State board backs Everest charter
• Sequoia district's opposition gets no traction in Sacramento.
The California Board of Education unanimously approved a charter for Everest Public High School on March 11, rejecting the opposition by the Sequoia Union High School District.
The state board's staff report rejected all the allegations the Sequoia district used to justify its efforts to deny Everest a charter.
Of 16 allegations made by the Sequoia district against Everest's petition, and three presented by the San Mateo County Office of Education, none was supported in the staff report by Department of Education consultant Michelle Ruskofsky.
The March 11 vote of 7-0 in Sacramento followed a 9-0 decision in Everest's favor in February by the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools, a panel that advises the state board and that also relied on Ms. Ruskofsky's report.
Sequoia district Superintendent Patrick Gemma makes many claims against Everest, including that it will harm the district in economically hard times and that the school's model violates what he says was the Legislature's intent for charter schools: that they focus on low-performing students. He responded to the board's decision in a statement.
"We are disappointed that the state became involved in what is clearly a local issue and that the state chose to grant the appeal," he said. "It was a daunting task to try to ensure appointed officials 150 miles away understood our local interests and needs."
Mr. Gemma's entire statement can be read at www.seq.org. The Almanac requested an interview, but was referred to Mr. Gemma's statement.
Diane Tavenner, Everest spokeswoman and founder of Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City, told The Almanac that she was "ecstatic" about the board's decision.
Ms. Tavenner said she had not expected a unanimous vote. One member had voted against charter petitions earlier that day and had a reputation for doing so regularly, she said, but this time he voted for Everest.
"In our case, he was the first one to raise his hand and say 'I see no reason not to approve this charter,'" Ms. Tavenner said. "It was a very strong show of support by the board."
Ms. Ruskofsky, the consultant, said in an interview that while the board as a whole did not ask the Sequoia district to justify its opposition to Everest, one member did say there was "no reason to deny" the petition and described Everest as "a high-quality charter school" that would "meet legal requirements and fulfill the (charter school) legislation's intent."
Everest would be modeled on Summit Prep, a school in its sixth year that has many more applicants than available seats each year, a four-year-college acceptance rate of more than 95 percent, per-student spending that runs thousands of dollars less than the district's, and an ethnically diverse student body chosen by lottery.
Asked if a hostile home district affects the operations of charter schools under state sponsorship, Ms. Ruskofsky said she didn't see it as a concern, but described the situation as "unfortunate (and) typical" for charters that come before the board on appeal.
Ms. Tavenner said she's looking forward to a relationship with the state education department. "The staff members are very collaborative in nature," she said. "They are in the business of wanting schools to succeed and excel and serve students."
The site for Everest remains in flux.
The Sequoia district offered four portable buildings on a currently empty lot on residential Green Street in East Palo Alto, but in their response, Everest's lawyers have threatened a court battle if the district does not offer a classroom building reported not to be in use on the campus of Sequoia High School in Redwood City.
The district has until April 1 to reply to Everest's response.