Community Columns

New Colossus Academy in Modesto would deprive newcomer students of important school services

At Modesto City Schools, students have been, and always will be, our top priority. Every district decision — no matter how big or small — is driven by our underlying commitment to educate, uplift and support our students through all steps of their education journey.

The Aug. 5 Modesto Bee editorial entitled “A $3 million loss? Let’s put students – not money – first in Modesto charter decision,” incorrectly assumes that money is the reason why Modesto City Schools (MCS) is objecting to the proposed New Colossus Academy charter petition. While money is part of this equation, it is not — and never will be — the primary focus.

The primary focus here are the children and how we can continue to improve services provided to our English Learner Newcomer students. If the proposed charter petition is approved by the Stanislaus County Board of Education, I firmly believe it will jeopardize the many efforts and resources that MCS has invested to ensure the success of the Language Institute programs. Ultimately, it will have a negative impact on the very newcomer students that are at the heart of this discussion.

Modesto City Schools already has an established and robust program serving newcomer students at Roosevelt Jr. High and Davis High School. Our Language Institute students are thriving, and they, along with their families, have a plethora of programs available to support their unique needs, including essential on-site mental health services provided by Behavior Consultant Model guidance counselors, and a student assistant specialist from the Center for Human Services.

In addition, Language Institute students have access to everything a comprehensive high school campus has to offer, such as: A-G course offerings; athletics; music activities; social programs; before- and after-school programming and tutoring at no cost to students or their families; district-wide bus transportation; and much more. The proposed New Colossus Academy does not have the ability to provide these all-encompassing wraparound resources. In the end, children and their families would miss out.

Let’s look at the relationships that MCS has established by putting our students’ needs first. We have several partnerships with resource agencies to provide assistance to newcomer children, including the Center for Human Services, World Relief, and International Rescue Committee, as well as financial support through the Refugee School Impact Grant and the California Newcomer Education and Well Being Grant. These resources are already in place and actively serving students and their families.

I am particularly thrilled that, starting with the 2019-20 school year, MCS has expanded the Newcomer Program to encompass Grades 4 through 6 and the availability of education services for students who have aged out of the traditional program. By doing so, we are reaching younger students in need of English Learner assistance with top-notch education services, as well as educating young adults who are steadfastly focused on obtaining their high school diplomas.

The decision is up to members of the Stanislaus County Board of Education. Aside from whether doing so is legally permitted, should county board members approve the petition to establish the New Colossus Academy charter school, then I sincerely believe it will work to harm newcomer students by removing their access to critical services and support networks they will need to carry them through their education journey and on the path to obtaining their high school diploma.

From my perspective as Modesto City Schools Superintendent, this proposed charter school is not a viable option for our newcomer students, and I stand firm in my commitment to upholding our promise: “Every Student Matters, Every Moment Counts.” Now, more than ever, this is what makes the most sense.

Sara Noguchi is superintendent of Modesto City Schools.