SLVUSD trustees listen to a report from the district’s Ocean Grove independent charter school during their Feb. 1 board meeting. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

While many are aware of the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District’s own charter school, which promotes non-traditional learning formats through Quail Hollow Homeschool, to Nature Academy all the way through Coast Redwood High School, local residents may be less aware the board also oversees an independent charter called Ocean Grove.

The partnership, which began in 2005, has grown from instructing 2,840 students in 2021 to more than 3,000 this year.

During a presentation at the regularly-scheduled SLVUSD meeting Feb. 1, trustees heard from charter officials about the progress of the TK-12 tuition-free school.

CEO Jodi Jones said employees had taken on multiple roles after recent staff departures.

“I kind of run around and do a lot of things,” she said. “We were short a CFO, so I ran and did that for a bit.”

Less than 5% of the student body—or around 143 pupils—live within the boundaries of the school district, she said.

Jones said their financials are currently so strong that they’ve been getting pressure from California’s education authorities to spend down reserves.

That’s something they’re planning to do in the next few years, she noted.

Jones told SLVUSD trustees that Ocean Grove just gave employees a 10% raise, with another 8-10% hike just around the corner.

She explained they don’t want to spend too much, however, because there are different borrowing rules for schools like theirs.

“One of the unique things about a charter school is the difficulty of getting cash,” she said, explaining the reason for keeping a larger-than-normal reserve in place.

Melissa Gonzalez, administrator of assessment and accountability at Innovative Education Management Inc.—the nonprofit management company that runs Ocean Grove—said students performed above the State average for all learning metrics.

Maria Carr, IEM’s director of special education, said Ocean Grove’s had a high graduation rate, compared with the state, for special ed learners.

“We are setting the bar high for our students,” she said. “With the proper support…(students are) going to succeed…. We’re continually getting these compliments. We’re really proud of that and want to continue setting that expectation for our students.”

Brandy Anderson, IEM’s director of curriculum and guidance, said new classes are released each semester.

“Students and parents get to select what courses they want to take,” she said. “What’s really been good to see is how much our teachers love teaching.”

She stressed that despite the homeschooling and distance-learning nature of the education model, administrators have been trying to build a sense of community within their population.

“It’s fun to get these kids to connect with each other,” she said. “We’re so spread out in this region.”

One way they do that is through the “the Curriculum Conference,” where parents can learn about the course catalog. This year’s gathering is scheduled for March 30-31.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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