After years of low test scores, parents, teachers and community members discussed the idea of turning Lawrence Elementary School into a charter school at a forum Sunday morning in the Lodi Boys and Girls Club gym.
Parents asked what makes charter schools different, if the school would be overseen by the district or a nonprofit, and how they can stay involved in the process.
Transforming the Eastside school into a charter is one of several ideas on the table. Lawrence and Sutherland schools were both listed among the lowest-performing schools in California. The district has until June 1 to come up with an action plan to submit to the state detailing what major changes it plans on making to raise test scores.
One of the main reasons Lodi Unified School District trustee Jeff Thompson attended the meeting is because he wanted to find out more about charter schools. Thompson has not made up his mind on what to do, but he believes a charter is an option that the district should consider thoroughly.
"I don't like having to make decisions this quickly without being informed," Thompson said.
In a report released Friday, the district favors the "turnaround" model, which includes replacing the principal and rehiring no more than 50 percent of the current teaching staff by the start of the new school year. If approved, instructional time would also be increased in the hope of boosting test scores.
One of the state-approved options is closing the school, but Thompson said that is not going to happen at either Lawrence or Sutherland schools.
Another option on the table is firing the principal plus increasing classroom hours and focusing on a "series of required school improvement strategies."
The board is scheduled to reach its final decision next week. A charter school would still receive money from the state but have more flexibility in how they spend it, said Jed Wallace, a representative of the California Charter Schools Association.
Flexibility is what Thompson said he finds most promising.
"I think we are limited by the number of federal and state regulations that dictate exactly how we provide instruction in a non-chartered public school," he said.
One of the main differences is that charter schools can have longer hours.
"When you have more time with the kids, you will have a better chance of helping them with their studies," Wallace said.
Charters can hire people to teach non-core subjects like music, art and technology who are knowledgeable but do not have a teaching certificate, Wallace said.
He said some charters also put a greater focus on technology. He gave the example of High Tech High, nine schools in the San Diego area that incorporate technology into every aspect of the lesson plan.
If the district does go the charter school route, it will be a conversion charter, which means that the children who currently go to Lawrence will be allowed to remain there, said Don Shalvey, a former LUSD administrator and deputy director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Parents and administrators should look at other successful schools in the area and take notes on what is working for them, he said.
Through the process, Shalvey also said it is important to not blame the students, the parents or the teachers.
When envisioning a charter school, Ernesto Escobar, a parent at Lawrence, said the city should look to Joe Serna Jr. Charter School, which opened in 2000 and is bilingual. He said many parents on the Eastside hope for their children to go to that school.
How to get involvedThere will be a meeting this week to discuss the future of Lawrence and Sutherland schools. It is open to the public and is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the James Areida Education Support Center, 1305 E. Vine St., Lodi.
There also will be a community forum specifically for Lawrence Elementary School at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the school, which is at 721 Calaveras St.
With tears in her eyes, Mary Ragusa, a kindergarten teacher at Lawrence, said she does not care if the school becomes a charter or remains a traditional school.
"I don't care about my job other than I love my students, and I really want them to have a place to go learn," she said.
Ragusa said it will be important to include teachers in the process.
"We do want teachers involved because we do have the same interests," Escobar said.
Parents, teachers and concerned residents were encouraged to go to Tuesday's school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the James Areida Education Support Center, 1305 E. Vine St., Lodi.
Another community forum is scheduled for this week at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Lawrence Elementary, 721 Calaveras St.