Uploaded: Tue, Oct 6, 2009, 10:02 am
Fragile comity unwinds between Everest, district
Sequoia trustee's use of enrollment data infuriates charter official.
The discord between Everest (charter) Public High School and the Sequoia Union High School District took a turn for the worse last week after Sequoia board President Don Gibson, with the help of the district's public affairs officer, wrote a personal opinion intended for publication in The Almanac that reportedly mischaracterized the school.
The opinion leaked data obtained in confidence from Everest about student enrollment. Mr. Gibson also leaked the data to the two school board candidates endorsed by Sequoia board members.
He later withdrew his letter at the request of board member Olivia Martinez, who had obtained the information in delicate negotiations with Everest co-founder Diane Tavenner.
It's the latest incident in a catalog of district efforts to prevent the school from opening in Redwood City this school year. Everest, which has sued the district over its offer of facilities in East Palo Alto, is sister to popular Summit Preparatory Charter High School. Both were heavily over-subscribed in the spring.
The Sequoia district pays Everest about $6,700 per student. Ms. Martinez's negotiation provided Sequoia with a snapshot that included Everest's out-of-district student population. To recoup funding for such students, Sequoia must arrange for reimbursement from their home districts.
Enrollment data is typically made public through the school's sponsor in January, Ms. Tavenner said. Everest's sponsor is the state Board of Education.
In his letter, Mr. Gibson claimed that Everest, as late as July, was "still scrambling for students" and opened with "just 90 students who actually live in the district and, to reach the required 100 students to open, Everest enrolled students from outside the district."
In March, Everest had 325 applicants for its 100 freshman seats. Names not chosen became a waiting list from which names were drawn. Families chose other schools over the summer, given significant uncertainty as to whether Everest would open on schedule, but there was no "scrambling for students," Ms. Tavenner said.
Mr. Gibson's allegations are "a false, vicious and public attack on the school, its faculty, students and founders," she said.
Sequoia attorneys recently proffered settlement talks with Everest over the lawsuit, but upon learning of the content of Mr. Gibson's letter, Ms. Tavenner said she has cancelled all such talks.
Complicating the matter for the district is Mr. Gibson's claim that his letter, as well another that was recently published, were personal opinions. But he said he enlisted help from taxpayer funded district staff, including public affairs officer Bettylu Smith.
Ms. Smith edited Mr. Gibson's drafts on her computer, Mr. Gibson said in an interview, adding that he considered their efforts "collaborative writing." Ms. Smith did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
"I wrote the majority of it (and) I believe it's all fact," Mr. Gibson said, adding that he needed help to avoid complications associated with the Everest litigation and because he has dyslexia.
Superintendent Pat Gemma served as a reviewer, Mr. Gibson said. Mr. Gemma told The Almanac that he had read, but not commented on, several drafts, and was "aware of" Ms. Smith's participation.
Mr. Gibson said he withdrew the letter because Ms. Martinez "is in the process of trying to build a bridge with Diane, so I figured I wouldn't get in the way."
Mr. Gibson also admitted sending his latest letter to two of the eight candidates running for two open seats on the district board: Alan Sarver and Virginia Chang Kiraly, who noted Everest's out-of-district students in an interview with The Almanac.
Ms. Martinez, who described herself as "livid" over the matter, said she faults Mr. Gemma for the data's release. Mr. Gemma had no comment.
Mr. Gibson's passing of the numbers to Mr. Sarver and Ms. Kiraly was "unfortunate," Ms. Martinez said, adding that its only purpose should have been for preparing reimbursement claims.
She said she also considered it "inappropriate" for Ms. Smith and Mr. Gemma to be involved with Mr. Gibson's personal opinions. "Frankly, I hold the superintendent responsible for that," she added. "That was not something that he should have allowed and supported and encouraged, and in the end, he agreed" to withdraw Mr. Gibson's letter.
Mr. Gemma had no comment other than to say that he was "told" about intentions to withdraw the letter.
Of Everest's 106 freshmen, 16 do not live in the district. After 106 names were chosen by lottery in March, the remaining names became a waiting list.
Everest staff spent over 30 hours collecting student residency data for the Sequoia district, Ms. Tavenner said.
Everest Executive Director Jon Deane said the data was prepared "in a very urgent fashion," and that he now feels betrayed. "I feel that the district is sending us a clear message that they don't want to collaborate with us," he said.
Posted by A concerned parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 12, 2009 at 2:39 pm
A couple comments on this thread:
1) by illegally avoiding a decision on the site (the reply came back well after State law mandates the response to Everest's Prop 38 request), the SUHSD was trying to use it's "same old" tactics to kill a new charter. Many parents of 8th graders make their decisions in January, in Feb, maybe March of their child's 8th grade year. SUHSD came back with an answer to the question "where will Everest be located?" in about April. Most of the families had already decided that there was far too much uncertainty associated with the new school for them to risk 9th grade starting in August. This is exactly how SUHSD/Gemma killed Auroura charter school. Think about it: if it was June, and your kid was in the 8th grade, trying to decide where to go to high school in 9th grade, and the charter school site was still not identified/built out, would you risk your child's year on a "trust me, we'll get it worked out in time" promise by the Everest superintendent? Easy to understand how stalling works in the SUHSD/Gemma favor, and cripples recruiting attempts by Everest.
2) one of the writers keeps insisting that the charters pick rich/white/affluent students from their district. Let the actual data be your guide, not internet flame comments. Student selction is by lottery, at this point. Look at the overall statistics, and you'll find Summit Prep HS pretty much matches SUHSD enrollment data of 8.2k students: 42% Hispanic, 1-2% African-American, etc. Don't have any idea of Everest enrollment data, since it hasn't been published, and nobody illegally/unethically leaked it to me!
I've watched Summit Prep HS very closely since it's inception, expecting to attack it. Instead, the opposite has occured. I've been aware of the student demographic (Gemma kept telling us that it was rich/white/affluent, but my simple act of walking their hallways and using one's eyes reveals otherwise), happily surprised by the # who graduate AND who pass the Calif Exit Exam, amazed at their test scores, and delighted that they are doing this off almost 40% less money per student per year than the big SUHSD. Great results, at a bargain price!
The person who listed all the grants? That's to cover the charter facility cost, which the SUHSD doesn't count in their financials either. For the first several years, Summit Prep didn't take a penny from the district or state to help cover the facility cost, instead choosing to raise the funds privately in order not to be beholden to the institution that's currently trying to kill you. SUHSD doesn't count (in their $/kid/year spending numbers) all the tens of millions of bond $ raised, and spent, to build things like the new MA theater. Calif. law requires "reasonably equivalent" facilities be provided by the district to the charters. All the SUHSD campuses have things like bathrooms inside, a lunch room on campus, teacher prep rooms, plus sports facilities, performing arts facilities, etc. SUHSD site proposal for the EPA campus for Everest had a lunch room 4 miles away, outdoor bathrooms, sports facilities scattered around the entire district (San Carlos/Belmont to EPA, and only available after their kids were done; i.e. that convenient 8-10PM JV girls basketball practice time once per week, 12 miles from your classroom). WTF? That's what SUHSD calls "reasonably equivalent"? Let them explain that one to a jury. It'll be funny to listen to their arguments; can they do it with a straight face?
When SUHSD/MA was on probation from the US Federal Government for violation of the "No Child Left Behind Act", their response was to angrily deny that there was a problem, and instead to sue the US Congress in an attempt to overturn the Federal law which made them look bad. I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were wasted in this misguided and futile attempt. How many kids lives might've been dramatically improved if instead they had spent that money on trying to get those same kids to pass the Calif Exit Exam, instead of on wasted lawyer fees?
The new broom sweeps clean. Elect a couple of SUHSD school board members who will spend their time improving student outcomes, instead of being hatchet men/women for the status quo.
Posted by Concerned Parent About the SUHSD School Board and Who Sits On It With What Personal Agenda
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 14, 2009 at 3:07 pm
I was reading along with all of the above reader comments, learning a thing or two about the current issues and personalities...when I suddenly come across a comment about a current SUHSD candidate that threw a light upon a situation that appeared to be possibly highly questionable and I thought to myself...Wait a minute...Ms. Virginia Chang-Kiraly spoke at the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools against Everest Charter School at the bequest of Superintendent Pat Gemma on February 3, 2009? As I recall, wasn't Chang-Kiraly the Foreperson of the Grand Jury at that time? And, is it not also true that Ms. Chang-Kiraly's very same Grand Jury allegedly investigated the Charter Schools system in the southern part of this County at one point during this past year?
The big question that pops right off the page here is: "Was Ms. Chang-Kiraly using her Grand Jury Foreperson position to further her own political agenda, while she was serving as Foreperson of the Grand Jury? How ethical is that?
As a Foreperson, was she legally or ethically allowed to outright be allegedly speaking against a Charter School in this County when the Grand Jury, of which she was the Foreperson, might have been investigating or had already investigated a Charter School System in this County at that same time or whatever time they did investigate during her tenure as Foreperson of that Grand Jury? And, even if it wasn't this particular Charter School, I believe that it is accurate to state that the Grand Jury was investigaing the Charter School System somewhere in this county at some point this past year.
Are Grand Jurors allowed to be "lobbying" against or "lobbying" for issues or topics or categories which they might, at the same time, be investigating, while still a sitting Grand Juror? I can understand possibly speaking out on issues and concerns after they get off the Grand Jury, but while still a sitting Grand Juror and the leader of same? Isn't that a bit of a "sticky wicket"?
Another writer questioned what Chang-Kiraly's goal might have truly been. It now possibly appears to me that her end goal might not have been about any of the Charter School issues at all, but rather, about being elected to a public office, any office, down the line, after her term with the Grand Jury was over...It's also been known that,at some point,SUHSD candidate Chang-Kiraly had been speculating with different folks in the Countyt about possibly being a candidate for County Supervisor in the not too distant future.
However,when Carol Groome was appointed to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors earlier this year, it appeared that Ms. Chang-Kiraly's Grand Jury, which she led, subsequently investigated the "appointment process versus the election process" for filling County Supervisorial seats, and came out with a recommendation for elections rather than appointments, in most cases. That recommendation could have worked in her favor if Ms. Chang-Kiraly's future chances at being elected were better than being appointed by the current Board of Supervisors? Say not?
I am not saying that one was directly connected to the other,I do not know that, and certainly could not prove that, but it certainly was a convenient development for future attempts at a run for the Board by Ms. Chang-Kiraly's for the Grand Jury that she led to come out and recommend that the appointment approach be seriously questioned, in favor of the election process. On first glance, election over appointment does make better sense,in my opinion, because I believe it is more in line with the democratic process to elect, rather than to appoint.
However,if I were planning to be on the Board of Supervisors at some point in the future and I felt that I had a very small chance of being appointed by the current Board of sitting Supervisors, I would make every effort to push for elections rather than appointments in the future filling of Supevisorial seats.
I also read that she, additionally, unsuccessfully ran on the Republican ticket for the 21st Assembly District a few years back, but, from reading all of these other comments made by citizens in this County, it would appear that Ms. Chang-Kiraly has either been running or planning to run for office, any office, all the time, whether is was for PTA,PTO,SUHSD Board of Trustees,21st Assembly District seat or whatever...perhaps, we could call her a "career candidate"..."me thinks that the lady might be protesting too much" against Everest Charter School and acting too much on behalf of her own future agenda,as opposed to looking after the true welfare of the District's students. Not good.
Although, it's not a county-wide position, the Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees is an important position in the future of its students, and is,therefore, too important to be just a "glorified pitstop" on someone's resume', who, just might have their eye more on running for yet an even higher political office, instead of concentrating on the current job at hand...
Vote for whomever you want. But, I think you know, by now, whom I won't be voting for either now, or in the future...also the idea of only Chang-Kiraly and Sarver receiving information, whether they knew it to be confidential or not bespeaks of insider favoritism on the part of the administrationi.e. the Superintendent etal, which, frankly, turns me off...way off...
And, as a final observation, reading what former Grand Jurors, who have apparently recently worked with Chang-Kiraly and P/ members who have also worked with this woman in the past, have written in this comments section points out all you need to know...When it comes to the candidacy of Chang-Kiraly for the SUHSD Board of Trustees, all I have to say is, "Houston we got a problem..."