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Charter school advocates, detractors voice their opinions at Newport-Mesa hearing

The Newport-Mesa Unified school board recently heard from supporters and dissenters of a charter school seeking permission to operate within district boundaries.

The proposed International School for Science and Culture (ISSAC) is “designed to provide parents a choice in their child’s education,” Patricia Guild, who is petitioning the district to open the campus, told trustees during a public hearing on Wednesday.

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ISSAC, which submitted its petition to trustees on Sept. 11, is seeking a five-year term and intends to serve students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade.

The free public charter school would focus on STREAM (science, technology, reading and writing, engineering, arts and math) curriculum and teach students Mandarin Chinese and Spanish in addition to English.

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Guild, who is the charter’s designated principal, said the ISSAC team evaluated various factors of the district, including its scores on the California School Dashboard, which shows performance on test scores, graduation rates and other measures of student success.

“We found many strengths, as well as areas of need,” Guild said. “We developed our school program to uniquely help service the students of Newport-Mesa that are under-served.”

However, several speakers spoke against the charter, including Ruth Kobayashi, a parent of two Newport-Mesa graduates. She said that the charter application reminded her of “very early drafts” she saw during her six years as a former trustee of Mariners Christian School in Costa Mesa.

“I have no idea by what I’ve heard if a student in this school would get an education at all close to what they receive in our well-established, free-to-the-public schools,” Kobayashi said.

Wendy Leece, a former member of both the school board and the Costa Mesa City Council, took issue with the fact that ISSAC fliers were passed out in her neighborhood stating that the school would open next year.

“That’s a little presumptuous to me. We have a long way to go,” Leece said. “I know, just through experience, that it’s a long time to really go through and make sure that all the ducks are in a row.”

Guild said the charter has an interest in a site located on Mesa Verde Drive in Costa Mesa, but supporters are waiting to see “if all goes well” with the district in hopes that it might have an available building or classrooms.

The mission of ISSAC “to cultivate global citizens” is backed by a number of local parents, including Rowan Trefz, an environmental engineer in Costa Mesa and the father of two sons at Paularino Elementary. Trefz emphasized that his early education at an international high school in Australia provided him a strong foundation for his career.

“I do want to see more opportunity for my two sons to be able to attend a (STREAM) school,” Trefz said. “I know that the company that I work with and the industry that I’m in, there’s a huge demand for engineers, and I see a lot of people coming to (the U.S.) with these skills from overseas.”

Following the public hearing, Guild, who has 25 years of experience working in both traditional and charter school settings, told the Daily Pilot she thought the concerns of the community were valid, and that she believes it’s important for the district “to give us a try.”

The school board has 60 days from the formal receipt of the petition to make a decision on whether to grant or deny the charter. A special board meeting to vote on the matter is tentatively set for Nov. 15.

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