Officials at Bullis Charter School are laying the groundwork for a new seventh-grade program next year after the Santa Clara County Board of Education at its Nov. 19 meeting approved an expansion of the school's charter to include seventh and eighth grades.
Los Altos School District representatives are working on where to house the growing charter school in coming years. Under California education code, the district is required to provide facilities for the charter school.
Tim Justus, district superintendent, said the program could remain at its present location next year, a corner of the Egan Junior High School property on West Portola Avenue, depending on how many students the charter school accepts for its inaugural seventh-grade program. He said there is probably room for three more portable classrooms at the Egan site.
"The difficulty arises when the expansion continues," Justus said. "It is more of a challenge for the district to meet (the charter school's) needs and not impact our own children as it grows."
The charter's proposal to the county requested to add a seventh-grade program for the 2009-2010 school year with 25-50 students and an eighth-grade class for 2010-2011. Depending on demand, each grade was predicted to support 50-75 students when fully operational.
The proposal outlined differences between the charter school and traditional junior highs. Rather than featuring multiple short periods during a school day, the charter school classes would be longer, with extended blocks of time for English, social studies, science and math.
The charter school also plans to implement intersessions, weeklong intense learning periods that focus on specific topics, such as renewable energy or learning how to become a proficient recording musician. The units would be interdisciplinary and standards-based and use community resources such as experts and mentors, according to the charter's proposal. Each intersession would include an opportunity for students to prepare a project to demonstrate what they learned.
"What we offer is qualitatively different than what is offered in the Los Altos School District," said Wanny Hersey, charter school principal.
Mark Goines, Los Altos School District board president, questioned the county board's decision.
"It was not a good time for the charter school to do this," he said. "They should have pulled this off the table to work together with the district to meet both entities' needs."
Goines said he was disappointed the county would ignore the needs of local students.
"They ignored the impact on the district, and they have the authority to do that," he said. "I think it is inappropriate to do that, particularly in these hard times."
Looking ahead, Goines said there is not sufficient space for a full middle school program, in addition to the K-6 program, at the Egan site.
"In order to accommodate the interests of our parents, we feel we are probably going to have to split the charter school in two," Goines said. "However, the law is not clear on what our authority is in that area."