Clock is ticking for launch of New Bonnheim charter in Sacramento

The clock is ticking for organizers of the New Joseph Bonnheim Community Charter School, who must scramble over the next two months to get Sacramento City Unified’s newest campus up and running in time for fall enrollment.

School trustees voted 4-3 late Thursday to approve the charter, despite warnings in a staff report that the endeavor as drafted would not likely succeed. Supporters were board members Gustavo Arroyo, Jay Hansen, Christina Pritchett and Diana Rodriguez.

Voting against the plan were President Patrick Kennedy and trustees Darrel Woo and Jeff Cuneo. Woo raised concern that there was too little time remaining before the start of school.

“It’s not incorporated in the budget,” Woo said. He drew no interest when he proposed that the charter school opening be delayed a year.

The vote to start in the fall means that the parents who led the petition, aided by charter school advocates and district staff, must enroll more than 300 expected K-6 students, work with the Sacramento City Teachers Association to establish rules for teacher selection and prepare the campus – all during the summer months.

“We’ve already started,” said Dennis Mah, founder of the Yav Pem Suab Academy charter school on South Land Park Drive and a volunteer supporter for the Bonnheim effort.

“We’ve appointed an interim principal, Frank O’Connor,” Mah said. He said O’Connor, a retired educator, is bilingual and had his first assignment as principal in the 1970s at Joseph Bonnheim Elementary. The school, which the district closed along with six other campuses due to falling enrollment last year, will be the site of the New Joseph Bonnheim academy.

Mah said organizers next week will contact the district’s enrollment center to develop an enrollment process and next month will meet with the district’s superintendent of facilities “to get the keys, the furniture and take care of cleanup.”

The New Bonnheim charter group is already working with the Sacramento City Teachers Association to create a process for teacher selection.

Close to 100 people attended the Thursday night board meeting in support of the charter school in Sacramento’s south area. The instruction will have an agriculture theme and follow a body-brain approach that incorporates physical activity into academic exercises.

Trustee Diana Rodriguez and a minority of other trustees opposed the school closures last year. Alluding to that decision, she said Thursday, “At this point, I’m looking at how do we make the community whole?”

In announcing her support for the plan, she cited the positive outcome of Mah’s Yav Pem Suab Academy, a model for the New Bonnheim charter.

“It comes down to relationships,” Rodriguez said, “and the experience with Dr. Mah.” She also saw as a positive that the Sacramento City Teachers Association is “willing to be a partner in this.”

District spokesman Gabe Ross acknowledged the time line is short but said, “Staff will work hard over the summer and we’ll do everything we can to make it a smooth transition.”

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