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Newport-Mesa denies charter school’s petition to operate in district

Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees unanimously denied a petition Thursday from a charter school seeking permission to operate within district boundaries.

The International School for Science and Culture was turned down three weeks after a public hearing in which supporters and dissenters spoke.

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In accord with state education code, the Newport-Mesa board adopted a resolution with specific reasons for the denial.

The petition for ISSAC, submitted Sept. 11, described it as a free public charter school with a focus on STREAM (science, technology, reading and writing, engineering, arts and math) and foreign-language education. The petition sought a five-year term with hopes of opening in August with about 390 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade. Students would study Spanish and Mandarin Chinese in addition to English and would rotate among different classrooms.

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The school would be able to enroll students from Newport-Mesa as well as neighboring districts.

Newport-Mesa’s resolution took issue with multiple aspects of the school’s planned educational program, including saying that educators’ qualification requirements were insufficient and that the school did not specify the methods it would use to measure student success.

The resolution also stated that the district found ISSAC’s proposal to be a “repackaging” of a separate charter petition for a school called Adrian Hands Academy that was repeatedly denied by the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

“One of the considerations in assessing whether a charter is demonstrably unlikely to be successfully implemented is the petitioner’s past history of involvement in charter schools,” the resolution said. “In this case, effectively the same proposal has been repeatedly found to be deeply flawed and has been denied. This is not a history of success.”

However, Michelle Anderson, a regional manager for the California Charter Schools Assn., told the board that her organization believes the petition is “viable.”

“We have seen programs like this go ahead and become an actual, fruitful charter,” Anderson said. “We’ve met with their experienced team … they understand charter laws and understand school operations, as they have a series of years under them [at other charter schools] to do this.”

Patricia Guild, who submitted ISSAC’s petition and is in line to be its founding principal, told the board that “we’re not really happy with ... the findings.”

ISSAC intends to appeal the district’s denial to the Orange County Board of Education, at which time the Charter Schools Assn. will speak on its behalf, Anderson said.

She added that it’s rare for any charter school supported by the association to be denied. “When we put our stamp of approval on a charter, we go all out to support it,” she said.

People urging the board to deny the petition — mostly members of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers — outnumbered those in support on Thursday.

However, Tho Tran, a professional college consultant and a parent of children attending Paularino Elementary School in Costa Mesa, said ISSAC is exactly the kind of education alternative she’s looking for.

“As much as I appreciate Paularino and the education my sons are getting there, it’s not good enough,” Tran said. “I see a big gap between public education and getting students ready for college.”

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