Charter school gets whopping $8.4 million

Chico Country Day will use funds for site improvements

FORTUNATE SONS AND DAUGHTERS<br>Anne Marie Chik teaches students at Chico Country Day School who stand to benefit mightily from an $8.4 million grant from the state.

Anne Marie Chik teaches students at Chico Country Day School who stand to benefit mightily from an $8.4 million grant from the state.

Photo By Josh Graham

If you were principal of a small, somewhat rundown school and suddenly had $8.4 million to improve it, what would you do?

That’s the altogether delightful question facing Paul Weber, principal of Chico Country Day School, at the corner of West 11th Street and South Park Avenue in Chico. In late May he learned that that the charter school would receive the money. Funded by Proposition 1D, the grant provides half the funding outright and half as a long-term loan.

Voters passed Prop 1D, a $10.4 billion education infrastructure bond measure, in November 2006. It includes an allocation of $500 million expressly for charter school improvements.

It’s understatement to say everyone associated with the K-8 school is thrilled by the development. The buildings are getting old, and the playground is nothing extravagant, but the affection administrators, teachers, parents and the 400 students have for the little school is manifested in the bright sunflowers that stand tall in front of the buildings, and in the smiling faces of the students on the swing set.

‘The idea of how many possibilities there are is exciting,” Weber said. ‘That’s a lot of money.” Indeed—some $21,000 per student.

There are no official plans yet, but prioritizing will begin soon. Weber said he is most excited about getting rid of the ‘really old” portables and improving the playground. He wants to ensure there is plenty of room for children to play, which means building upward, and he also would like to make the new buildings more attractive and modern.

Parents also have many ideas about how the money should be spent, Weber said. ‘We are going to really involve all of our parents in a collaborative effort. We won’t be able to do everything under the sun, but we’ll consider everything.”

Parents played a big role in landing the grant by attending and speaking at Chico school-board meetings and writing letters of support.

They’re happy about the grant, though Mia Winter, parent of sixth-grader Sterling Winter and third-grader Sophia Winter, admits she was a little hesitant when she heard it had been approved. That’s because she is aware of the budget crisis that is forcing the Chico Unified School District to lay off teachers, including two of her friends.

“Honestly, my initial reaction was that there might be resentment engendered by the fact that teachers are being laid off and money is being poured into improvements [at a charter school],” she said.

She said she is not personally aware of any resentment, yet she understands that the $8.4 million grant is almost exactly equal to the worst-case budget shortfall facing the district.

Paul Pembroke, who teaches sixth grade at Country Day, is more concerned with the students at his school and said that they deserve the grant. “I’ve been at this school for nine years now, and I’ve watched it become so rooted and so strong,” he said.

The short-term negative effect will be all the construction that may disturb learning, but there are good lessons to be found in construction, Pembroke said, such as math problems. The long-term benefits will give the students something they can be proud of, he added.

Beth Colwell, the fifth-grade teacher and parent of seventh-grader Katy Colwell, believes the new buildings will contribute to a better learning environment. Students will have more space to play, a safer design for drop-off and pick-up, and clean facilities that will have better air quality and lighting, compared to the old facilities that have been known to have mice or mold at times.

“We’re investing in our future, and that’s what we should be doing, in my opinion,” she said.

For his part, Weber can’t keep from smiling. “The idea of actually seeing some drawings and where buildings can go is really exciting,” the principal said.

Executive Director Margaret Reece added that they want to make the school as “green” as possible and are looking into solar options. Construction should start in the summer of 2009.

“Everyone is pretty excited,” Reece said. “We got an e-mail from a parent who just moved to Washington who said, ‘I’m raising a glass to you guys.’ “