Charter schools get significant support


Charter school advocates turned out in force to respond to a recent online survey asking the Sequoia Union High School District community for criteria in hiring a replacement for Superintendent Patrick Gemma, who has announced plans to retire in June.

In the 17-item survey, of the 80 responses to item 16, "Additional criteria important to you," 37 argued for support of charter schools. Mr. Gemma had been relentless in speaking out against Everest Public High School, a sister school to Summit Prep that opened in August in Redwood City.

The results may or may not be meaningful. Web surveys can be skewed by groups making a concerted effort on one issue. Just one respondent to the "additional criteria" item expressed opposition to charters.

The Sequoia district ran the survey on its Web site for 12 days, from Feb. 22 to March 5, and gathered 95 respondents, 59 percent of whom identified themselves as parents of current, former or future students, according to a compilation provided to The Almanac by the district. Another 29 percent claimed to be district employees.

The district employs about 1,000 people, enrolls about 9,000 students, serves some 96,000 households and receives about 20,000 unique visits to its Web site every month, spokeswoman Bettylu Smith said in a letter.

Of the survey participants, 26 percent said they live in Menlo Park, another 26 percent said they live in Redwood City, with "other" and San Carlos next in line.

The bulk of the survey was 13 multiple-choice criteria. Respondents were asked to rate a candidate's view of priorities as either very important, somewhat important, or not too important.

The results showed 12 of the 13 items as "very important," including:

■ "Sustain and improve the performance of ALL students while closing the gap between higher and poorer achieving students." Very-important rating: 83 percent.

■ "Value and capitalize upon diversity in the schools and community as s/he addresses the unique needs of an ethnically, culturally and socio-economically diverse student body." Very-important rating: 53 percent.

■ "Address the multi-faceted issues associated with charter schools in an objective manner." Very-important rating: 68 percent.

Some respondents found this tedious, with one person writing: "All the questions are leading -- 'How important is it for the (superintendent) to do a good job on everything within their job description?'"

Said another: "I don't get it. How will this line of questioning be useful?"

That line of questioning is balanced by items asking for open-ended responses, Sequoia board President Olivia Martinez said in an interview. One part is quantitative and the other qualitative and, lacking a better method, the board uses the results as it may, she said.

The multiple choice items "reaffirm that there a consensus in the community as to the importance of what these things are," she said. "In a democracy, nothing is perfect."

Ms. Martinez recently announced that the board decided, in a 4-1 vote in closed session, to limit the search for a new superintendent to district employees only.

Atherton resident Peter Carpenter said he plans to challenge that decision in court because it should have been made in open session.

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Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I find the Almanac's decision to repackage this story under the banner - Charter Schools Get Significant Support - very troubling. The real story here, and the only thing the Almanac hasn't addressed other than allowing comments to be posted in this forum, is the issue of how the BoT went about wiring the job for an insider. There are no new facts in this article; they all appeared in previous ones, including the intelligence insulting quotes from Martinez. Why hasn't the Almanac pursued the issues of possible Brown Act violations and the impending law suit as news? Why hasn't the Almanac interviewed Dr. Gemma about all of this? Why hasn't the Almanac interviewed Ms. Martinez about this? The issue at hand isn't charter schools or performing arts centers or preference surveys. The issues are: Is the BoT properly taking care of the public's business? and Has the BoT unnecessarily limited the scope of the search to find the best possible choice for Superintendent?

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Woodside High School
on Mar 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm

There is some new material here: telling that 29% of responses came from district employees. That should have been a red flag to any board member who was awake.

Like this comment
Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Mar 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I agree with WhoRUPeople -- This is not a Charter School issue, this is a governance issue. I am one of the 95 respondents and did not find this to be a meaningful survey meant to garner public opinion, it read like a request to affirm the District's current direction.

And if 29% of the respondents stated they are District Employees, how many more respondents are District EEs filling out the survey again??

Also, who was the one dissenting BoT vote on holding the closed session? That was the one member who acted like a public trustee.

Like this comment
Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Mar 24, 2010 at 9:30 am

David Boyce is a registered user.

In the matter of finding a new superintendent to head the Sequoia district in July, the board member who voted against the Feb. 24 closed-session decision to limit the candidate search to district employees was Chris Thomsen.

In an interview, Mr. Thomsen said he voted as he did because the post of superintendent is important enough to warrant a nationwide search.

As to the idea that it was improper and a violation of the Brown Act, California's open-meeting law, for the board to make this search-limit decision in closed session, Atherton resident and open-government advocate Peter Carpenter has threatened to sue the high school district if it does not rescind the decision.

Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2010 at 11:01 am

..The multiple choice items "reaffirm that there is a consensus in the community as to the importance of what these things are" "lacking anything better, the Board uses the results as it may"

So Ms Martinez defends her decision, and that of the other three Trustees who also voted to wire the job to a survey that, if you do the math, represented input from .00006% of the student households in the district. Whereas Mr Thomsen based his vote on the basis of his belief that the post of superintendent is important enough to warrant a nationwide search. The other four members of the Board now, not a year from now at election time. Disgraceful!

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Jones
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:18 am

I was directed to this survey by other parents of charter school students. For my part I wanted to cast my "vote" toward charters. But I found the survey less than meaningless, and I didn't fill it out. How can publicly elected education officials try to pass this off as research? Whatever it cost them to field, it was a waste of our school dollars.

I say worse than meaningless, because of the risk that anyone in power might take any results as "findings" and use them to justify a course of action. The survey asked how important were several duties of the superintendent. When you collate the results and see which ones were the five or ten most important, what do you do with that?

I lost a lot of faith in our board with this pitiful excuse for a "survey." Hire a professional to do it right.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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