2006.12.14: December 14, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Swaziland: Business: Internet: Movies: Entrepreneurship: Education: Santa Cruz Sentinel: Reed Hastings endows new charter school organization to prepare low-income and minority students to thrive at a four-year college

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Swaziland: Special Report: RPCV Reed Hastings: Reed Hastings: Newest Stories: 2006.12.14: December 14, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Swaziland: Business: Internet: Movies: Entrepreneurship: Education: Santa Cruz Sentinel: Reed Hastings endows new charter school organization to prepare low-income and minority students to thrive at a four-year college

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Reed Hastings endows new charter school organization to prepare low-income and minority students to thrive at a four-year college

Reed Hastings endows new charter school organization to prepare low-income and minority students to thrive at a four-year college

Beacon, a nonprofit started by Brown, a founder of Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, and James Reinhart, a former teacher at the school, is billing itself as a secondary school for students in danger of dropping out of high school or graduating without taking courses required by California's public four-year universities. They say Beacon will not be like Pacific Collegiate charter school, which prides itself on top-tier test scores and sending students to elite universities. Instead, they will focus on students falling short of academic success and try to boost the number of high school graduates ready to succeed in college. Businessman and Internet Visionary Reed Hastings of California, the founder of Netflix, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland.

Reed Hastings endows new charter school organization to prepare low-income and minority students to thrive at a four-year college

Charter advocates hope to open high school in Watsonville
By Matt King
Sentinel staff writer

Beacon Education Network, a new charter school organization endowed by Netflix founder and Santa Cruz resident Reed Hastings, is angling to open a high school in Watsonville as soon as next September.

The school's aim would be to prepare low-income and minority students to thrive at a four-year college.

"Making sure our Latino students have access to post-secondary opportunities is really important," said Tom Brown, Beacon's top executive. "If we can strike a deal with Pajaro Valley Unified School District, if we can go down there and add value to the educational equation, that would be time and money well spent."

Beacon, a nonprofit started by Brown, a founder of Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, and James Reinhart, a former teacher at the school, is billing itself as a secondary school for students in danger of dropping out of high school or graduating without taking courses required by California's public four-year universities.

They say Beacon will not be like Pacific Collegiate charter school, which prides itself on top-tier test scores and sending students to elite universities. Instead, they will focus on students falling short of academic success and try to boost the number of high school graduates ready to succeed in college.

In 2005, nearly half of the county's 2,690 high school graduates did not meet academic standards to be eligible to attend a public university, according to the state Department of Education.

"When one looks carefully at the numbers, it's hard to argue we're doing enough for students who receive the fewest college readiness opportunities in high school," Brown said. "Many of these students are the first in their families to attend college and rely heavily on our public school systems to provide them with the skills and information they need to succeed in college and beyond."

But it's far from certain that Beacon will get approval from Pajaro Valley or any other district in the county, as required under state law. Charter schools are public schools that operate outside a school district's control but share funding. Wherever located, Beacon schools will cause enrollment and state funding to drop at nearby schools.

Trustees for Pajaro Valley Unified say they're wary of any new school that will cost the district money. Trustee Willie Yahiro has been a charter supporter but said he may prefer the county to charter Beacon schools.

The financial consequences for the district would be the same, but district leaders do not want to be seen giving up on traditional high schools.

Pajaro Valley operates three traditional high schools two in Watsonville and one in Aptos and four schools offering alternative high school programs. The newest traditional school, Pajaro Valley High, opened in 2004. Last year, the district enrolled about 4,600 high school students.

"We need to make our schools better with the kids we have here, and I don't want to see any programs that dilute our base," Yahiro said. "I would rather see the county do it because we are so focused on academic achievement for all of our schools."

Still, it seems inevitable that Beacon schools will open in the coming years. County Superintendent-elect Michael Watkins said he will support a charter for Beacon if the organization is rejected by Pajaro Valley or another district. The county Office of Education charted Pacific Collegiate after its application was rejected by Santa Cruz City Schools.

"People want change, and I think Beacon will be part of that change," Watkins said. "If districts don't embrace Beacon I would assume the county would take a very close look at approving the charter."

The current plan for Beacon's first school is to enroll 600 students in grades six through 12. But the plan to open in Watsonville is not entirely by design.

Beacon tried to go directly to the county office for approval of a plan to open three schools in three years, with the first in Mid-County. But officials there declined to accept a proposal until it was considered by at least one district, as required by state law.

Beacon hopes to submit an official proposal to Pajaro Valley Unified in January. Even if the petition is approved, Beacon will have to scramble to find a facility, hire teachers and administrators and develop a curriculum. The uncertainty could lead to a one-year delay.

"We were hoping to get lucky by going directly to the county," Brown said. "This is as much a political process as it is a meritocracy. ... The only way we're going to make lasting improvements in public education is to take the long view. I don't get disappointed by things like this."

Contact Matt King at mking@santacruzsentinel.com.




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