New charter school proposed for Bend

Plan calls for K-8 Spanish language immersion program

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

A new charter school is in the works for Bend, and, if approved, it would offer K-8 students a Spanish-language immersion program and exchange opportunities with a school in Mexico.

The Bend International School is being proposed to Bend-La Pine Schools by Meera Rupp, a licensed teacher and school administrator.

Rupp last taught full time in the Culver School District in 2001, taking time off since then to raise her three children while also teaching part time as a substitute in Bend and teaching Spanish at Central Oregon Community College.

Before focusing on family, Rupp’s education career stretched across the globe, with stops in the Dominican Republic, Spain and California. She said she was moved to propose a new charter for the district as a way to offer parents a specialized option, especially as the district’s only Spanish language immersion program at Bear Creek Elementary has a waitlist.

The district currently has one charter, the Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School, which offers students a curriculum focused on environmental stewardship.

In Oregon, charters are publicly funded through a host school district but privately run, often focused on a theme or specific approach to instruction.

“There’s a huge need for alternative education and choice, and there’s a huge line for the magnet schools and Bear Creek, which shows there’s interest in more options,” Rupp said this week. “Another reason I think this will be good for Bend is that our minority student population is only about 15 percent. In today’s global economy, students will need intercultural skills, which could be difficult to develop in this community.”

Not only would the proposed school’s instruction emphasize what’s happening beyond the United States, but students would collaborate with peers at the charter’s partner school in Mexico, Rupp said. She developed a relationship with the sister school in Autlan, near Guadalajara, through family ties in the area.

“Every student and teacher will be paired with a student and teacher in Autlan, and they will be sharing projects and ideas,” Rupp said.

Middle school students would even travel to Mexico to work on community-minded projects, Rupp said, while students from Mexico would visit the school in Bend.

In addition to the international focus, Rupp said she plans to blend disciplines and center instruction around the completion of projects, a growing trend in education recently adopted by the Culver School District and schools in the Jefferson County School District.

Rupp doesn’t yet have a location in mind, but she said she’s looking at the east side of town to better attract a diverse student population. So far, about 70 students and their families have signed an intent to enroll form, and Rupp hopes to enroll 195 students, with an opening date of fall 2015.

“My daughter is on the Bear Creek waitlist, and it’s not looking good,” said Sharon Richards, a parent of two involved in planning the Bend International School. “I love the idea of having a sister school in Mexico, and it just seems to have a different twist on learning. With my son, who’s 9, I tried to get him into one of the magnet schools back when he was in kindergarten, but that never happened. It’s highly competitive in Bend, and your child’s education is at the whim of the lottery.”

Richards said she isn’t worried about exposing her kids to the turbulence of a new school.

“I feel my children, like lots of Bend kids, have had life pretty easy,” she said. “If they have to be in one school building one year and move to another the next, I think they can roll with the changes. It will also be exciting to be a part of the newness, and as a parent to have a say in the school.”

Ultimate approval of the school rests with the Bend-La Pine School Board. Before it reaches the board, however, the school’s application will be reviewed by the district, which Rupp said will be like “an editing process.”

Bend-La Pine Superintendent Ron Wilkinson noted the district goes through “an extensive review process” before passing a proposal onto the board.

“I’m not sure charters have been the best solution for us, but they have been a strategy to get to where we need to be in terms of choice,” Wilkinson said. “We are a strong supporter of choice, and we’re always looking at ways to increase choice within the system. With charters, we look to see whether they can met an otherwise unfilled need,” adding that he was not familiar with the specifics of Rupp’s proposal.

Wilkinson noted the district’s experience with charter schools has been “mixed,” singling out REALMS as a success and noting the district pulled out of an International Baccalaureate charter based in Redmond when enrollment failed to take off.

Nationally, charter schools have stirred debate, especially in urban areas, about their effects on the noncharter student population, with proponents saying charters often outperform traditional schools, and detractors saying charters only pull the best students out of the system along with funding.

Oregon charters haven’t been without controversy. A chain of charters, which operated three schools in Sisters, was accused of mishandling $17 million by the Oregon Department of Justice between 2007 and 2010. In November, the DOJ settled with the company’s two owners for $475,000 each.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com