Guest opinion: Charter school backers strike back, ask questions
There are piles of letters calling Pat Gemma's guest editorial on why the Sequoia high school district opposes Everest's charter petition "propaganda," "misleading," and even a "big lie." I call it a learning experience.
Within hours of the superintendent's declaration in last week's Almanac saying that the rigors of college preparation would pose "insurmountable challenges" for special education, second language, and poor students, an incensed mass of teenagers struck back. They weren't hurling insults, tagging the walls of the district office or personally attacking their detractor.
They grabbed video cameras and captured "The truth about Summit and Everest" in a respectful, articulate, and honest film posted on YouTube. Next they turned to Facebook, where they created a group, encouraged a few hundred people to join, and began a fact-filled analysis of the merits, or lack thereof, of the district's perspective. Finally, they delivered to the county Board of Education thoughtful, impassioned pleas for the approval of Everest in the name of choice and opportunity for all students.
Who would expect a group of high school kids to: a) care what the superintendent said about their school in the local paper; b) feel empowered to do something about it, and c) possess the skills and knowledge to systematically debunk the false and offensive statements he made? Everyone at Summit Prep and Everest would because high expectations for character and scholarship are the fabric of this community.
As public high school educators we believe that every student should have a sincere opportunity to graduate from a four-year college. We believe it is our job to prepare all students without exception or excuse, necessitating a departure from the traditional educational approach of the previous 100 years. To that end, we have designed and built a school model which supports our unrelenting commitment to achieving the goal of 100 percent college preparation regardless of background. And it works!
Teenagers don't want to fail, drop out, and end up in dead-end jobs. Teenagers do want to be smart, do well, be acknowledged, make an impact, and succeed in life. Summit Prep is the inspiring example of what happens when a school and all the people in it assume college is possible for everyone.
In many ways the outcome of the county board's vote on Monday night (after the Almanac's deadline) is irrelevant because the destiny of Everest public high school does not rest in the hands of elected officials or school employees. It lives in the kids.
The students are consumed with preparation for final exams, but physics and statistics aren't the only things they are learning. It is common to find groups of students huddled around computers displaying graduation rates and school finance data. And with their research comes a never-ending stream of questions. If the school district receives $9,423 to educate me each year, but gives Summit Prep only $6,800, how are they losing money? How can the superintendent say that 96 percent of the district's students attend college when, according to the California Department of Education's Web site, only 36 percent of the district's ninth-graders graduate four years later are qualified to apply? Why would anyone in our community want to deny other students the same opportunity we have?
Shouldn't we all be asking such questions?
Diane Tavenner is the founder of Summit Preparatory Charter High School and the lead petitioner for Everest Public High School.