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Unique Aspects of The Proposed Charter School

The School Charter Plan:

2. UNIQUE ASPECTS OF THE PROPOSED CHARTER SCHOOL

2.1 Unique features of the Charter School Proposal
     2.1.1 Family and Community Oriented
     2.1.2 Personalized Learning
     2.1.3 Integrated with it's Rural Environment
     2.1.4 K-12 Continuum
2.2 Unique Features of the Enrollment Area



2.1          Unique Features of the Charter School Proposal

 

2.1.1       Family and Community Oriented

Historically, public schools have not been places that invite a strong, active, sustained interaction between the educators who work within them and the family and community members who actually build and maintain them.  Indeed, as schooling grows in size and sophistication, the interaction with families and community members becomes more carefully defined and circumscribed.  In contrast to this separateness, the SVRCS will operate from the premise that parents bear the ultimate responsibility for their children’s education, and that a school should be both a community unto itself and an interactive component of the larger community in which it exists.  Said differently, a school should be a place that actively interacts with its community and vice versa.

The overall success of this charter school will rest heavily on the active and routine involvement of parents and community members.  To help insure this success, the SVRCS’ Home/School Contract (Section 8.4, page 75) will serve as the vehicle through which students, parents, teachers, and community members commit themselves to the school’s overall mission.  All parents will be required to take part in the operating of the school and all community members will be welcome within the school and encouraged to voluntarily participate in its operation.  Through mentoring in particular, parents and community members will foster strong family/community relationships with students.  In time, programs such as a pre-school, after school activities, day care facilities, a computer learning center, and adult education courses may be developed to stress the school’s strong belief in life-long, community-centered learning.

The SVRCS will be the hub of the community.  The people of Sugar Valley would routinely use the facility for community events and various school fundraisers.  Parents and family members of students from other communities would join in the feeling of belonging as students family members and Sugar Valley residents come together to celebrate the graduations and success of SVRCS students.  The social and interpersonal familiarity promoted by such a “small town” setting will support important cultural norms, including care and concern for all of the school’s students.

The Sugar Valley community will serve as the geographical, social, and cultural contexts for creating a community of learners within the SVRCS.  All significant decision making aspects of the school, ranging from its Board of Trustees, Community Relations Committee, to its varied programs such as MASH (Many Active School Helpers), HELP (Holistic Education Learning Plan), and CAM (Client Advisory and Mediation) represents the involvement of parents, students, school personnel, and community members.  Students will be understood as important members of the SVRCS learning community and, as much, important within the broader Sugar Valley community.  SVRCS will provide learning that prepares students for life outside the community, but more importantly for life inside the community.

 

2.1.2       Personalized Learning

 

With the increasing size and bureaucratic complexity of consolidated schools comes an increasing emphasis on their institutional nature.  The more institutionalized schooling becomes, the more impersonal it inevitably must be.  The institution, and its professional workers, literally loses sight of all but the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ students within an ever-expanding student body.  The SVRCS will make certain that no student gets lost in the crowd.

The SVRCS upholds the conviction that every child has special needs, particular gifts, and unique talents and abilities.  Thus, it will help students to work well in all areas and to concentrate their energies in those areas in which they excel through its reliance on the HELP process.  The HELP document - a personalized learning plan for each student - functions as the center of the SVRCS mission.  Operating from the premise that each student has unique talents and abilities to be nurtured and encouraged, HELP will enable parents, students, and teachers to determine the best ways to achieve their goals and expectations for themselves and the student, and to adapt their efforts to changing circumstances.

Fundamental to these efforts is the belief that education should focus on the individual and that, with appropriate and ongoing support, instruction, and care, each student can eventually take control of shaping and directing her or his own learning needs and directions.  Such self-motivated and increasingly self-directed education is the results of genuinely personalized learning.  Efforts toward genuinely personalized learning will include evaluation based in part upon standardized testing and ongoing observations by school personnel.  Prescribed benchmarks of achievement to accomplished passage from one level to the next will be documented to the Help component.  Portfolios, formal and informal instruments, and rubrics will be a vital element in the evaluation process.  Rubrics, guidelines for assessing performance against criteria, will assess all dimensions of the task or content under evaluation.  Rubrics used will scale expectations for content or performance levels to achieve novice to exemplary standards.  Students will be apprised of the guidelines in advance to allow for self-assessment and self-adjust between their own individual performance and their own aspirations.

Regular assessments and feedback will detect problems or difficulties and address them before the child goes forward.  Parents and their student(s) will meet at least annually with a small panel which includes the child’s teachers to decide on what needs and desires the student has and what type of classes and experiences might be most appropriate for the coming year.  Designing of future educational programs will take into consideration benchmarks established in our K-12 curriculum.

The SVRCS will operate around nine week mini-courses so that students with differing needs and interests can participate based of their abilities.  Traditional grade levels (1st, 7th, 11th, etc.) would be flexible when necessary so as to allow for a more personalized and diverse education program with students of differing age groups inter-mingling based upon individual HELP plans.  Moreover, each student will receive staff tutoring in order to make the learning process more personal and more supportive.  Additionally, each student will both have and do peer tutoring in order to engender to spirit of a true learning community.


2.1.3       Integrated with its Rural Environment

Despite its largely rural nature, Pennsylvania has directed much of its educational efforts and resources toward consolidation, locating ever-larger school “plants” in more densely populated urban and suburban locations.  In contrast to this pattern, the SVRCS includes the term "rural" within its name not only to reflect the location of the school but also to recognize the many unique opportunities a rural area can provide to students' education.  SVRCS will be the first rural, community oriented charter school in Pennsylvania.

The SVRCS will promote a clear strong sense of rural environmental stewardship through such practices as outside/open classrooms and hands-on learning.  These are possible within a valley whose natural environment includes farms, forests and waterways that offer direct opportunities for learning related to local operations that include a fish hatchery, forestry operations, a meat packing business, and several sawmills.  Sugar Valley's rich rural history, including one of Pennsylvania's few remaining still used covered bridges, a one-room schoolhouse, and a grist mill, locates the school within a unique geographical context for integrating academic and culturally geographic knowledge.

The rural area of Sugar Valley has many important features to offer the charter school, not the least of which are opportunities in Agricultural Science and Forestry.  The curriculum offerings within the SVRCS will include both explicit community-based courses and more traditional courses within which community-based knowledge and experiences are integrated.  Students with an agricultural background will be encouraged to combine academic knowledge with their real life experiences through school-organized partnerships with area farmers, agribusiness, and ag-production facilities.  Students with other backgrounds and interests will also be directed toward community-situated learning opportunities, including the community owned and run cable television companies, landscaping, utility operations and service organizations (Lions, Sportsmen, etc.).

Among other things, rural communities reflect a culture that respects natural resources, appreciates history, and values neighborliness.  By highlighting the interrelationship between the SVRCS and its community, both can continue to thrive.  By celebrating rural life and culture within the larger context of and increasingly fast-paced, sophisticated, and technological national environment, the SVRCS will enable students to develop a strong "sense of place" rooted in long-standing rural values which include caring, commitment and common sense.

2.1.4       K-12 Continuum

Perhaps the most unfortunate result of formal schooling is the way in which it successfully teaches students to deconstruct themselves as learners and the learning process itself.  Students learn to measure progress by grade placement (first, second, ninth, eleventh, etc.), to determine their competence by test results and grading practices, and most sadly, to understand knowledge, skills, and dispositions according to subject areas (mathematics, geography, etc.).  In addition to this successful compartmentalization of learning, the ways in which schools physically differentiate actual location with learning (pre-school, kindergarten, elementary, middle school, etc.) causes the students literally to relocate during their schooling years.  It should come as no surprise that so many students have a difficult time translating their life and learning in school to the life and learning after school.

The SVRCS represents the belief that all forms of learning, bases of understanding, and abilities to take action are a continuing process that must be nurtured carefully and respectfully throughout the time one spends in school, and that this nurturing must be shared by everyone within a supportive social environment.  Toward this end, the SVRCS will begin operation as a K-12 learning center.  Such a school provides students with the opportunity to mix with differing age groups both within and outside of formal learning situations.  Older students become models for younger ones, peer tutoring becomes a matter of course, and familiarity becomes a “way of life“ which works to strengthen and support not only teaching and learning, but also the overall interactions of everyone within the learning community.

The K-12 continuum promotes a sense of belonging, which not only works to engender formal learning, but to strengthen an overall sense of community.  A strong sense of community leads, among other things, to feelings of shared responsibility among everyone involved and to diminished behavior problems.  The familiarity resulting from this continuum allows students to develop confidence in themselves as learners who can participate in directing their own learning.  By the time students reach the upper grades, they can stretch their education beyond the physical location of the SVRCS (e.g., for classes offered elsewhere) with the knowledge that they will always have a complex support base (teachers, parents, and peers) available to them at SVRCS.

 

The ability to learn, to be curious, to identify and solve problems, to participate meaningfully in one’s community - these are not merely goals for school students but literally goals for life.  The SVRCS will operate as though learning is tantamount to living and, as such, need not be restricted by institutionally determined structures such as “school subjects” time limits, age-grading, and the like.  In other words, SVRCS students will be expected to develop a way of life, which acknowledges the importance of others as it revolves around the enthusiasm, mystery, struggle and functional relevance associated with learning.

 

2.2          Unique Features Of The Enrollment Area

 

Sugar Valley Area School (SVAS) served grades K-12 in one building from 1955 until 1996 when the Junior/Senior High School (grades 7-12) section was closed to form a consolidated school in Mill Hall, PA, sixteen miles away.  As a unified learning center, the SVAS provided unique education and socialization opportunities for students, parents, and other community members.  Since SVAS’s partial closure, only three single-facility K-12 programs still operate in the Commonwealth.  (See 2.1.4)

Sugar Valley’s public schools have a history of over 150 years of academic excellence built upon a strong core curriculum and extensive extracurricular activities.  Prior to its closure, the Sugar Valley Junior/Senior High School provided an exemplary model for other schools by maintaining 0% dropout rate; consistently exceeding state averages on standardized assessment tests; and producing regional, state and national place winners in band, chorus, sports, 4-H and FHA programs.  Other schools in KCSD and surrounding school districts have relied on Sugar Valley’s unique rural setting to provide Vo-Tech training in Agriculture Science and Forestry.  (See 2.1.3)

A 1995 assessment of the Sugar Valley High School by the Middle States Association Commission on Secondary Schools highlighted the strong relationship between students, teachers, and the community, which served as a conduit for student success.  The assessment states, “The use of the school by the community is supported and encouraged by the school staff and administrator.” In the School and Community Report, Sugar Valley School was referred to as the heart of the Sugar Valley community.  “The mutual respect and support demonstrated by the school and community was evident throughout the Committee’s visit.  This strong bond is a key factor in making a K-12 organizational plan work, as well as maintaining a family atmosphere which ensures an education environment relatively free of violence and drugs.” The report also stated, “There is a pleasant and positive attitude combined with a sense of pride permeating the climate of the school.  In addition, there is a genuine interest in helping students achieve to the best of their ability.  The school atmosphere and structure thrives through mutual respect, flexibility, creativity and a willingness to work above and beyond the call of duty.” (See 2.1.3, 2.1.4)

 

Upon the closure of SVAS’s Junior/Senior High School section, over 30% of the secondary students chose to participate in alternative education including home schooling, enrollment in private schools or living with relatives in other school districts.  Contacts with those students’ parents indicate that they would actively participate in and support a charter school in Sugar Valley.

The SVRCS will be the first rural, community oriented charter school in Pennsylvania, offering a comprehensive program with four unique features.  All teaching and learning at the SVRCS will be guided by a set of values and principles that reflect American ideals: Liberty, equality, individuality and community.  (See 2.1.1, 2.1.3)


Reference: Commission on Secondary SchoolsMiddle States AssociationReport of the Visiting CommitteeSugar Valley High School - April, 1995


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