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Tests scores are good -- 855 -- well above the crucial 800 baseline. The school's first class of eighth graders will be heading off to high school. And despite the state budget woes, this little charter school has managed to pay its teachers and please parents.
In fact, there's a pretty large waiting list of parents who want their children to join this modest school that has no athletic fields and mostly operates out of a church basement and its parking lot.
And that's where the challenge comes.
The school's request to allow student population to grow from about 180 to 259 has hit a speed bump in the form of the La Mesa Planning Commission. Though the fire officials and code enforcement says the building can handle that crowd, the fast growth of College Prep Middle has raised questions about when requests for such a significant change in use at a property triggers greater concerns for a neighborhood.
"I think we need some guidance from the City Council on this one,'' said Dexter Levy, the vice chairman of the Planning Commission. "This is such an overall change for that neighborhood that we sort of felt it was beyond our charge to decide on this one. We think council should hear from the school, the church, the neighbors and weigh this one.''
The council will get its shot when the commission's decision to proscribe the school's size is appealed at the June 26th council meeting.
For Christina Callaway and Mitchell Miller, this start-up school's co-directors, wending their way through the regulatory process has been more challenging that running the two-year-old school.
Callaway and Miller see themselves as public servants. They have started a school that is serving local families to great success, answering a dire need, and has played a role in helping spur economic activity in the area. When neighbors expressed concerns, they built a wall and made changes to limit the number of students outdoors at any one time.
"We have many parents who come through this neighborhood now from throughout La Mesa and East County,'' Callaway said. "They shop at Ralph's, stop at the mall, eat at Sun Tacos (next door). Before we were here, what was here most of the week? Tumble weeds.''
"And we're educating children,'' Miller says. "That's a great public service.''
The state education money that supports College Prep has allowed the Church of Christ, the school's landlord, to upgrade its entrance and manage the daily traffic flow. Earlier complaints of noise from adjacent neighborhoods were responded to with the construction of a barrier wall that now keeps most balls and a lot of the ambient noise away from nearby homes.
Still, the property has moved from a relatively limited, weekend church use, to a more intense daily school use. The church was originally permitted years ago to have a small, elementary school, but College Prep students are older and the school's size has gone well beyond the original scope.
Given the proliferation of alternative school models being pursued today, the balance between the public good a school represents and the impact they have on a neighborhood is likely to come before the Planning Commission again. In fact, just down Jackson from College Prep, in the old Barbecues Galore store, the third charter school in two years is setting up shop.
The City Council can listen to the arguments and decide to grant the school's request, ask for more information or agree with the Planning Commission's limit, but much hangs in the balance for the small school and a deadline looms.
There are about fifty families who hope the school can add fifth grade next school year and take their children, but without the higher limits, those families may have to seek other schools.
Callaway and Miller said they don't expect their school ever to grow much beyond 225students, but they may have to eventually seek another location if this limit is imposed.
That would leave the Church of Christ, whose members have invested heavily in the facility to attract this school, without a tenant and the rent.
The council can expect to hear from the church members at the June meeting as well.