By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Letting kids stay home to do their schoolwork has become a wildly popular experimental program through the Del Norte County Unified School District.

District officials thought the new Castle Rock Charter School Program would only attract 70 students this school year.

Instead 455 have signed on and staff members running the program are overwhelmed. Last night at the school board meeting, Principal Patty Wills asked for help and got it.

We want to maintain quality control, said Wills as she requested two new employees to help run the program.

The board voted 4-to-1 to provide one more clerical assistant and supported, yet delayed, a decision to provide a new regional coordinator.

The Castle Rock School programs allow students of all ages to stay home to do schoolwork and still participate in several in-school activities and choice classes like algebra. Siskiyou and Humboldt students are also enrolled.

Though its popularity has boomed, and more money is coming into the district as a result, the small staff watching over the program is overwhelmed, according to Wills and others.

I think they need more room and they certainly need more help, said Faith Crist, district board president.

Despite the misgivings of some board members and some district teachers about the quality and need for the alternative program, enrollment continues to explode month-after-month.

In September, 188 students signed on and a steady flow of at least 50 each month since then have joined the new classless school.

Patty thought we might have 200 by the end of the year, and I was more conservative setting the number at 70. It just shows the charter school is needed in this community, said Rodney Jahn, the districts assistant superintendent.

According to Wills enrollment report on Castle Rock, 137 of its 455 students dropped the districts traditional school concept to join. But Wills said 300 students that werent going to traditional school before this year, have signed up.

A vast majority of the students that came from district programs would not have graduated without the Castle Rock option, she said.