Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yay for Davi's tiny school

this is an article that was on the front page of the paper today :) yay for her tiny school!! I can't say enough about her school, it has changed her view of school and she has become excited about education. I am so blessed she got in the school and that it is right down the street from where we live.

Small school, big numbers
River Valley Charter School continues its run of excellence in statewide testing
By Leonel Sanchez Union-Tribune Staff Writer
2:00 a.m. May 12, 2009
River Valley Charter School recorded an 894 for its high school students in statewide testing last year. It was the fifth year in a row that River Valley, which combines home school and classroom instruction, had the San Diego County's top high school score. (John R. McCutchen / Union-Tribune) -
894 River Valley Charter School
881 Preuss High at UCSD
850 Coronado High
849 Torrey Pines High
845 Poway High
SOURCE: California Department of Education
LAKESIDE — River Valley Charter School began more than a decade ago with a group of parents who wanted a small school that mixed home schooling with classroom instruction.
Today the Lakeside school with an enrollment of 210 boasts the highest scores in San Diego County on a statewide measure of high school students.
Last year, River Valley scored 894 on the state's Academic Performance Index, which is based on results of standardized math, English, science and history tests. It was the fifth year in a row the school had the county's top high school score, higher than larger schools with academic reputations, including Preuss High at UCSD, Coronado High and Torrey Pines High.
River Valley students took the tests again last week and the school will get the results this summer.
For most schools the goal is to score 800 on the index, which has a scale of 200 to 1,000. High schools have a harder time reaching that number than elementary and middle schools because their course work is more complicated and their enrollment usually is larger.
River Valley has scored at least 823 on the API every year since 2003. School officials attribute the high scores to small class sizes and strong parental involvement. The school has an 18-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, compared with a 24-to-1 ratio in the Grossmont Union High School District last year, according to state data.
The school's founders last year opened a similar school in City Heights, a low-income neighborhood in San Diego.
“We wanted to find another population, a needier population, and see what we could do there,” said Bill Wellhouse, River Valley's former principal.
His wife, who home-schooled their son, led the parent drive to open the school in 1997 with the Lakeside Union School District as its sponsor.
Established districts sponsor charter schools, but charter schools operate with fewer restrictions than traditional schools. However, they must still comply with certain requirements, such as state testing.
About 160 River Valley high school students took the state tests last year, including some seventh-and eighth-graders, a much smaller number than at a typical high school. High school seniors are not required to take the tests.
Denise Huang, senior researcher at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards & Student Testing, said with a small group it doesn't take many students to push test score averages in either direction.
“It's easier to get a high score for a small school,” Huang said.
A study by the Rand Corp. recently found that students at charter high schools had about the same test scores as students at traditional schools, but charter high school students were more likely to graduate and attend college.
River Valley, a 2005 California Distinguished School, is one of about 100 “hybrid” charter schools in the state that combines home school and classroom instruction.
Principal Cheryl Bloom said the school's goal is to prepare students for college.
Her students are regular teenagers, “silly and all that,” she said. “But when they're in class they're focused on learning.”
The school fields a few sports teams and offers some art electives, but it mainly focuses on academics.
“They've made me into an above-average student,” said Kylena Parks of Lakeside, a straight A, college-bound senior who enjoys the small campus atmosphere. “You don't feel it's too big or too busy.”
Students attend core classes twice a week at the leafy, mural-laden campus next to Lakeside Middle School. A third day is open for tutoring and electives. The rest of the time students work on assignments at home, do internships, volunteer or take classes at community colleges.
“To experience things outside a school environment allows me to see what things I'm interested in,” said Kevin Neynaber of San Carlos, who plans to major in film production in college.
Many students were home-schooled before coming to River Valley. More than 60 percent have a stay-at-home parent.
“It's crucial,” said Kim Fletcher, who works part time and builds her schedule around her two daughters' schooling.
Paseo Arroyo High School, the charter school the Wellhouses opened in City Heights last year, offers small classes but not a home-school program.
“Independent studies won't work with this population,” Bill Wellhouse said. “By and large they don't have space at home that is conducive to learning. “There's poverty, working parents, absent parents, crowded living conditions.”
The two schools couldn't be more different. River Valley's students are predominantly white and from suburban and rural East County and parts of San Diego. Paseo Arroyo's 150 students are mainly low-income Latinos and African-Americans.
Most charter schools struggle in their first years. Paseo Arroyo last year scored 531 on the Academic Performance Index, which is low, but Wellhouse isn't giving up on the small-school approach. Paseo de Arroyo's student-to-teacher ratio is 16-to-1.
“This model of personal attention to the student and small classes has really worked for us before,” he said.
Leonel Sanchez: (619) 542-4568; leonel.sanchez@uniontrib.com


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