Those Who Can… Lead!

Congratulations to our eighth graders who ran for student council president of Almond Acres Middle School! We are so impressed with your articulate speeches, your leadership skills and your dedication to your school. You all bring big ideas and enthusiasm to Almond Acres and we’re thrilled to showcase you even further. 

Below are the speeches and photos of each candidate for student body president of Almond Acres Charter Academy middle school. 

boy in blue shirt

Brandon McWilliams. 

Hi, my name is Brandon McWilliams, and I am one of five people in eighth grade this year that are running for Student Body President. 

When I was in 5th grade we had the same thing.  We had an eighth-grade student body president, and it really motivated me to become a leader and do things out of my comfort zone that I know that I can do, and to do the right thing. 

I have two years of leadership experience in the Leadership program through the school, and it’s really taught me to be fair, honest, kind, open to other people’s ideas, and organized.  I would use those same traits as Student Body President.   

One of my ideas is to have a Google Form or a virtual input box where students can type in problems or suggestions for middle school that they would like to change. So, this will allow students if they think they have too much work, they can fill out the form; and, the teachers, they aren’t looking through their email, looking for a certain email that a student sent them, they can just open up that Google form and they can see, “Oh, 75% think that there’s too much work.  Or, they would like to suggest this.”  We’ll know the majority, and we can go to the staff and change it so it’s more efficient.  So, that is one of my ideas to make Almond Acres Middle School more efficient. 

So, thank you for your time, and I hope that you have a wonderful weekend. 

Girl in denim shirt

Gracie Elliot 

Good morning, everybody.  My name is Gracie Elliot.  I am running for middle school president along with Hannah, Brandon, Troy, and Lucas.  I am really looking forward to possibly being your president.  I hope you are as well.   

As you know, the junior high president position will help make decisions for everyone’s benefit and work hard to make our middle school better.  My reasoning behind running for president is making sure you have a trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, and caring representative you can all agree with. 

But I would also like to make this year fun for all of you. 

Speaking of fun, I would like to share my ideas on how to possibly make our distance learning or our upcoming hybrid experience a blast.  Especially for all the eighth graders that will be moving forward onto high school next year.  So, my first idea, which I know some of you agree on, is getting to interact with the younger students throughout the school.  We have done it before and I think we should be able to do it again. 

For instance, little buddies.  I do know that the sixth graders are doing something similar with Ms. Reid, but we could easily include all of middle school.  So, if I am elected to represent our middle school, I will happily work my hardest for us to have something like that again. 

Also, I do know, and you should too, that if I become the president I will try to encourage clubs, more interactive activities that won’t interfere with our schoolwork.  I also have ideas to include electives that will encourage students to do more with their education.  Imagine our school having virtual or COVID-safe music shows put on by our junior high.  And maybe even art shows, not just paintings, but small architectural structures, clothes, blueprints, crafts, designs, and much more put on by our very own junior high school elective system. 

We could have clubs, like debate teams, an art club, a bible study, made by us.  I have so many plans in mind, and the only way that all of this could happen is that I represent our middle school team with your help.  So, I proudly ask you to make the right decision and vote for Gracie as Middle School President. 

girl in green shirt

Hannah Bourgault

Hi, My name is Hannah Bourgault. I have been a student at AACA since it opened in 2012 when I started kindergarten. This is my third year being on the leadership team and I would like to be your middle school president and help us stay close while we are distant learning. 

You might be thinking,” Why do you want to be middle school president?” Well, I have an answer!  I want to be president because I’ve been at his school for more than 8 years and it’s done so much for me and I want to give back and give you more fun and enriching activities. 

And now you’re probably wondering why you should vote for me? Well, I have an answer for that one too! So as you already know, I want to make our school life more fun during this weird and tough time and I can only do this with your input. As your president, I will listen to your ideas and opinions. After I have your input, I will put your ideas into action. I will speak up and represent our middle school student body. 

I know how to be a leader, I am confident and respectful and I would be honored to serve as Almond Acres very first middle school president. My name is Hannah Bourgault and my mom and dad approve this message! 

boy in black shirt

Lucas Vertrees 

As many of you may already know, I am Lucas Vertrees, running for middle school president.  I am running because I  feel some things at school need to be changed, and I’m someone who can get things changed.   

Also, I think my personality fits the role because I’m not scared to speak up about things that need to be done, especially when it’s a teacher.  When a job needs to be done, I’m someone who can do that. 

If you elect me, I will strive to put more snacks of your choice into the Snack Shack, like maybe fruit snacks.  Whatever it is, you will be the one who decides. 

Another thing that I will set into motion is an electronic club that includes lots of soldering, 3D printing, and much more.  And in case you were wondering, “What’s soldering?”  It’s where you have this really hot pen and metal and you make circuit boards, and it’s pretty cool. 

And, finally, thank you all and have a nice day. 

Troy Dawson, Jr. 

Hi!  I’m Troy Dawson.  A lot of you might know me as T.J.  I’ve been to this school since I was in kindergarten in 2012. 

And as a candidate, I want to help my fellow students have a choice in what happens, and I want all of you to feel like you have a choice in what happens in your school experience.  I’m going to make your voice heard. 

I haven’t gotten much of a chance to talk to students about issues that affect us as a middle school, but one big issue I know about.  A vote for me is a vote for all.  One big issue is COVID-19.  How I want to fix COVID-19 is, I want to help students who don’t have WiFi, or students who would much rather have more hands-on work and activities by giving them more hands-on, physical work rather than online work in all subjects.  I want to create a sign-up sheet for physical work. 

A vote for me is a vote for all. 

Cheers to these amazing kids. Such courage, grace and wisdom! And now, a video interview with our newly elected student council president… Hannah Bourgault!

About Almond Acres: 

Almond Acres is moving to Paso Robles. Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Open to all students in all communities, the school is currently located in San Miguel and moving to Paso Robles for the 2021-22 school year. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

A Unique Middle School?

What does it mean to be unique these days? What is a unique school? How are public schools different from each other — nevermind truly unique?  How do kids recognize when they are in a special, one of a kind environment for learning? 

Let’s focus on middle school. Middle school is often a very challenging time in education and schools. Not always the favored age or stage to teach, middle schoolers can get overlooked for quality, intentional, gratifying educational experiences. Elementary schools are full of earnest, cute, malleable young kids. High schoolers can debate, advocate, and conceptualize really large ideas, concepts and realities. But what about those kids — in the middle? 

students with hands in air

What if there was a middle school that truly embraced sixth to eighth graders as current AND future leaders, ideators, problem-solvers, and independent contributors to their schools? What if the students, teachers and parents actually love their middle school? What if it’s possible to attend a middle school that is a positive environment for growth and development as a tween and early teen? 

It’s possible. It’s here. And rather than have us tell you about us, let’s hear it from an AACA middle school teacher. And some parents. And a couple of our middle schoolers themselves. Let’s read their description of their realities as to why they think AACA middle school is the real deal in middle schools — unique. 

From AACA students: 

“I think AACA has such a unique middle school environment. Not only are students taught to be considerate leaders, but students are given many opportunities to show their initiative skills. Leadership and citizenship is exceedingly highlighted. And most of all Almond Acres stretches and educates students as a whole child: heart, mind, body, and soul. Growing Great kids day-after-day!” 

“AACA Middle School is unique because everybody is free to be themselves, it is a great community to be in because everybody knows each other and everyone there is very welcoming. Middle school students also get to be in our Leadership program and get to vote for a Middle School President.”

“We are taught more than academics and we are also taught the seven habits of highly effective teens. “

“The Middle School Leadership Team is unique because it comes up with the BEST ideas for activities. It’s really fun and creative and so hands-on, even in this pandemic. When there’s a problem, they’ll solve it.” 

AACA is a very unique school because they are so encouraging and passionate about everyone.”    

three people on a beach in winter

From AACA parents:

Small classroom sizes offer a unique and individualized school day.  The teacher really knows where the student is struggling.”

“I believe that the following are what makes AACA unique: intense parent involvement, strong sense of community and shared values, an intimate, small school feel, as well as an emphasis upon the idea that education is more than about getting a good job — but about serving the community around us and forming the whole personbody, soul, mind and heart.” 

And from an ACCA teacher: 

“AACA Middle School is like a family – it is small and all the students know one another. Teachers are able to give more attention to individual students because the class sizes are smaller. The philosophy of Heart, Mind, Body, Soul is very unique for a school as it promotes teaching students foremost and curriculum follows. When we take the well-being of every student into consideration, it makes it much easier for students to focus and learn the curriculum.” 

About Almond Acres: 

Almond Acres is moving to Paso Robles. Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Open to all students in all communities, the school is currently located in San Miguel and moving to Paso Robles for the 2021-22 school year. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

Almond Acres discusses petition to move to Paso Robles on Sound Off radio interview

Almond Acres Radio

Listen as Director Bob Bourgault and board member Ed Surber discuss the petition to move from San Miguel to Paso Robles. This interview originally aired on KPRL on September 2, 2020.


Jamie (radio host):

Welcome back to Sound Off. I’m Jamie Umphenor in the KPRL Sound Off studios, and we are now joined by two gentlemen from Almond Acres Charter Academy. We have Bob Bourgault and he is the executive director, AKA the principal and Ed Surber. And he is a board member of Almond Acres. And they’re both actually parents of Almond Acres students as well. So we have an important topic to bring up to everybody today. And if you feel so inclined, we might need some public participation by tomorrow, which we’ll get into here in just a minute. But I welcome both of you for coming down here. And I know it’s a busy, a busy season right now. All the kids are home, but it’s still the start of school.

Bob:

Yeah. It’s trying to figure out how to do it differently. Yes. It, wasn’t a very different beast these days and it is a challenge to figure it out. But fortunately kids have been resilient. Families are very resilient and everybody’s really doing their best. So we’ve seen an excellent start to the school year, much better than I even expected. So I’m very pleased to see how it’s going. I would agree.

Jamie (radio host):

And so what grades are your munchkins all in?

Bob:

My munchkin is no longer a munchkin. She’s a big girl now. She started in our school in kindergarten in 2012 when we opened and she’s now an eighth grader. So she’s in the final year of our K-8 experience at Almond Acres. My Hannah.

Ed:

And I have two children that attend Almond Acres. My daughter, Charlotte. She is in sixth grade now and she’s been at Almond Acres since kindergarten. Minus one year we left town, but we wound up coming back and then my son Cody is a second grade. So he’s attended there as well since kindergarten.

Jamie (radio host):

Excellent. And so all Almond Acres is a charter school. And so what for people to understand, you know, maybe some of the school choice type of issues out there, what is different? The difference between brick and mortar public school and a charter school?

Bob:

Fortunately we’re still brick and mortar portable buildings, but we’re still a site-based school and there’s two primary differences. One is that any family in the state of California can go to any charter school in the state of California without an inter-district transfer. So it allows you a choice without having to ask for a change without having to go to a board and petition for it. So that’s huge. It allows families to say, Hey, I want something different. I like this. I’m going to go. So that’s the, I think probably the best one. It gives us as families an alternative in public education because we’re still public school. We’re not a private school. We’re still funded by taxpayer dollars. We’re still obliged to all safety, special ed, et cetera. But we’re not obliged to, and this is the, probably the big difference. And the reason why there are charters is we’re not obliged to all of this state mandated texts, curricula instructional programs, et cetera. We are able to do it in a unique way based on current research and how we choose to do it. At the same time, we have high, high accountability every five years we get renewed or not. And if you’re not renewed, you’re finished and that’s not true of any other public school. The other main reason number two is innovation charter schools were designed to, to try something different in public education. So let’s take away the, the curriculum that demand there and allow a charter school charter educators to attempt something different, like a research hospital, because the way I like to look at it is let’s do it differently. Take away some of the bureaucracy, take away the constraints, do it. And if it doesn’t work, you’re done. But for, so for us, so far eight years, we’ve been very successful. We’ve had two full accreditations from the WASC association, Western association of schools and colleges. We’ve had our first renewal three years ago now. So it’s been awesome. It’s been a joy for the kids, for the families, for the educators.

Jamie (radio host):

And what would you say the experiences for the kids? Is it more hands-on you know, where you know, some classes, it’s just, here’s what the test is going to be. We’re going to just teach to the test and, and, and that’s school, or is it a different philosophy of education?

Bob:

Those where you can get me very fired up. I don’t want to talk edubabble. Our mission is to grow great kids. And there’s a lot to that. It’s not a simple statement. How do you grow kids while you’re growing brains? So let’s look at it neurologically. So we do very much look at the neurological elements of teaching and learning great kids. What are great kids? Kids are terrific. They’re trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, and caring. First, they have to be good citizens. And then we want to awaken creativity. So we use project-based learning as our ultimate goal, but we add service to it. So instead of just building a project, your project as a class will likely be serving some element of our community. So we work with ECHO homeless shelter. We work with elderly homes. We work with local businesses, nonprofit organizations, civic organizations, and kids get a direct relationship. Last year, we had 43 partnerships with local community businesses. So project based learning means on taking knowledge and reasoning, and I’m using it to make decisions, solve problems, invent, investigate experiment, or do systems analysis. There’s your edubabble.

Jamie (radio host):

No, that’s not babble. No. I mean, I think that’s a great philosophy. Yeah. It more learned by doing but Marsha Blackburn was just on Senator Marsha Blackburn and service is definitely something that she was raised with as far as serving others. It’s very powerful. And I think we’ve lost that a little bit.

Bob:

But if we just teach knowledge, the research tells us that you gain, oh, you remember 10% of that after two weeks. If you develop reasoning skills to go with it, you retain 50%. But if you do something creative with it, i.e. project and service, you retain 90% of it. So you know, if we really are after academic improvement, academic success, then we need to let kids learn by doing learning is something you do. It’s not something that happens to you.

Jamie (radio host):

Would you agree that a lot of children have had creativity stifled in a traditional class?

Bob:

There’s some really amazing research on that. And I’ll try to quote Ken Robinson, Sir Ken Robinson bless his heart. He just passed away recently, but he’s an educational researcher. And he, he and his organization did a study that said, okay, at kindergarten, how much creativity is there? 95% when they’re a senior in high school, how much creativity is there next to zero 5%. So too often, we almost steal it from kids by forcing them into a particular model that may not work for their learning style.

Jamie (radio host):

About behavior expectations. I know that the students, that Almond Acres have to wear uniforms, which I have always been a huge proponent of uniforms because my, my philosophy is you act like you look, you know, if you look like a ragamuffin, you’re going to behave like a ragamuffin. And are there, are there higher standards of discipline and expectation put on them?

Bob:

I don’t know if there a higher standards, because I think we all want that for our kids, but it’s something we talk about every single day, every morning, our entire school gathers is called shared start. And we talk about what it means to be terrific, trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, and caring, and kids understand that. And they expect it from us and they expect it from one another. We have very little minimal discipline issues in the spring. And this year, so far, I’ve had two cases where I’ve had to address a discipline issue with kids online. That’s pretty cool in my opinion, that we’ve had very few because kids at the expectations there and we talk about it every single day. So again, like I said, being terrific is a foundation to being academically successful, et cetera. So that has to, that has to be first.

Jamie (radio host):

Very good. And how many students attend Almond Acres?

Bob:

Right now we have 310 kids.

Jamie (radio host):

And it’s K through eight. Correct. And we have one class for each grade, or we now have multiple?

Bob:

Multiple. Right up until middle school. We started as a K-6 school, and then we’ve been trying to grow it to a class at a time. And now up until middle school, we have two classes. Okay. That’s substantial growth in a short period of time. Yeah.

Jamie (radio host):

And any parent can, you know, look into putting their students into Almond Acres or is there a lottery system now to be able to get in?

Bob:

There is a lottery when we’re full. So in some classes we are full, so kids are on a waiting list, but the lottery only occurs between January and March. That’s our open enrollment period for the next school year and for the next school year.

Jamie (radio host):

Okay. Very good. And so things so far up in San Miguel with Almond Acres have been growing and good. And when we get back from commercial break, which is going to happen in 15 seconds, we’re going to talk about some transitions and renewing of charters where people really need to pay attention as to what is going on within our community, because that’s 300 plus kids. That’s a lot of students that are going to be affected by a potential change. So we’re going to take a quick commercial break just as I promised. And we will return with Bob and Ed from Almond Acres Charter Academy. And is there a website that folks can go to just learn a little bit more easiness, almondacres.com. So stay tuned and we’ll be right back. And we’re going to continue our discussion about school choice, stay tuned.

[Break for ads and news updates]

Jamie (radio host):

Welcome back to Sound Off. This is Jamie Umphenor in the KPRL Sound Off studios and we’re back with Bob Bourgault and he is the Executive Director also known as the principal of Almond Acres Charter Academy. And we also have Ed Surber and he is one of the board members and both are also parents. And so they’re kind of doubly invested in Almond Acres, I think is safe to say. So they’re seeing things on the administrative side and also the parent side, because I’m sure you’ve seen growth in, in your children, not just academically, because we always want to look beyond academics. Well, you just hit it on the head there. One of our main goals is to teach to the child, heart, mind, body, and soul, not just mine. And those are four easy words, but they represent eight intelligences.

Bob:

So the heart intelligence is our interpersonal and naturalist. The body intelligence is our kinesthetic and visual spatial. The mind is linguistic and logical mathematical and the soul is musical and intra-personal. So if we’re talking about the whole child, we need to celebrate all eight intelligence is not just how well you do on your standardized test. Yeah. You can pass those tests with flying colors and still be a jerk. Let’s just be frank about that. I’ve known a few of those.

Jamie (radio host):

It looks like we’re going to go to the phone lines. Good afternoon. You’re on Sound Off.

Speaker 5:

Hello I attend the Paso Robles School Board meetings regularly. And so I followed your attempts to get located in Paso Robles. And I realize you’re not going to be able to do it this semester. Are you going to continue to try to relocate it to Paso?

Jamie (radio host):

Stay tuned for details. We’re going to have a complete discussion about that.

Speaker 5:

Okay. And then the other question I have is the students fully funded by the state or do the parents have to subsidize some of it?

Bob:

No. Subsidizing from the parents, none whatsoever. We are funded in the same way for the most part as every other traditional public school.

Speaker 5:

Okay. Well, I know that the reason Paso Robles School Board is fighting you is because they want all the ADA’s they can keep and they were afraid you were going to take some of them away, but that’s not that’s I’m not going to get into that argument. Okay.

Jamie (radio host):

Okay. Well with that, thank you very much. You do have a unique thing that the parents are required to do volunteer hours.

Bob:

Not required for all voluntary. Well, what we know in the state even encourages this as parent participation, when our kids are involved, their parents are involved in their education. Do you just increase the probability of success? So it’s about participating in your child’s school. And when parents come on board, we ask them now, what would you like to do? You could use any intelligence. You have, maybe you love the arts and you’d like to work with your child in their class in that, but it is absolutely not required. It’s we just illustrate or help them recognize that the parent participation element is so powerful.

Jamie (radio host):

Say that you have a higher parent participation rate than most of the, the regular public schools do.

Bob:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, our parents drive 11 miles to go to school 60% of them anyway, so yeah, they’re invested. Yeah.

Jamie (radio host):

I think that’s a big missing part too in education is the parents like, “okay, see ya!”

Ed:

Yeah, huge. So I mean, from my perspective as a, you know, I’m a board member, but I didn’t, I didn’t join the board because it pays any money or anything like that, purely volunteer. But the culture, the culture that’s you know, Bob and his team has created and the board has created over the years. As a parent, you, you feel welcomed, you feel invited to come and help. And in any part you can whether it’s, you know, facility help or it’s board help or, you know, stapling papers, whatever it might be. I witness it all the time.

Jamie (radio host):

It’s huge. As speaking as a mom who had kids in public school for years, it’s the being in the classroom, I think is probably the most important part.

Bob:

Yeah. And one way or another, you know, many parents aren’t able to come to the campus, but they are able to participate in one form or another program site council is a great example. There’s just anything, anything that a parent would like to do tells their child, I care about your school. I care about your learning. So I’m going to engage with it to help you be successful. And now the child is kind of there I’ll say in a fun way, trapped between their parents and their teacher, no, getting away. You can’t say, “Hey, mom said this, my teacher said this.” No, you’re, we’re a team.

Ed:

Yeah. One of the most common testimonials that we get from existing. Families that are at the school is they like the family feeling and that’s what Bob was describing. And that’s, you know, it’s not just, you know, students and sort of this gap with their parents and the teachers, everyone knows each other. I mean, very intimately, you know, people, people are friends outside of the school, which is common in any sort of any school structure anyway. But I personally love that and I hear that a lot from a lot of the other parents as well.

Jamie (radio host):

Yeah. Well, let’s talk about the charter because Almond Acres has been open now eight years had do math in my head for a moment and into the ninth and originally it Almond Acres tried to open up and get a charter with Paso Robles School District and was denied and, and made your way to San Miguel in San Miguel said, sure, we would charter you in. And you’ve been there all these years. Correct. But the charter is getting ready to expire.

Bob:

Well, the charter expires in two years. So let me give you a time-lapse picture. If I can, 2010, actually some families came together and said, Hey, I think I want something different for my children. And we don’t have a lot of options. So let’s consider a charter school. So for two years they developed a charter. They brought it to the attention of the Paso Robles superintendent and the board at that time in 2012, and the superintendent was very not friendly, not charter friendly and they were pretty much squelched, like, no way. We’re not going to entertain a charter here. Fortunately Dr. Dubost, in his wisdom, saw the value of it. And he was a superintendent in San Miguel at the time, and welcomed it and said, “Hey, come charter with us.” So it allowed us to open. Allowed us to get things started and not be way late, any longer. We grew very quickly. We doubled in size and we ran out of electricity. We ran out of space. We can’t lease any more property on campus. And we are in very substandard buildings. So they’re all, you know, 40 year old portable buildings. We don’t have a cafeteria. We don’t have a multi-purpose room. So we’re trying to share in some cases, but we’re pretty limited. So we need, we knew we needed a new home, and we knew that, Oh, almost five years ago. So we started looking in San Miguel and we had permission to move into Paso Robles. So we looked throughout the North County for a new home and we’ve entertained seven different properties. Just last year, we were able to acquire the one on Niblick Road and have moved forward. We have an investor that will build us a school and we will lease back to that investor. So we’re very pleased to have a place where we can build a brand new school, but we need to be in Paso Robles. 60% of our families are from Paso Robles. Those families actually commute right now. There are many other families, as we’ve just seen with distance learning that want to be a part of our school. They don’t have to drive right now. So they are but we need our own home and we needed to be an innovative site in Paso Robles.

Jamie (radio host):

So what is the responsibility of the school district that you charter with? Did they have any oversight?

Bob:

Oh yeah, absolutely. They have they’re our authorizer and we pay them to be our authorizer. They get 1% of our revenue to oversee our school and to make sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. And every five years they either renew you or not. So in our first five years we got a renewal. We also got a six-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. So we were completely blessed as you guys have done a great job and keep going.

Jamie (radio host):

But, your physical location has to be chartered within the school district that it falls into.

Bob:

It does now. It didn’t used to, so that’s a new law, kind of an anti-charter law that came out just July 1st, if I’m not mistaken. So that’s a new law that says we must be in the district that is authorizing us.

Jamie (radio host):

And our current state administration is not very charter school friendly. Correct. Okay. They’re not very school choice friendly. On a federal level though, they’ve become very school choice friendly.

Bob:

The state has the obligation to provide public education, so they have the power of the purse and legislation.

Jamie (radio host):

So have you gone to the Paso Robles School Board in regards to this move to Paso Robles to see if they would take you on as a charter?

Bob:

Yes. So about a year ago, we started entertaining the thought with Dr. Dubost about charting and Paso Robles. He was initially very supportive and thought, yes, this is you know a probable thing that could happen for us. But as the financial situation and Paso Robles got worse for the school district that support, he had to focus on Paso Robles, focus on his schools. And it was no longer favorable. It was still favorable by some of the board members, but those board members in some cases had to recuse themselves from the vote. So they weren’t even able to vote on the charter. And we were um well, we weren’t officially denied, but we were denied enough to know that we needed to go to the County office as an appeal. And that’s where we are tomorrow, tomorrow at 1:30, the County office of education board of trustees will vote to override the denial of Paso Robles schools to allow us to charter.

Jamie (radio host):

And, and the members of the school board in Paso Robles that had to recuse themselves, is it because they have kids at Almond Acres, are they tied to Almond Acres?

Ed:

So of the seven, there were two, two that were essentially neighbors of the site that we’re planning to build. They live in that neighborhood. So they, they felt that that was a conflict of interest. And then one of the members has, has children that go to children that go Almond Acres, so decided to recuse themselves for conflict reasons, and there were four remaining. Right? Correct. And of the four, we had one that’s voted in, you know, said, Hey, you guys should go ahead and move on into Paso. And then the other three said, no. And so there was sort of a, the, the attorneys had to get together and figure out what actually happened here. Right. And, and ultimately decided that, that it was officially a denial. And then we had to appeal.

Jamie (radio host):

Is the fear that the Paso Robles school district would lose money. Even though those students have already been with Almond Acres, that would be moving into the Paso Robles, physical buildings. And they’ve been gone for a while.

Ed:

Yeah. So with the Paso district the staff report generally, there’s really two points that they brought up. The first point was financial stress on the Paso district and kind of get into that in a second. The second issue that they identified was effectively our inability to perform, to run the school right. As, as we wrote the charter. And we’ll, we’ll go into detail on that in a moment as well,

Jamie (radio host):

Inability to run the school?

Bob:

Basically. Yeah. That we don’t have the probability of success.

Ed:

So when you write a charter, you, you write on paper, your plans to operate the school and you know what your budget’s going to be, your teaching methods, et cetera, et cetera. And you know, in their staff report identified that, you know, based on what they read in our charter, we would not be able to successfully run the charter.

Jamie (radio host):

Though the growth of the school and the success of the students is showing otherwise. So did they have anything to factually base that assumption that the school will fail?

Bob:

Oh, there were plenty of minor things. There were, there was no affirmation of the strength of this school. It was written to give people a reason to deny. In my opinion, there was the whole petition and those staff reports, both from Paso Robles and the County have identified mostly just small things that would give a board member a reason to deny without giving any good reason to, to approve. And that’s where the big question is right now. Wait a second. How can you be successful for eight years? And then for somebody to say you have a contradiction between your family handbook and your charter little things like that that came out in their report.

Jamie (radio host):

In writing charters to open a charter school, is there wiggle room that eventually things will morph as we’ve seen in many other policies that rule our lives?

Bob:

Of course. And some of them are material changes that need approval by the authorizer. But yeah, and those things are major material things. They’re not something minor. So the, most of the things that they even talked about were okay, we just, we didn’t write that correctly. So let’s fix it. Little things that, okay, that’s simple, fixed, already fixed. Or inaccurate. So there were many things that were inaccurate.

Jamie (radio host):

Can you think of an example before we go to break? No. Gosh, my brain is just going on now. You’re like, there’s like 30 million things. I need like a lack of a cafeteria. I mean, the school is going to bail. Yeah,

Bob:

No, I think just operationally our special ed department, for example, we have been extremely successful. We have the highest special ed population in the County, and we’ve been very successful with that, but they said we were not likely to succeed.

Jamie (radio host):

Okay. With that, we’re going to take a break. We’ll be right back. [break For news and ads]

Jamie (radio host):

Welcome back to Sound Off. This is Jamie Umphenor in the KPRL Sound Off studios. And we are back with the executive director, Bob Bourgault of Almond Acres Charter Academy and board member Ed Surber. And we’re talking about the situation that has recently come up where they are needing to move into the Paso Robles School District. They’ve definitely outgrown their facilities in San Miguel. They have property on Niblick Road, if you haven’t seen it. It’s the old church and it’s very easy to get to. But therefore with a new law from our wonderful state legislature you now have to have the charter school in the actual physical school district. And due to interesting circumstances, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Board had declined their application to be chartered into the School district. And they’re claiming financial stress. And, and we all know it’s not a secret that the, the Paso school district has a financial problem, but the kids that are at Almond Acres already have been there. So they’re not like going to lose money on ADA right, right away. And then they’re saying that the second thing is an inability to run the school and you’d left off with special education and you approach special education much differently than, than the traditional public school does. Do you have higher or lower percentages of special education students in your population?

Bob:

We have the highest percentage in the county. And I’m, I’m almost proud of that because we don’t treat kids as if they have disabilities. We treat them as if they have different abilities. We use a very strong inclusion program. Our support staff, we actually don’t even call it special education. We do officially, but we call in the school, we call it support services because that support service team addresses all kids, not just students with IEP or 504 plans. So they are thriving in an inclusion model. So we’re very proud of the success that our kids have had and the families are elated because their child feels like a child again.

Jamie (radio host):

So if the school district is saying inability to run a school, in my simple mind, it seems to be a contradiction to the other side that I’m seeing a growing school, bustling school. You know, I’ve actually had family members go through Almond Acres and they flourished. So that seems to be quite the contradiction with the school district. And the next step now is to appeal at the County level. Correct? Correct. And so, tomorrow is the vote, the appeal is at 1:30 and the county board of education will vote on this. And they did their own report?

Bob:

Right, right. They hired an attorney from, I’m not sure if it was Los Angeles or San Francisco. His name is John Yeh and in my opinion, they hired somebody who has a reputation of squelching charters and his report clearly.

Jamie (radio host):

Do we know if they’re tying to the teacher’s unions? I don’t know our teachers at Almond Acres members of the teacher union.

Bob:

No, we’re a non-collective bargaining school.

Jamie (radio host):

Okay. And has that ever been an issue? Okay.

Bob:

Certainly because they’re the two stakeholders that don’t want us around are unions and some administration, some district administrators don’t want us around.

Jamie (radio host):

Okay. And so tomorrow can the public comment on this item when it comes up for discussion at the County board of education?

Bob:

There is there’s very limited time. We had a public hearing and we had over 150 responses at that public hearing. It lasted two and a half hours. Tomorrow is much smaller. There’s a 45 minute window. So the County board has heard the public hearing. I think a show of support, even just physically being visual on the Zoom meeting. That was my next question would help. We’re trying to show that support by our four colors, heart, mind, body, and soul are red, blue, yellow, and green. So we’ll be wearing our colors just to show support for Almond Acres. But that’s that I think is powerful because there, I don’t, I’m not finding anyone else in the community outside of the union and some administration that don’t want us here. Our civic leaders want us here, both Debbie Arnold and John Peschong, Tom Bordonaro, our sheriff, our city council members. They all want us here. They all believe and see the value of Almond Acres being here in Paso Robles as well, the families, and we have had public hearings. We’ve had neighborhood meetings at the new site. The only issue people are concerned about is the traffic, and we’ve done everything we can to mitigate that. So we’re not getting pushback from other community members besides the educators.

Ed:

Just to kind of summarize it here. Bob’s being very kind here and which is what he should be doing. So the Paso district denied our charter based on financial stress concerns. It’s complete nonsense because we’re not going to take any money away from their ADA at all. The second thing is that we can’t run a school. We’ve been doing it successfully for eight years, that that information carried itself to the County level with this attorney who, who, who drafted a report, very, very similar, lot different sort of verbiage and writing, but very similar in terms of findings, quote, unquote findings, okay. Financial issues. And we can’t run a school. From what I can tell and what I can see is happening here is that I think that what’s driving all of this right now is that the Paso district is financially strapped. We all know that that’s a fact and the Paso district, as well as the County is trying to leverage that, trying to use that in addition to some of these other things that don’t amount to anything, the fact that we can’t run a school, et cetera, we’re trying to put all these things together to paint a picture that this is just horrible. This is horrible for the County. We cannot allow this to happen. And what I would encourage anyone listening to this, to, to us talking right now is to really, if you don’t know, learn call one of us, go to the website, get ahold of us. We will answer any question you want. And if anyone out there actually knows one of these five board members to, to call them, to give them the information. I think a lot of this is just, they don’t have the information. Now some of them may be politically driven one way or the other that’s fine. But our job at this point is just to educate with facts and, and let them make a conscious decision. That is the right thing. And we can go on and on about how amazing the school is. The fact is we’ve grown from 150 students to 310 and eight years. You know, everything Bob mentioned, right? We’re, we’re doing a wonderful job that, you know, we have demand. People want to come in in the last, this school year alone because of distance learning because of a lot of issues that some of the other schools how they did not perform in the springtime when COVID-19 hit, some of these parents are coming to us because they heard great things. Well, that’s, that’s, that’s a big driver of our enrollment. So we just need help at this point because we’re playing, we’re begging, we’re pouring our heart out to the district, to the County, but we need more people to really just help us out here and say, look, make the right choice here. This is not a difficult decision in my opinion.

Bob:

If we don’t get that vote. The probability of us being able to survive after two years I’m quite nervous about that because staying in San Miguel limits many things on top of the facility itself, we’re super grateful that we got to start the school there, Dr. Dubost and their board. They had, they had the foresight, they recognize the wisdom in having a charter school in our County. But we’ve outgrown that spot. We need to be where our families are and we need to be more available to all of the families in the North County. And that’s one of the reasons why Paso Robles won’t have the financial impact. We have families in every community in the North County. So if 60% of our families are from Paso Robles and we add, you know, 150 more families, what’s that number. Now, you also have to take out the kindergartners because they already come, they started our school. So the number is very small in terms of additional Paso Robles kids.

Jamie (radio host):

Okay. And you said 60% of your current, current enrollment is already Paso Robles students. So they’re, they’re making the drive well, up until March 13th, they were making the drive up until March 13th to San Miguel, twice a day to get their kids to school. And the new property would be very centralized within the North County community because I personally know Templeton and the Tascadero family is that up until March 13th drove every day up there or carpooled and things like that. So the, the charter that you’re operating under right now is good until June of 2022. Correct. Okay. And then after that, if the County board of education says, no, tomorrow, you run the course with that charter and cross your fingers?

Ed:

That’s one option. Another option is to reapply, essentially in Paso. You know, which has always, that’s always an option. And that’s more likely what we would probably have to do. And you know, people say, well, you don’t have another chance, but I mean, nothing’s going to change, you know.

Bob:

We’ve been trying this for five years, we’ve tried to negotiate with both districts to make something a win-win we’ve not been successful.

Ed:

Yeah, that’s a good point to bring up as well, which, you know, I have people asking, you know, well, why are you going on the radio trying to, you know, get, why didn’t you just go sit down with the, with the district and the boards and talk to them. We’ve tried multiple times. I mean, over the last five years, it’s I don’t countless. Right. And they either don’t call back. They don’t, they don’t want to talk about anything. We we’ve tried to negotiate compromise in so many things, zero.

Bob:

I won’t say zero last fall, we had good conversation with Dr. Debost and some of his board members too, to the degree that we thought, okay, we’re going to be approved. And then the fiscal challenges got worse, but we haven’t gotten the Hey, we’ll, we’ll help make this happen. Well, we can find a way to find a way to make his have negotiation. I guess that’s what I thought compromise was, was working together. But I guess not,

Jamie (radio host):

It was supposed to, you know, walk across the, across the aisle. It doesn’t happen much anymore. It’s a full other show, but anyways, we’re going to take a quick commercial break and we’ll be right back for the final segment of Sound Off today with Bob Bourgault and Ed Surber of Almond Acres Charter Academy. So stay tuned and we’ll be right back .

Jamie (radio host):

And welcome back to the final segment of Sound Off today. And we’re talking to Ed Surber and Bob Bourgault from Almond Acres Charter Academy, and we’re discussing the situation with their charter. There’s a new law that was put in place by your state that says charter schools now have to be chartered where in the district that they physically reside. So you can’t have San Miguel renew it and have your new property in Paso Robles, it has to be Paso Robles, Paso Robles School District. If it was Templeton, it has to be Templeton building Templeton School District. So you can’t even go to another school district to help you. Correct. Right. Thanks. Gavin Newsom making it very easy for us, right? Yeah. Recall Gavin 2020. Okay. And then there’s been funding a lot of attempts to change the funding to charter schools because they are taxpayer funded, like the regular public schools are. And there’s been some changes in that. There’s a little bit of backlash. I think they wanted to say, you know, your funding amount is what you were when the shutdown happened. Regardless of all the charter schools in the state of California have had extensive growth they can’t get funded for that growth. That money has to stay in the school district the kid was in.

Bob:

Correct. SB98 actually caused that to come about. It was revised and there is some compromise on it. So we will get some of the funding for new students, but not all.

Ed:

That is interesting here, because even with all of those challenges, we have still been able to put money in our bank account. You know, we’ve still been able to be fiscally responsible this whole time. Unlike some other

Jamie (radio host):

And charter schools kind of have to run like a business. Is that a more business mindset?

Bob:

The biggest chunk is our rent. We spend about 10% of our annual revenue on rent. We’re the only school that pays rent. Now their school districts are granted properties and you have developer fees to help you develop, you have bond money to help you build. We don’t get that. So we, we pay rent and our rent has gone up threefold in the past five years.

Jamie (radio host):

I can only imagine. Okay. And so you, and you just get basically the ADA, the average daily attendance funding, or each student, right.

Bob:

We write grants. So we’ve been successful with some grant money. We do some fundraising as well.

Jamie (radio host):

Yeah. That’s true. I think just about every school on the planet has to do fundraising outside of their regular funding. Right. Okay. So how can people participate in tomorrow’s meeting with the County board of education? And this, this is slated for 1:30 tomorrow, correct?

Ed:

1:30 PM tomorrow. Thursday, September 3rd. It’ll be a Zoom style meeting with obviously it’s a respect to the coronavirus situation. People can go to the San Luis Obispo County office of education website, which is slocoe.org. And on there, they can, you can navigate and find the agenda for the meeting tomorrow, which will have a Zoom link on there. And it’ll, it’ll, you know, explain which, which item are our petition will be on that agenda. And that would be a public comments portion just like there is with any other action item, any other public meeting although they will, they will be restricting the timeframe because we, they anticipate a lot of people providing some public comment, but that would be, that would be immensely helpful. You know, I think also just contacting, the superintendent Dr. Brescia, not to complain, but just you know, hopefully, you know, if you have any comments or a letter, send them to him, he’ll get them, he’ll get them in front of the County board and, you know, letter support or statement of support. Anything is always going to help. And really, like I mentioned earlier, we just want, ideally we want these five county board of trustee members to just understand the facts there. They’ve been handed a report by this attorney that Bob mentioned which is unfortunately very, very misleading. And we really just want to make sure that those board members, you know, have, have the answers, you know, and hopefully they, hopefully they ask us questions during the meeting tomorrow and we can answer those questions.

Bob:

And their responsibility isn’t just to listen to that report. They know they’re governors, they are, are a governance body. So I have faith that they will listen. They’ve listened to us in a public hearing. They’ve listened to a multitude of letters and fact finding that we’ve done. So I believe that they will do the right thing. They’re not as stressed by this as the Paso Robles District is because they are a governing bodies are further away from problems. So I think they can look at this in a more objective manner and look at it from a perspective of what’s the best for our county in terms of education, how can we support education within the county and do the next right thing for kids and families. So I believe that they have a different perspective on it, and they’re not going to be just listening to that report. They’re going to listen to everybody else’s speaking as well.

Jamie (radio host):

And in the public hearing that happened previously, it went for about two and a half hours, right? Was there a lot of negative comments, sayings shut them down?

Bob:

There was one negative comment outside of the Paso Robles report. So that was a 10 minute section. And then the rest was public comment. There was one individual, actually a board member from Paso Robles who had an opinion, but as the opinion only dealt with the traffic that he would have to deal with coming out of his street, had nothing to do with children, families, education, or the community it had to do with him having to fight the traffic. So that was the only negative comments in that entire time.

Jamie (radio host):

But it’s right down the street from the high school. And you have traffic twice a day. Yes. So I’ll leave it at that. All right, gentlemen, thank you very much for your time. You again, can participate in tomorrow’s meeting. It’s going to be a Zoom meeting. The links and agenda are found at slocoe.org. And of course you can go to almondacres.com. So thank you, sir.

Philosophy to Facility

At Almond Acres, we grow great kids. Our new school in Paso Robles is going to be a beautiful expression of our teaching and educational philosophy in 4D. We are taking our educational philosophy and bringing it to life in our school building. 

How do we do this? With intention! And planning. It is our philosophy to facility. We will educate the whole child here  — heart, mind, body and soul — to the eight intelligences. Let’s visit the plans together. 

school room plan

Our focus is to create spaces that are dynamic — where collaboration can readily appear. This collaboration could be between teachers, students, and staff and will stimulate our project-based learning, while keeping every child safe within a self-contained campus. 

An interior classroom wall can open so two classes can join together. Teachers can co-teach students allowing them to augment and supplement their lessons with one another — and share ideas, talents and expertise. After all, the eight intelligences apply to our teachers just as it does to every AACA student. 

Distance learning has taught us how well our teachers collaborate and share expertise. We carry this idea forward by having grades adjoining one another so K-1 can collaborate, 2-3, 4-5, and middle school. We are shifting the siloed teacher/classroom paradigm into a malleable, flexible and collegial experience for all educators alongside our paradigm shift for their students. 

Studies show academic achievement thrives best when teachers collaborate. Our new adjoining classroom ideas not only allow teachers and classes to adjoin, we also have small group meeting rooms and shared teacher offices. Up to four teachers will share an office and our small group meeting rooms will allow specialists to push into the classroom more easily and kids to spend less time away from their core class environment and eliminate any stigma they may feel leaving their class.

school floor plan

Our internal courtyard will be open to the sky overhead.  We will have fountains and natural elements; it will be an inviting and peaceful welcoming. Our eighth graders are creating monuments to all eight intelligences. They could be sculptures, poems, rock carvings — we cannot wait to see what they design! 

Our multipurpose room will serve many needs including a gymnasium for athletics.. It also has an internal collapsible wall that can fold up and allow both spaces (the gym and central courtyard) to hold 500-800 people. By having the gym inside the core of the school building we keep all children safe. There is a hallway surrounding the gym and atrium to buffer sound. 

Our Kindergarten and first grade classes are at the north end of the building and have slightly larger classrooms. Our second and third grades and fourth and fifth grades will be side-by-side with the collapsible wall in-between to integrate subject areas and share teacher expertise and passions. 

Our middle school will have two wings at the front of our new school. These two areas will be academies that focus on humanities classes like language arts and social sciences. We will have a learning space here that mimics a college library. The other middle school wing will have STEM and STEAM classes — including a creativity lab. This project-based learning lab will be used for science and art classes. 

Outside, our playground is lower to ease some elevation changes. This creates a natural amphitheater. The fields are completely ADA compatible with access on all sides. Our classroom doors to the outside do not have door handles on the exterior;  our students, stuff and teachers re-enter through main access doors. The entire school is circled by a drop off lane for easy pickup and drop off. Our video below explains every aspect of our design. 

At Almond Acres Charter Academy teaching, supporting and stretching the whole child is always top of mind. With our new school facility in Paso Robles, we will bolster student retention while encouraging creativity. We can improve neurological strength in our soon-to-be engaging, dynamic and flexible school spaces. We encourage collaboration for teachers and students alike…and soon our school will enable this even further.  This is how we grow great kids. We cannot wait to share this new school with YOU!

About Almond Acres 

Almond Acres is moving to Paso Robles. Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Open to all students in all communities, the school is currently located in San Miguel and moving to Paso Robles for the 2021-22 school year. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

Keep Your Rudder in the Water

7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a well-loved book at our school. It is useful and thought-provoking in the best of times, but now perhaps more than ever it feels timely and even prophetic. 7 Habits thinking catapults us during tough times like these. Together, we are in a distance-learning-during-a-pandemic boat, getting bounced around. Our 7 Habits thinking can cut through the uncertainty and disequilibrium; it can be our rudder. 

There is an old saying that, “a man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.” A ship floating in water —  without direction  — can easily lose its way. A captain with a hand on the rudder guides the ship to its destination. 

Our AACA rudder  — especially right now — is guided by our principles. We will not stray from our course to grow great kids and educate with care and intention. We have the end in mind. Using our rudder, we are moving through this crisis. We are riding the waves, we will not sink! We know our strengths  — our school benefits from the power of positive principles.  

These past few weeks have especially reminded our AACA family the value of 7 Habits thinking. Together, we recognize:

  1. Being Proactive: Bring students back to school safely and as soon as possible while managing the logistics and administration of the school. 
  2. Beginning with the End in Mind: The longer we stay in Distance Learning, the harder it will be for students to achieve academic gains.
  3. Put First Things First: Make decisions based on our highest values. 
  4. Thinking Win-Win: Make decisions that will support the families and faculty/staff. 
  5. Seeking 1st to Understand all perspectives (staff, families, and students) via surveys, staff feedback, engagement levels, and staff collaboration meetings.
  6. Synergy: Work together to create the best model for all stakeholders (especially students) based on current health guidance. 
  7. Sharpen the Saw: Collegial support and stakeholder synergy is helping to keep us strong!

“I am sure glad that I know how to practice the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Determining what is in the best interest of student achievement and what is most safe are too often at odds. There are many conflicting factors as we navigate the reopening of schools.” Bob Bourgault, Director, Almond Acres Charter Academy

We are extremely grateful to our board, families, staff, and students for the patience, persistence, and positive attitudes we have all needed during this very interesting time in our shared history. 

We will continue to do the next right thing to Grow Great Kids!

Did you know our middle schoolers have a 1:28 student to teacher ratio? Every great kid is known for who they are in grades six to eight. Join our small, caring school and enroll today

About Almond Acres

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. The school is located inSan Miguel and is open to all students in all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!