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Passionate presentation still may not convince board on charter school

Kids are slipping through the cracks in the Claremont Unified School District, Lynette Lucas asserted at the Thursday, March 7 school board meeting.

“You have the power to save a community of children that is essentially dying,” she told the school board during a public hearing for the Embracing the Whole Child Arts and Technology Academy.

Ms. Lucas assured the board and community members that her proposed charter school—which she said would feature a rigorous, Common Core-based curriculum and meaningful interventions—is not aimed at students who are thriving within CUSD schools.

Instead, the academy would focus on severely socio-economically disadvantaged kids, such as those living in mobile homes and residential hotels like the American Inn, located along Foothill Boulevard.

Though the neighborhoods she cited are in Pomona, they are in an area of CUSD known as the Wedge, which includes the region from Towne to Garey on the northbound side as well as a small portion south of Garey on Foothill. As of 2011, some 850 CUSD students were living in the Wedge, according to CUSD statistics.  

“We want to serve homeless kids, foster kids—kids who are behind 2 years or more or who are being a problem in your classes,” Ms. Lucas said. “Often, despair is disguised as bad behavior.”

An earlier petition filed by Ms. Lucas, executive director of the Oxnard-based Embracing the Whole Child Foundation (EWCF), and EWCF president Julie Thompson was rejected in June of 2012.

The board listed several reasons for their rejection of the Embracing of the Whole Child Academy, including a lack of petition signatures, concern over the soundness of the proposed school’s educational program and doubt whether EWCF staffers can implement their concept.

Claremonter Jeffrey DesCombes, owner of the Claremont-based company Sprocket Digital, echoed the board’s concerns. He worried if a charter school were to be created without the proper organizational structure, the students would be at risk should the school fail.

Mr. DesCombes took to the podium again this Thursday, saying that the questions raised by the first petition were left unanswered by the second petition. They weren’t answered by his Internet searches of the EWCF either, which he said revealed no website, no record of any board meeting and a group of organizers with only one person hailing from this community.

“My biggest concern is their ability to put this in place. They don’t seem to have the inherent structure to make it successful,” Mr. DesCombes said. 

Ms. Lucas, who has cited more than 20 years in the education field as her qualification for this endeavor, has notably served as teacher in the Rio School District in Oxnard.

In spring of 2012, she launched a recall effort, petitioning to remove Eleanor Torres, Henrietta Macias and Ramon Rodriguez from their positions on the Rio School District Board of Directors. It was ultimately unsuccessful.

It was not the first time she found herself at odds with district politicians.

In 2010, Ms. Lucas challenged the Rio School District Teachers Union, lodging complaints of dishonesty and financial mismanagement with police, the Fair Political Practices Commission and the Internal Revenue Service, according to articles in the Ventura County Reporter.

Ensuing investigations by the FPPC and the California Teacher’s Association did not determine any wrongdoing. In October 2010, RTA President Rebecca Barbetti requested a restraining order against Ms. Lucas, claiming that she had harassed her during and outside of school board meetings. A judge dismissed the request.

With her focus shifted to Claremont, Ms. Lucas said she feels passionate about helping the most vulnerable of the city’s students.

In a justification for the school’s need, she cited a recent conversation with a CUSD third grader she had spoken with. He was unable to read and cried when they spoke, saying he wanted to learn.

“The average income in Claremont is $100,000,” she asserted, “But the truth of poverty is beginning to seep into the district.”

 

 In many cases, kids are living in the district but not attending Claremont Schools, Ms. Lucas asserted.

“They are scattered to the winds,” she said.

Her speech came on the heels of an earlier presentation—made during the time allotted for the public to speak on matters not on the agenda—regarding the life-changing impact of Community Day Schools.

At that time, a tearful Ms. Lucas shared a video as well as 2 posters made by CDS students in which youths share how the program influenced their vision of the figure, changing it from a path to jail to a road to success.

Located throughout the state, Community Day Schools—one of which is located here in Claremont—offer interventions for students who have been expelled from school or who have had problems with attendance or behavior.

While it is up to the board to ponder whether or not to approve Ms. Lucas’ petition, Mike Bateman, assistant superintendent of student services and the district’s homeless liaison, said the charter school’s goals may represent a duplication of services.

Every school in the district has programs in place to aid Socio-Economically Disadvantaged (SED) students, he noted. Student services staff make a point of visiting sites like the American Inn at least twice a year, he said, making sure families there are aware of and enrolled in Claremont schools.

CUSD also makes a concerted effort to make sure its SED pupils have the proper supplies and support, Mr. Bateman continued. When they need it, the district’s poorest families are referred to support programs ranging from Tri-City Mental Health Services to Claremont Connect, an online database connecting the community to government, non-profit, and pro-bono social services and enrichment activities.

“We educate all kids in Claremont, regardless of what status you come from and where you live,” Mr. Bateman said. “Our schools go out and really work with these families. Our district and community embraces families that are less fortunate and do a great job.”

?Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier

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