Local Control Spotlight Blog
Jamestown School District
There were many reasons to close the small two-classroom elementary school. Enrollment had dropped to just 11 students at one point, although the District had been able to bring in a few additional students by busing them in from the District’s main elementary school. The District was also facing fiscal challenges and the School Board was searching for unnecessary expenses to cut. Then one of the two teachers at the school announced plans to retire. Yet rather than close Chinese Camp Elementary School, the Jamestown School District decided to transform it.
“It definitely looked bleak,” said Dr. Brenda Chapman, Jamestown School District Superintendent, who had worked most of her career in rural Tuolumne County where her 350-student district is located. She and others across the District felt a historical and social connection to the school, which over a century ago served Chinese immigrants. Today, the school serves a small but important group of mostly Latino students whose parents work on local farms and ranches.
To avoid closing the school, Dr. Chapman believed that the solution was “to find something that would make more parents want to send their kids to Chinese Camp [Elementary School] rather than have to send their kids there.”
An opportunity arose with California’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Launched in 2013, LCFF provides school districts with spending flexibility as well as more money for disadvantaged students known as supplemental and concentration grant funding. LCFF also requires each district to engage its community stakeholders in developing a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). The LCAP is meant to identify the unique set of student needs specific to each district and to enable each district to develop and fund programs designed to meet those needs. This is exactly what Dr. Chapman and the Jamestown community did.
While Chinese Camp Elementary School had its challenges, the District also realized that the school had several things going for it. The school is located in the Red Hills Habitat ecosystem and it has access to foresters, the Audubon Society, and the nearby Innovation Lab. The school also has a teacher with a master’s degree in science who was already using project-based learning methods in her instruction.
Building on these unique attributes, the District decided to convert Chinese Camp Elementary School into a full-fledged science academy. Launched at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the new academy is attracting more students and is designed to help second through fifth graders improve their science, technology, engineering, and math skills. Supplemental and concentration grant funding is used for professional development, science supplies, and field trips, including a recent school-wide visit to nearby Yosemite National Park.
Dr. Chapman admits that the LCAP process was initially very time consuming, especially given the District’s small staff. But their hard work and the input from the community lead to a much better outcome than closing the school. “I love it,” Dr. Chapman says, “because it focused us on specific goals and gave us resources that are helping all students.”