Former Santa Maria principal plans to create new charter school

Posted at 12:43 PM, Jul 31, 2018

A former Santa Maria principal is putting in an application to the state to create a new public charter school in Santa Barbara County. 

Carmen Rivera has been working in education since 1993 as a bilingual teacher in public and charter schools as well as in administration. 

Rivera previously worked at Tommie Kunst Jr. High School in Santa Maria as the principal from August 2017 to March 2018. The Santa Maria-Bonita School District confirms that Rivera resigned from her principal position after less than a year and finished out the school year as a teacher on special assignment with the school district.

Rivera told KSBY by phone on Tuesday that she wants to create a school different from traditional schools by focusing on students of color.

"What we’re looking to do is to close the opportunity gaps that students of color don’t always get," Rivera said. 

The proposed public charter school is reportedly in its infant planning stages but will be named "Affinity Charter" for 5th through 8th grade students. She says her preference is for it to be located in Santa Maria. 

"I want to create something where specifically children of color can compete globally upon graduating after personalized learning," Rivera said.

Rivera says the name stands for "a relationship that’s symbolic, autocratic where people come together with empathy and report."

Rivera says she has started the charter petition, as well as choosing members of her charter school board. 

In order to be approved as a California Charter School, Rivera’s petition needs to be submitted to the State Board of Education, be authorized by a local school district board, and the board of a county office of education. 

The state requires a mission statement, academic plans and how the applicant will address student achievement. Within the approval process, the local school district also requires information of how funding for the charter is proven to be secure and sustainable for a long-term period. 

"When students leave Affinity Charter, there are three things I want them to be able to do," Rivera said. "I want them to be global learners, collaborators, problem solvers."

Rivera provided KSBY with the following Affinity Charter mission statement:
"A school that creates a holistic, positive culture of learning where students of all abilities learn and meet rigorous academic standard base tasks through:
1.    Shared learning experiences
2.    Personalized learning plans
3.    Access to innovative educational technologies

Rivera said she wants to focus on updating education techniques and processes. 

"Education started as a white man’s way of education where rich white males learned how to read and write so they could run businesses," Rivera said. "We need to stop thinking about how we used to teach and really start thinking about how people learn, focusing on children of color. The intention is to provide a space where we look at education for the 21st and 22nd century."

In order to be a public charter school, tuition must be free. Rivera said the proposed school applicants would be based on approval through a lottery system. 

"The school itself will be small. We would start with 100 kids and three-to-five teachers," Rivera said.  

In order to fund the proposed school, Rivera said she hopes to secure grants and is looking for private donors. If the school is approved by a local school district, Affinity Charter would also receive Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding through the state.

Rivera said she has always taught immigrant students in her 25 years in education. She says she previously worked as a bilingual middle school/high school teacher in Palm Springs. 

Rivera then worked as a literacy coach assigned to south central Los Angeles and in Sausalito at Marin City School District as a teacher. 

Rivera said she also worked in a charter school in Richmond as a teacher. Following Richmond, Rivera was a vice principal in Vallejo. Most recently, Rivera held the title of principal at Tommie Kunst Jr. High before resigning earlier this year.

Rivera said she knows this new venture will take a lot of work. She hopes to open the school to students by August 2019.