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PUSD Denies Altadena Charter School Request to Add Grades 7-8

Pasadena Rosebud Academy, an Altadena charter school, had its charter conditionally renewed on Tuesday, but will not be allowed to expand to a K-8 school at this time.

PUSD Denies Altadena Charter School Request to Add Grades 7-8

The Pasadena Unified School District board laid out a set of conditions for an Altadena charter school's charter renewal at it's Tuesday night meeting while also denying a request from the K-6 school to add grade 7 and grade 8 age children at its campus.

The board voted to renew the charter for , which is located at the campus of the former Loma Alta Elementary, but on condition that it address several issues by June 30. The conditions include making plans to recruit English language learner students, changing the makeup of its governance board, and several conditions pertaining to teacher training.

However, unlike Altadena's Aveson Charter School , Pasadena Rosebud Academy met the district's academic requirements for state testing, and officials said it met requirements that it test at least as well as the public PUSD elementary schools that it is drawing students from.

In addition, while several board members were highly critical of Aveson at their meeting two weeks ago, several board members were very complimentary of Pasadena Rosebud at Tuesday's meeting.

Board member Renatta Cooper called the school a "passion-driven entity," Elizabeth Pomeroy said Rosebud has a "strong future," Tom Selinske said he was "proud of the school's great work," and Ramon Miramontes, noting that the head of the Rosebud Academy is a former PUSD middle-school teacher, said he has "confidence in the leadership of the school."

That contrasts strongly with comments made two weeks about Aveson, where several board members criticized it for a lack of diversity and for not performing better on state tests.

Key Conditions

One of the main issues raised at Tuesday's meeting with the school was that the Pasadena Rosebud Academy has a small governing board which includes a teacher at the school, a parent of a child at the school, and the husband of the principal.

The district has asked the school to change the governance of the board to include the wider community, an important step, they suggested, when another condition the school must meet is to be more representative of the community PUSD serves.

For Rosebud, that mainly means increasing the number of English language learner and low-income students the school serves.  The school is about 8 percent English language learner, compared to 22 percent at the district level, and does not have significant number of low-income students.

Superintendent Jon Gundry also said at Tuesday's meeting that part of the problem with recruitment is that the school does not offer a program for free or reduced-cost lunches, which a majority of PUSD students are eligible for.

"If you don't offer [a free lunch program] you are sending messages that children who require them are not welcome," Gundry said.

Board member Ed Honowitz was also critical about the school's outreach to low-income and English language learner students noting a "significant disparity" between the demographic make-up of the school compared to PUSD's schools.

Similar issues came up during the board's discussion of Aveson: district figures also show at that school there are not significant number of students receiving free lunches, and campus diversity was one of the main issues discussed by the board at it's hearing on Aveson's charter renewal.

Pasadena Rosebud Academy's director Shawn Brumfield told the board that conversations are underway with district officials to institute a free lunch program.  

Academic Performance

The board did not impose any conditions on improving academic performance at Rosebud and the report on the school described it's performance as "reasonably good."

Rosebud's state Academic Performance Index (API) score in 2011 was 890, making it the third highest-performing elementary-level school in the district.

The school, which serves 103 children total, only had 40 students old enough to take the API, and with such a small enrollment, the state did not give it a "similar schools rank" which compares school based on racial, income and other demographic measures.

At the hearing, Dr. Meg Abrahamson, the district's Director of Student Support Programs compared Rosebud to other PUSD elementary schools by using the most common demographic at the school: non-low-income African-American students.  

Her figures showed that 75 percent of that demographic at Rosebud scored at proficient or higher on English-and-Language-Arts standardized testing compared to 67 percent districtwide, and 80 percent were proficient at math testing, compared to 76 percent districtwide.

Denial of Middle School Expansion

Despite praising the school, there was no support for the idea of adding grade 7 and 8 level children to the campus, and little discussion of the possible merits of the idea.

Board member Cooper noted that the board has generally opposed the idea of adding upper-level kids to an elementary school.

Brumfield said she had heard district concerns that the school does not have the finances to add teachers that would teach single subjects rather than general education, which is usually required for middle school.

She said, however, that she envisioned the school adding two general subject teachers and having one grade 7 class and one grade 8 class where the teacher covered all subjects.

While the board voted unanimously against granting the request, language in the district report suggested that after meeting conditions for its charter renewal, Rosebud would be able to reapply and merit further reconsideration for adding the middle school grades.

Editor's note: The original version of this story did not include mention that the board's vote was for a conditional approval of the charter rather than a delay of the charter vote until June 30.

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