New charter middle school nears lease agreement with Grace Brethren Church in Bixby Knolls

Sean Belk/Signal Tribune<br><strong>  Intellectual Virtues Academy (IVA) Long Beach, a new charter middle school, plans to move into property owned by Grace Brethren Church of Long Beach at 3601 Linden Ave. in Bixby Knolls. The existing private Grace Christian Elementary and Preschool would share the same property as IVA, although the two schools would operate completely independently of each other.</strong>
Sean Belk
Staff Writer

A new charter middle school to be called Intellectual Virtues Academy (IVA) Long Beach is close to finalizing a lease agreement with Grace Brethren Church of Long Beach to operate on the church campus at 3601 Linden Ave., across the street from the Petroleum Club-Long Beach in Bixby Knolls, according to IVA officials.
The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education approved the new public charter school in October of last year, and the school has plans to open by Sept. 6, starting with about 50 students split between two 6th-grade classes.
According to IVA officials, the existing private Grace Christian Schools would share the same property as IVA, although the two schools would operate completely independent of each other.
Loyola Marymount University (LMU) philosopher Jason Baehr and Biola University professor Steve Porter developed the vision for the new magnet middle school, which considers itself a “grass-roots development of parents, educators and community leaders who are passionate about the flourishing of students in Long Beach.”
With a goal to eventually have 6th through 8th grades, the charter school is being funded through a $1-million grant project at LMU and is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.
The school will be governed by a 10-member board of directors, many of whom have backgrounds in marketing, commercial real estate, business management, educational theory, school administration, human resources, university administration and social services. The board will also oversee school staff.
IVA plans to focus on promoting and fostering nine “master virtues,” which include “curiosity, intellectual humility, intellectual autonomy, attentiveness, intellectual carefulness, intellectual thoroughness, open-mindedness, intellectual courage and intellectual perseverance.”
These virtues fall into three categories, corresponding to three stages or dimensions of learning: “getting the learning process started and headed in the right direction; making the learning process go well; and overcoming challenges to productive learning,” according to the IVA website.
IVA officials had viewed more than a dozen potential sites in the Los Altos and Bixby Knolls neighborhoods of Long Beach since last year. In January, the IVA board narrowed the options down to three properties that had the greatest potential of meeting the needs of the school, while staying within budget, according to a statement from IVA.
“We faced a great challenge,” IVA Board member Bob Covolo said in the statement. “We had to find a space that would not only accommodate our growth over the next three years, but satisfy our need for a space that facilitated learning well.”
The committee also worked with LBUSD to find space on existing public-school campuses, but no fitting options were found. “Because the site we pursued offered so many benefits to our prospective students and families, and the landlord was very accommodating, we were extremely fortunate to be offered this flexible option,” said IVA Board member Eric Churchill.
IVA officials state that the location provides “spacious classrooms, a large blacktop with basketball hoops for outdoor play, a fully functioning kitchen, lunch benches, a large multi-purpose room, and additional rooms for activities and assemblies.”
Some parents of children in the Christian school, however, have expressed concerns that their students may intermingle with students from the public charter school.
Still, in an interview with the Signal Tribune, Rebecca Irwin, spokesperson for IVA, assured that the two schools would run on completely separate campuses with different schedules to avoid any conflicts.
Jacquie Bryant, IVA’s newly hired principal, said she plans to meet with the principal and other officials from the Christian school to work out separate bell schedules and lunch breaks. Although the landlord and IVA have unofficially agreed upon a lease, a formal rental contract is still waiting for City review, she said.
“It has been finalized in the minds of the school and the operation on campus next year, and it has been finalized in the eyes of the landlords, but without the certain review of the City, we cannot sign the lease agreement yet,” Bryant said.
She said there are still “a lot of processes” that have yet to take place. Bryant added that IVA would function much like Constellation Charter School, which operated on the same campus as St. Anthony High School for 10 years before closing last year.
Grace Christian Schools Principal Pearlie Davis would not comment about the separate schedules or about the new charter school’s move, adding that she has yet to speak with Bryant about any plans.
“I have not spoken with Jacquie Bryant concerning that program at all, so I cannot say that’s what’s going on,” she said. “I think they’re getting ahead of themselves perhaps, because we haven’t met and discussed anything.”
Ralph Hampton, church administrator for Grace Brethren Church of Long Beach, could not be reached for comment before the Signal Tribune’s deadline.
Chris Eftychiou, spokesperson for LBUSD, said via email that the school board approved the charter school on Oct. 9, 2012 for opening in fall 2013. He said California education code has specific requirements for developing a charter petition, including a mandatory timeline for approval.
“Our district carefully reviews each petition submitted and certifies that all requirements have been met,” Eftychiou said.  “Our board makes the decision based on LBUSD staff’s review.”
He added that LBUSD is not directly involved with the school site’s location but requires a lease to be finalized, which has yet to officially occur. 
“The school district will be requiring a finalized lease agreement, but we don’t have one yet,” Eftychiou said. “The school district has oversight responsibility and will be monitoring the charter school to make sure it complies with state regulations.”
According to Bryant, teachers will be hired and begin professional development by June.
The initial deadline to enroll students was May 17. IVA is a tuition-free public school with open enrollment. Students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. If more students apply than spaces are available, students would be admitted by lottery, according to IVA’s website.

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