The Hart District School Board will vote on whether Apollo Charter School can open a junior high in the Santa Clarita Valley at its Feb. 6 meeting, said district officials.
Apollo will aim to enroll students from low income families that grew up with English as second language, but knowledge of the local community and outreach plans were the board’s biggest concerns after hearing the school’s proposal at the board’s Dec. 12 meeting.
“The proposal itself was well put together — they put a lot of work into it. The issue was that they had no familiarity with our community,” said Joe Messina, who was promoted to president of the Hart District School Board during the meeting.
The idea behind charter schools is that if parents and community members think students are not getting a proper education they can step in, but only one of the four members that presented the proposal lived in Santa Clarita, Messina said.
Johnny Jin, cofounder of Apollo Charter School, has lived in Santa Clarita for two years, and will serve as the school’s executive director if it’s approved.
Jin is confident that Apollo will be able to reach its targeted community through outreach and location, and was open to the board’s advice.
Before the meeting, Apollo had organized outreach efforts at the Valencia mall and local hotels, but this was not an ideal way to meet students from low-income families, Messina said.
Now, Jin said, they will focus on using a direct mail campaign to target certain demographics and go door to door at local mobile homes and apartments with applications, if the school is approved.
“They’re right — going to a mall or hotel is not the right place, which is why we cancelled these events. So we’ll try a different, more hands on strategy,” Jin said.
Board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine echoed Messina’s concerns and thought the stated goals may have been too broad.
“If they say they’re going to address English learners, they need a plan to do that and they did not (have one),” she said. “They need to do their homework better. I’m glad they’ll teach Mandarin but are they going to teach that or are they going to teach students English? They need to go back and relook at their plans.”
If approved, Apollo aims to open its doors Fall 2014, in Canyon Country or Newhall.
If it is not approved they can move onto the county board then state boards, Messina said.
The Hart District School Board receives one or two requests to open a charter school in Santa Clarita every year, Messina said.
They have approved four, two of which are independent study geared towards high risk students, said Vicki Engbrecht, Hart District assistant superintendent and educational supervisor.
“We have a unique community here and they weren’t fully aware of that,” Messina said. “I see a need for them in certain situations but I was not convinced this time around, maybe if they had their pulse on the community, if they knew where the children they’re trying to serve were.”