Two new charters could be entering the Redwood City Elementary School District by the 2015-16 school year, but some teachers and parents think the charters could do more harm than good while taking resources from other district schools.
Rocketship Education and KIPP Bay Area Schools say they want to bring branches of their charter schools to Redwood City to help students struggling in public schools in the area.
“To me, one of the things that’s really special about KIPP, not only a focus on academics, is the development of our whole child,” said Andrea Ballard, who is on KIPP’s board of directors, during a public hearing focused on hearing the community’s thoughts on the schools Wednesday night. “We are very much looking forward to collaborating with you (the school board) and building deep roots in Redwood City. We look forward to offering an additional high-quality option in Redwood City. … Our mission is to serve the low-income students and prepare them for a life of success that’s full of choices.”
Conversely, the Redwood City Teachers Association issued a statement in opposition to the two charters, noting the district has proven academically successful programs which enrich students but are currently unavailable to all students.
“The Redwood City Teachers Association believes that poor kids, English learners and children of color do not deserve a lower quality of education than rich kids,” the association wrote in a statement. “The … [a]ssociation believes that the Redwood City [Elementary] School District has the proven ability to provide the same enriched programs to all students which are now only provided to a few. The … [a]ssociation is opposing the granting of charters to Rocketship Education and KIPP. We urge the district to deny the charters.”
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.
Some are strongly against the charters and say that they might not actually have additional funding and are trying to take resources from the district by actively pursuing parents at the lower performing schools to leave their neighborhood schools.
Teachers spoke out against the new charters, including Kevin Sugar, an eighth-grade teacher at Hoover Elementary School.
“This brings a lot of questions to mind, like the unintended consequences of charters,” he said. “These schools are not unionized. Why can’t our own public schools put finances together and do things like have extended school days on their own? If it’s privatization of public schools, we need to take a second look at it. I can’t help but ask, why now?”
District staff member Maria Stockton asked what the intention is for staffing charter schools.
“Will you layoff our employees, or will they remain school district employees? The feedback I’ve gotten hasn’t been positive for Rocketship. There’s been declining performance (at Rocketship) and language proficiency has plunged. … Many schools in our district have achievements and awards,” she said.
Others came out in support of the charters, including a charter school student, Bella Aguilar, a freshman at Everest Public High School.
“I’m a supporter of both schools,” she said. “These schools are necessary. My dream is for all kids, no matter how far behind they are, they get that same education.”
Local leaders, including Teri Chin, manager of Fair Oaks Community Center, told the board to take a serious look at the charters.
“I understand it’s a challenging task,” Chin said. “I’m moved by the number of parents who still want more options; that really struck me. We need to listen and take that very seriously in our considerations.”
Former San Jose mayor Ron Gonzales, a KIPP board member, said it is very a data-driven group.
“At KIPP, we focus on the children that are most often forgotten,” he said. “We want to join the partnership. We all are here for the same purpose: to move toward high school and college graduation and the focus is on helping Latino children so they’re the future leaders of Silicon Valley.”
After the meeting, board members said they were happy to have such much public comment — almost three hours worth — at the meeting. Board Vice President Dennis McBride, said one mistake the board made was not having the two charters public hearings on separate nights.
“A lot of parents had left, so every parent that came would have been heard [if the meetings were on separate nights],” he said. “I think everybody comes believing their view is the only view and everybody is entitled to their view.”
The district continues to be one with schools of choice that accommodate pre-K through fifth-grade, middle schools and pre-K through eighth-grade and other grade configurations, said Trustee Alisa MacAvoy. It also has schools offering parent participation, Spanish and English bilingual education, project based learning and Connect Charter School.
“I very much appreciated hearing from the speakers and many stayed for the whole public hearing which went late into the evening,” she wrote in an email. “The board is reviewing the charter applications and at future board meetings will have discussion and take action to approve or deny the charter school petitions according to the rules and regulations set forward for charter schools in California.”
The district has up to 60 days to make a decision on the two charters. The next meetings to discuss and take action on the charter petitions will be in June.
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