Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Opponents question the process at crowded meeting on proposed charter school

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Representatives of a proposed new charter school had a mostly unfriendly welcome when they made their case for the South Shore Classical Academy (SSCA), at a public hearing on Wednesday at the Westchester Library Service Center.

The public hearing was organized by Grace College & Theological Seminary of Winona Lake, Ind., which is reviewing the SSCA application and is empowered to authorize its establishment. Grace College has previously authorized two other charter schools: Smith Academy for Excellence in Fort Wayne and Dugger Union Community School in Dugger, Ind.

Thirteen people spoke against SSCA during the 90-minute hearing, 12 in favor of it, and three more said they were undecided on the issue. Yet the format of the hearing--in which supporters of the public school alternated with opponents--tended to under-represent the latter, since many more people signed up to speak against SSCA than did to speak for it, by roughly a four-to-one margin.

SSCA board member Peter Kanelos, Dean of Christ College at Valparaiso University, opened the hearing by trying to put conspiracy theories immediately to rest. “We are not ideologues,” he said. “There is no hidden agenda. There is no one else behind this application.”

Instead, Kanelos said, classical schools are a response to “a drift away from the liberal arts” in the public schools and they’ve become “wildly popular” throughout the country, as “families are choosing these schools as appropriate options for their children.”

The idea behind classical schools: an emphasis on the “Great Conversation” of Western philosophy, literature, and art. At SSCA there will be no electronic devices in the classroom nor “mass-produced textbooks,” Kanelos said, but only “the great primary texts and the conversations those texts evoked.” It will be a “content-rich curriculum.”

“For some students it will be the best way for them to succeed,” Kanelos said, one of “multiple pathways in which young people can become successful.”

“There is no desire to place ourselves in competition with any other school district,” Kanelos said, and guessed that perhaps only a “few dozen” students from the Duneland School Corporation (DSC) and Valparaiso Community Schools (VCS) would end up enrolling at SSCA. Those few dozen would each be funded by $6,000 in state money, he added, with “no local tax money” at stake.

Kanelos did take a moment to apologize for a misunderstanding, in which SSCA’s application indicated that the charter school would be located at the St. Iakovos Greek Orthodox Church on C.R. 700N in Liberty Township. The church’s pastor, has been quoted as saying that he was “blindsided” by the application and that there have been no formal negotiations with the SSCA board.

Dave Pruis, Superintendent

Duneland Schools

Responding to Kanelos and making DSC’s case against the charter school was Superintendent Dave Pruis. His first point: that far from SSCA being “complementary to and not in competition with” DSC--as the application puts it--SSCA has made no effort to outreach to DSC. “Perhaps I or we missed something, but from our perspective that message does not elicit thoughts of anything remotely related to being ‘complementary’ to our school corporation or any other in Porter County. Frankly, we were offended by the apparent lack of consideration given to the Duneland School Corporation by the applicant failing to discuss their proposal in advance of this public hearing.”

Already, Pruis said, one of the two charter schools in Porter County is located in the DSC’s boundaries: the Discovery Charter School. When that school opened in 2010, DSC’s average daily student count dropped by 126, at the same time the State of Indiana reduced its per-student tuition support. “The result was that we were unable to replace more than half of the 31 certified staff positions that were eliminated at the end of the 2009-10 school year.”

“At Duneland, as well as every other public school corporation in Porter County and the rest of the state, reductions in tuition support are viewed as a negative impact on our school corporation,” Pruis said. “It goes without saying, but a negative impact will be felt by any Indiana public school corporation that suffers a reduction in ADM as a result of opening yet another charter school in Porter County.”

Pruis also flatly rejected the notion that there is a need for SSCA, given DSC’s superb offerings in academics, extra-curriculars, and athletics. SSCA “does not fill a void or a need because we do not believe such a need exists,” Pruis said, “not in Duneland, not in Valparaiso, and not in Porter County. If the proposed charter school is authorized and established here, it will undoubtedly dilute our human and fiscal resources. We believe that any students who could be served by (SSCA) are best served in their current school programs.”

Ric Frataccia, Superintendent,

Valparaiso Community Schools

Frataccia echoed Pruis’ comments and noted that in his “very first meeting” with SSCA reps he told them that he “was vehemently opposed” to a new charter school.

“My job is to put them out of business,” Frataccia said. “We don’t need it. It’s a waste of public resources.”

The point of a charter school is to “fulfill a need in areas with underperforming or failing schools.” But “Where is the need? Where are we underperforming? . . .How often do we have to listen to this about our curriculum not being dense enough?”

SSCA Supporters

At least half of the 12 who spoke in favor of SSCA are affiliated with its board. Two were homeschooling mothers who said that classical education has worked very well for their children. Their basic point: that different students learn differently, that for a certain kind of student a classical school provides a better education, and that in general charter schools offer the community more choice.

“Students learn in different ways and thrive in different settings,” said Daniel Grandquist, an SSCA board member. “One curriculum may not be good for all students.” He added, “It’s bad and selfish for an educator to want to put a school out of business. We should be trying to put ignorance out of business.”

Some kids just find themselves “out of synch” in the public schools, Diana Gonzalez said. “You want each student to have the opportunity to flourish and empower families to make choices in the best interest of their children.”

Bob Elder compared a public education at DSC or VCS in terms of buying apples at Strack & Van Til, and a classical education to picking apples at County Line Orchard. “It’s a different experience in achieving the educational product.”

SSCA Opponents

Emotions ran high, on the other hand, among those voicing an opinion against the proposed charter school. “I deeply resent comparing going to a public school to shopping at Strack & Van Til,” teacher Colleen Seguin said. “I teach Western civilization. Don’t you dare lecture me about liberal arts.” Seguin, for her own part, deplored “the siren call of choice for the sake of choice.”

“We are hurting our public school system,” said Porter County Council Member Sylvia Graham, D-at large. “We are splintering our money. There’s one big pot of money and all these charter schools are skimming off the top. Public schools will be extinct in the next few years if this continues.”

Kevin Cornett found it troubling that the local state legislators cited by SSCA in its application as supporters of the proposed charter school are all Republicans. “They haven’t talked to Karen Tallian, Chuck Moseley, Scott Pelath. They’ve only talked to Republicans in favor of charter schools down state.”

Hilda DeMuth-Lutze questioned the mission of Hillsdale College, which is associated with SSCA, and suggested that the college’s ideal of “true freedom through limited, balanced federal government” has an “explicit political agenda.” DeMuth-Lutze also questioned the implication that only classical schools can teach character properly. “As a public school teacher I’m deeply involved in character formation and have worked very hard in making good neighbors and good citizens.”

Paul Kroeger said that charter schools typically have “pathetic demographic numbers” and do a poor job in serving special-needs and economically disadvantaged students. He cited one example: Ridgeview Classical School in Fort Collins, Colo. In a district in which 31 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 11 percent of Ridgeview Classical’s students are economically disadvantaged. “They do so good a job they left families out of poverty,” Kroeger joked.

“The whole charter school movement is tearing communities apart,” Laura Bottorff said, and at the same time leaving public schools with empty classrooms.

Mary Bird Matern spoke of the “depletion of resources” caused by charter schools, the “depletion of arts, money, grant money.” She also spoke of the “shady items in the application” submitted by SSCA.

Thus one person who spoke, Kelley Weisenbacher, vice-chair of the Chicago Street Theatre’s Board of Trustees, said that--notwithstanding a statement in SSCA’s application--“We have never been approached and have no knowledge of this application.”

And Candace Shaw, the first person to speak against SSCA, asked for a show of hands of those who oppose the charter school. The result: a clear and large majority of those in attendance raised their hands.

Written Comments

Written comments may be e-mailed to charterschools@grace.edu

Or mailed to Grace College SPOE, Attn: Lorraine Bingham, 200 Seminary Drive, Winona Lake, IN 46590

 

 

Posted 9/15/2016

 
 
 
 

 

 

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