Central Valley Charters Firing on All Cylinders

November 16, 2011

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In recent years, we have seen an increase in activity in charter schools in the Central Valley, especially schools founded by family farm-based organizations and foundations connected to these organizations. In addition to serving students well, these schools have become actively engaged in the broader movement, to the benefit of charter schools in the Central Valley and beyond.

The Paramount Bard Academy (PBA), for example, opened its doors to students in grades 6-12 in the southern San Joaquin Valley of California in August 2009. PBA offers a singular program, distinguished by a lengthened school day, block scheduling, and an early college curriculum that moves students toward the completion of college courses in 11th and 12th grade. These college courses are part of the regular curriculum, and challenge students to exceed their own expectations. All college courses earn Bard College credit at no cost to the student, with a school-wide goal that at least 95 percent of students will complete high school with a minimum of 30 college credit hours.

Another school, Grimmway Academy, opened in August 2011 to nearly 300 students in grades K-3 (the school will add a new grade each year until it reaches a maximum of 560 students in grades K-6). It was approved by the Kern County Board of Education with a 7-0 vote after Arvin Union School District rejected its petition. Founder Barbara Grimm-Marshal from the Grimm Family Education Foundation has thrown herself into the Central Valley charter community, offering Grimmway Academy's Bakersfield campus as the site of the first-ever CCSA regional meeting in Kern County, just eight weeks into the school's inaugural year.

"From the initial concept, Grimmway Academy became a reality in less than a year and a half," Grimm-Marshall told Bakersfield.com. "Our journey to this point would have been much longer had we not had the resources to draw from as a member of the California Charter Schools Association," she added. Hosting the regional meeting was the school's "opportunity to say thank you."

Grimm-Marshal also hosted a meeting to discuss issues relevant to the charter school movement at the Grimm Family Education Foundation offices with CCSA President and CEO Jed Wallace and a number of California legislators. Attending the meeting were State Senator Jean Fuller, Assembly Member David G. Valadao, and Assembly Member Shannon Grove. Also in the meeting was staff from Congressman Kevin McCarthy's office, community members and representatives from Grimmway Academy & Paramount Bard Academy.

The legislators in attendance were very supportive of charter schools, and the group discussed the importance of charters in the educations system as well as challenges in the legislature facing charters. "It's always a good idea to sit down and share information, even with those who agree with our agenda," said Cynthia Bryant, CCSA's senior vice president, Government Affairs. "Meetings like this make a difference for the movement, which is why CCSA provides resources to make it easy for members to organize and hold them successfully. Building relationships with legislators and other policymakers is critical to the success of charter schools."

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