By LAURA WITSENHAUSEN
Associate Editor of the Palisades Post
A group of Palisades High School teachers have been approved for a $450,000 startup grant for their proposed Renaissance Academy Charter School, an independent charter high school which would operate on the Pali campus. The grant, from the California Department of Education, is made up of monies from the Federal Public Charter Schools Grant Program, which is administered by the state.
The 12 teachers-Paul McGlothlin, Steve Engelmann, Jeanne Saiza, Tim Henderson, Steven Burr, John Kannofsky, Mary Capelli, Phillip West, Ronnie Cohen, Chris Cuddihy, Kerry Feltham and Brooks Walker-propose a school of approximately 400 students that would share the same teachers, and have opportunities to take college-level classes through a collaboration with Santa Monica College.
The next step is for the teachers to go before PaliHi's governance council, made up of teachers, students, parents and staff, early next year to gain the council's permission to continue with implementing the academy at Pali. The teachers found out about the grant too late to get it on the agenda for the December meeting.
"Getting this grant is so re-energizing," said McGlothlin, head of Pali's Media Academy. "The excitement is coming from the fact that the state has said they like the idea. This really vindicates our vision."
Students would voluntarily apply to the school and be enrolled by a lottery.
"This is something I've been trying to do forever," said science teacher Engelmann, referring to the integrated approach the school would take. "I'll have a close relationship with other teachers. If we're studying the Santa Monica Mountains, the history teacher can take a look at early Americans, and the literature teacher can look at John Muir and Emerson with the local environment as the unifying scene.
"From a social standpoint, now when students leave the class, they go to many different English teachers. If all my kids go to the same English and math teachers, we can catch kids who are falling through the cracks."
Engelmann cites research that even students in larger classes perform better in smaller schools. The proposed academy hopes to have about 20 teachers, including an artist-in-residence. Each administrative role would be filled by a teacher.
Although the school would be autonomous from PaliHi, it would share facilities for lunch, playing fields and common-use areas.
"The main point is that we're trying to do something new. We definitely don't want to alienate and divide Pali," said Engelmann. "We think what we do will complement the school."
The teachers started working on the idea and the grant proposal about a year ago and received the help of the Palisades Charter Schools Foundation.
"It's really exciting that a group of people tried to work really hard to make something happen and it happened," said Debra Black, executive director of the PCSF. "There seems to be a feeling in the Palisades that we can make our good schools even better. The Renaissance Academy is one visionary way to make a good school even better."
The grant proposal states that students could receive direct college credit for some classes. McGlothlin believes this would benefit two types of students. "One would be a student who might not think of going to college-if they start at the high school level, they are more likely to go on to college. Other students would have a better chance of getting into good colleges, applying as a sophomore or junior."
He says the concept grew out of the Media Academy at PaliHi, where teachers work together on cross-curricular projects. "There's a burning desire on the part of these teachers to work together more."
Like the Media Academy, the Renaissance teachers hope to offer students classes in filmmaking, computer graphics and Web design that combine technical and artistic skills.
"The overall school's quest for independence lets us think outside of the box," said McGlothlin, who was helped by several former students with formatting and proofreading the grant proposal.
"This has been brought together with a huge amount of work by a modest group of people, but for this to be really successful, everybody's got to get together and make sure it's put together properly," said Ron Wolf, co-chair of PCSF. "Parents, students, community members and teachers have huge stakes to get excited about the possibility of having a higher level of control of the schools, to get in there and see improvements happen."
Janet Wadley, an education programs consultant with the California Department of Education, said the first grant payment of $50,000 will probably be made in February. The startup grant is the first step in the process, Wadley said. The proposed academy would then need to obtain LAUSD approval for their charter petition.
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