School of thought

A proposed charter high school is one step closer to opening its doors

KEEPIN’ IT GREEN<br> David Eldridge, who teaches high school math in Olivehurst, is one of the many Butte County residents committed to creating Chico’s first charter high school. Part of the proposed school’s mission is to promote environmental and social responsibility.

David Eldridge, who teaches high school math in Olivehurst, is one of the many Butte County residents committed to creating Chico’s first charter high school. Part of the proposed school’s mission is to promote environmental and social responsibility.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Seeking approval
Chico Green School advocates are presenting their proposed high school’s charter to the CUSD Board of Trustees at its next regular meeting. Parents interested in participating in the discussion should head to the Chico City Council Chambers at 6 p.m. on Aug. 26.

“I’m a little bit unusual,” offered David Eldridge, seated on a stool in the kitchen of the Forest Ranch home he shares with his wife, Kerry, a local nurse-midwife. “I work in a traditional district school and I work to facilitate charter schools. I’m an advocate for charter schools.”

Eldridge, who teaches math at Lindhurst High School in Olivehurst, is a key player in the creation of Chico Green School (the name is not set in stone, he said)—the first “green” high school in Chico, and the community’s first independent charter high school, set to open, if all goes as planned, in fall 2010 at an undetermined site.

Chico Green School, according to its Web site, will be a small public high school committed to fostering environmental and social responsibility in its students, and providing “more individualized attention and a healthier environment—less saturated with media and negative cultural influences—than a traditional high school program.” The plan is to start with 50 students and build to 200 over the course of three years.

On Aug. 26, Eldridge will be among a group, including local parents and green-school board members Kent Sandoe, David Orneallas and Selena Logan, that will present the proposed green high school’s charter to Chico Unified School District’s Board of Trustees for approval. Eldridge has done this before—he was on the formation committee of the Forest Ranch Charter School, which opened last fall after CUSD closed down the district school there.

The current effort is a year and a half in the making, and Eldridge is confident the district will give the plan the green light.

“They can’t reject permission unless they have a really good reason,” he said. “If they do, then we’ll go to the Butte County Office of Education [which approved the charter for Blue Oak Charter School].”

“The focus of the curriculum is sustainability through community action,” explained Eldridge, who helped write the charter. “The intention is to initiate the conversation in the school, to initiate thought about sustainability. We will have an organic garden. We’re going to learn about sustainable farming. There is also a focus on the arts and science.”

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He pointed out that lessons will be more hands-on and holistic than in a traditional high-school setting. Instead of, say, learning about percentages in a math book, students might go out and “look at fish in the creek” and write a report that encompasses percentages and ratios, and history, biology, and so on.

Also, instead of six one-hour periods each day, time periods allotted to different learning activities will vary. For instance, one day may begin with a 20-minute period of stretching and movement exercise, followed by 45 minutes of math, followed by a two-hour block of studying a special six-week theme course, such as putting on a play or science through gardening.

Certain days will be devoted entirely to community-service projects proposed by the students.

Eldridge is passionate about creativity and innovation—things the 53-year-old said are lacking in many traditional district schools.

“Things have become more and more focused on content standards and assessment and centralized control all the way to Washington,” he said. “Under ‘No Child Left Behind,’ it’s risen to a whole new level. The problem is that it stifles creativity, not only for the students, but for the teachers as well—because all of the lessons are dictated by an adopted curriculum.

“Kids are bored,” Eldridge continued. “Most kids need to be actively involved in learning. … The charter school offers an opportunity for teachers to creatively address the needs of their students. It also grants local control to the local administrators. It’s great for everyone.”

And, if all goes as he hopes, Eldridge, who is completing a master’s degree in education administration at Chico State, will also become the director of the new school.

“I will apply for the director position,” said Eldridge, emphasizing that the head of the new school will not have the job title “principal.”

“We’re changing the word to create a new image,” he explained. “We’re creating a new administrative role and changing the language around that. ‘Principal’ is [a] top-down [power structure]. This will be bottom-up. A principal tells everyone what to do at a faculty meeting. My take on a director would be to listen to the teachers and facilitate their vision. … Part of the curriculum is going to be teacher- and student-driven. They’re going to determine what it is.

“This one’s going to be amazing,” said Eldridge of the proposed green high school. “It really is.”