The Orange County Department of Education unanimously approved a K-8 charter school March 14 called Tomorrow’s Leadership Collaborative, an initiative supported by Chapman’s Attallah College of Educational Studies.
The charter school will aim to educate students with and without disabilities together, instead of dividing them into separate classrooms or schools.
Previously, the Orange Unified School District (OUSD) rejected the proposal for the charter school based on issues with finances, said Don Cardinal, an Attallah College professor in the Thompson Policy Institute, which is a disability research center. The proposal was also met with criticism from members of the school board and Orange residents.
Some are worried that the charter school will remove a substantial number of students from OUSD. This will take away funding that the district currently receives for children’s attendance, said Tim Surridge, who serves on the district’s Board of Education. They ultimately fear that this may cause the district to cut art and music programs.
“The community has misconceptions where (the charter school) was a ‘Chapman school,’” Cardinal said. “In reality, Chapman was just one of many participating partners.”
The charter school will be located at 1130 E. Walnut St., where the First Christian Church of Orange is currently located.
The charter’s proposed six-member board of directors includes a Chapman professor and a California State University, Northridge professor who received her Ph.D. from Chapman, according to the charter’s petition.
Margaret Grogan, the dean of the Attallah College who wrote a supportive letter that was included in its proposal, said that she believes the charter was approved at the county level because of a difference in perspective between the Department of Education and OUSD.
“The department (members) are different people; they have a different perspective than the district,” Grogan said. “It comes down to different people giving oversight.”
Had the Department of Education not approved of the charter school’s proposal, there was no plan for a higher appeal, Cardinal said.
However, there was about a month in between pitching from OUSD to the Orange County Department of Education. Edits were made to the pitch during that time, Cardinal said.
One reason the district denied the charter school was because its budgeting didn’t match its proposed programs, Tim Surridge, an OUSD Board Member, told The Panther March 12.
The charter school is a project that interested the Attallah College, as the school has a focus on training its students to teach disabled students.
“Attallah College has student-teachers with focuses on inclusion, so (the charter school) will be able to help them practice their desired career path in working with disabled students,” Cardinal said.
Jessica Tunney, the executive director and founding principal of the new charter, said she is “passionate” about the school.
“I am a lifelong educator. I have worked for inclusion, for all students to learn side by side,” she said.
The charter school’s goals tie in with Attallah College’s initiative, Excellent Schools ePrize, Grogan said. ePrize aims to foster a relationship between district and charter schools in Orange County.
“We are firmly committed to the idea that both charter schools and district schools can learn from each other,” she said.
Cardinal said that his research life has been dedicated toward the inclusion of people with disabilities.
“We still have schools here in Orange County, where the whole school is just people with disabilities,” Cardinal said. “It’s just a wrong way to do it.”