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District Leader Still Backs Basics School : Education: Despite low parental support for the Ventura plan, top official intends to move ahead.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura schools chief Joseph Spirito said Thursday he is not giving up his proposal for a back-to-basics school, despite a survey that shows just 6% of parents of grade school children support it.

At least 450 parents throughout the district indicated they are interested in the basics school at the elementary level and would be willing to commute to it, Spirito said.

“That’s not a lot of kids, but it’s more than we need for one school,” he said.

Such a school would mandate that students wear uniforms and require parents to sign a contract promising to volunteer at the school and make their children behave and do homework.

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He will focus on the 450 parents who support the idea when he reports the results of the survey to an ad-hoc committee of parents, teachers and school administrators appointed to look into the issue, Spirito said. That committee is scheduled to meet Feb. 7 in the district office on Santa Clara Street.

There are about 7,000 families with children in kindergarten through fourth grade in the Ventura Unified School District. Of those, about 45% responded to a survey distributed within the last month asking whether they support or oppose a basics school--with the vast majority against the idea.

Spirito said he is moving ahead with the back-to-basics program, despite the widespread opposition, to deliver on a promise to conservative critics of public education.

Those critics, many of whom supported the 1993 school voucher initiative, say they want more influence on how their children are educated, he said. Although the ballot proposal failed, a vocal minority has continued to ask for changes, Spirito said.

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“I’m giving parents a choice,” he said. “If they prefer the status quo, that is fine. I’m delighted they are happy with their neighborhood schools.”

He will not recommend that an entire elementary school convert to uniforms because the survey showed there was no majority of support at any of the district’s 17 campuses. Instead, Spirito said, he will probably suggest that the experimental school be launched in four empty classrooms at Will Rogers School.

The classrooms, which formerly housed adult education students, would only accommodate about 225 students, he said. Parents interested in enrolling their children would enter a lottery to win seats, Spirito said.

Although there are still several issues to be resolved, such as which teachers would work there and how the school would maintain ethnic balance, Spirito said it will be ready to open in September.

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Brent Gerkens, a Ventura chiropractor, said he plans to enroll his daughter. She is currently in kindergarten and his 3-year-old son will start school in two years, Gerkens said.

Although satisfied with the academic program at Poinsettia School, Gerkens said he supports the basics school because he thinks parents should be actively involved with their children’s education. He also likes the idea of requiring uniforms, he said.

“It takes some of the pressure off the children who don’t have much money to spend on clothing,” Gerkens said.

At least one member of the committee believes Spirito should abandon the whole plan, which was unveiled a year ago. Lincoln schoolteacher Michael Elman said district administrators could better spend their time finding ways to help students who do not have supportive parents.

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“I thought the proposal should have been dropped last year, right after Spirito announced it,” Elman said.


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