Supporters of a troubled Los Banos charter school lost a critical bid to save their program on Monday when the Merced County Board of Education refused an appeal to renew their charter.
The five-member board voted unanimously to deny Green Valley Charter School’s appeal to continue for another five years, citing concerns with test scores, staff credentials and facilities.
“The five-year term was established on day one, and you knew there would be criteria that you’d be held accountable to so (you) might’ve been able to make some adjustments along the way,” trustee Stan Mollart said. “It’s hard, in the eleventh hour, with a crystal ball and a boatload of hope, that all of this will change and the things that need to happen will fall into place.”
The five-year-old, K-7 school opened in 2012 and currently enrolls about 200 students for its “Waldorf-inspired” education program. Green Valley is affiliated with the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education, which follows Waldorf’s core principles of encouraging art and creativity in learning.
Green Valley is one of only two charter schools operating in Merced County. The other, Merced Scholars Charter School, is chartered by Merced County Office of Education and accredited by the Western Association of Schools and colleges.
During the meeting, Green Valley Principal Andrew Meza acknowledged the school needs help. “But, that doesn’t mean we’re failing,” he said. “Give us a chance to work together to show what a great school we have.”
Monday’s decision thwarted Green Valley’s latest effort to stay open. The school appealed to the county after the Los Banos Unified School District’s governing board denied the renewal earlier this year.
Meza says he will pursue a final appeal at the state level, doing whatever it takes to keep the school open.
The resolution denying the appeal compared test scores at Green Valley to other Los Banos schools, such as Miano, Henry Miller, Lorena Falasco and Los Banos elementary schools. The report found that students at each of the other four schools outperformed students at Green Valley, and the charter school’s scores fell below the county and state averages.
In addition, Green Valley students’ scores were getting worse rather than better, the report said. In English and language arts, students scores fell more than 10 percentage points between 2015 and 2016. In math, the number of students meeting or exceeding standards fell from 10 to 4 percent those same years. Scores also dipped for Latino students and English learners, the report noted.
Meza said the charter school can’t be compared to other Los Banos schools by using state test scores since the tests are fairly new.
The report also questioned the qualifications of Green Valley staff. Meza only has served as principal for one year and does not hold an administrative credential. Before being named principal, he taught at the school for three years and has no other professional teaching experience, the report noted.
Several of the school’s teachers also have fewer than five years teaching experience, according to the report.
County staff also said in the report that the school’s petition did not identify proposed school sites for the upcoming school year.
Though Green Valley currently houses a large portion of its operation on the Miano campus, the Los Banos district has not received a facilities request for the future. And, in light of the district’s denial to renew Green Valley’s petition, it’s unlikely it will grant a facilities request, the report says.
Furthermore, Green Valley could face legal action in the future if it doesn’t make adjustments for its transitional kindergarten and kindergarten programs.
Currently, those programs operate out of the home of Meza’s parents in the 1800 block of South Center Avenue in Los Banos.
But, an attorney for Hostetler Ranches says there’s only one way to access the property, and those going to and from those programs must cross Hostetler’s property. In a letter, the attorney characterizes Green Valley’s use as “essentially trespassing” and says it raises “serious liability concerns.” Hostetler Ranches intends to seek legal action if the driveway use continues and requested MCOE to deny the petition renewal.
Regarding facilities, Meza said the school is seeking a new location to combine all grades for the upcoming school year.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477