the walls are painted into a mountain mural, snowboards are seat benches and logs line the walls to give a lodge-like feel. The space is designed to be used for club meetings, study sessions and a hang out area for students. Carney said the school has attracted students from all over Placer County. “We’re seeing all kinds of students,” he said. “Students with special needs, students with disabilities, students who have already identified what college they want to attend.” For Carney and his administrative background, it was a chance to put his study into action. “I get an opportunity to take all that knowledge and research and apply it to a school,” he said. Western Sierra Collegiate Academy What: Seventh through 12th-grade charter school Where: 6880 Destiny Drive in Rocklin For more information: 781-9722; www.wscacademy.org Lauren Weber can be reached at laurenw@goldcountrymedia.com.