Modesto City Schools board hears pros, cons of Waldorf-based charter

Controversy surfaced at a Modesto City Schools public hearing on authorizing a Waldorf-based charter school, a system used for years in private schools that infuses the arts and nature in all subjects, parents said.

Manzanita Charter is proposed as an early-kindergarten through eighth-grade school. Some 50 parents were in the audience to support the application. It will be voted on by the board at a future meeting.

“Parents and businesses are supporting a new school, committed to education that is deeply personalized,” said parent Rachel Roseman. The Waldorf method teaches the whole child, she said.

But former Waldorf parent and critic Dan Dugan called the program a cult that teaches based on anthroposophy, which Waldorf calls a human-oriented spiritual philosophy. Dugan described the schools as having “spacey teachers and unacceptable philosophy.”

He maintained that authorizing it would be endorsing the use of public funds to support a religion.

Board member Jordan Dickson also questioned planners on how the school would mesh its set curriculum with California’s Common Core state standards, which are substantially different. He also asked how students would take state computerized testing when technology is not introduced until sixth grade.

The technology issue is a hot-button topic within the Waldorf community, said Tisha Blackwood-Freitas of Foundations Public Schools, which is applying to open the school.

Stalwarts want to stick by the no-technology standard but, she said, she believes in introducing technology the Waldorf way, for example having children design keyboards. “We don’t want to set them up to not succeed,” she said.

Foundations opened Waldorf-based Green Valley Charter in Los Banos in August 2012.

In other business, trustees heard an offer for free research to be done on district-identified issues by doctoral students from California State University, Stanislaus.

The presentation was made by Kathryn McKenzie, director of the doctoral program in educational leadership at Stanislaus State. McKenzie was invited to speak by trustee David Allan.

“We’d like to get the word out because it is a free resource,” McKenzie said.

She has studied districts to find ways to raise the performance of students from all groups at every school, using what she called equity audits – comparing the demographics of Advanced Placement classes to determine access to higher level coursework.

“Every system is ideally designed to get what you get,” McKenzie said, adding that there are no quick fixes. “It takes serious and sustained effort,” she said.

Also, trustees approved a revision to a top post in the human resources department with a unanimous vote.

The senior director post, with its 10 percent higher salary, will replace two director II positions, said Associate Superintendent Craig Rydquist. The position’s duties were revised and status raised “with an eye to attracting the best candidates,” he said.

The board tabled for now a proposed makeover of the public information officer job. The significantly increased duties were proposed to come with at least a 27 percent raise.