Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

It's a school without the hustle and bustle, without the classrooms full of students.

But there are students - 447 of them, and that number continues to grow.

Baker Charter Schools is a public school and has two separate components: Baker Web Academy for grades kindergarten to 12, and Baker Early College for grades 10 to 12.

"People don't realize that we are a charter school," said Principal Ben Merrill.

It is a far-reaching charter school that serves students across Oregon.

"We have students in 65 school districts," he said.

Of the 447 students, 51 are in the Baker City area.

Baker Charter Schools has offices and a computer lab at North Baker School. This is the only facility for the schools because Baker School District 5J is its sponsoring district.

"This is where records are stored, where staff meetings occur," Merrill said.

There are two principals - Merrill covers Oregon from the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border, and another principal covers Western Oregon.

Merrill has returned to his roots - he attended grade school at North Baker, and graduated from Baker High School in 1997.

After earning his college degrees - associate's, bachelor's and master's - and working in administration for six years in Idaho, he was hired for this job last year and he moved his family to Baker City.

"It has always been my dream to come back to Baker City - live and work in the community that gave me the capacity to go off and become a contributing person to society," Merrill said. "I was able to do that because of the support of my parents, and the great teachers and staff that our community is fortunate to have. I owe a great deal to these schools and community. I am excited to continue to serve the school and community in whatever capacity I can."

Web Academy

Baker Web Academy provides an online curriculum that is personalized to each student's ability.

"It's based on their ability, not their age," Merrill said.

But every student must be willing to work hard.

"You have to be extremely self-motivated and be able to read at grade level," he said.

By next fall, every student will also have their own plan that outlines classes they need through grade 12.

"If you come here as a sixth-grader, you'll know what classes you'll need in high school," he said.

Students complete course work at home - pencil and paper for grades K to 6, and online for grades 7 to 12.

Starting next fall, the younger students will have an online option as well.

All students are given a laptop to use, and receive regular visits from teachers, both to their home and by Skype.

"We believe in the value of a teacher," Merrill said. "We're a hybrid program that leverages online learning. We're a public school that happens at home."

Baker Charter Schools has 16 teachers statewide.

Also, as a public school, the Web Academy follows the state standards, which include standardized tests, which are administered in a secure environment.

Students work at their own pace, and if they finish coursework early, they can take additional courses. This means they can also advance faster - if a fourth grader finishes the math curriculum, he or she could move on to fifth grade work.

This opportunity for advancement could also mean a student finishes high school earlier than in a traditional setting. In that case, they can take advantage of Baker Early College.

Baker Early College

High school students in grades 10 to 12 who choose to take advantage of Baker Early College take community college classes on a campus, earning credits for college and high school at the same time. (Though not a community college, Eastern Oregon University is also part of this program.)

"The day they get their associate's degree, they get their high school diploma," Merrill said.

Students who want to take college classes but aren't ready for an on-campus experience can take classes online through Baker Web College.

"Nothing really changes for this student, or parent, with the exception of the level of curriculum and where there transcript is coming from," Merrill said.

With this program, the charter school pays tuition and a book stipend.

For more information about Baker Charter Schools, call 541-524-2300 or visit the website www.bakercharters.