ILA in Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin

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Article on ILA Boulder Creek from the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin, June 13 2018

Being in such close proximity to Silicon Valley and with a desire for their children to be prepared for the quickly evolving future, parents are starting to look for new innovative ways for their children to learn. Integrative Leadership Academy (ILA), a local non-profit, intends to open a public charter middle school to meet the growing need of Valley families for a new small school option.

At the June 16 public hearing, parents and community members spoke to the SLVUSD Board of Education in support of the ILA middle school program. ILA is project-based and focused on the development of the whole-child, including music, art, athletics and life skills courses for all students. “As a parent and an educator, I’m very impressed with ILA. Innovation and opportunity is what we’re looking for and I know my child would benefit immensely from this new charter middle school,” said Dave Chisler, a Boulder Creek parent and public school teacher.

Led by ILA Executive Director Dr. Nicky Ramos-Beban, a long-time Valley resident and public school educator, a group of parents and community members submitted two petitions to SLVUSD. The first petition was denied by the SLVUSD Board in March, despite the packed house at the public hearing and the dozens of letters sent to the Board on the school’s behalf. Dr. Ramos-Beban submitted a revised petition in May that addressed the District’s findings, most notably the lack of proper facility for the school.

To address this issue, Ramos-Beban built a “win-win” partnership with Camp Harmon in Boulder Creek, a 40-acre property with classrooms under the redwoods, a pool, an organic garden and animal farm, and miles of hiking trails. “We’re offering Camp Harmon as a great facility for ILA’s new charter school. The school’s program is in line with the desires of the Camp Harmon founders, and I can’t imagine a better use of our campgrounds than to host the school,” said Scott Webb, Executive Director of Camp Harmon. ILA will operate when Camp Harmon is not in session, so no existing programs will be displaced, and the lease of the facility and services to the school will generate $200,000 for Camp Harmon each year.

ILA began as a vision of parents and community members seeking to add another small school option to the Valley and entice families back into the public school system. Many parents involved in this project are on waiting lists for the SLVUSD charter programs and in the meantime, are homeschooling their children or sending them to private schools. One parent, Dina, whose children currently attend a charter school outside of SLVUSD, said that if there is no local small charter school available, “We will have no choice other than to forgo the public school system and participate in a homeschool program.” Other parents live in Scotts Valley and will be transferring their children into SLVUSD to attend ILA when the school is authorised.

Charter schools, especially in states with less strict accountability, have become increasingly under fire for practices like hiring uncredentialed teachers, sending hard-to-serve students back to District schools and making a profit off public schooling. According to Ramos-Beban, who has been an instructor in the teacher education departments at San Jose State University and Stanford University since 1999, “These charter practices should be illegal. We hire only credentialed teachers, we serve all students regardless of their needs, and we are non-profit. To do any less would be a misuse of public trust and public tax dollars.” As long-time teachers’ union member herself, Ramos-Beban is also in favour of charters unionising if the teachers desire: “The bottom line is that parents want small, personalised and responsive schools for their children, and the California charter laws allow parents to bring these schools into existence.”

If approved by the SLVUSD Board at the decision hearing on July 26 at 5:00 PM, ILA will open in the fall at Camp Harmon in Boulder Creek. If the school is not authorised on July 26th, ILA will appeal to the County of Santa Cruz to open in fall 2019.

ILA is now accepting pre-registrations for the upcoming school year (2018-2019). To learn more about Integrative Leadership Academy or to pre-register please visit www.ilapublicschools.org