The Sanger CA Hallmark Charter will merge with Taft Academy | Wender Mind Kids

Hallmark Charter School photographed in Sanger on Thursday 28 April 2022.  The Sanger Unified Board of Education is considering a resolution to drop Hallmark's charter status.  Community members and board members questioned the move.

Hallmark Charter School photographed in Sanger on Thursday 28 April 2022. The Sanger Unified Board of Education is considering a resolution to drop Hallmark’s charter status. Community members and board members questioned the move.

ezamora@fresnobee.com

Two Sanger Unified school programs will be merged next year, despite outcry from some parents who have asked school boards to reconsider.

But the merger of Hallmark Charter School and Taft Academy isn’t a board decision, That’s what county officials said. The school board decides whether Hallmark remains a charter school or relinquishes that status.

“The launch of Hallmark Academy — and the transition of Taft Academy — is progressing and evolving,” said Sanger Unified Deputy Superintendent Eduardo Martinez. “And this evolution or transformation does not depend on the dissolution of the charter. Hallmark Academy will continue to evolve independently, transforming Taft Academy into Hallmark Academy.”

Frustrated with the process, Hallmark Charter School parents and teachers continue to question district leadership about swift action to drop the charter if the programs are merged.

Taft’s parents are excited about the merger so their children can take advantage of what Hallmark has to offer while still being on the online learning platform they need from Taft. Resistance from Hallmark families to dropping the school’s founding status as part of the merger is frustrating for Taft’s parents.

“‘Every child, every day,'” Justin Mesloh said, citing the Sanger Unified motto during the May 24 board meeting. “You drummed that into me. I still believe that with our students at Taft Academy. That exact phrase is why I believe our Taft Academy students, including my daughters, will only receive extracurricular activities through this merger.”

Sanger leadership has proposed removing Hallmark’s charter status beginning in 2023, which would free up funds for the entire Sanger Unified District.

“As a community, parents, students and employees, we would not be here if county officials exercised due diligence before submitting the proposed merger of Hallmark Charter and Taft Academy to the board,” said Hallmark Charter mother Auriette Larbi. “We are here because our leaders made a crucial and important decision without involving stakeholders.

“We ask our leaders: Take your time, involve the community and deal with the problems transparently…”

The board will vote on removing charter status — which frustrates parents — rather than merging Hallmark and Taft to form Hallmark Academy, district leaders said.

Superintendent Adela Jones said the county government could develop programs “that all of our parents can access”.

“We don’t need board approval for this,” Jones said of the Hallmark Academy development.

Taft parent perspective

Mesloh said his children need the hands-on learning experiences Hallmark provides but must remain Taft students.

Hallmark offers music, art, enrichment courses, tutorials, and laboratory science programs.

One of his children was distracted during face-to-face class, which is why he and his wife chose Taft’s online platform, where she has grown and thrived, exceeding grade level expectations.

That’s why they want to keep them in taffeta. But keeping her in Taft also meant she doesn’t have access to extracurricular activities, like the optional on-campus activities that Hallmark offers.

“As parents, her mom and I would love the opportunities for her to preserve some pieces of STEM, art, music,” Mesloh said. “It has become obvious that this can only happen with this merger.”

Her second daughter would also benefit from the merged Hallmark Academy as she needs hands-on activities and a learning environment at home since she is a first-time preschooler. Taft’s online learning platform with Hallmark capabilities is best for them.

What Hallmark Parents Keep Saying

Larbi and Hallmark Charter teacher Angela Ballew asked the board to take the time to consider their actions to remove charter status.

There are several reasons for the decision to disband the charter, Jones previously told the Ed Lab. These include the charter school’s enrollment, which has been declining for several years; Streamlined business operations for both programs as the Charter School’s Local Control Accountability Program dollars would become part of the district’s funding to support SUSD initiatives at Hallmark Academy; and to enable greater equity and access to both programs.

This academic year, Hallmark Charter School planned to spend more than $3.9 million, of which $216,670 was committed to services in LCAP, according to the Local Tax Funding Formula Budget Overview available on Hallmark’s website.

Hallmark Charter was created 22 years ago for enrollment as a homeschool learning model the way it works today, but back then there weren’t many charter schools to compete with, Jones said. Sanger Unified charter schools will join more than 1,300 as of the 2021-22 school year, according to the California Department of Education website.

“You have this charter; They worked hard for it,” Ballew said. “We worked hard to preserve it and make it beautiful and special.”

Like most programs, Hallmark Charter may need to evolve to better teach children, she said, but teachers take time to do so.

Without charter status, families outside of the district must enroll via an inter-district swap, which requires approval from both Sanger and the other district, making parents suspicious.

“I can speak from my experience,” Ballew said of the success of students who “just showed up” from across the Central Valley. “They just come. And they find their way.”

Approximately 102 students from 10 other districts must use inter-district transfers after Hallmark’s charter status was removed.

According to Associate Superintendent Tim Lopez and Jones, at least 24 of these families have completed the inter-district transfers that must be made annually.

The district has reached out to each of the 10 other districts regarding the transfers and provided the links to the one-page transfer forms, Lopez said.

There are currently 491 students transferring out of Sanger, 220 between districts and around 300 between districts, all of which require approval from district students exiting and entering.

Some districts require board or district office approval, Lopez said.

What the administration says

The district wants parents to have a “school of their choice” with access to opportunities, rather than either Hallmark Charter’s homeschool model with after-school opportunities or Taft Academy’s virtual program with no opportunities.

“The choice is to have two platforms under one school of choice,” Jones said.

Of Hallmark’s 252 students and Taft’s nearly 500, 455 have indicated their intention to enroll in the merged school. Some plan to continue Hallmark’s homeschool model, some plan to continue Taft’s virtual platform, and some have transitioned from their current learning style to the other learning model, said Associate Superintendent Tim Lopez.

Operating under the Hallmark Academy name, the merged school will continue to have:

  • Hallmark’s traditional homeschooling with one hour consultation
  • Hallmark’s hybrid program with split classes and one-hour consultation
  • Enrichment courses and tutorials on Hallmark campus
  • Taft’s virtual classes via Zoom for K-8 students
  • Taft’s Independent Study with advice and personal tutorials
  • Hallmark’s homeschooling, rigorous curriculum, music, arts, enrichment courses, tutorials, and laboratory science programs continue, but Taft students have access to them.

Families would choose between Hallmark’s homeschool option and Taft’s virtual programming, which logs in for classes at set times throughout the day.

“Hallmark’s program is not going away,” Jones reiterated both times she spoke to the Education Lab.

There are information flyers about Hallmark Academy, which the parents of Hallmark Charter say were distributed at or around the time the merger proposal was first put to the board on May 10.

Which board decides

The Board of Directors has yet to decide whether to terminate Hallmark’s incorporation status.

Board voting on charter status will occur at a future board meeting, Jones said, and the district is “moving forward” with enrolling students in the new school of choice, which will become Hallmark Academy.

After Larbi, the district disregarded the school board.

Parents like Larbi and Sara Florez and teachers like 22-year-old governess Shannon Anderson see the district’s actions as “workaround” board approval.

Larbi told the board that the community trusts them to do what is best for students, families and the community.

“You have a vote,” Florez repeated to the board. “Regardless of what the District has said about how they bypass or will bypass you, you have a voice. And your voice should be our voice, right? They represent everyone in the community, not just the Sanger Unified School District (but) everyone in the community.

“You can speak for us.”

The Education Lab is a local journalistic initiative that highlights educational issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Learn more about The Bee’s Education Lab on its website.

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