CHINO - The key to Oxford Preparatory Academy's chart-topping state test scores is working smarter and harder, officials at the charter school say.

Oxford Prep received a 972 Academic Performance Index score in 2012. It was the second straight year that the charter school at 5862 C St. topped API charts in San Bernardino County and the Chino Valley Unified School District, which is the authority of the charter.

The K-8 school also has a branch by the same name in Mission Viejo in Orange County.

And that's where they ran into some bumps in the road: the Mission Viejo charter garnered a 993 (out of a maximum of 1,000) API score that led to accusations of test score-rigging and an investigation by its authority, Capistrano Unified School District.

The district's investigation ended up finding no evidence of cheating and ended earlier this month.

"If you're consistent, and it's not a one-year deal, what did they think was going to happen?" said Sue Roche, founder of Oxford Prep. "I'd go down there and have a 500 school?"

Roche was previously the principal of Chino Valley Unified's Edwin Rhodes Elementary School in Chino, which has consistently been a high performer on the API.

"We have a game plan for success," she said.

"All of the schools we've opened are still high-performing. ... We've created a certain culture."

Roche and co-founder Jason Watts are public school veterans, but started Oxford Prep out of a frustration with continuing cuts to public schools.


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"We were tired of battling the district to do the things we needed to do and that we knew were right," Watts said.

Today, there are 1,106 students attending Oxford's Chino campus. The charter is on the site of the former El Rancho Elementary School, which Chino Valley Unified officials shuttered in 2009 as a cost-cutting measure.

"We were offering even more programs than the district was before the cuts," Watts said.

Oxford Prep offers French, German, Italian and Mandarin classes, along with martial arts, music and other programs that most public school districts have trouble affording in the state's current budget climate.

"With us, money just goes directly to us and can be spent directly in the classroom," Watts said.

Instead of having logistics and support costs handled by the district office, Oxford Prep personnel tend to wear multiple hats to keep down costs, he said.

"There's no question about it: We're working extremely hard," Watts said.

Roche, whose son, Brian, played three seasons in the National Football League from 1996 to 1998, regularly uses football analogies when discussing Oxford Prep, including assigning teachers to grade levels based on their passion for the curriculum at that level.

"When you put players in the right position ... you're always going to teach to your right strength," she said.

And the school's high scores are an inevitable result of that, Roche said.

"A score's only showing you (that) what you've said you'd do, you've done," she said.

Roche said she found the allegations and subsequent investigations to be "disruptive" to classes.

"We're in the business of teaching school here," she said, calling the allegations and investigations a "nonsense time-waster that has no validity."

In the meantime, Capistrano's separate investigation continues, even as Watts and Roche look toward future expansion and campuses in Pomona, Rowland Heights and Carlsbad.

"I've been in education for 36 years and have a track record," she said.

"This has never come up before. Never."


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