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.

Community raises over $23,000 for local school

Local businesses, families, teachers, staff, and individuals worked together to raise over $23,000 for Almond Acres Charter Academy by hosting their, Wild, Wild West Drive-Through BBQ and Online Auction. The school, which will be breaking ground this fall for their new school facility in Paso Robles, will use the funds to benefit their Project Based Learning, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics), and Athletics programs.

“We typically host an annual in-person auction, but due to COVID, we decided to switch gears and hold a smaller-scale fundraiser that was safe for everyone to participate,” said event coordinator, Jenn Phillips. “What we didn’t expect was the generosity of local businesses. We know this has been an incredibly difficult year for businesses, and we feel so honored that they wanted to support the students at Almond Acres in whatever capacity they could.”

The main sponsor for the event that took place on Oct. 3, was Roots on Railroad, an eatery that opened on 13th Street and Railroad earlier this year. Other top-level sponsors included The Backyard on Thirteenth, Engineered Power Solutions, G & H Autobody, The Partridge Family Olive Company, Mechanics Bank, and Tractor Supply Company, who hosted the event in their parking lot.

Via: Paso Robles Daily News

Almond Acres Families Threatened with School Closure by San Luis Obispo County Office of Education

Almond Acres friends

Denial of charter petition would likely leave more than 300 students without their school of choice

Paso Robles, California: – Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA), a public charter school successfully serving students and families in the area since 2012, is being threatened with closure if their charter petition to expand their school in Paso Robles is denied by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. The vote, which will take place on Thursday, September 3 at 1:30 p.m., will be open to the public, and will take place online.

“This denial is based on incorrect financial concerns as well as false claims that Almond Acres Charter Academy will not be able to function as a successful school,” said Ed Surber, AACA board member and proud parent. “Almond Acres Charter Academy has served hundreds of families for eight years under the guidance and support of James Brescia. Suddenly, and under false pretenses, he is recommending that our petition is denied, which threatens the school’s survival.”

The school has held a series of meetings with the community members, Surber noted, as well as the Office of Education and parents, who’ve passionately defended their children’s education as the school looks to expand into a new building in Paso Robles, where the school began.

Almond Acres is asking parents, community members and concerned citizens to contact the members of the board of trustees in advance of the vote to encourage them to vote NO on recommendation to deny the schools’ charter petition.

Strong community support for Almond Acres Charter Academy

More than one hundred community members wrote letters to the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education in support of the school. Letters can be read here.

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 in San 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.

Almond Acres Offers a New At Home Distance Learning Option for the 20/21 School Year

Following the great success Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA) experienced with its recent distance learning program, the school is excited to announce that it will be enrolling students in a new At Home Academy program beginning in the Fall of 2020.   Being a small school allows AACA to respond to changes in the needs of their families with swiftness and AACA’s distance learning program demonstrated a strength in designing education that truly is outside the box of traditional school programs. 

AACA has been providing a site based instructional program since the school began in 2012.  When COVID-19 forced districts across the state to close their doors and transition to a distance learning model, AACA recognized an opportunity to expand its program offerings. When survey results reported 95% of families felt the distance learning program exceeded or greatly exceeded expectations, the AACA team felt confident in once again implementing a programmatic change.

During the distance learning program, parents were surveyed several times to gauge their feelings on the possibility of a at home option moving forward.  Multiple families reported they were interested in exploring an at home option and their reasons were varied.  Some expressed a long term desire to do distance learning but they were reluctant to forego the school culture and climate offered at AACA.  Other families shared concerns about possible restrictions in the form of health and safety guidelines that may be in place when schools reopen.  The administration examined multiple options for an at home program and created the Almond Acres At Home Academy.

The AACA At Home program will consist of instruction happening in the home while families maintain the close family/school connection that is special to AACA.  Parents will be provided with comprehensive curriculum guides, training opportunities, and regular school collaboration to provide the primary instruction.  Parents will also have the opportunity to participate in the Program Site Council (AACA’s equivalent to a PTO/PTA) and attend AACA’s Growing Great Kids webinars where they will learn strategies to assist with a variety of parenting scenarios.  

Students in the At Home Academy will not only be using the same curriculum as their peers in the traditional model, they will also be given self directed versions of the various Service and Project Based Learning units that are a core component to AACA’s academic program.   Additionally, students will be encouraged to participate in the many field trips and guest speaker presentations connected to those units.

All of the school-wide activities offered at AACA will include the families enrolled in the At Home program.  Some of these include annual events such as Maker Faire, musical theatre production, 8th grade promotion, Kinder Celebration, Read Run Relay, and talent show. The families will also access a daily virtual Shared Start assembly where they will receive instruction on the Habits of Mind, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and the positive behavior expectations that grow citizenship traits in all AACA students. Families will also be encouraged to attend the new Friday celebration events (awards assemblies, positive behavior reinforcer events, etc) being held twice monthly.  AACA has successfully held several of these events virtually during distance learning and will continue to do so if required by safety guidelines.  

In addition to these program components, families would be encouraged to participate in outside of school events.  AACA hosts a Meet the Teacher Picnic before school starts and the At Home families will be introduced to the various grade level teachers, support staff, as well other AACA families.  Back to School Night, Open House, and the annual Art Show will also include these families and showcase student work completed as part of the At Home Academy curriculum.   

“As a small charter school, we have the ability to quickly respond and affect change.  This At Home Academy will allow families to be part of our school, implement the framework and philosophy, receive guidance from staff, and still have flexibility based on their individual needs.  We are able to use much of what we created and implemented during distance learning to then create this additional option.” stated Amy Baker, Program Director. 

Almond Acres Charter Academy is designing this At Home program to meet the needs of its current families and any future families.  If anyone is interested in exploring the At Home program now available through AACA,  information can be obtained by emailing info@almondacres.com.  Since AACA is a charter school, and therefore a school of choice, no interdistrict transfer is required to enroll.

Enroll now!

Middle Schoolers Work to Improve Literacy Around the Globe

Prior to the start of distance learning, seventh graders at Almond Acres Charter Academy were asking the question, “How does literacy, and understanding literature, change the world?”  The students learned about the negative impact of being illiterate and the United Nations push for literacy.

As part of their study, students personally took on the responsibility of promoting literacy.  They brainstormed ways they could help, investigated needs, and used real life skills to help expand literacy in a variety of ways.

Some of the students chose to improve literacy within their own school.  Seventh graders, Kenichi Parkhurst and Libby Higgins, tutored kindergarteners, giving up their own recess to work with the younger students on sight words and reading, as well as providing fun, kinesthetic ways to perform word work (e.g. forming spelling words with playdough). Hannah Bourgault and TJ Dawson built and stocked a tiny share library to be installed between the kindergarten and first grade classrooms.

Hannah Bourgault builds a tiny library to place on the Almond Acres Charter Academy campus.

Moving beyond the Almond Acres campus, students Olivia Heinbach and Summer Colegrove, labelled snack cups at the Kennedy Club Fitness Children’s Center. The customized cups allowed children to review and practice sight words while enjoying a snack during their parents’ workout. Lucas Slawson built a tiny free library for his neighborhood. Lucas Vertrees filled a need by reading to younger students living at the homeless shelter.

Lucas Vertrees reads a book to the children at a homeless shelter.

Going well beyond our school and community, Brandon McWilliams focused on a nonprofit across the globe in Arua, Uganda.  A school needed support for their literacy program.

Zozu Project, the nonprofit Brandon collaborated with, celebrated him with an article titled Our Favorite Fundraiser of the Year- By a 7th Grader!

Brandon McWilliams makes homemade strawberry jam to raise funds for a school in Uganda, Africa.

An excerpt from the post written by Elsie Soderberg reads: 

Last month we got a surprise email from a young man. His name is Brandon, and for a 7th grade class project he was studying global literacy. They were learning about how learning the simple abilities of reading and writing can change someone’s life, and in his words “As part of our study, I want to help improve literacy in the world.”

He wondered if students at Solid Rock Christian School could use books, pencils, pens, and paper to improve their literacy. If he raised money to provide those supplies, he asked, would the students be able to benefit? “Absolutely yes!” Elsie [our Director of Communications] emailed back.

So, Brandon put on his own fundraiser making jam in his family’s kitchen and selling it at school. It wasn’t fancy. All he needed was some glass jars, strawberries and sugar, and a folding table to put them on. Amazingly, by this small act of love, he raised enough for pens, paper, and English textbooks for an entire classroom!

This material outcome is a great blessing, but there’s more. Brandon is in 7th grade– the exact same age as the students who will benefit from his work. He realized that he could do something, didn’t need it to be big and glamorous, and wasn’t daunted by fear of failure. Maybe he’s teaching us- what standard do we think we need to meet before we can do something?

This style of hands-on, real life learning that is driven by the students’ natural curiosity, is called project based learning.  Almond Acres takes it one step further by encouraging students to incorporate service into their studies as well.

“It brings me so much joy to see our kids learning and serving at the same time,” said Brandon’s mom, Melanie McWilliams.  “They’re using creative thinking to come up with project ideas. They’re using their writing skills to email resources. They’re using their technology skills to research.  They’re even using mathematics and science when they make jam or a small wooden library. Most importantly, they’re using their heart to make our schools, community, and world a better place.”

Via: Paso Robles Press

Almond Acres performs the musical, ‘Madagascar Junior’

–A cast of more than 55 students from Almond Acres Charter Academy recently starred in the musical, Madagascar Junior. The production was held at the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation Berg Auditorium and was directed by Claire Fundaro.

“Almond Acres offers a unique opportunity for its students through the process of production,” said Claire Fundaro. “The lessons that are taught in theatre will impact all aspects of these students’ lives. They’re given the chance to grow their confidence from auditioning, to rehearsing in front of their peers, and to the final product which creates a strong character within them. The process is invaluable, and I’m so grateful to be a part of the magic that only theatre can create.”

With only two weeks of rehearsals, the students were show-ready, according to the school. Parents and students worked together behind the scenes to construct sets, props, and design costumes.

Being a part of the school’s annual theatre production is something that students look forward to every year. “I like to pretend to be someone I am not, and I like that I can put a lot of my emotion into something,” said student, Divy Emmons, who starred as Marty the Zebra. “I can go on a whole journey with my character. My biggest highlight of the show was spending time with the whole cast because I made stronger relationships with some people and the cast was awesome!”

The production was made possible with the support of local individuals and businesses namely the Rima and Stoltzfus Families, Joyce Vertrees, Gena Beckett and Jill Ponti, Realtors with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Hallmark Realty in downtown Paso Robles, and Jerissa Parkhurst with EF Educational Homestay Program. Raffle prizes were donated by Cambria Bicycle Outfitter, Keri Border, and Mr. and Mrs. Thompquist.

Almond Acres is a charter school located in San Miguel that has a Visual and Performing Arts Program. In addition to an annual theatre production, it also hosts an annual art show and an annual talent show.

Via: Paso Robles Daily News and Paso Robles Press