Parents Crowd Board Room in Support of Menifee Prep School

Parents and children carried signs in front of the school district office in support of the Meni...

Parents and children carried signs in front of the school district office in support of the Menifee Valley Preparatory School.
An overflow crowd of more than 100 people, mostly supporters of the proposed Menifee Valley Preparatory School, showed up to make their feelings known at today's meeting of the Menifee Union School District board.

Today's petition by Heritage Classical Charter Schools to open a charter school in Menifee was the second to come before the MUSD board. The first petition was denied last year, with district officials citing the need for more specifics in the proposal, especially regarding instruction for English language learners and alignment with the state's new "common core" curriculum standards.

A subsequent appeal to the Riverside County Office of Education was denied in January, sending HCCS officials back to the MUSD with a more detailed proposal -- and more than a room full of supporters.

Although it was made clear at the outset that the board would not rule on the petition until sometime later, parents interested in sending their children to Menifee Valley Preparatory School were out in force. Many stood in front of the district office on Menifee Road, holding up signs and waving to passing cars. Although the board meeting room couldn't begin to hold all those who showed up, many parents waited outside and tried to listen in through the door.

Board chair Ron Ulibarri prefaced the hour-long public hearing by announcing that the board would listen to all who wished to speak, but that a decision wouldn't be made until a later meeting, probably on May 6. That didn't stop 15 speakers from addressing the board with passionate pleas to grant the petition.

"I have a first grader and a third grader at Chester Morrison Elementary School," Janelle Erickson said from the speaker's podium. "My third grader is doing well there. My first grader is also doing very well academically, but he's not thriving because he's being overlooked. His teacher is overextended in an overcrowded class.

"I might choose to keep my third grader at Chester Morrison, but I would like the choice to send my first grader to Menifee Valley Prep."

Teacher-to-student ratio was a common complaint of those who spoke. Many said their children were in classes of 30 or more students. The goal at Menifee Valley Prep would be to hold class size to 24 or less.

In addition, many parents and supporters spoke of the value of a "classical education" -- a curriculum that offers more methods of instruction to encourage critical thinking and expand coverage of various subjects.

"We need smaller classes, and I want more virtues to be taught in the classroom through classical education," said parent Chrissy Sandoval as she stood outside with demonstrators before the meeting began. "If we can open this school, my child wouldn't just be a number."

Several of the speakers stressed that other than class size, they are not critical of the Menifee Union School District. They do, however, want choices. And it's clear that with Menifee's rapidly growing population, more total classrooms are needed.

The one charter school in Menifee -- Santa Rosa Academy -- already has filled its new campus to capacity and has hundreds on a waiting list. The opening of another charter school would give another option to more parents who are looking for ways to enhance their child's education.

Denee Burns is director of development for Temecula Valley Prep, a successful charter school run by HCCS. She said there already is a list of nearly 500 parents who wish to enroll their child in Menifee Valley Prep.

"We feel we have the support of the community," she said in a phone interview Monday. "This is basically about choice."

Administrators said the school's goal is to open for the next school year with 208 students in grades K-3. Grades would be added in subsequent years until an enrollment of 750 in grades K-8 is reached by 2019.

Burns said that in order to open this August, the school would have to rent or lease an existing facility. She confirmed that one venue they are considering as an option is the school facility at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, which recently announced it is closing its own private school in June.

Speakers in support of the school included Menifee Mayor Scott Mann and Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone.

"I feel so strongly about this charter petition and their classical education model that I am going to place a resolution of support on the Menifee City Council agenda on April 2," said Mann, a former MUSD board member.

"The leadership of Temecula Prep will be the same leadership for the Menifee Valley Preparatory School. I have complete confidence and trust in their ability to deliver the same quality education results right here in the city of Menifee. They will only enhance the reputation of this district and contribute to the overall culture you have all worked so hard to achieve."

For more information about the Menifee Valley Preparatory School, see the school's website.

Parents can be seen standing outside the board room, where an overflow crowd gathered for today's meeting.


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