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VCS Beginnings

VCS Origins

The founding group began in the summer of 2001 with the original purpose of working with Vallejo City Unified School District (VCUSD) to get a public school in the new community of Hiddenbrooke. Over the next 3 1/2 years, the discussion and the group membership changed in many ways due to several factors including the State’s take-over of the district. In January 2005, the remaining 2 members of the group organized a door-to-door count of all the children in the now 5-year old community. This effort provided hard data that we gave the state administrator when we met with him to discuss the school. He was impressed with our efforts and with the demographic data provided, but he was very direct and stated that there were no plans to build a district school in Hiddenbrooke in the foreseeable future. The group then discussed pursuing a charter school and Dr. Damelio suggested we consider a model called Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound.


Over the next few months, the founding group expanded. We developed a mission and vision for the school, wrote a successful federal grant application, wrote an outstanding charter petition, collected signatures and presented the petition to the District in October 2005. The founding group now included the general counsel for a local northern California school district, a charter school administrator who holds a masters degree in educational leadership; a project-based learning specialist who works extensively as a Project-Based Learning (PBL) trainer and curriculum coach for the Buck Institute and the New Technology Foundation; and an educational consultant who has served as the reform coordinator for Bay area districts and who coordinated the design and implementation of school-wide Literacy assessments.


The petition was denied in January 2006, and at the same time Dr. Damelio announced that he would build a regular public K-5 elementary school in Hiddenbrooke. However, we did not give up on the charter because by then it had become a critical opportunity for our city. We continued out efforts – we brought in more community members to our cause and worked tirelessly to tell the whole city about our school. We circulated a petition supporting the school and attended countless community events to tell the entire community about Expeditionary Learning. Then, early in the spring of 2007, we re-approached the VCUSD to share the results of our petition to explore how we could get the charter school approved. Our efforts were rewarded on May 2, 2007 when the VCS Charter was approved by the VCUSD Board of Education. Vallejo Charter School opened on August 22, 2007 with over 200 students. Our future had begun!

We believe that all children can succeed, and we believe that Vallejo Charter School is a vital, positive piece of the complex efforts that will forever change education in this city.

Sara Hallermann is a mother of three and co-chair of the Founding Group. Sara works as a charter school Administrator. Ms. Hallermann holds an undergraduate degree in Elementary and Special Education from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. After working as an elementary school teacher, Director of Special Education, and Assistant Principal, Ms. Hallermann obtained a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. Her educational leadership experience includes service as an Instructional Coordinator, Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction, Elementary Principal and Regional Education Specialist. She has presented a session on designing a standards-based report card at the California Charter Schools Association Conference, and a session on Curriculum Mapping at the Charter Schools Development Center’s Leadership Summit.

Joseph Maionchi works as a Director of Software Development at Symantec Corporation in Mountain View, CA. His responsibilities include managing a global team of software developers, delivering a suite of Enterprise software solutions and driving the technology direction for the Linux Storage Foundation product line which encompasses a staff of approximately 100 employees and more than $40 million in annual revenues. His diverse background includes software development, IS&T administration, board leadership, large-scale event planning and community service. Mr. Maionchi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley. He is the proud father of three children and resident of Vallejo since 2002.

David Ross is a 10-year veteran classroom teacher who works as an educational consultant for the Buck Institute for Education and the New Technology Foundation. During his K-12 career, David taught sixth-grade language arts/social studies in an urban middle school near Los Angeles and U.S. history at New Technology HS in Napa. In the winter of 2005 he will launch his own staff development firm, Novel Approach Consulting Group, specializing in project-based learning. He is completing his PhD in education at UC Davis. David, a specialist in children’s literature, writes a nationally syndicated review of children’s literature. He and his wife Zarah are the tired but proud parents of two active boys.

Elizabeth Mathern is the lead Petitioner and has been involved with the founder’s group since the beginning in 2001, and currently serves as co-chair of the Founding Group. She has 24 units towards a California Multiple-Subject teaching credential. Ms. Mathern is employed as the Executive Assistant of a $13M non-profit organization that serves emotionally disturbed children from all over California. She has nearly 20 years of business administration experience, and knowledge of fundraising and grant writing. Ms. Mathern has a BA from UCLA and is the mother of a school-age son.

Barbara Schwenk, Ph.D is a Vallejo resident and has served as a consultant to the Hillsborough City School District in the areas of community relations and student literary assessments. Previously she served as the reform coordinator for Lomita Park in Millbrae and schools in San Bruno and Hillsborough. In this position, she assisted with the implementation of an Annenberg-Hewlett grant. She facilitated executive team meetings, provided professional development for 39 teacher leaders, coordinated Literacy assessments for the schools and participated in BASRC (Bay Area School Reform Collaborative) professional activities. Dr. Schwenk brings 25+ years of teaching and administrative experience at the K-8 level. In Missouri she served as the principal of a K-6 school with 1500 students and 160 teachers and support staff. Before assuming the position as principal she was an elementary school teacher and a reading specialist. Dr. Schwenk earned a Ph.D. in Educational Administration at the University of Missouri-Columbia, an Ed. Spec. in Educational Administration at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an M.Ed. and B.S. in Education from Drury College in Springfield, Missouri.