The changing face of education has prompted Tracy Unified School District to find a new way of reaching its students.
The district’s answer is Tracy Independent Study Charter School, a mostly online and multimedia program that is already in demand even though the actual start of the program is two months away.
The TUSD Board of Education approved the program in December 2019 after a group of administrators in the district office wrote up a charter for the new school last fall. Rob Pecot, who was the district’s director of student services and curriculum at the time, and is now the associate superintendent for business services, said that he and a group of seven other educators created the charter school in response to students in search of alternatives to the comprehensive middle school and high school experience.
“We want those students to stay in the district. It helps all of our students and helps the long-term well-being of our school district,” Pecot said. “We realize that times are changing and students and families want some alternative options.
“People vote with their feet, and we don’t want them leaving the district because we don’t offer certain programs.”
Mary Petty, principal of Tracy Independent Study Charter School, said that after TUSD opened the program up for applications at the start of June, the applications from students began to pour in. The original plan was to have 64 students in seventh through 12th grades under the guidance of two teachers.
“We’re already looking at ways we can expand, because the interest is pretty high,” Petty said.
Families can find the application here: https://tracycharter.tracy.k12.ca.us/information/application
Julianna Stocking, one of the creators of the charter and now the district’s associate superintendent for educational services, said that the district will review applications every week until the end of June, when the application process closes, to decide whether the staffing needs should be increased in response to student demand.
“We are very open to revisiting, increasing, that number of staff to be able to support enrollment,” Stocking said. “In addition to that, we’ve gotten a lot of interest in the primary grades, which is not reflected in the current charter.”
The new charter school will begin classes on Aug. 11, the same day as other Tracy Unified schools. Aside from weekly one-on-one meetings between students and teachers, the entire program is designed to be entirely remote. Using Edgenuity, an online platform that offers 300 classes for grades 6 to 12, the charter school already has its curriculum set up for the first students.
She noted that Edgenuity offers all state-approved core curriculum, including courses needed for admission to University of California and California State University, plus Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. It also offers electives and physical education courses.
“We also have students that want to accelerate and move quite quickly, and that also gives them the option because it is self-guided and online virtual curriculum,” Stocking said.
Petty noted that the district had yet to hire teachers for the charter school, but one thing that COVID-19 and the last two months of the 2019-20 school year taught the district was that plenty of teachers were ready to embrace online and remote learning.
“So far, in our distance learning model, many of them have been able to be flexible and transform into providing support in this online environment as well. Just like students have a preference of how they like to learn, I think you will find that some teachers will excel in this area and some may not like it at all,” she said. “It would definitely need to be a teacher who was on board with technology and also being flexible in dedicating what the students’ needs are, instead of doing one style of instruction for all.”
Petty added that Edgenuity specializes in multimedia platforms, so classes can be built on more than just lectures and homework.
“They offer e-books and different websites to go back and research and study. There are online video options. I just think that’s the way of our young people today: They prefer having lots of different multimedia options, and that’s one of the interesting things that Edgenuity is offering,” she said.
“A lot of kids don’t get information the first or second time. They have to look at it differently through multiple lenses.”
Pecot added that while the format for the first year of the program is mostly set, he hopes the district can find teachers whose experience and creativity can bring new ideas and teaching styles to the charter school. That’s something whose value he learned when schools shifted to remote learning over the last two months of the 2019-20 school year.
“I know that the teachers in Tracy were more than willing to step up to the challenges, and I think that would happen at this charter school as well,” he said. “I definitely think that year three or four will look different than year one. We’ll constantly be evolving and getting better, and most of that will be because of the teachers.”