Charter school’s move is latest woe

Summit Preparatory High School Director Diane Tavenner stood among towers of boxes Thursday, preparing for the school’s move from its three-year downtown home to 20 new portable buildings on the Sequoia High School Campus.

The move, which begins today, marks the end of one chapter in a long struggle to find a home for Summit, but not the final one. The Sequoia Union High School District, which adopted the school’s charter in June, has opted to find the school a temporary home on the Sequoia campus but is still hunting for a long-term, permanent location for the charter school.

“I’m looking forward to having an appropriate amount of space,” Tavenner said, referring to crowded conditions in the school’s current space at 201 Marshall St. “We made last year work, but it was pretty crowded.”

Officials are looking for a building between 17,000 and 22,000 square feet that meets strict state requirements for school and student safety, according to Ed Lavigne, assistant superintendent of administrative services. While Lavigne hopes to close a deal by Jan. 1, 2007, Tavenner has been told to expect Summit to remain at the Sequoia campus for approximately two years.

“Finding a site for a school is never easy,” Sequoia board President Gordon Lewin said. “We’re aggressively looking for spaces, but at any point there’s very little on the market.”

In the meantime, Tavenner is focusing on ways to make 20 small buildings — which add up to 14,400 square feet of classroom space — work well for her students, who are accustomed to a single, open floor plan.

“We want to maintain the culture of regularly intermingling students and faculty, which is currently very respectful and inviting,” Tavenner said. To that end, all students will attend an orientation Aug. 29 to discuss ways to adapt the new site to their needs. School kicks off Sept. 5.

Founded in 2003, Summit was initially chartered by Summerville Union High School District in Tuolumne County and made its home in a converted office space on Marshall Street.

Changes in charter-school law since then have forced the school to obtain a local charter, and the school’s growing size — to 375 students this year in grades nine through 12 — required a larger campus.

Initially, Sequoia officials hoped to move Summit to Redwood High School’s campus on Old County Road and give Redwood a permanent home at Sequoia, but they abandoned the plan when costs rocketed toward $9 million. Moving Summit into portables — which can later be sold — was estimated at closer to $2 million, Lewin said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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