A charter school focused on preparing at-risk kids for college will open in Orange after winning approval from the county Board of Education.
“We’re excited and ready to move forward,” said Erin Craig, executive director of the school. “We’re looking forward to securing everything from the facility to continuing work in the community and working with students so we can prepare to open day one.”
Unity Middle College High School aims to open by summer and will follow the Middle College National Consortium model, which partners with local colleges to provide courses to high school students.
In addition to providing high school-level and community college courses, Unity will allow each student to choose a career pathway, such as business, arts or science, technology, engineering and math.
Unity is working with Santiago Canyon College to provide the courses, Craig said, but has not finalized a deal.
“It’s optimal for Middle College high schools to have a strong relationship with college partners,” Craig said. “Unity Middle College High School is thrilled with the willingness from Santiago Canyon College to work with us and support our students because our students are their students as well.”
The school appealed to the county board after two votes by the Orange Unified School District board. In the first vote, the Orange Unified board voted 5-2 to conditionally approved the charter provided changes were made. After the changes, the Orange board voted 3-2 in favor, with two members absent, but the school needed a majority of the seven board members to be approved. At that point, time had elapsed under state law for getting district approval.
Orange board members who supported the school said the Middle College model is effective, while those who opposed said they worried about issues in the charter such as budget and governance.
The county approval also came with conditions that changes be made to the charter, including the description of the educational program, school governance and budget. After the changes are made, there will need to be a memorandum of understanding, but the county board will not need to take a second vote.
As a charter school, Unity will receive public funding. The school has budgeted for $1 million in revenue for its first year, Craig said, with that increasing to $3 million by the third year. Unity plans to fundraise for its start-up costs, estimated to be at least $320,000.
Enrollment will start with 100 ninth-grade students, with a grade being added each year for a total of 400 students.
The school, which has not bought a property yet, plans to open its doors in June for a summer transitional program for its incoming students.
“Facilities and fundraising,” Craig said, “right now are our biggest foci.”
Date: Aug. 25, 2015