California led the country in opening new charter schools this fiscal year, adding 104 campuses and 48,000 students, according to a report released Wednesday.
Data compiled by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools showed that California also led the nation in charter school closures with 39, leaving California with 1,130 charter schools serving 519,000 students.
The state figures represent a 6.1 percent increase in schools since 2012-13 and a 10.3 percent rise in charter student enrollment. Nationwide, the number of charters rose 7.3 percent. There were 436 new schools and 288,000 students added, for a total of 6,440 schools educating more than 2.5 million students.
"Parents are increasingly voting with their feet," said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance, in a prepared statement. "This is the largest increase in the number of students attending charter schools we've seen since tracking enrollment growth."
In the Bay Area, Santa Clara County has 60 charter schools, Alameda County has 55, San Mateo County has 14 and Contra Costa County has 11. Although no new charters opened in Contra Costa County this year, several have received approval to open next year, and Clayton Valley Charter High in Concord plans to expand.
Pat Middendorf, director of operations at Clayton Valley, said everything about it has improved since it converted from a Mt. Diablo school district-operated campus in 2012-13The school has hired outside security, maintenance and landscaping staff, and has been able to use parent volunteers to help spruce up the place, she said.
Perhaps best of all, students said new teachers at the school seem to have more energy and enthusiasm. And discipline has improved, which is a good thing, they said.
"People used to just leave campus," said Gaby Bacigalupo, 16, a junior. "Now, it's a lot more controlled."
Teacher Amber Lineweaver, who has worked on the campus for 20 years, said the school has implemented a freshman transition program to help students adjust to high school and administers pretests to ensure they're placed in appropriate math classes.
Before the charter conversion, she said, it seemed like students had taken over the school, roaming the hallways and throwing trash on the ground.
"The new administration questions you if you're out of class," Lineweaver said. "I really feel like we took back our school."
The California Charter Schools Association has called for the closure of some charters that it believes haven't lived up to their promise. The group is urging the Antioch school board to reject a renewal application for the RAAMP Charter School in Antioch and had hoped the East Side Union High district in San Jose would reverse its approval for the expansion of Latino College Preparatory Academy to two new sites.
"The goal of the charter school movement is not simply to increase the number of schools and students enrolled," Rees said in a news release, "but rather the number of high-quality public school options for families who need them most."
Contact Theresa Harrington at 925-945-4764. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.
Charter school growth in California
New charters, fall 2013: 104
Closed charters, spring 2013: 39
Net gain in charters, 2013-14: 65
Total charter schools, 2013-14: 1,130
Total charter students, 2013-14: 519,000
Charter school growth from previous year: 6.1 percent
Charter student growth from previous year: 10.3 percent
SOURCE: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
To see the complete report and see video clips of Clayton Valley Charter High School students, staff and a parent, visit www.contracostatimes.com.
Additional public charter school data is available by visiting http://dashboard.publiccharters.org/dashboard/home.