James Dent, founder of Navigator Schools and principal, assists Mariana Ramos, 7, as she uses a reading basics phonics program on the computer during summer school in 2014 at Hollister Prep School.

The teacher held up an iPad and displayed a picture of a tropical beach to a cluster of five students.
“So, this is tropical,” said first grade language arts teacher Kailyn Strametz. “Look at those bright colors.”
The students stared, then looked down at their iPads and read a page from their ebook “Healthy Me” in unison: “Sometimes I like quiet time. When I do, I look at my tropical fish.”
These soon-to-be second grade students are pupils of Hollister Prep School, a public charter school that finished its first year in the city this June with students reading an average of 1.5 levels above their grade. The new school plans to add its first class of third graders next year, a decision that will increase the school’s population by 60 students and several staff members.
“I think just starting something new, there are so many unknowns and there are so many things that just come up, so we’re constantly changing and evolving and just improving,” said Principal Samantha Hanlon, as she reflected on the challenges of the first year.
Charter schools like Hollister Prep are public schools organized by a group of teachers, parents or community leaders. In this case, the school targets the Hollister School District’s lowest performers – English language learners and low-income students – and works to guide them to a future that includes college.
“Our dream is to help all kids succeed at college and typically those are two demographics – English language learners – and well and Hispanics also – and low income that are under-represented in college,” said James Dent, co-founder of Navigator Schools, which runs Hollister Prep and an already established sister school in Gilroy. “We don’t believe that that should be, so we’re trying to have several proof points that show that grade schools can exist and try to raise the expectations of everyone.”
As a charter school, Hollister Prep is already following non-traditional practices to get students performing in the classroom – including taking second graders to visit a college campus and videotaping all teachers and paraprofessionals once a week to help them improve their teaching.
The school also encourages grade school teachers to specialize in a single subject, which gives instructors such as first grade language arts teacher Strametz the luxury of focusing on fewer topics with more depth.
Next year, changes to the school’s program will include adding a science and music teacher that will be shared with the site’s sister campus, Gilroy Prep School, Hanlon said.
Given the state’s transition to new Common Core standards and new forms of standardized testing, the Academic Performance Index scores – which measure a school’s growth in academic achievement based on statewide assessment results – will be suspended for two years. But once the academic performance of schools is meticulously monitored again, if Hollister Prep follows the example of Gilroy Prep, it is likely to raise eyebrows. Gilroy Prep made headlines in 2012, when it brought home the highest projected API scores for an elementary school in the history of the Gilroy Unified School District after spending just two years in the town.
This year, Gilroy Prep drew visitors from five countries – including Thailand, Korea and Wales – who came to see the school’s unorthodox teaching methods, Dent said. Administrators from at least 20 California schools also stopped at the school, he said.
Dent’s goal is to eventually have six schools on the Central Coast in communities such as Salinas, Monterey and Watsonville.
“Our dream, really, is you could be standing in a school in Gilroy and Hollister and Salinas and not know where you are,” Dent said as he alluded to consistent school programs throughout the state.
While Dent looked to the future, the students in Strametz’s classroom practiced reading in small groups in their summer school program.
On the left side of the room, Strametz helped five children read an ebook and answer the questions on a mobile quiz.
In the center of the room, six students sat in front of computers and wore headphones so they could listen to automated instructions as they took on a computer phonics program.
To the right, five students read a passage about a giraffe with a teacher, before tackling a series of questions.
“I love kind of just the flexibility and the variety of the teaching methods we have,” said Strametz, as she reflected on her work with Hollister Prep. “They’re such great kids, so they got it.”

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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