Stanislaus board of ed to hear updated plans for visual-learning charter school

A Modesto optometrist wants the Stanislaus County Board of Education to take another look at a visual-learning charter school for the 2008-2009 school year.

Eldon Rosenow pushed to have the Great Valley Academy open to students last fall. Organizers took their charter petition directly to the county board but were rejected in July, with some board members saying the process was too rushed.

"We've been busy," Rosenow told the board during an hourlong report Tuesday morning. "We've been trying to iron out the little bugs."

It seems the rejection was good for business. Since the board denied the petition five months ago, 80 more students have signed up to enroll, for a total of 510 students.

"When some charters are starting, they're praying for parents to sign up," county Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon said. "They have an instant school."

A charter school is an independent public school designed and operated by educators, parents and community leaders and paid for by tax dollars. Such schools have more flexibility than traditional public schools but are held accountable for certain results as spelled out in their charter.

The board will hold a public hearing on Great Valley next month, with a vote to approve or deny the charter planned for Feb. 12. The Sylvan Union School District denied the charter's petition in November, allowing organizers to file an appeal this time.

Great Valley's proposed curriculum emphasizes character education programs, learning Spanish beginning in kindergarten, and longer school days.

"If you want students to retain information, they have to feel safe and they have to feel they're important," Rosenow said. "It's all a package."

The proposed school is based loosely on 7-year-old Grand Traverse Acad- emy in Michigan. Optometrist Steven Ingersoll, Grand Traverse's chief administrative officer, has brought visual-learning techniques to several charter schools in Michigan.

"They've always been trials by fire, just as this one is," Ingersoll said. "Change is always difficult, but innovation is necessary. That's what we need in education."

Scott Gould, a sixth-grade teacher in Stockton, said he was impressed by the more holistic approach to teaching, which prioritizes positive relationships between teachers, school staff and students.

"We're testing kids more than we're teaching them these days," Gould said. "The goal throughout the year won't be how they do on tests, but driven on the mastery of the language."

Rosenow said he has a verbal agreement to purchase 50,000 square feet of classroom space in what once was the Modesto Christian school site, near Tully Road and Woodrow Avenue.

The facility has 13 classrooms, but Great Valley will need to remodel them to make about 20 classrooms to house all students, Rosenow said.

On the Net: www.greatvalleyacademy.com.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.