On Friday, June 7, 2019, at the Anaheim convention center, 51 sixth graders graduated from Palm Lane Charter School, which last fall transitioned to a charter school following a long and protracted legal fight with teachers’ unions.
The graduation ceremony drew a crowd of over 200 attendees, mostly parents of the graduating students. The graduating students and their families were largely Hispanic and the event had a Spanish translator for those in the audience that didn’t speak English.
The event also included Mayor Pro Tem of Anaheim, Lucille Kring, and Mari Barke, a member of the Orange County Board of Education.
The Epoch Times had the opportunity to attend the event and interview Dr. Angela Miller, the school’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, on the changes in the school’s curriculum and the increased academic improvement seen in the students.
Dr. Miller explained that the move for Palm Lane to become a charter school began from a parent-led initiative.
“Roughly five years ago parents started to notice that their children were not performing at the level that they would like for their children to perform.”
Dr. Miller explained that the parents went through the process with the district of making that transition to a charter model.
“The model would be a transformational model where a new administration, new staff, new teachers would come in and completely transform how students learn and how teachers are teaching.”
In August 2018, after a fight with the teachers’ union over the school’s fate, Palm Lane Charter School officially opened with 423 students. Miller explained how difficult it was for Palm Lane to become a charter school.
“There were a group of parents that were involved that were in favor of Palm Lane becoming a charter. They also did fight teachers’ unions because it did require teachers to be replaced. They went through several court battles, fought against the district and all types of entities.”
Miller further explained that Palm Lane is only the second school in the state to be converted to a charter because of a parental initiative.
“There were many layers involved before they were finally granted the permission and right to become what Palm Lane is today.”
Miller described that misconception that many have about charter schools.
“Charter schools are public schools, so they follow the same curriculum, we are held to the same academic standards as a regular public school.”
She also described the role of the Lincoln Club in helping Palm Lane in their transition to a charter.
“The Lincoln Club has been one of our key supporters of this change. [They have] provided us with resources for our school site and workbenches for students that help with our STEAM program. They’ve donated over $2,000 in library books that we will be placing in our library at our school. The Lincoln Club has been very instrumental in [providing] funds when we need it.”
While Palm Lane is subject to common core standards, the methodology in teaching has changed greatly since the transition to a charter model.
“All of our teachers are trained on analyzing data. We use a data-driven approach and do backwards planning based on that data. So, our teachers undergo professional development where we look a student performance and we actually individualize programs for students where they can look at where they are and teachers can plan instruction to address where they are and move them forward.”
Small class sizes are a factor in this, where the average class size at Palm Lane is around 23 to 24 students, with one teacher and an instructional aide at all times. Prior to the transition to a charter school, the class sizes averaged around 29.
Dr. Miller further described Palm Lane’s push for introducing programs to help students prepare for 21st-century technology.
“We are looking into having robotics in the upper grades taught by additional staff that we are looking to bring on board. We are also looking at taking that same robotics and adjusting it for our primary grades.”
The Epoch Times also spoke with Geronimo Gaytan, whose son is in 5th grade at Palm Lane. Gaytan was one of the parents that spearheaded the change for Palm Lane to become a charter school. His son has been going to Palm Lane since Kindergarten.
“The changes I’ve seen is that the teachers are more hands-on, instead of giving them a book and saying ‘here you go, let’s start doing whatever the books says.’”
Gaytan told The Epoch Times of the improvement that his son has had since the change to a charter.
“When they became a charter, they did a test to see what [reading and math] level they were at. They told me that my kid was reading at a 3rd grade level instead of a fifth-grade level. By the end of this year, he was reading at a fifth-grade level.”
Orange County Board of Education member Mari Barke also noticed improvements in the school since its transition to a charter.
“Palm Lane before it converted to a charter was one of the worst-performing schools in Anaheim,” she said.
Barke, who also represents the Lincoln club, talked about its role in assisting the school’s transition and why she believed it was so vital to push for this change.
“These kids had a big disservice and Lincoln club made a difference. You need to give families the opportunity for an education. Every family needs an opportunity and without converting Palm Lane, that’s not available. Many of these families can’t afford private schools, so they need to be given choices like free public charter schools.”
In the fight over charter schools in the state of California, Palm Lane Charter School is now the second school in the state to be pushed by parents to transition to a charter school. Whether this is a continuing trend in the state is yet to be seen, but if schools like Palm Lane continue to perform well, the state very well may see more schools make that transition.