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Walden Academy: Small class sizes ‘better'
It seemed like old times in Glenn County when Walden Academy students returned from summer break the day after Labor Day instead of mid-August.
About 25 new kindergartners joined the charter school's roster of students on Tuesday, and last year's sixth-graders make up the school's first seventh-grade class.
Walden Academy in Willows is Glenn County's first independent charter school and is open to all Glenn County students, officials said.
Before classes started Tuesday, the school's 150 students had a "sneak peek" on Thursday, so there were few jitters and even fewer tears the first day of school.
Casara Worthington and Billy Galbraith said their son, Jayden, 5, was so excited to start school, he waved good-bye and eagerly joined the other students in settling down for the day.
"I wanted to stay, but he told me 'It's time for you to go, Dad,'" Galbraith said.
Returning Riverhawks said they were excited to get school under way, and were looking forward to another successful year at Walden.
"I like the auction at the end of every month," said fourth-grader Aiden Imperatrice, 10. "You get to spend the tickets my teacher gives out for being good, following the rules and stuff like that."
Walden's new administrator Mele Benz said parents and teachers have rolled up their sleeves to make sure the students have everything they need for them to have a successful education.
"The classrooms are bright and shinny and all the students showed up in their finest first day of school gear," Benz said.
He said the school will host its open house later this month, as well as a town hall meeting to familiarize new parents and prospective parents with the school.
Walden school board members said they intend to see students do as well or better than last year.
On Friday, the state Department of Education released 2012 STAR data, indicating they school had a strong showing in its first year.
Board Chairwoman Kelly Lawler said last year's rush to open the school didn't keep the school from its focus on academics.
While API scores are not yet out, the preliminary data shows that Walden secured the top median scores for the grades it served last year, and had higher percentages of students scoring in the advanced and proficient levels than Murdock Elementary School in Willows.
One of the biggest differences came in fourth grade, where 85 percent of Walden students scored proficient or advanced in math and english language arts.
At Murdock, only 51 percent of fourth-graders were proficient or advances in math and only 37 percent were proficient or advanced in English language arts, according to the report.
"It is exciting to have such a strong showing our first year," Lawler said. "We now have more data for our teachers to use to continue to build a strong academic program."
Walden supporters believe that choice in a public education is important, and that the school has made curriculum and teacher quality a major focus.
There is no teacher tenure at Walden and evaluations of teachers and data play integral parts in student success, school officials said.
For Worthington, choosing Walden for her son was an easy decision.
"I like the small class sizes," she said. "It's more one on one, and I feel he will get a better education here."
Walden Academy is the first independent charter school in Glenn County.
Benz said the school is designed for a student population of 155 in grades kindergarten through seventh grade, with openings still available in some grade levels.
Walden Academy teaches state standards curriculum using natural resources as an integrating context, she said.