With the announcement of the potential closure of Cannon Beach Elementary sinking in, community volunteers and parents are not sitting on the sidelines.
A local steering committee, formed last month shortly after Seaside School District Supt. Doug Dougherty proposed the school’s closure, is moving forward with plans.
Although the school board has not officially acted on the proposal, the charter school’s steering committee has already named the school — Cannon Beach Academy – and has applied for nonprofit status. The school will serve grades kindergarten through fifth.
Steering committee members are: Phil Simmons, Patrick Nofield, Kim Mount, Barb Knop and Colleen Balzer.
Simmons, who has led the search for a new Cannon Beach Elementary location, sees the news as an opportunity.
“With the school board abandoning Cannon Beach Elementary School, that allows us to focus solely on forming a public charter school,” he said. “And we are doing just that.”
A charter school is a public school, funded by a sponsoring school district with money it has already been receiving to teach the students before they enrolled in the charter school.
More than 100 charter schools operate in Oregon.
“Charter schools give parents a choice in the public education of their children without creating a tax burden on the public,” Simmons said.
The process for forming a charter school is extensive and daunting, made that much more difficult by the fact that there is no building to house students.
“We’ve incorporated the volunteer committee into our plan of action as a first step,” Simmons said. “We’ve also applied for 501 (c) 3 status as a nonprofit and begun creating a business plan.”
The business plan is imperative in the group’s efforts. It covers such details as what curriculum will be offered, how teachers will be paid and the nature of the school building.
“It’s basically like starting a business from scratch,” Knop said.
It’s also been like cramming for finals.
“I really knew very little about what a charter school was or what it took to start,” Nofield said. “After I read through the district’s handbook and guidelines, I began to see the unified effort it needed.”
The school district board has a detailed set of steps the Cannon Beach efforts will have to follow.
“There are very specific criteria and timelines in board policy for any charter school application,” said Seaside School District Supt. Doug Dougherty. “Once the Seaside School District receives an application, it will be reviewed for its completeness and whether the application meets the requirements of the law and the district.”
At first glance, Knop said, the process seems intimidating.
“It appears daunting, but I think everyone realizes that the end-goal makes it less so,” she said.
A retired teacher, Knop is confident that the steering committee can continue to work with the district.
“We’ve known the superintendent for a long time and have a good relationship with him,” she said.
Nofield echoed the sentiment that discussions with the district remain open. He said he was pleased that discussions with the district have been positive.
“It’s important to the success of this process that we keep an open dialogue with each other,” he said.
Parents jump in
Parents have kept each other up-to-date and involved as the charter school process continues to evolve.
When news broke that Dougherty had recommended closing Cannon Beach Elementary, an impromptu gathering of upset and worried citizens congregated at the Cannon Beach Fire Hall to discuss next steps.
“It was amazing that about 35 folks showed up on such short notice,” Simmons said. “That shows that the support for a charter school is there.”
Since then, the charter school steering committee has met twice and held a second public meeting that brought together nearly 40 supporters.
The cohesive, determined response has strengthened the resolve of everyone involved, the steering committee members said.
“It was a wonderful meeting,” Knop said. “We were surprised by the number of people who came.”
The extensive list of application requirements for a charter school means that the steering committee will need hands pitching in from all around the community.
“To do this, we’ll need help,” Simmons said. “No one can do it alone.”
Based on the most recent public meeting, that may not be a problem.
There, eager volunteers stepped forward to form new committees assigned with different tasks in completing the items listed on the charter school application.
“We talked about all of the needs we have to get this going,” Knop said. “From establishing curriculum, to fundraising, to PR to building design. Once we had our first volunteer, everyone started jumping in. It’s very exciting.”
Committee members know there is a lot left to do, and Nofield hopes that this is just the beginning.
“We were happy that so many people turned out,” he said. “But I know there are more out there who support this school, and I hope they keep raising their hands.”
The timing of the recommendation to close Cannon Beach Elementary leaves little doubt that the town will be without a school in 2013. But the steering committee plans to make that a temporary situation.
Opening a school in town in 2014 is achievable, Simmons said.
“There’s a bunch of small steps that need to be taken, and we are taking them,” he added.
Lisa Nofield, Patrick Nofield’s wife, also is involved in the push to get a charter school started. Having sent three daughters to Cannon Beach Elementary, she stressed the importance of a school to the town’s community spirit.
“A school is the heart of our town,” she said. “We need a school to keep the town growing. You can’t replace the cross-generational spirit that the school and its programs create.”
Patrick Nofield is excited about creating a diverse curriculum for Cannon Beach’s children, incorporating lessons that emphasize community spirit and environmental stewardship.
“It can concentrate on developing whole human-beings living a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “It will show kids how to give back to their community.”
While people remain saddened that the school may close, they also know there is little alternative but to move forward.
“I think the anger and sadness will be there for awhile,” Knop said. “We could just sit around and be sad or jump up and do something.”
To volunteer in the effort to establish the Cannon Beach Academy, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This story originally appeared in Cannon Beach Gazette.