One of the schools-within-a-school at Crawford High School, the School of Community Health and Medical Practices, is considering splitting from San Diego Unified as a charter school.

Such splits have been controversial in the past. One such attempt was averted under former Superintendent Alan Bersin when the district struck an unusual agreement with La Jolla High School guaranteeing some autonomy from district mandates on curriculum and other academic choices to prevent the high-achieving school from seceding.

CHAMPS math teacher Jonathan Winn said the movement began this spring when teachers started hearing district officials and staffers cast doubt on whether the small schools initiative, which split big high schools such as Crawford into several smaller schools on the same campus, was financially viable. Teachers were also frustrated when a principal was appointed for CHAMPS without their input, Winn said. Staff had chosen the first principal when CHAMPS was formed and expected that the practice would continue, he said.

“We could feel our autonomy slipping away,” Winn said.

CHAMPS has sizable challenges. Nearly half of its students are learning English and a majority are from low-income households that surround its City Heights campus. Though its test scores have risen since Crawford High was subdivided, CHAMPS has failed to meet rising federal standards under No Child Left Behind. Winn and others favorably compare their scores to the district averages, and attribute CHAMPS’ gains on state tests to its size and its unique programs, which include yoga, nursing internships, and lessons in anatomy and meditation.

“We’re so thrilled with how well this is working,” Winn said. “We feel like it’s the type of situation that movies are made of.”

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run by their own boards. They do not follow school district rules, including union contracts, centralized hiring, and district-wide mandates on curriculum. Such schools are formed when a group of parents, teachers or community members prepares a document outlining how their school will operate, called a charter, gather signatures from interested parents and teachers, and get approval from the school district that oversees them.

Approximately 90 percent of CHAMPS teachers voted in favor of becoming a charter school, Winn said. Teachers gathered parent signatures for the charter at the Crawford open house Thursday night. Yet Winn signaled that teachers would forego seeking a charter school if they were guaranteed to keep CHAMPS’ programs intact.

“This might not even happen,” he said. “It’s only if it’s the road we need to go down.”

EMILY ALPERT

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