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Editorial: Everest opens auspiciously, despite Sequoia district's obstacles

Original post made on Sep 2, 2009

The founders and leadership team of the area's new charter high school should take a bow. In spite of all the obstacles placed in front of them by Sequoia Union High School District officials, Everest Public High School leaders got the school off to an impressive start in its Redwood City facilities with an Aug. 19-20 student orientation.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 2, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (51)

Posted by Morgan, a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2009 at 7:25 am

As a student of Summit's first graduating class of '07, it comes as wonderful news to hear that everest has succeeded in not only opening, but getting a good location.

Being enrolled in Summit since its inception in 2003, I have witnessed the continuous struggle with the district play out and have attended countless hearings with Superintendent Gemma and the trustees over the last six years.

I am incredibly grateful for Diane and her staff's continuous dedication and unwillingness to give up or compromise the education they have provided for students like me through Summit, and now, students attending Everest. Everest is in excellent hands.

I am both proud and lucky that I attended Summit, I hope that in the near future there will be enough space for all students who wish for this alternative. With Everest, our community has now increased its capability to take on more students in a highly demanded school environment that has been proven successful in Summit.

I look foreword to hearing more good news and visiting the new charter school myself.

Posted by Concerned Taxpayer, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 2, 2009 at 5:10 pm

As a taxpayer in this District, I am very concerned that our elected school board members have allowed this battle between Pat Gemma and charter schools get to a point that it is damaging the educational experience of all students in this District. I am not involved directly with education, but it is not difficult to tell that a) there is a demand for small schools, b) that the Summit Prep school is delivering outstanding results, and c)that the District could have supported a site for Everest in Redwood City. It is disappointing that the school board has decided (on their superintendent's recommendation) to a)deny the charter to Everest (which has now left them with no local control of the school)and b) deny a site for Everest in Redwood City (which puts the SUHSD at great risk in the lawsuit that is pending). These decisions have created a situation where the District has no control over a local school, and could very possibly end up paying large amounts of taxpayer money in a lawsuit determination or settlement.

The alternative would have been to a) approve the charter for Everest and retain local control of the school, and b) approve the site for Everest either on the Sequoia campus or at the site that Everest requested in Redwood City. This would have left the District with local control and no lawsuit.

And the school is open and thriving anyways!

Shame on the SUHSD Board for putting our taxpayer dollars and local control of schools at risk like this. I know I will be looking for more clear minded, forward looking members of this Board come November.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 3, 2009 at 8:22 am

Kudos to The Almanac for a "spot on" editorial!

Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Anonymous -- I second that emotion!!!! I only wish we had charter schools when my kids went through the system.

Posted by taxpayer who wants her money to go to true public schools, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 3, 2009 at 10:44 pm

I do not think that my taxpayer money should be going to pay for these charter schools. It is taking away money from the kids who need it most. Call these "charters" what they really are quasi-private schools supported by taxpayer money.

I think the SUHSD does a fantastic job with all the problems that they have to deal with. They don't need to deal with this problem as well.

If the charters want another school, it should be in EPA where they need it most. Sure most of the kids that have signed up for Everest et al. are from Redwood City, but if it were in EPA, you would get more from there.

Posted by no name, a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2009 at 7:19 am

Don't you mean "our taxpayer monies".

I have a child that goes to Everest and I am very impressed with this school.

When is the last time you have visited East Palo Alto? They have a lot of great programs for kids to participate in. Programs they don't offer in our area. Everest was open to all parents who wanted to take the time to enter the lottery, including kids from EPA. Take a ride to East Palo Alto it is a very condensed area and to add another 108 kids plus parents is not realistic.

I feel very fortunate to be a part of Everest and thank them for all their hard work to make this happen.

Posted by Quasi, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 4, 2009 at 7:45 am

I too do not think that taxpayer money should be going to pay for quasi-private schools.

I have three children who have gone through SUHSD one AP student, one with severe learning disabilities and one middle of the road student. SUHSD did a fantastic job with all the problems that they have to deal with.

If you want small class size then all should benefit not a few. When will we have enought Charter schools? Redwood City with 4 puclic High Schools now. Sequoia, Everest, Redwood, Summitt when is it enough?

Charters schools benefite few at the expense of the many

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 4, 2009 at 8:29 am

First, there are two charter schools in EPA and both have capacity.

But the comments about stealing tax dollars shows you how successful the district has been in perpetrating the lie that charters take tax money away from their schools.

That's like saying when you decide to eat at home, you "stealing" money from a restaurant. Let's try this with an easy example - this really isn't that difficult of a concept.

Suppose the district decided to build a brand new comprehensive high school and shifted 300 kids from WHS or M-A to that new school. Would those 300 students be "stealing" WHS or M-A tax dollars? You must surely see that the former schools would have 300 less students to teach (and not need that money) and that the new school is now responsible for teaching those 300 kids. The tax dollars stay with the child, not the school.

Shouldn't the school that the child attends receive the funds to teach them?

Charter schools ARE public schools and they appear to be quite successful. And you may wish to note that the Obama Administration (no friend of private schools, except for Malia and Sasha, of course...)is STRONGLY in favor of even more charter schools.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 4, 2009 at 9:32 am

Bravo, anonymous.

Posted by John, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 4, 2009 at 11:10 am

1) Spot on editorial. Kudos to the Almanac.

2) If anybody is "stealing" taxpayer monies, it is the SUHSD. They wasted money on a site that nobody wants in a residential district that is totally inappropriate for a 400-kid school in the day. They wasted money (hundreds of thousands of dollars of unnecessary legal bills) fighting tooth and nail against Everest, and were unanimously over-ruled at two state level decisions. Finally, w.r.t. on-going operations, SUHSD spends about 50% more $ per kid per graduate than does Summit Prep HS; since Everest is copying the Summit Prep model, presumably they will also be far more economical with taxpayer receipts than SUHSD ever was. Taxpayers would benefit substantially by having the Summit/Everest model educate all the kids in the SUHSD, not just several hundred. We'd save millions of dollars, and produce a better product, on average, to boot.

3)I'm glad that some kids get great experiences in the SUHSD schools. But many do not. Menlo-Atherton remains the #1 worst performing school w.r.t. the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" in the state of California. Roughly half of the Hispanic boys who meet the SUHSD requirements to graduate high school, fail to pass the California High School exit exam, which measures 8th grade math skills and 9th grade English language skills; they can take the tests as many times as they wish starting in the 10th grade, and the best score counts. Clearly, far from all the kids are getting great educations in the four SUHSD big high schools.

4) Calling the charter schools "quasi private" is flat out silly. There are no admission tests nor special requirements, same as for the other four SUHSD big high schools. There is no fee, no tuition charged, same as for the other four SUHSD big high schools. Students are chosen by lottery from all those who apply. Statiscally, these two charter schools match the districts that they operate within: same % of Hispanic/white/black/etc. kids as the SUHSD, same % of rich/poor/middle class kids as the SUHSD, etc.

Dave Hill, a PGA pro, complained after shooting a big score at the US Open many years ago, "the course is so long, the rough so deep, the fairways so narrow, the greens so fast, that the course plays too hard. The USGA officials are just trying to embarrass the world's best golfers." Sandy Tatum, head of the USGA was in the same press conference, and said "Mr. Hill, we are not trying to embarrass the world's best golfers; we are trying to identify them."

Similar argument that the charter schools are trying to destroy the public schools. Nope, you've got that entirely turned around. The charter school movement is trying to IMPROVE the public schools, by remaining within the public school system: the limited funding, the broad range of student preparation/ability that walks in the 9th grade door, the broad range of socio-economic families, the broad range of races and cultures, etc.

Keep up the great work Summit Prep, and Everest. Hopefully, the two new members to join the SUHSD board this fall (after the elections) will be much more thoughtful, will finally put the interests of the students first, and will take advantage of the tremendous example and innovative methods happening right under their noses (in the charter schools), copy those that work into the four big schools, and stop wasting time/public money/energy trying to kill perceived school competition.

By every metric, the experiment of Summit Prep HS is an outstanding success! Identify the elements that are responsible, and copy them them into the four big SUHSD schools. Nobody is saying "destroy the AP track at the four big schools". For those elite students, the SUHSD system works great. But what about the other 95% of the kids?

Posted by Observer, a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I think you have your accusation incorrect:
the Latino exit exam numbers are low but not the lowest in the state - there are a few lower even in San Mateo County eg Half Moon Bay High at 66% English and 57% math

M-A HSEE english 73% and math 64%

state averages are 72% english and 71% math
Web Link

You are generous to label the "quasi-private" comments as silly.

Anonymous also pegged the analogy: no one views M-A HS as stealing money from Woodside HS.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 4, 2009 at 1:48 pm

First thing I've pegged in a long time, thank you.

Question: I went to the web link and noticed that relatively few students actually take the exit exam - only 462 students at WHS, for instance. The graduating class is far larger than that.

Does anyone know why there's such a difference???

Posted by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Sep 4, 2009 at 2:03 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

As to why the size of a graduating class doesn't match up with the number of students taking the high school exit exam, students can take it once as sophomores, twice as juniors, and three to five times as seniors.

Posted by Observer, a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2009 at 2:31 pm

the graduating class is actually much smaller than that HSEE test takers: Woodside class of 2008 had 327 graduates (with 170 grads meeting San Jose entrance requirements)

Web Link

The class of 2008 at woodside started with 528 students in the fall of 2004 Web Link

mysteriously, Woodside reports a 92-96% graduation rate
Web Link but the district does note that their estimate "is likely to produce and estinated graduation rate that is too high." hint: 327 divided by 528 = 61%

Woodside graduating class averages in the mid to low 300s over the past 10 years.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm


I didn't realize that. It's even worse than I thought!

Thanks to both of you for the clarification.

Posted by taxpayer who wants her money to go to true public schools, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 4, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Anonymous, it would be okay if they were just taking these kids' taxpayer money but that isn't the way the public school system works since it all has to do with the number of students enrolled and also providing facilities to another school means taking the money from somewhere else. It isn't as simple as you describe.

East Palo Alto may have other charter schools but the majority of students are from underprivileged backgrounds and apparently those schools aren't doing as good of a job Summit is at turning out high school graduates (or so you say). In other words, Summit and Everest should put their money where their mouth is.

Posted by former M-A parent, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2009 at 7:24 pm

When kids come to M-A with the equivalent of third grade educations or not being able to speak fluent English like many kids from East Palo Alto do, it is difficult to turn those kids around so quickly. Hence, the huge drop out rate. I am not saying that is a good thing but how many of those kids are attending Summit or Everest? I don't think many. Their parents are frequently not knowledgeable about the educational system. I doubt if they would drive their kids to Redwood City and volunteer at a school where they would feel uncomfortable and when they are holding down two or three jobs. That is why, if at all, Everest should be in East Palo Alto.

I have heard that there are many dropouts from Summit. Since at Summit and Everest all the kids are taught at the same level. I can't but think that would cause problems for a lot of kids.

Posted by reality bites, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 4, 2009 at 11:41 pm

When the lottery for Everest was held, no one knew where the school would be located. Most of the lottery "winners" live in Redwood City. Doesn't it make sense to locate the school in a location that is convenient for these students -- many of whom come from families that don't have much money (and who also have parents holding down multiple jobs)?

Volunteering is not required. Urban legend! So is the "many dropouts" from Summit rumor. A handful of kids transfer to the comprehensives every year; the school has had very few dropouts in its history.

The sad reality is that many EPA parents (and kids) don't give a flying fig about education, and you could build ten Summits and put them on every street and it wouldn't do a bit of good. The apathetic families don't take advantage of the resources they do have! And they really don't constitute much of a burden to the SUHSD either because they tend to drop out early. High school is waaaay too late for intervention to be effective with these students.

Posted by former M-A parent, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 5, 2009 at 5:01 am

I think they care deeply about their children's educations! They do take advantage of what they have been given as best as they can. Their schools aren't as gifted with the resources as some others. They may not speak English or have the education of those elsewhere but they care, believe me.

I agree, high school is way too late and hence, drop out rates will not be solved by Summit or Everest either so please stop touting them as the solution.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 5, 2009 at 8:01 am

That's the entire point. One size does not fit all.

No one has suggested that charters are THE solution. They are A solution.

The results speak for themselves and charters seem to work great for some students.

Posted by former M-A parent, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 5, 2009 at 5:34 pm

No, the point is that the kids that go to Summit and Everest wouldn't be drop outs in the first place even if they went to the SUHSD.

Posted by Morgan, a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Former M-A parent,
You wrote: "No, the point is that the kids that go to Summit and Everest wouldn't be drop outs in the first place even if they went to the SUHSD."

This is a very serious claim to make without evidence. I, on the other-hand, have some.

Having attended Summit, I've known students from many walks of life that found the smaller, more intimate environment much more suitable for them, enabling them to succeed; some of them had been to other schools where they were failing beforehand. I know first-hand that Summit has successfully prevented many students from dropping out. My sister (who is sitting next to me right now) who attends Summit is listing names of people in her class that she knows would have dropped out otherwise. Your "point" simply isn't true.

Thinking aloud, I don't know where people get off making up facts about about these schools. Debunking a rumor or falsehood is as simple as simple as informing those who created or exposed it-like i have just done. Changing beliefs, alternatively, is next to impossible. The sad part is, at the end of the day, this parent's mind won't be changed, and he/she will simply not "believe" what he/she just heard or rationalize his/her made-up "facts", so what's the point? The point is exposing the truth to those willing to listen.

Why is it so hard to believe/admit that a more intimate environment can offer benefits to some students?

Posted by former M-A parent, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 5, 2009 at 7:14 pm

I have no problem admitting that a more intimate environment offers benefits to some students. I don't doubt it, my problem is that providing a smaller, more intimate environment will require using much needed funds for a larger number of students (whether it is for providing new facilities for this small number of students or taking money away from the SUHSD because it is a Basic Aid district).

I don't make up facts. I have done my research and have lived in the community for well over 30 years and have sent my children to public schools there for over 27 years.

Posted by reality bites, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 5, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Summit/Everest operate on less money per student than the comprehensives do. One difference is that they run a very lean operation, a principal and teachers, not a lot of administrators. Summit (Everest too, I assume) has a very stripped-down campus without a gorgeous new pool, a beautiful new gym, an impressive full-sized turf field, and a brand new performing arts center (none of the above, by the way, contribute to academics!)

It's long been said that M-A is a good school for the kids who excel and the kids in great need of support, but abandons the middle. Those "middle" kids are the ones who don't get into AP classes, don't have a challenging curriculum or the best teachers, and who may fall through the cracks at a comprehensive. Not at Summit (or Everest).

We need more of these kinds of schools, schools that meet the different needs of different students. As anonymous said, one size does not fit all.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 5, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Former M-A parent:

I'm deeply disappointed at your reaction to a student who took the time to thoughtfully respond you about their personal experience. As the parent of a student yourself, I wonder how you would have reacted if someone responded as dismissively to your child as you did to Morgan.

Yes, you did make up a fact ("the kids that go to Summit and Everest wouldn't be drop outs in the first place even if they went to the SUHSD") and it was refuted by a student's firsthand experience.

The only thing you accomplished was confirming Morgan's belief that changing beliefs is next to impossible.

My thanks to Morgan for your incredibly thoughtful response!

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 6, 2009 at 4:32 pm

If you'd like to hear an unabashed endorsement of charter schools, you may want to listen to Arne Duncan on today's Face the Nation on CBS.

Who is Arne Duncan, you ask?

He's President Obama's Secretary of Education.

You might be surprised how strongly our current administration feels about charter schools.

And here's the link:
Web Link

Posted by Conerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 6, 2009 at 8:28 pm

A few comments:
Thanks you Almanac for an editorial that very accurately summarizes what has been an ongoing embarrassment for anyone in the area truly interested in education.
While I'll be the first to note that charter schools are by definition heterogeneous, hence charter schools are not inherently "good" or "bad", but depend very much on the specifics of the individual school. Everest has no record but gets some benefot of the doubt as a result of the Summit affililiation. Summit does have a good track record.
I'm appalled that there are still people interested enough to write in to this forum, yet unable to see that Summit and Everest are not "quasi" or private in any form. They are completely public and admission is by lottery. While there is encouraged parent participation, this is not required either up front or actually at all. I suspect there are parents who particpate way more and others, not as much. The common denominator is these are parents interested in their children's education who do not feel that the comprehensives are the right place.
In terms of more personalized attention, I fail to see how this is taking anything away from the district if it is being done for less per student than the district. One argument the district used to deny Everest space on the Sequoia campus was that there was more space needed for "learning challenged" students. Should we note that these students are taking resources away from the district. It strikes me that these funds are being used to efficiently educate our students. Am I missing something or isn't that the point?
And by the way, I have to wonder if the various new programs the district has started over the past few years would exist if it were not in response to the competition from charters.
I'm not here to bash the comprehensives nor suggest that every charter is the answer for every student, but there is an apparent need within the district (based on parental response) for Summit and Everest. It would be nice if the district were not so negative, dismissive, and disingenuous in their actions on this matter. Personally I fault both the Superintendant for taking a closed minded stand and the Board for not taking an independent look (my inmpression from several meetings and looking at minutes).

Posted by Observer, a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2009 at 10:02 am

former M-A parent writes:
> No, the point is that the kids that go to Summit and Everest wouldn't be drop outs in the first place even if they went to the SUHSD.

let's set aside how you arrive at this astonishing "fact" for the moment. Instead let's imagine two possibilities: one where the fact is true and one where it is not.

if true, then Summit and Everest are educating kids for less money. WIN
if not true, then Summit and Everest are addressing kids which M-A doesn't. WIN ... for less money. WIN

You make the point clearly that Summit and Everest are solid public school wins for the community.

Posted by Morgan, a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I'd like to add that when I called former M-A parent out on his/her false statement, it was dismissed and "justified" with an unrelated argument (about the cost of the schools)-one that has been proven incorrect in front of the district superintendent and trustees for years (and again, I can say I have witnessed this firsthand, having attended many of these meetings personally).

Former M-A Parent, I have no idea how you could have reached your conclusion other than by making baseless assertions due to a strong belief that charter schools' success is based more so on "cherry picking" stronger students over the actual design and ability of the school. I suppose that you didn't know that Summit and Everest operate on a lottery system, giving an equal opportunity for each student that applies. With your baseless dismissal of my response (in which I successfully proved your initial statement to be completely false) you have thus far proven yourself to be uninterested in the facts-which is a disservice to any uninformed people in this thread who may be seeking them. Please be sensitive to that and avoid making statements that may be misleading or untrue.

As it is, charter schools with Summit's model have been consistently in demand, why else would there be full freshman classes (at least 100 freshmen, each) at both Summit and Everest this year?

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm


Thank you for your unique perspective as one who has been part of the Summit experience as a student.
While a lot has been made about graduating and drop outs, my concern is the large number of students in the middle. These are students who attend the comprehensives, pass all their classes, but are never really challenged by their teachers, parents, or themselves. I'm convinced that the top students are likely self-driven and will do fine in any environment. Taking out that group, what is your sense of Summit's approach with students who are what I will call graduating underachievers? You did mention students who would have dropped out, but stayed in school. I'm wondering if Summit addresses students who could do better if pushed. Does Summit (and now hopefully Everest) push each student to achieve the best they are capable of? Just curious.

Posted by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Sep 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

Morgan can provide a first-hand account of Summit Prep, but in a recent interview with Executive Director Jon Deane of Everest Public High School, I asked him how Everest will address unmotivated kids, citing myself as someone who entered high school with an attitude not geared to academic success.

"Our job as a school is to find ways to get you interested in learning," he said. "Our mission is to educate diverse groups of students to be successful in college and in life."

The school crafts personalized learning plans for each student by working backwards from college, the idea being to determine "how to get here (college) from there (high school)."

All Everest students will get to be "very well known," he added. A minimum of one adult will "fully know" the student's learning style, hobbies and team interests.

"A lot of times, kids don't even know what they want at the beginning," he said. The clubs and groups at the school will stay "fresh" by growing and shrinking according to the interests of current students, he said. "That's part of the life cycle of any new organization has as it grows."

If the school doesn't change to accommodate new students, those students "are not getting to participate fully in the growth of that school," he said. "We want you to tell us what you want and then we'll make it happen."

Full disclosure: When my parents tried to enroll me to a high school that would have helped me as an individual, I intentionally failed the entrance exam so I could stay with my "friends" in the school they were attending. Teenagers can be tough monkeys.

Posted by Morgan, a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Thank you, Concerned parent, and I'm glad you asked. Although it's incredibly personal information, I think it may serve to benefit the thread if I share some of my experience with you.

When I was in middle school, I remember my friend bragging about his "genius" sister of his that was taking four APs at once at the cost of her entire social life. I never fathomed that I would take more than a single AP class in high school. My years as a student from 1st-8th grade were dreadful as I squeaked by, barely passing my classes and almost getting held back a few times. At in eighth grade, I tested into and was invited to take an honors Algebra class at the related high school to the school I was attending. This was a morale boost for me, and I felt like I could take it, and was very excited. Throughout the year, I fell far behind in that class and, looking back, completely realize it was because I was too terrified to interrupt class with a "stupid" question on a daily basis. The lack of support from the teachers, in and outside of the classroom (I never had access to the teacher once outside of the classroom, not that being inside the class was much help either-because questions were looked at as slowing down the class and that wouldn't be tolerated). The purpose of me prefacing my attendance to Summit with this story is that, many people conclude that Summit inappropriately places its students in AP classes, because students are underprepared. The reason the kids are so successful in AP classes at Summit is because the teachers give limitless time to addressing questions and making sure no one is behind in the lectures and classwork.

I think my background, upon graduating middle-school puts me in the category of a "graduating underachiever". I might as well add, since Im going all-out here and telling the public a huge amount of my personal life, that since I was in 6th grade I was diagnosed with ADD. Throughout my life I hated it and am still convinced I was misdiagnosed(I don't take medicine for it anymore, at least). Imagine being the child at a parent-teacher conference, and your parents are justifying your poor performance by saying, "It's not his fault, he has Attention Deficit Disorder, look at the medicine he's been prescribed."

Attending Summit was so unusual to me, coming from an even smaller elementary school environment. The class sizes were roughly the same size, that is why I will hold my comparison to the other high school class I attended in 8th grade as well. Since freshmen year, the entire class was divided into 10-15 person groups and assigned to one teacher-who would be their "mentor" throughout the groups' entire time at Summit until graduation. The mentor groups would meet at the end of class for 15 minutes to talk about events, personal life-anything. I cannot tell you how helpful this was to personally know just one of the teachers right from the start-and to be able to talk to them on a personal level. I was still initially very shy to talk to some teachers, when I needed help, but having a mentor was my way of feeling comfortable talking with at least one teacher about it-who would likely let my issue be known to the appropriate teacher. Conversely, when I was not doing well in another class, I would always know my mentor was going to ask me about it. No one can hide or slip beneath the cracks if you will-I was no exception.

The teachers there were tough in that they would really really push me and other students who could emerge to be better. In my english class for example, although my writing was average at best, would always appreciate any signs of extra effort I put in and would talk to me personally and challenge me to do even better the next time. There were a few excellent students in the class and they were recognized and challenged furthermore, but not half as much as the students who were in the middle and low ends were. Thats why I had such an amazing experience at Summit, because I was pushed and pushed and never was allowed to reached a plateau where I could relax and feel like I was done improving. For me there was little time to "coast" in class-my teachers could always tell if I wasn't pushing myself when I didn't think i had to improve, and would personally push me further. Like everyone in my class, I ended up taking AP English, Environmental Studies, Government, US History, Statistics in my senior year alone. I've spent countless hours outside of those classes talking and working with teachers, who were consistently there-something I never fathomed doing before entering Summit; and something I didn't think was possible for anyone, achieving a social life, succeeding in 5 AP classes and dedicating upwards of 20 hours a week to extra curricular sports in my senior year alone.

To look back and think that I believed my high school would be a repeat of my elementary school experience is sad. I can only speculate what my experience at another school would have been, but I do know students I felt to be much more motivated and smarter than me were not retained in some of the advanced courses they took at other high district schools. Personally, I likely would not have planned ahead enough to take the right courses to get into a UC by graduation. I think Summit gave the most outstanding results for students like me, who wouldn't likely succeed in tougher classes, and needed plenty of motivation.

With Everest being run by the same management that leads Summit and is being taught by some of the original Summit teachers, I know it is in good hands and should perform as a parallel.

Posted by another anonymous, a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Sep 8, 2009 at 4:03 pm

One point that has not yet been mentioned....I don't think Diane Tavenner does herself or the schools which she leads any favors with this type of clearly biased and inflammatory "reporting". Having watched Summit from the beginning (town hall meetings in the MUR at Portola Valley School anyone?) and now Everest, she presents an "us vs them" mentality against the SUHSD which is divisive and to me, personally objectionable. This street clearly runs both ways and she is a much to blame as anyone.
I am a parent of two public school educated children. I have run PTAs and been on Foundation Boards. I attend school board meetings. I am a graduate of the SUHSD. Educational funding in California is a mess and that is the root of the problem. If she wants to build consensus with this taxpaying parent, she's going to have to brush up her diplomacy and work to solve the bigger issue. Instead of trying to bleed more money from the SUHSD, why doesn't she take her issue to Sacramento and work to fix the problem instead of whining on a local level?

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 8, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I don't know Diane well enough to comment about her diplomacy skills but I've personally never heard hear say a single uncomplimentary word about the comprehensive schools. Not once.

About the district, that's a different subject and, yes, she isn't very complimentary about them. But it's hard to deny that Diane has been slapped by the SUHSD at every single turn. They haven't been very nice to her, either.

I won't even comment on your note about Diane "bleed(ing) more money from the SUHSD." If you don't know the fiscal facts by now, you never will. That's actually an even sadder commentary about YOUR education.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 8, 2009 at 5:20 pm

And THANK YOU, Morgan, for your incredibly thoughtful response.

You probably know that you won't change many minds, but you are certainly a credit to Summit and, of course, to yourself and family.

Thank you for sharing your very personal story.

Posted by Hillview parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 8, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Morgan probably won't change the minds of the people who are too heavily invested in their pro-Gemma thinking, but Morgan has done a great service in sharing valuable first-hand experience that I suspect will make a great deal of difference for people who haven't known what to make of this sad fight between the Sequoia district and the charter schools. Thank you, Morgan. Your commitment and determination are admirable.

Posted by another anonymous, a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Sep 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

The direct personal attack provided by "anonymous in woodside" is exactly the type of behavior that will stall this country's ability to have a thoughtful dialogue and successfully change education and health care.
It only took you about 50 words to make a direct personal attack on someone about whom you know nothing. I make no apologies for my public school education nor my advanced degrees and will take a much higher road by not making derogatory comments about yours.

Posted by Observer, a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2009 at 2:23 pm

agree that personal attacks of any type diminish the argument.

I do understand Anon of W's reaction: casting Summit as "bleeding the district" and "whining at a local level" vastly mischaracterizes an enormous education success, one which has been not been embraced by the district.

Anon of PV is correct. There were harsh assessments of the district track record aired: they preceded Diane and they remain valid - low graduation rates, low college-readiness rates, high spending and defacto segregation by classes. Yes the district has been working on these issues, but results have been lackluster. Yes, other district results have been quite positive, but these problem areas remain fundamental weaknesses which remain in place.

Against this backdrop, what Summit has achieved is remarkable.

Against this backdrop, the hurdles erected by the district against Everest don't reflect the values which these communities place on educational success.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 9, 2009 at 6:36 pm

First, a hearty thanks to Morgan for at least one person's very open and honest view on what I think is a challenge the comprehensive's have. To be fair, the schools have a very challenging job. All the more reason they should look at every place where something appears to be working.
As far as Dianne, I've seen public statements from her and Todd Dickson, and my recollection is they basically ask that information about their school be presented accurately. She has also corrected information (sad but true) about financials. Sadly, defending Summit/Everest has been necessary. The "us vs. "them" mentality appears anytime the SUHSD talks about charters. How is one to interpret Dr. Gemma's ongoing comments implying that in giving credence to Everest's concerns he's somehow not keeping the interests of ALL the district's students. He has rountinely implied that Summit/Everest cherry pick and ignored any data that might not support that (i.e. diversity stats). His comments about charter schools are divisive of the charters (the schools in EPA are the "good" charters and Summit/Everest are "bad" charters). And the list goes on.....
It is one thing to believe the charter law is not the way it should be, but unfortunately for the district, Dr. Gemma has acted on how he thinks the law should be rather than how it is in it's current form. As the editorial from this thread notes, the district has now spent a lot of money and may end up spending more pending the lawsuit. And look at the unneccessary divisions within the school community created. Ironically, I suspect that one reason Summit/Everest have such parental involvement is because the schools need it to survive. So in making life harder for the charters,the district may actually be indirectly contributing to their success.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 9, 2009 at 7:55 pm

I don't think "calling out" someone who continues to present misinformation is a personal attack. If you do, so be it.

A final time: charter schools do not steal tax dollars from the comprehensives any more than a new comprehensive school would steal tax dollars from the existing comprehensives. Fortunately, I have facts to support my position. Don Gielow, former Assistant Superintendent of the Sequoia Union High School District (and no friend of charter schools) said: "For every 100 students attending a charter, the district pays the charter about $800,000, but the district saves $400,000 in overhead costs such as for teachers..." That fact alone means the district gives up just $4,000 per student, far less than the $11,000 the district spends per student now. Here's the web link to the full article: Web Link

So the district actually makes out a little BETTER on a per student basis when 100 students opt for a charter school, don't they?

Now you can continue to perpetrate the falsehood that charters steal money from the district, but now you know it isn't true. And hopefully, you won't read a "personal attack" into any of that.

But if you have FACTS that support your position that charters take tax dollars away from the district, I want to be informed and would be very willing to hear them. Just have the courtesy and intellectual honesty to cite your numbers and sources as I just did.

Posted by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Sep 9, 2009 at 10:04 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

Please note that quotation marks in the post by anonymous from Woodside are appropriate in that the quote is, word-for-word, a statement from a story in a published work, in this case a newspaper.

However, this story quotes Don Gielow indirectly -- the meaning of the statement is attributed to him, but the words used were not his exact words.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 8:31 am

Thank you for pointing that out, David.

I was quoting directly from the published article that attributed this explanation to Mr. Gielow.

Posted by Observer, a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm

this number of $400,000 / 100 students remains undocumented, apart from the assertion.

Has the district ever provided how this number is calculated?

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 1:59 pm

That number came from the district (there is a link to the article).

Obviously, if the district only "loses" $4,000 per student when those students leave for a charter, that means that the per student spending for the remaining students goes UP, not down.

Precisely the opposite of what the district has been saying!

Posted by Abbie Cuss, a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 2:44 pm

It's the new, new math!

Posted by Observer, a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2009 at 7:21 pm

in all seriousness, the district has presented this figure several times: but how is it derived? I've heard it once as dividing 400 by (27.5 students per teachers) times the average teacher salary ... but this would seriously overstate what the district would still spend.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 11, 2009 at 8:15 am


That's a really good question. As I understand it, Don Gielow said was that for every 100 students who switch from the district to a charter school, approximately $800,000 ($8,000 per student) goes from the district to the charter to pay for teaching those students. That's the "negative" side of the story, at least for the district.

What was so revealing, however, is that this was an admission by the district (the first and only time I've ever heard it) that there is a "positive" side as well and that is that by have 100 fewer students, the district saves some money. This shouldn't be earth shattering news to anyone.

The article says Mr. Gielow referred to the savings as "overhead costs such as for teachers" (I'm quoting the article, not necessarily Mr. Gielow). I'm pretty school in finance and teachers are actually a direct and variable cost (more students requires more teachers), not fixed overhead such as lights, rent, water, electricity, janitorial service, and insurance that typically do not change (at least not much) just because you have more or fewer students.

That classification issue aside and assuming your "27.5 students per teacher" number is accurate, you would expect the district to lose, on average, about 3.6 teachers for every 100 students that leave the district. Assuming about $60,000 per teacher (solely my guess-timate), that means that the district would save about $216,000 in teacher salaries alone.

I'm sure the savings is actually a bit higher than teacher salaries alone because if you lose 400 students or 800 students, the district would likely start to accrue savings in other areas as well (ie, you can lose some management or close down some classrooms).

Where Mr. Gielow gets $400,000, I'm not sure. You can certainly ask the district for an accounting.

I don't think these estimates are pro or con on the charter school issue. It would be nice for the district to provide full financial disclosure - positive and negative - on this issue.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 11, 2009 at 9:45 am

Thanks Anonymous,

One thing that is interesting is the claim that there are no available classrooms. That certainly came up with the Everest location debate/debacle. It would appear that the space requirements expand to fill what's available independent of cost. I suspect that these sorts of analyses are exactly what the district wants to avoid. I also suspect that the issues about teachers is a challenge because contracts are set up long in advance. This may have something to with why SUHSD fought so hard to avoid Everest in any form to begin with, then aimed to come up with a location that wouldn't require any spend beyond what was planned. It strikes me that this is all the more why there needs to be a single charter grating body that is distinct from local high school district who have an inherent conflict of interest (approval of a charter at some level is an acknowledgement of some unmet need and approval of a charter makes district budgeting harder) with the bias always tilting against approval.

Posted by reality bites, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 11, 2009 at 10:25 am

I have never seen an explanation of the district's accounting system, but it occurs to me that the charters may appear more expensive because the district is counting the cost of the physical facilities as an expense -- but not doing the same for the existing comprehensives. True, the cost of constructing the comprehensives was probably absorbed long ago, but from an accounting perspective, you cannot therefore assume that the comprehensives' facilities are "free" whereas the charters' facilities cost money. You have to also assign a cost to the use of the comprehensives, bearing in mind that the schools are sitting on some pretty valuable land, or you will misrepresent the actual cost of educating each student at a comprehensive.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 11, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Concerned parent and reality bites -

Excellent points about facilities.

I seem to recall that the Everest charter school first asked for space within Sequoia High School and that the district rejected their request. Yes, locating within Sequoia was the charter school's FIRST choice (detractors seem to forget that for some reason...). That space would have been "free" - at least it would have required no additional district spending for facilities.

Everest, since approved by the state and rejected from locating inside Sequoia, had no other choice but to pursue a free-standing facility. The decision to pursue other space was forced on them by the district.

Subsequently, the district went off on it's own with their Green Street project. I wonder why the anti-charter people never fault the district for that $3 million debacle? At least the Green Street trailers can serve as a $3 million monument to the district's arrogance and ineptitude.

It didn't have to be this way and there is no legitimate reason for it continue.

The district should heed the adage "when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." The board can stop this on-going madness with a single motion requesting the staff stop the lawsuit.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 11, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Just to throw in my two cents, I think the district has gone down a path where they have almost forced themselves to throw good money after bad. They hoped to block Everest by denying the charter. Having failed that, they looked for the absolute cheapest way to give Everest space that wouldn't concede anything (like space on the Sequoia campus). I suspect the hope was that by locating the school in EPA that it would cause some of the parents to withdraw making it harder for Everest to succeed. At any point, backing down would be a glaring admission of error, something SUHSD and Dr. Gemma do not appear to be very interested in doing (take a read of his "frank conversations" on the SUHSD website if you have any doubts about that). With that said, I think the district had basically already planned to build the Green Street site, the land was paid for, so moving forward with it allows them to claim they've offered something. It essentially amounts to giving Everest the leftovers, but that's consistent with SUSHD's approach to charters: throw obstacles in the way and then fault the school for not being ready. If the resources the district has spent throwing up obstacles to Everest were applied to the school (or elsewhere in the district), Gemma could claim he is interested in ALL the students of the district, but he has taken a very divisive approach and appears incapable of backing down until overruled by someone with more power. And at this point if SUHSD stops the lawsuit, they will need to come to some sort of financial agreement with Everest (I would imagine at least lawyers fees and costs for the Main Street building, but my recollection is that there were other things mentioned that would impact the district saying disparaging things about Summit/Everest). I'd expect this will go all the way and if the district loses, they will have more explaining to do.

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