Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Around 300 parents and community members showed up at Fair Oaks Community Center to hear about two potential charter schools in the district.
Citing lack of quality school options in the Redwood City Elementary School District, Rocketship Education and KIPP Bay Area Schools want to bring branches of their charter schools to Redwood City, while some teachers say there should be more concern on fixing schools already in place.
A crowd of about 300 packed the Fair Oaks Community Center Tuesday night to hear Rocketship Education and KIPP Bay Area Schools, in partnership with Innovate Public Schools Parents of Redwood City, discuss charter petitions for two new schools they’ll submit to the district in the coming weeks. KIPP’s will come in April and its organizers hope to open charters by the 2015-16 school year.
The charters cite a recent “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley” report by Innovate Public Schools, that two of the lowest scoring elementary schools for English language learners and Latino students across San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are in the district. The Academic Performance Index, often pointed to as a critical benchmark for California schools, was 663 for Garfield Elementary School and 662 for John Gill Elementary School out of the 1,000 point index, according to the study that used 2012 data.
“Our children are failing,” said parent Dennis Aguilar. “Why our children? Why Latinos? Why in Silicon Valley? … The vast majority of our children are going to struggle in high school and that’s heartbreaking for us. We want more options, better options and we cannot wait.”
KIPP student Iliana Flores recounted how attending the charter has benefited her greatly, especially since the school has a family spirit. Others like student Bella Aguilar blamed district teachers who said her sister was too far behind in school to catch up. Parent Rita Munoz relayed her confusion when she found her out son was below grade level after being told he was doing great for two years.
“The levels of the schools here are very basic,” she said.
Conversely, Orlando Cardona, head of Redwood City’s Familia Cristiana Verbo, said there’s no need to seek fault, but people should seek solutions. Parents need to stop calling their children dumb and have faith in their kids to succeed, he added.
Maria Diaz-Slocum, president of the Redwood City Elementary School District Board of Trustees, and board Vice President Dennis McBride sat on a panel at the meeting and urged parents to come to the board with concerns about the schools.
“I grew up in this neighborhood and I want to remind parents to come and tell us these stories,” Diaz-Slocum said. “They need to feel comfortable telling us they want these changes.”
At the same time, McBride said the board wants what’s best for students and said it’s very disturbing to him if the district has let parents down.
“I have to be honest, hearing these stories is one of the saddest events for me in 11 years,” he said. “We take great pride in being open to charters. We do support schools of choice. Would we support a charter? We will follow the law and, as long as requirements are met, we don’t have a problem with it.”
The board has not been in the dark though, said Redwood City Teachers Association President Bret Baird. Teachers have been speaking out about the issue of building community and creating a proper environment for kids to have faith in the system for a while, he said. Adding charter schools means more money taken away from already money-strapped schools, he said. The charters also don’t have to follow the same rules as other schools, including being able to select who attends the school, he said.
“We greatly value the educational triangle of parent/student/teacher working together and it should come from the bottom up,” he said. “We’ve preached this for years to no avail to the school board and now it’s coming home to roost.”
Baird is frustrated the district has not done certain things from preventing this situation from happening, including using a ropes course to establish community that will lead to educational success. Another thing he has pushed for two decades is institutionalizing having teachers set aside one hour before school starts to call each parent with a positive message, saying they look forward to working with the parent and child to have a successful school year.
“Sometimes parents have never had a positive call from the district,” he said. “These are little things that don’t cost money. … There wouldn’t be demand for charter schools if they saw value and felt at home and welcome. They’d have the respect for the learning environment and process.”
What KIPP is proposing is a K-8 school with 100 students per grade, although the campus would initially open with just a few grade levels and then add more over time, said Sierra Jenkins, director of development and communications at Innovate Public Schools. Rocketship wants to start a K-5 school with about 80 to 100 students in each grade, but would likely begin with grades K-4. For KIPP, a high school could also be in the works down the line.
“We’re looking forward to collaborating with the district,” said Rocketship CEO Preston Smith. “And create a collaboration where every student succeeds in the district.”
Meanwhile, KIPP’s Chief Growth Officer April Chou said her organization wants to provide another high quality education option and work on developing the whole child.
San Mateo County Office of Education Superintendent Anne Campbell; San Mateo Board of Education Trustees Joe Ross and Rod Hsiao; and Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre also participated in the expert panel.
For more information on the report, visit innovateschools.org/files/IPS_Report-2013_v10-ONSCREEN.pdf.
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