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New independent charter opening in TUSD this fall

Turlock Unified School District plays host to 16 different educational campuses and will also be home to an independent charter this fall after the Board of Trustees approved a collaborative partnership with educational nonprofit Aspiranet at a special board meeting on Monday.

Headquartered in the Bay Area, Aspiranet works to rehabilitate students and families and already locally operates a foster family agency, behavioral health counseling center, family resource center and a residential and educational center for at-risk boys in Turlock. 

“We have a large footprint here, we’re just quiet about it,” said Division Director of Residential and School Programs Chris Essary.

Aspiranet is now widening its scope in the Turlock community further with the District’s recently approved partnership that will bring the first independent charter to the area. Geared toward students that are struggling in traditional education environments, Aspiranet will fill a niche need in the community by providing an educational facility that caters to students with behavioral issues with the objective of returning them to TUSD classrooms. Operated through a referral program, the charter would minimize classroom disturbances by providing students in need of additional attention a designated learning environment thus affording teachers more control over their classroom.

“The charter basically will serve children that have no other means of being delivered services. We have had a lot of students who have exhausted our programs as well as county programs but still need extensive care and I think the Board understood that,” said TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.

The Fusion Charter would differ from other available alternative education sites in the area in that it would operate in conjunction with the District with the aim of returning students to TUSD classrooms thus restoring Average Daily Attendance for which the District is awarded funds for each student. The District currently loses ADA funds when students drop out of school or transfer to schools operated by the Stanislaus County Office of Education leaving Aspiranet Fusion Charter to function essentially as an intervention between the District and the County.

Funded as a nonpublic school, the Charter would assume all liability but the District will monitor and oversee the overall functions as well as receive quarterly reports. Having had the option to pursue operation through the community, county, and state levels, Aspiranet is pleased to be collaborating with TUSD on a local level according to Essary.

“It’s an honor that they would consider us for this. Being the first of its kind in the Turlock area, an independent charter speaks volumes of the District’s commitment to providing options for their students,” said Essary. 

Initially classes will be held at the First Freewill Baptist Church on Geer Road as Aspiranet refits facilities on Linwood Avenue that used to serve students with dyslexia but will now accommodate the teenage students.

Open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., students of Aspiranet Fusion Charter will spend three hours in a classroom three days a week as well as utilize online course offerings with the assistance of a credentialed teacher and participate in inquiry learning projects, or critical thinking, on their fourth day.

 Classroom facilities will offer school books that are used by traditionally educated students in TUSD so that students can transition smoothly back into the District when they are ready. As well as academic attention, students will also have the opportunity to participate in sports activities and will fill out questionnaires to define their interests and determine their goals so that the Charter can offer extracurricular support. A largely customizable experience, students attending the Charter will have diverse needs but the end goal is the same for everyone: academic and personal success.

“I feel like we’re going to be small enough and creative enough and we want to motivate the kids to work beyond what’s required of them because they want to,” said Principal Siobhan Hanna. “Everything is based on their personal learning plans and goals and that is how we will guide them. Our goal is to take a seamless approach so that we can present these students back to TUSD as students dedicated to learning and doing well.”