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District Staff, Once Supportive, Now Trying to Kill Thrive Charter

When a new charter school appealed the school board’s decision to reject its application, district staff reversed course; the same group that had earlier green-lighted the petition is now lobbying the county to shoot it down.

Last month, the San Diego Unified school board voted down Thrive, a proposed charter school, despite the fact district staff had recommended its approval.

But when Thrive appealed the decision this week to the County Board of Education, staff reversed course; the same group that had earlier green-lighted the petition is now lobbying the county to shoot it down. And it might work.

Sarah Sutherland, an outside legal consultant who spoke on the district’s behalf, said Thrive sounds “good in theory,” but that it’s gone through fundamental changes that have undermined its chance of success.

Board trustees John Lee Evans, Richard Barrera and Marne Foster last month questioned the school’s viability, citing the number of times its leader, Nicole Temple Assisi, had changed or amended the petition before it came to the board for final approval.

A large part of the district’s argument focused on whether there was sufficient interest from parents who wanted to enroll their children when Thrive would open in 2015. Sutherland said that Assisi had submitted and withdrawn several petitions for different parts of town, but hadn’t collected new signatures each time.

Legally, Assisi told VOSD, she didn’t have to do that. She just needed to get signatures from half of the teachers the school planned to employ – which she had.

She added that her willingness to work with the district is now being used as a reason to deny her.

For example, at the district’s request, Assisi withdrew a petition for a school in City Heights. But at Wednesday’s board meeting, Sutherland pointed to the withdrawal as evidence of instability.

Miles Durfee, a managing regional director for the California Charter Schools Association, said during public testimony that he had “great concerns” as to why the district was suddenly raising new criticism that hadn’t been mentioned during the several-month span that the two groups collaborated.

Former senator Dede Alpert testified at the meeting in support of Thrive, saying she was “stunned” by the mixed messages the San Diego Unified has sent Assisi and her cohort.

Assisi said she’s optimistic that the county board of education will consider the petition on its merits.

“I don’t think the district made a very good argument at the hearing,” Assisi said. “I think its message was confusing and watery, which I think points to the fact that they didn’t have any legal ground to deny me in the first place.”

She added, “The district says they take charter petitions very seriously because they care about schools and want them to succeed. But, so do I. I’m a principal, a parent, and a part of this community.”

Spokesman Moises Aguirre said that the district couldn’t comment at this time, as the petition is in the appeal process.

The county board of education will make a decision about Thrive’s future on March 27. If it’s approved, the school will be under the authority of the County Board of Education, but operate within the boundaries of San Diego Unified. If it’s denied, Thrive could appeal the decision to the state board of education.

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