When officials from Oxford Preparatory Academy – the area’s newest charter school – announced they would fill sixth-grade classes first in Saturday’s lottery, Cynthia Whitten of Aliso Viejo let out an audible gasp.
With an incoming sixth-grade daughter, she had a decent shot of getting in. And because siblings of chosen students also clinched enrollment seats, that meant Whitten’s second-grade son could be a shoo-in too. If only officials would call their names.
Hundreds of parents stopped by in Mission Viejo to find out whether their children made it into the inaugural classes of Oxford Prep. Nearly 1,300 students vied for 550 slots, which dropped to 449 after the first slots went to the children of faculty and a few area parents who helped lead the campaign to launch the school.
With its first campus in Chino, Oxford bases its teaching on the theory of “multiple intelligences,” which posits that students learn in different modalities and might excel in ways that aren’t measured by traditional IQ tests.
The mood in the sanctuary was tense, despite pom-poms and balloons in the school’s colors, teal and black. Then school officials called Whitten’s daughter’s name. A celebratory shout filled the room.
“I’m overjoyed. I’m ecstatic,” Whitten said. Her children currently attend a private school she would not name. She said the middle school there is too small; she wanted to find a better option for her daughter.
As for Oxford, she said, “I think the programs are phenomenal. I’ve been to all the meetings. I might as well make my tax dollars work for me.”
Charter campuses are public schools that are freed up from many of the funding and legal constraints other schools face. The Capistrano Unified School District’s Board of Trustees in March. Trustees Sue Palazzo and Ellen Addonizio were on hand Saturday when the lottery kicked off at 8 a.m.
Students in Capistrano Unified were given priority placement for the lottery. Of the 1,259 interested students, 926, or 73.7 percent came from Capo. More stats: 164 prospective students are currently in private schools; 88 are home-schooled; 73 are from the neighboring school district of .
Stephanie Davies of Laguna Niguel was another mom who benefitted from having Oxford officials fill sixth grade first. Not only does she have an incoming sixth-grader, she has triplet second-graders. Second grade was the third class from last to fill.
Tears filled her eyes and friends came over for hugs. She was a volunteer for the event, even buying a teal polo, but wasn’t assured a spot until her sixth-grader’s name was announced.
“We’re very happy at [Elementary]. Moulton is an excellent school. It’s just this gives us all the extras: language from kindergarten, music – well there’s music but not to this extent – Tae Kwon Do. Public schools don’t have that stuff.”
OPA’s arrival has not been without controversy. Taking students out of regular Capo schools will divert $900,000 annually from CUSD’s budget. In addition, Oxford has asked for access to school facilities free of charge under Prop. 39.
Although Oxford Executive Director Sue Roche said she had not signed a final agreement on where the K-5 and middle school programs will go, Superintendent Joseph Farley told PTA members at with the charter school. The announcement set off a firestorm of passionate – yet polite – protests.
There’s been no similar announcement about the site for the middle school program, although , sparking similar outcry from parents.