The San Mateo County Board of Education rejected Monday night a petition to start a new charter high school in the Sequoia Union High School District. The school would be modeled after Summit Preparatory, a Redwood City public school where 95 percent of the graduates have been admitted to four-year colleges.
The board voted 5-2 to reject the petition for Everest Charter High School, with trustees Ted Lempert and Rod Hsiao dissenting. Menlo Park resident and recently re-elected trustee Memo Morantes made the motion to deny the petition.
Everest's petitioners now plan to appeal to the California Board of Education in Sacramento.
The petitioners had appealed to the county board following a Sept. 17 denial by trustees of the Sequoia Union High School District, which includes Woodside and Menlo-Atherton high schools. In that 4-1 vote, Trustee Olivia Martinez dissented.
A standing-room-only crowd at the Monday board meeting overflowed into a loudspeaker-equipped second room at the county Office of Education. Speakers in support of the petition outnumbered opponents by about two to one.
County Superintendent of Schools Jean Holbrook had recommended denial of the petition. In a memo to the board attached to the staff report, she alleged shortcomings that include Everest's handling of special education, its potential to not reflect the diversity of the Sequoia district, and the opposition of "so many district staff and elected board of education members."
Everest backers noted that their model, the six-year-old Summit Prep, is ethnically diverse, has small classes, and offers economy -- spending about $2,000 less a year per student than the Sequoia district.
About a fourth of Summit Prep's current enrollment lives in The Almanac's circulation area.
As for children with special needs, Summit officials say that designation fits about 8 percent of its students, compared with about 12 percent for the district as a whole. Summit Prep -- and, by implication, Everest -- cannot accommodate children with diagnoses such as severe mental retardation, Executive Director Todd Dickson told The Almanac.
Clashing points of view
In lieu of having Everest students -- there is no school yet -- Summit students spoke of their passion for their school, as Everest opponents defended comprehensive schools.
"I think Summit is an incredibly diverse school with incredible options," a Summit student named Nathan said. "If you take one thing that's amazing and multiply it by two, you have two amazing things."
"We (already) have choice in the district," a parent opposed to Everest said. "Our comprehensive high schools are currently working very well. We've (gotten) them to a point where they're really wonderful. ... I think you have to go with the good of the 8,000" students who won't attend charter schools."
Emma Kerr, a seventh-grader at White Cloud middle school in Redwood City, called the board out on its mission "to ensure and improve the quality of learning for all students in San Mateo County." By denying a charter, "you would be going against your own mission statement," she said.
Woodside High Principal David Reilly said if facilities for Everest would be located on the campus of a comprehensive high school, such as Sequoia High, which has the room, it would "precipitate significant financial and logistical strains on the hosting school." Mr. Reilly was an assistant principal at Sequoia High during Summit Prep's stay there.
Summit student J.J. Campbell, who said he had been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger syndrome, noted that before his attendance at Summit, he "couldn't focus" and had "very few friends." After enrolling, "I was just suddenly good," he said. "There's no other word for it. My life has become much better."
Everest opponent Patricia Brown said another charter school would impact the Sequoia district's serving the diverse needs of the district. "I believe we have enough choice to make everybody successful," she said.
Summit parent Monica Wegner remarked that Menlo-Atherton High School indeed had a diverse population, but only to a point. "When I look at the classes that my daughter would have been in, that diversity disappeared. That should be important to all of you."