A 3D rendering of what Samoa Beach Academy’s campus will look like. | Screenshot




It’s been more than a year since a group of five entrepreneurs, tradespeople and educators submitted their plans for a career and technical education-focused charter high school, called Samoa Beach Academy, to the Northern Humboldt Union High School District.

Hoping for a green light to open their new school on the peninsula, SBA’s leaders proposed a curriculum that would produce workforce-ready high school graduates versed in one of three CTE pathways: building and construction, health science and medical technology, or business and finance. A local educational opportunity like theirs, SBA’s team argued, is not only wanted in the community, but needed. 

They hoped to open up shop within the year. Had things gone SBA’s way, dozens of freshmen and sophomores might have been tinkering away out on the peninsula at this very moment.

Alas, NoHum didn’t approve the charter — not because robust CTE isn’t wanted or needed in Humboldt, but because the district found SBA’s proposal to be academically unsound and fiscally unsustainable. 

And so Samoa Beach Academy submitted an appeal to the Humboldt County Office of Education, hoping to get approval there. It’s clear the SBA team isn’t pleased with how their proposal was handled by NoHum; in her appeal documents to HCOE, former lead petitioner Catherine Scott wrote that the district “afforded no due respect to the expertise and capacity of SBA’s founding team.” Scott said that NoHum’s evaluation of SBA was cynical and based on assumptions rather than facts. The staff’s findings — which included concerns about SBA’s ability to recruit qualified CTE teachers, doubts regarding the charter’s capacity to adequately support students with disabilities, and apprehensions about SBA’s budget in general — were each ungrounded and impermissible reasons to deny a charter school proposal in California, Scott wrote, adding complaints about the the school board’s lack of discussion before the vote. (Scott is no longer involved with the school but still believes in its potential, she told the Outpost in an email.) 

On Dec. 14, the Humboldt County Board of Education hosted a listening session for SBA, which now hopes to open in 2023 and eventually serve 300 students. The listening session, which included a presentation from SBA’s team, is in part meant to gauge public interest in the idea.  

During SBA’s 15-minute pitch, Patti Campbell, SBA board president, introduced campus plans for the school, a 17-acre site outfitted with a two-story building, courtyard, gym, and a football and soccer field. The school, which will be built and owned by Danco, is fully funded and ready to build once permitting goes through, Dan Johnson, owner of Danco, said during public comment. “There’s no financial gain here for any of us,” Johnson said. 

Samoa Beach Academy site plan | Screenshot

David Lonn (who has replaced Scott as lead petitioner), addressed SBA’s preparedness to serve students with disabilities and expressed confidence in SBA’s teacher retention, which were both sources of concern raised by NoHum in its evaluation. The school is prepared to serve students with mild to moderate to severe needs, Lonn said, and the school will budget for them at a similar rate as other local charter schools, starting at $7,300 per special education student in year one. In regard to teacher retention, folks will want to work at SBA for its unique program and positive work environment, Lonn said. In its evaluation, NoHum anticipated that SBA would fail to find teachers because of its non competitive compensation, and qualified CTE teachers with trades experience would probably take a significant pay cut to teach at the school.

Public comment was filled by nearly 20 tradespeople and parents who support SBA. Students who aren’t necessarily interested in traditional education would benefit from a CTE-focused program, some said. Others feel Humboldt is in need of more tradespeople, especially considering large-scale upcoming projects around the county. “We can’t build it fast enough,” said one construction worker who called in. 

Bill White, owner of Northcoast Lighting & Electric, said that the trades are an often overlooked but profitable path. “We need help in the construction industry, and I fully support this program.” 

SBA’s approval timeline still has a ways to go. HCOE staff will look at the proposal and develop recommendations for the board, which plans to vote on whether to approve the charter in February. The law encourages approval of charter schools, but HCOE could deny SBA if staff determines the school fails to meet certain criteria, presents an unsound educational program, is demonstrably unlikely to succeed or is unlikely to benefit the community. 

If SBA is denied again, the charter can take a second appeal to the State Board of Education.