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3:28 AM Wed, Sept. 26th

Prescott charter school plans expansion

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br>David McNelly, lead teacher at La Tierra Community School, listens to, from left, Dakota McConnell, 10, Abby Lugo, 11, and Taban Wall, 10, read together Thursday morning in Prescott.

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br>David McNelly, lead teacher at La Tierra Community School, listens to, from left, Dakota McConnell, 10, Abby Lugo, 11, and Taban Wall, 10, read together Thursday morning in Prescott.

For the past year, La Tierra Community School has operated as a private second-through-fifth grade expeditionary learning school.

Starting with the 2011-12 school year, La Tierra will operate a K-3 charter school and a fourth and fifth grade private school.

La Tierra co-founder Anita Fernandez explained that the school originally applied to the State Charter Board for the 2010-11 school year but was unsuccessful. With the support and fundraising efforts of a core group of parents, La Tierra opened a small grade 2-5 private school.

La Tierra officials resubmitted their charter school application for the 2011-12 school year. This time they were successful for a K-3 charter school.

Until officials can amend the school's charter, the fourth and fifth grades will continue to operate as a private school.

"We were one of only nine charter schools approved across the state," Fernandez stated.

La Tierra focuses on the Southwest and a second language. Students receive an hour of Spanish instruction every day.

"Rarely at the elementary level do we find a school offering such advanced learning opportunities," parent Rowan Rain said. "Additionally, we couldn't be more thrilled with La Tierra's Spanish language program."

La Tierra has room for 42 K-3 charter students and 20 grade 4-5 private school students for the 2011-12 school year.

It is currently operating out of a portable building at 885 Sunset Ave. Fernandez said officials are looking for a permanent location.

David McNelly is the sole teacher this year. He teaches second through fifth graders in one room.

Next year, McNelly will teach second and third grades, and Mary Layman will teach kindergarten and first grade. The school is searching for a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher.

Fernandez said the school is also searching for a director and operations manager.

"We are looking for the ideal person who will take our concept and run with it, but at the same time have an understanding of charter school issues," she noted.

As a new charter school, La Tierra receives no startup money from the state. Officials have applied for a $87,000 federal grant through the Arizona Charter School Incentive Program. If approved, the school would receive the money for three years.

La Tierra will receive its first state money in August.

Fernandez indicated that when the school applied to the charter school board, La Tierra had to submit projected enrollment and a proposed budget for the next three years.

"As a charter school, we can't turn anyone away, including special needs students," Fernandez said.

La Tierra officials will conduct entrance interviews for the 2011-12 school year at 5 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the Prescott College Crossroads Center. This is an opportunity for potential students and their parents to learn about the school and if it is what they are looking for in a school.

Enrollment is on a "first-come-first-served basis" during open enrollment.

According to parent Rob Israel, "If you are a parent looking for a balance between academic integrity while retaining a love of learning in your child, in a setting that provides strong social connections and respect for the individual learning style of your child, consider La Tierra Community School."

Fernandez said the school would conduct a second enrollment, and if there are more students than openings, the school would conduct a lottery for the available openings.

La Tierra is an expeditionary learning school that is academically rigorous. Its curriculum is aligned to state standards.

Anyone interested in more information about La Tierra or looking for enrollment forms can visit www.latierracommunityschool.org.