Escondido education: Jose Fragozo returns; Heritage Charter School hassle continues

Patriot Day Assembly at Heritage Charter School.

Two items drew me to Thursday’s Escondido Union School District Board of Education meeting.

Firstly, I was curious to see the reception Jose Fragozo would get after the restraining order against him was lifted. This was covered in the Escondido Grapevinehttp://escondidograpevine.com/2016/03/25/eusd-denied-restraining-order-against-trustee-jose-fragozo-breaking/.

Secondly, Agenda Item 301 “Conduct a public hearing on a request for a material revision to the Heritage K-8 Charter School petition…” caught my attention.

(For more, visit “A Blue View for Escondido” at https://ablueviewescondido.com.)

Part 1: Discord in the Board Room: Return of Jose Fragozo

When Jose Fragozo returned to the board room, he was cheered by his supporters in the audience.

The meeting began with the usual recognition of outstanding students from two schools, Felicita and Pioneer, a very cheerful beginning. Also recognized were outstanding students that are enrolled in EUSD’s independent studies program, AKA home-schooling.

After that cheerful beginning, the atmosphere of the meeting rapidly darkened into gloom.

Board President Joan Gardner noted she had many speaker requests under Public Comments and more requests to speak on an agenda item;  that the Board had not been able to complete its closed session agenda, and would have to meet in closed session again after the regular meeting, Therefore, she would limit the speakers to two minutes each rather than the usual three minutes.

Actually, her statement was not completed in one simple sentence. She was interrupted and booed after imposing the two minute rule, and told that it was her job when she lamented how late the Board would have to work that night.

Gardner then read from bylaws that stated her ability to limit total public comment to 20 minutes, and to clear the board room if the audience didn’t behave.

Her comments did not go over well.

Chris Garner addresses the EUSD Board.

Chris Garner addresses the EUSD Board.

It seemed to me that Gardner and Chris Garnier of the National Action Network, and others in the audience, spent about 30 minutes arguing about the length of time each speaker could speak.

There were 10 speakers under Public Comments. Among them was a middle school teacher who complained a girl in her class bragged about how easily she had been able get a teacher dismissed. The teacher was afraid to discipline the girl for fear of dismissal.

Another speaker, a parent of a middle school girl, complained that her complaints about the abuse her daughter had received from a teacher had gone unheard. Sounds like an administration problem.

Nina Deerfield reminded board members that past president Paulette Donnellon had sent a letter to around 20,000 parents saying Fragozo had been issued a restraining order, when, in fact, it was a temporary order that now was lifted. The Board needed to send another letter to those parents exonerating Fragozo, she said.

Now, Deerfield said she had heard, the Board, other than Fragozo, were considering cutting kindergarten classes to half days. It would seem, she went on that 80 percent of the EUSD Board wanted regular public schools to fail so they could divert more taxpayer money into charter schools. Donnellon, she noted, had accepted money from the California Charter Schools Association in her campaign for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Education.

Kim Garnier also said the Board should send another letter to parents. She called for Gardner’s recall. Her husband, Chris Garnier, advised the Board to cease their relationship with the Stutz Artiano Shinoff and Holtz law firm they had hired to proceed against Fragozo, noting that the law firm’s recent record was less than stellar

(For more, visit: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/mar/16/shinoff-suspended-jpa-sdcoe-malpratice-bar/  and http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/education/attorneys-flee-go-to-schools-lawyers-firm-as-his-hold-on-education-market-slips/ )

The last one to speak under Public Comments was from Fragozo’s son, John Fragozo. Fragozo stood by his son as he read a statement.

John Fragozo noted his father had received no apology, and no remediation for the slanderous letter sent to parents. He ended by expressing his father’s hope that the Board members could forget past animosities and work together for good of EUSD schools.

Part 2: More Heritage Charter hassles

Heritage Digital Academy.

Heritage Digital Academy.

It was item 301 “Conduct a public hearing on a request for a material revision to the Heritage K-8 Charter School petition…) on last Thursday’s EUHS Board meeting agenda that caught my attention.

I have written about the infamous takeover of what used to be the East Valley Branch of the Escondido Library by the Heritage Digital Academy. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/04/21/heritage-back-to-the-same-old-way/  https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/04/15/150/#comments.

The part of the request that caught my eye was: “With this material revision, Heritage K-8 will expand its program to include a full-time Independent Study educational option for approximately 150 students — 10-to-15 per grade level — and will consolidate its middle school programs by closing the Heritage Digital Academy during the 2016-2017 school year and absorbing the HDA students into Heritage K-8. Approximately 25 staff members from Heritage Digital Academy also will be absorbed into Heritage K- 8 — recognizing, of course, that enrollment and employment is voluntary on behalf of students and staff.” http://www.eusd.org/Board_agd/041416_bd_ag.pdf .

Was there any chance the city would get its library building back?

The first public speaker was Patricia Borchmann who asked why this revision was being rushed through. It was difficult to understand what Heritage was asking to do. Board Member Jose Fragozo agreed, and added it would be nice if Heritage Executive Director Shawn Roner would review the revision.

Heritage Digital Academy executive director Shawn Roner.

Heritage Digital Academy executive director Shawn Roner.

Heritage Digital Academy executive director Shawn Roner said they were asking for two major changes. First, they wanted to start an independent study program for about 150 students to “expand learning opportunities.” Second, they wished to merge the Heritage Digital Academy with the Heritage K-8 School.

They had started the Digital Academy as an experiment, Roner said, and now wished to blend digital methods with their entire program and to combine the two schools accordingly. They would continue use the old library site.

When asked by Fragozo if kindergarten classes would be full-day classes, Roner answered, yes. Fragozo pressed Roner about how many students at Heritage were from outside the EUSD. Roner said he didn’t have that figure with him, but would be glad to provide it, and claimed that he had given Fragozo that information before. Fragozo said that was not the case.

Katherine Fromm was the next public speaker. She asked just what was meant by a rigorous liberal arts program that Heritage would provide for its independent studies program. She decried the resources spent by the EUSD Board on charter schools. That focus she avowed, should be spent on the regular public schools.

John Ward said he, too, wanted to know just how many Heritage students did not live in the EUSD. How many were from Vista, San Marcos, etc.? He pointed out that Heritage’s large sign purporting to have been selected by USC as the best school in California was untrue, since that honor had been given by USC in 2011.

Ward said he called USC and learned that the Heritage schools were not even in USC’s top 30 schools. He noted that Heritage’s test scores were far from stellar, even though only 1.3 percent of Heritage students were English language learners—a far cry from the regular schools where the figure was more like 70 percent to 75 percent.

Heritage Digital Academy expanded into Escondido's East Valley Community Center in a 2013 sweetheart lease.

Heritage Digital Academy expanded into Escondido’s East Valley Community Center in a 2013 sweetheart lease.

Roner tried to rebut Ward’s statements by bragging that there were 1,500 on Heritage’s waiting list. Heritage out-performed many schools he said, and politics had added to the misinformation expressed in the public comments. Heritage he repeated, performed at a very high level.

Tania Bowman noted that Roner had never answered the question about the number of Heritage students from other cities. She believes that independent study programs do not work well for young children. What research justified their proposal for such a program? The majority on the board had been elected by a pro-charter school contingent. The School Accountability Report Card (SARC) scores of Heritage were not outstanding.

Nina Deerfield said Heritage Charter schools demographics weren’t even close to those in EUSD regular schools. The independent studies program would be targeted to families with one parent who could stay home all day, and did not need a lunch program, again far from the demographics of the larger student population in Escondido.

A cynic might say the reason for creating the Heritage Digital Academy was an excuse to take over the old library, just to allow more room for the existing school, Deerfield said. The Board was basically rubber stamping the requests from Heritage.

Turning to Roner, Deerfield said that just because he said the schools were doing well, didn’t make it so. Charter schools in town were teaching false science and false history, she added.

Gardner responded that the request from Heritage to merge the Digital Academy into the K-8 program made sense. Charter schools were developed to allow more flexibility in the system. The Digital Academy was an experiment, if the experiment didn’t work, then it was OK to try something different, she said.

Patricia Borchmann was allowed to finish her comments, and did so last, as she had requested. She said she appreciated the information that Roner had provided.

Borchmann then asked a question that made the most cogent point of the evening. Fragozo’s district, she said, was not a unique district; all the other board members’ districts had similar schools that had a high number of English language learners.

Why, then, was Fragozo the only member of the Board who asked questions, and seemed to be concerned about the situation, she asked?

Why indeed! The Board will vote on Heritage’s revision at their next meeting. Don’t think there’s much question about the outcome.

(Margaret McCown Liles started blogging about the Escondido City Council following the demise of the North County Times as a public resource. Her blog is at http://ablueviewescondido.com.)

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