We have an update on Sycamore Creek Community Charter School’s request to expand and open a campus in Cypress within the Los Alamitos Unified School District. (You can read background on this in the Spotlight Schools story on the effort published Feb. 10.)
In its petition, the TK-8 Waldorf public charter school in Huntington Beach is asking the Orange County Board of Education to approve plans to become a countywide charter school, to add high school grades 9-12, to open a site in Cypress, and to change some enrollment preferences including giving priority to students living in O.C.
Following the Feb. 1 public hearing on the request, the Orange County Department of Education Charter Schools Unit issued its summary report on Feb. 14. Here is what it is recommending to board members:
COUNTYWIDE STATUS: The unit says it cannot make a recommendation regarding the request to expand to countywide status due to what it says is a lack of guidance in the Education Code. Sycamore opened in 2019 in the Ocean View School District but only after it was granted approval on appeal by the Orange County Board of Education. The Ocean View Board of Trustees denied Sycamore’s request to open. The charter schools unit report states that Sycamore’s status as a “district-denied/county-approved charter” makes it unclear if it can expand countywide without going through the process of collecting signatures from teachers, parents and community members claiming interest in attending the school. Sycamore did not circulate a petition for signatures in this effort but was trying to submit signatures from its effort from four years ago, according to the report.
NEW CAMPUS: The charter schools unit is recommending denying Sycamore’s request to open a new campus in Cypress within the Los Alamitos USD. The report states Sycamore’s status as a “district-denied/county-approved charter school” limits its ability to open schools to the geographic boundaries of the Ocean View School District.
HIGH SCHOOL EXPANSION: The charter schools unit is recommending board members deny Sycamore’s request to expand to high school grades. One reason is because it says the school doesn’t have enough students to “adequately ‘feed’ into the 9th and 10th grade levels based on enrollment projections.” The other reason cited is Sycamore students’ recent test scores which were well below the county average. The staff report states “…currently available academic performance data does not indicate that the charter school presents a sound education program for the students currently being served, does not allow staff to determine whether students demonstrate grade-level competency by grade eight, and does not demonstrate whether an expansion of the program to include grades nine through twelve is in the best interest of students.”
Spotlight Schools reached out via email to Sycamore’s Executive Director for comment but did not hear back.
The Los Alamitos Unified School District has publicly opposed Sycamore’s plans to open a campus within its boundaries. In a statement, the district said it agrees with the OCDE staff’s recommendations for the Orange County Board of Education to deny Sycamore’s request to expand.
The statement reads, in part:
“We further agree with OCDE staff, that if the Sycamore petitioners wanted the school to become a countywide charter school, they should have gone through the specific process in the Education Code for obtaining countywide status, including gathering signatures of parents or teachers in the county with any current meaningful interest in this school. Sycamore’s proposal to expand its operations countywide implicates significant oversight concerns, which is why there are statutory ‘boxes’ that must be checked before such a proposal can be granted. Until they do so, Sycamore Creek Community Charter School should not be permitted to locate a facility within the Los Alamitos Unified School District.”
The statement goes on to appeal to OCBE trustees to follow the report’s recommendations.
“We expect the Orange County Board of Education to hold this charter to restraints the legislature has put in place for all charter schools. We echo OCDE staff’s recommendation to the Orange County Board that this school’s expansion would not be in the best interest of students.”
The Orange County Board of Education is due to vote on Sycamore’s petition at its March 1 meeting. The OCBE trustees are not required to follow staff recommendations when they vote. They can also approve some portions of Sycamore’s request, while denying others.
At the board’s Feb. 1 meeting, most of the trustees expressed support for Sycamore saying it offered a “unique” option for students and its growth expands parents’ choices in public education. At least one trustee, however, expressed serious concerns about Sycamore’s test scores.