Posted by Steve Skibbie
Fulton Street north of Stanislaus might seem a little more lively, youthful and energetic. That’s because of the presence of the 200 students at Kepler Neighborhood School, a public charter school that’s brand new to Downtown Fresno. Kepler features kindergarten through 8th grade classes and is located in the Cornerstone Conference Center complex, just north of Warnors Theater.
Kepler is also blessed with the real-life classroom of our Downtown’s unique historical buildings, murals, artwork and more. You’ll see the students out and about, absorbing this environment, playing games in the greenspaces nearby. The student body is made up of kids from downtown neighborhoods and all around Fresno/Clovis. Principal Christine Montanez leads the Kepler staff team, a great mix of experienced and motivated teachers, several of whom, live in Downtown Fresno, bringing their “local wisdom” to the table each day. This plays well with Kepler’s tagline. “Serving To Learn, Learning To Serve”, as students learn by working on service projects around their community. Win for the kids and their community.
Going back to the subject of local wisdom, you should know that Kepler is the creation of Fresno educators Shiela Skibbie and Valerie Blackburn. Did ya catch Shiela’s last name? Full disclosure: I’m her husband. And since this is a more or less an informal blog post, I’ll share with you that those two ladies spent nearly three years at my dining room table, researching, writing, planning, organizing, laughing and yes, even crying in the process of forming Kepler’s charter. Shiela and Valerie consulted with many other very helpful minds in the process, including the California Charter School Association and Downtown’s ACEL Charter High School, over on Tulare and Broadway.
Most of us public school-educated kids should learn that a “charter” is the school’s detailed plan of how the school will operate, from curriculum to uniforms, lunches, insurance…everything. It is the school’s customized Constitution and accountability document that maintains where the school is headed and how it gets there. Last October, Kepler’s charter was unanimously approved in a vote by Fresno Unified School District’s Board. They were awarded a sizable startup grant this year and worked through the facilities and classroom upgrades this summer.
As I write this, Kepler is finishing up their first week of school. I have it from two very reliable sources (my 5 year old and 9 year old) that school was “fun”, “yummy” and “friendly”. Both kids are excited about their classes, which is very comforting since their mom is the Vice Principal.
You can probably read the excitement in my words about this school. Kepler’s success in enrollment, operation and even it’s location, proves confidence in Downtown Fresno is high.