20 in ’20: Caspar Creek’s Next Incarnation

This spring (2020), Caspar Creek Learning Community marks 20 years as a successful and highly-regarded charter school program on the Mendocino Coast by inviting the Mendocino Unified School District to officially become its authorizer, a relationship Caspar Creek believes will not only be mutually beneficial, but will ultimately improve access to public school education on the Mendocino Coast.

From 2000 until early 2018, Caspar Creek’s successful Mendocino K-5 program was part of Mattole Valley Charter School. In 2018, a novel (and greatly disruptive) interpretation of a 1992 statute abruptly required Mattole (and many other charter schools across California) to reorganize, in Mattole’s case as a family of county-authorized charter schools, which can only have programs inside their authorizing counties. A side effect of that reorganization was the loss of the mutually-rewarding 18-year partnership with Caspar Creek, effective at the close of the 2017-2018 school year.

Following the 18-year partnership with Mattole, Caspar Creek was pleased to enter a partnership with Pivot Charter School North Bay, opening the 2018-2019 school year as a Mendocino K-5 program of Pivot. However, when friction between North Bay school districts over the location of Pivot North Bay’s Santa Rosa facility began to threaten aspects of Pivot North Bay’s program, Pivot’s governing board reluctantly agreed, in March, 2020, to relinquish the Caspar Creek partnership after only two years together, thereby rendering Caspar Creek available for a new and more secure partnership.

Throughout its 20-year history, Caspar Creek Learning Community has enjoyed high regard in the North Coast community, especially among educators, many of whom have enrolled their own children. In fact, it is estimated that fully one fourth of Mendocino Unified School District’s present certificated staff have had some form of direct relationship with Caspar Creek (or its forerunner, Green House School), either as a parent or staff member. Children of Green House alumni have also attended Caspar Creek, with one Green House alumnus even becoming a Caspar Creek teacher. Many students who have struggled at their previous schools have thrived at Caspar Creek, but rather than see this as a reflection on these students’ previous schools, Caspar Creek regards it as evidence that some students are just better suited to the small-scale, multi-age format than they are to some of the other configurations more typically available in district schools.

Caspar Creek’s current students, parents, and staff; its nonprofit board members; and its many alumni, founders, former staff and other community stakeholders, are delighted at this opportunity to finally join forces with our local school district. We’re confident that the Mendocino Unified School District Board of Trustees recognize the strength of Caspar Creek’s program (as evidenced by its 20-year success story), and will acknowledge its value as an important part of the array of great public school choices available on the Mendocino Coast by embracing Caspar Creek as a partner in the role of a “new” charter school authorized by its home district, Mendocino.

Once the formal charter petition submitted to MUSD, a public hearing is held within 30 days. The board may vote to approve the charter on that date, or on another date within 60 days of submission. Opportunities will be provided for interested community members to encourage the board’s approval.

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