The review comes on the heels of denial of the Everest charter petition by the Sequoia district board. Not only does the Everest petition fail to meet legislative requirements, it falls critically short in demonstrating the interest or ability of Everest to meet the intent of the Charter School Act. Specifically, the legislation intended that charter schools would increase learning opportunities for all students and particularly those identified as low achieving.
Like most school districts, the majority of the Sequoia district's students who score low on state-mandated tests are English-language learners and special education students. Everest is clearly not designed for low-performing students, and in fact Everest focuses selectively on high-achieving, privileged students. Everest proposes offering a solely college preparatory curriculum to prepare all its students for enrollment in a four-year college. The rigors of advanced placement-level coursework and required mastery of Mandarin would pose significant, if not insurmountable, challenges to many special ed and English language-learning students. In addition, Everest's expectations of parents would represent considerable challenges to many lower socioeconomic families.
Everest is proposed as an alternative to a problem that doesn't exist. The Sequoia district excels in preparing students for college, and in fact 96 percent of the district's most recent graduates went on to college. The Sequoia district's four comprehensive high schools ensure all students of a high-quality education. Still, we recognize that some parents want their students in a small-school setting. These parents may be unaware of the successful small-learning communities available at the district's comprehensive high schools. These "schools-within-a-school" offer students small-learning communities while at the same time providing the benefits of a comprehensive high school, such as sports teams, performing arts programs, clubs and other extracurricular activities with peers who reflect the world students will inherit when they graduate.
Two charter schools with capacity — East Palo Alto Academy High and East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy — are also available to families seeking a small-school setting. We advocate for support of these schools and for a shared commitment to ensuring these schools achieve a diverse ethnic and academic balance. Not only does the Everest petition compromise the Sequoia district's commitment to maintaining a diverse student body at our comprehensive high schools, the petition risks inhibiting the ability of the two East Palo Alto charter schools to serve an ethnically and academically diverse population.
A high-quality education is available to all students in the Sequoia district. If the Everest petition is denied, no one is hurt. But if the Everest petition is approved, many are hurt. In effect, Everest would take away from the many for the benefit of a few. As stewards of the community's resources and trust, we must remain vigilant in ensuring uncompromising quality and diversity of our schools. Moreover, it is our moral imperative to ensure no further advancement of the racial isolation that has been creeping back into our nation's schools.
Pat Gemma is superintendent of the Sequoia Union High School District.