New charter school approved for Santa Clarita Valley

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A new charter school is coming to Agua Dulce, after the state Board of Education approved its petition earlier this month against the recommendation of local, county and state educational officials.

The new charter school, named Eagle Collegiate Academy, is set to open its doors for the first time in fall 2021, per a condition of its state approval. The school, according to ECA founder Ogo Okoye-Johnson, is set to offer students from the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Fernando valleys an International Baccalaureate program.

“It’s an International Baccalaureate pre-K-8-college prep school,” said Okoye-Johnson, in reference to the new charter school. “We’re going to open with (prekindergarten to third grade) and then add grade levels as we go.”

The school is scheduled to provide the IB program, as well as Spanish and Korean as languages, according to the school’s website.

Okoye-Johnson said she and her board were elated upon hearing the news that the state Board of Education approved the petition. The road to receiving such an approval had been an uphill battle for the proponents of ECA, and included more than one denial from the Acton-Agua Dulce Union School District. The school is slated to open on the 13000 block of Sierra Highway, at the location of the former Tony Alamo Christian Church site, which falls within AADUSD’s boundaries.

On Sept. 26, 2019, the petitioners submitted their position to the AADUSD board, but on Nov. 14, 2019, the petition was formally denied with a 5-0 vote.

During the Oct. 30, 2019, board meeting, AADUSD board President Ken Pfalzgraf said it was his concern that the school wouldn’t be able to remain financially solvent, if they could not keep up with their proposed average daily attendance — an important baseline for determining a school’s future funding level from the state.

Ogo Johnson is spearheading efforts to open a charter school on the former site of the Tony Alamo Christian Church. March 13, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

At the time of the school’s latest petition, a clause in the state’s charter school laws allowed schools denied by their local governing board to submit their petition to the Los Angeles County Department of Education. If denied there, they could then take it to the state Board of Education.

That law has since changed as of Jan. 1 of this year, with the power largely shifting back to the local boards to decide on whether a charter is approved. However, according to state officials, since the ECA petition was filed before the law change, they were allowed to advance their appeal to the AADUSD denial.

ECA officials submitted their petition to the county Nov. 25, 2019, and were subsequently denied by the Los Angeles County Board of Education. ECA then submitted their petition to the state Board of Education on Jan. 27.

The officials at the California Department of Education recommended to the state board that the request to establish be denied.

“The CDE finds that the ECA petition is not consistent with sound educational practice, and that the petitioner is demonstrably unlikely to implement the program set forth in the ECA petition due to an unrealistic financial and operational plan, including aggressive enrollment assumptions and a budget plan that is reliant on meeting the aggressive enrollment projections,” reads the agenda item for the board’s July 2020 meeting.

Ultimately, the state Board of Education went against the recommendations of CDE staff and approved the charter. Officials from the state board had not returned requests for comment as of the publication of this article explaining their reasoning for going against staff recommendations.

When asked about the recommendations that questioned the programming, Okoye-Johnson instead discussed a previous concern about the location, which she said was, by statute, not a reason for denying the petition.

For more information about Eagle Collegiate Academy, visit https://www.eaglecollegiateacademy.org/.

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