When Governor Newsom shuttered California schools in mid-March, he told reporters that it was “unlikely that they would re-open” for the rest of the academic year. Six million public school students and their families will now remain home for an unprecedented length of time with school districts responding with their own versions of online learning.

At River Islands Technology Academy in Lathrop, a K-8 charter school built in 2013, online instruction is live. Teachers spent their Spring Break writing up new lesson plans to allow them to interact with students in a live classroom experience, answering questions as they teach and allowing the students to interact with each other as well.

“The goal of this program is to keep the students engaged and reduce their sense of isolation during the remaining months of the school year,” said Brenda Scholl, Principal of River Islands Technology Academy. Because the school was built as a technology-based and interconnected campus, all students receive a digital device at the beginning of the school year, and homes in the area are already online. “Being a step ahead in the technology area was a huge plus,” she said. “We were able to regroup and open up for instruction a week after we were notified about the shutdowns.”

Students arrive for class from their home kitchens or spare bedrooms punctually at 9. The teachers present new material, interact with their students and answer questions for an hour before taking a break for half an hour. Then the students return to the classroom and continue on for another uninterrupted hour of study before the live part of their day is complete. The virtual classroom presentations are all videotaped for students who miss a lesson, and review assignments are assigned online for individual use. The program has been well-received, and attendance averages 95%.

Susan Dell’Osso, president of the school board, was online the first morning, experiencing the interaction in several of the classrooms. “I kept smiling as I watched the kids, fully engaged, asking questions and enjoying the camaraderie of the classroom experience. These kids are going to have a good school year, and a great academic experience.”

Something wonderful is in the works for the parents and students of our schools at River Islands: in an extraordinary act of cooperation and visionary planning for the good of ALL the students, the Banta Elementary School District (BESD) board of directors have voted unanimously to approve a new charter organization, “River Islands Academies”.

What this means is that BESD, one of the oldest school districts in California, will authorize public charter schools for the growing student population within its district boundaries at River Islands, while turning over the daily operations of the charter schools to an Executive Director. Brenda Scholl, currently the principal of the River Islands Technology Academy, will become the Executive Director of this program. The two charter schools already in operation at River Islands, its Technology Academy and the Next Generation STEAM Academy will merge, to become one high-performing academic program on two campuses. In addition, a third K-8 school currently being designed for River Islands and currently planned for completion in the 2022 academic year, will open as a charter within this group. And a high school at River Islands, whose timing is currently pending the future unification of Banta Elementary School District into Banta School District, would be operated as one of the River Islands Academies.

We are so fortunate for the support and drive of Dan Moore, BESD Superintendent, who has been at the table for every discussion about the proposed plan. What he wants is the best educational opportunities for our students. In his own words, Dan said recently, “Banta has a long history and tradition of representing its students well in a changing world. The opportunities of creating and executing a vision for all of the schools in a master planned community is a rare one, and Banta is firmly in favor of providing the best—and most comprehensive—programs for each school in the charter system.”

Just think about it: both River Islands Technology Academy and the Next Generation STEAM Academy have been providing the residents of River Islands with learning environments geared toward sending the students on to college. Now, with Banta’s unprecedented support of charter schools throughout River Islands, we can build new campuses with confidence, knowing that our authorizing district is 100% behind our plans. This is a unique example of cooperation between an established school district and new development within its boundaries—perhaps the only one in California.

As you might recall, River Islands Technology Academy has been under the authorizing authority of San Joaquin County. The move back to Banta is also a move back to local representation on the school board, and a much stronger voice for the parents. This clearly proves that when everyone puts the needs of the students first, great things can happen.

All the best,

Susan Dell’Osso

President, River Islands Development