UPDATE: District refines initial offer to Everest charter high school


(This is an expanded version of a previously posted story.)

The new and "final" offer of high school district facilities to Everest (charter) Public High School for the 2010-11 school year is a refinement and upgrade to the Sequoia Union High School District's first offer and includes an openness to discuss alternatives.

The new proposal, delivered by Assistant Superintendent James Lianides to the governing board on March 31, would still have Everest's 200 freshmen and sophomores on the campus of Woodside High School rather than Everest's preference for the campus of Sequoia High School in Redwood City, and the tenancy would still be for one year only.

But Everest would have more room -- the equivalent of nine and a half classrooms instead of the first offer's eight -- would not need to set up its own library and media center, and would not have to provide its own physical education equipment.

Everest rejected the board's first offer on March 1 and has until May 1 to respond to this one, with a two-week window to propose an alternative.

Everest, in its first year of a two-year lease in an office building in Redwood City, is entitled to facilities because the Sequoia district, in its recent construction bond campaigns, employed a provision allowing passage with less than the two-thirds majority normally required for tax increases.

The Summit Institute, Everest's parent corporation, is suing the Sequoia district over an allegedly illegal offer of facilities in East Palo Alto last year.

The Woodside campus offer includes three classrooms plus offices in the B wing, three classrooms in the E wing, and labs in the C and H wings.

As for the library, gyms and other non-classroom spaces, a formula would allow Everest use of each of these facilities for about 30 minutes a day. In aligning schedules, Everest may end up with the first 30 minutes of the day or an hour every other day, Mr. Lianides said.

"This particular offer reflects the work of staff to provide a (legally) compliant offer," Mr. Lianides said. "It meets the letter and spirit of the law (and) is really attempting to provide reasonably equivalent facilities."


The Sequoia board debated then unanimously agreed to a proposal by member Chris Thomsen to discuss with Everest alternatives to moving to Woodside -- such as staying put -- if the discussion occurs within two weeks.

These legally required first-of-the-month offers and counter-offers is a "back-and-forth that is very limited," Mr. Thomsen noted. "The law allows two parties to reach an alternative agreement if both parties are agreeable."

Mr. Lianides told The Almanac that he sent this proposal to Everest via U.S. mail as a cover letter with a package made up of another letter and the offer itself. They were expected to arrive on April 2 or 5.

This package, without the alternatives-discussion language but with other board-proposed edits, was e-mailed to Everest chief negotiator Diane Tavenner on March 31. The "alternatives" language was unavailable in electronic form, Mr. Lianides said.

Sequoia attorney David Levy said in an interview that the first letter was more of a formal document, and that a second letter was "a cleaner way of doing it."

Ms. Tavenner would likely hear about it anyway because Everest Executive Director Jon Deane attended the board meeting, Mr. Lianides and board President Olivia Martinez told The Almanac.

Discussing alternatives lets the camel's nose under the tent, board member Lorraine Rumley warned. "As soon as (Everest officials) read that, they're not going to go past the first paragraph," she said.

But as it stands, Ms. Martinez said, the offer has "a very high impact" on Woodside High.

Everest knew what it was getting into when it asked for campus space, member Don Gibson said.

Asked to comment, Mr. Deane noted that the offer is "unclear" on several details but that the "chance to continue the dialog is a good sign."

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Like this comment
Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Apr 1, 2010 at 11:52 am

Still seems like a lot of work and disruption for only one year. The current location is working well.

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Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Apr 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm

This seems like an awful 'offer'. Is the district paying for the cost to communicate this one-year change?

This does not seem like a good faith offer, nor does it seem to take into account the impact on the children.

If as Simple Simon states, the current location is working well, why not keep the children there, have the SUHSD pay for this expense (they can afford this just look at the PAC's they're building or the professional sports arenas) and that will give the administrators to negotiate a more permanent solution.

I vote that educating our children with the least disruption should be priority one.

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Posted by lse
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm

The current location is working well particularly because it allows the whole of Everest's student body to be together with their teachers, mentors and administrators and doesn't spread them out among the general Woodside student population. A key aspect of Everest's time-proven approach is the ability of the faculty and other adults to be closely and constantly in touch with the students. Not only are the teachers always available for academic support but they can, and do, actively facilitate the kids' adherence to the school's "core values:" courage, compassion, curiosity, integrity, respect and responsibility. I don't understand how they will be able to continue this model if they are separated from the kids over the entire extent of the Woodside campus. There is nothing inherently wrong with moving to a large, comprehensive campus in theory - such a move would offer enormous benefits in terms of shared resources such as phys.ed. and lab facilities. But if those benefits cause the loss of Everest's cohesiveness as a separate, "small and personalized" community, one of the main purposes of the charter is defeated. The District should simply pay for the remainder of Everest's 2 year lease while continuing to search for a permanent facility which will allow the school to pursue its state-approved mission to serve District children who are not able to reach their full potential in the environment of the traditional large high school.

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2010 at 6:51 pm

As a charter school fan, I've been following Everest issue. It is obvious, even to someone who is not part of the Sequoia District, that the ONLY reason for Sequoia's behavior is to keep Everest from succeeding. I find it sad that the District officials put their own pride before the welfare of their students. I wonder if they realize how foolish and selfish they appear to their neighboring towns.

And yes, if someone in Palo Alto wanted to start a Charter High School that was of the caliber of Everett, I would be supportive.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 1, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Well, at last we have the smoking gun. The very fact that Mr. Liandes said "this particular offer reflects the work of staff to provide a (legally) compliant offer," shows that the district's past offers were NOT compliant. For those who have said that the Everest supporters were just a bunch of whiners, how do you possibly explain that admission by your new Superintendent?

As I've said before, the SUHSD hasn't repeatedly (they are on revision 5 by my count) improved its offers to Everest out of generosity. They have done so because they know their offers have been non-compliant and that they're going to be spanked by the courts. This is just way too little, way too late. At this point, why relocate a successful school that's thriving in it's current location (that they had to obtain because of the district's previous failures!).

The district is going to end up paying Everest's rent - as they are legally obligated to do - plus court costs. They may even be on the hook for punitive damages.

The trustees need to get hold of this situation and settle the lawsuit. I'm sure the Everest organizers would be amenable to a settlement... but the terms won't be getting easier.

Like this comment
Posted by a concerned taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 1, 2010 at 7:44 pm

I think it sounds like a good offer - more than generous. Why are taxpayers having to pay for these alternative schools? What gives them the nerve to be so picky? If it is good enough for the majority, it should be for them too.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 1, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Concerned Taxpayer -

Actually, California law permits it.

Charter schools are a response to poorly performing traditional schools. They are public schools, open to all and students are selected by lottery.

Your points would be better taken if you did your homework before commenting.

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Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Apr 2, 2010 at 10:19 am

I'm getting very cynical about these proceedings. One year at Woodside then a big question mark for the future -- This is a make-good effort for the upcoming court case and a destabilizing tactic by the District. If for financial reasons Everest must move to Woodside, I can understand it, but my preference is to stay in the current location and renew the lease at 305 Main St to secure it as a future campus.

Actually the future will be back to East Palo Alto to the Poly-Charter School Mega-Campus. If that is what needs to happen, so be it. I trust Mr Deane and staff with my child and have complete confidence that they will strive to find the best solution for all. I have no such confidence nor respect for the SUHSD Board of Trustees or District (save Trustees Thomsen and Martinez), this is a battle of ego and pride.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 2, 2010 at 10:42 am

It's really as simple as this: the district is offering something for a year. Beyond that, the message is "trust us". Just as Charlie Brown is silly to trust Lucy to not pull the football away each time she promises, Everest, and Summit before, would be silly to expect any good faith from the SUHSD. Given that one of the items listed in the announcement of Mr. Lianides was being the right hand man for Dr. Gemma regarding charter school, this hardly can be seen as anything other than an attempt to throw the charter school some crumbs and hope to undermine the charters. I seem to recall the rent for a year is something like $300K. In the overall district budget, this seems like a small amount and likely less than the amount of time, money, and legal costs spent in conflict.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2010 at 10:43 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The taxpayers and citizens will simply have to revolt before this arrogant Board changes its ways and starts to serve the community rather than serving its own narrow self interests.

Like this comment
Posted by a concerned taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2010 at 4:04 pm

I have done my homework. Just because it is allowed by law doesn't make it right. I think the public schools are doing a good job for the majority of kids and that your energy should be to work to improve them if you have any complaints, not to take away much needed funds for charter schools, especially like Everest and Summit. Basic aid districts don't need to lose anymore students.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 2, 2010 at 4:19 pm

The point of charter schools, I believe, is to do an excellent job for all kids.

A "good job for the majority of kids" is a tacit acknowledgment of a sink-or-swim program foisted on kids before they're adults, when it is legitimate to have to face competition that has real consequences.

Of course, the traditional schools won't acknowledge that this is what is going on, but it is, and has been for a long time. It's the Horatio Alger story, which is fine and romantic and heartwarming as fiction but is criminal for living kids who don't have a choice in their parents and who don't make the cut for reasons beyond their control.

Thus the charter school law, thus the popularity of charter schools, and thus Everest, Summit Prep and whatever comes next to satisfy the demands of parents who want the best for their kids within the limits of their resources.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Sorry, Lindenwood friend. Being allowed by law is precisely what makes it right. And even the Obama administration thinks charters are a good idea.

To your point, I'd hate to think about the number of students the district would have lost if it WEREN'T for charter schools! With the same demographics as the comprehensives, they outshine them in nearly every single respect. They are exactly what education should look like.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Woodside High School
on Apr 3, 2010 at 1:14 am

Concerned taxpayer, perhaps you might clarify what homework you've done?

here's a sample assignment
a) how many students are lost between freshman year and graduation in the district schools?
you can use dataquest service from the state: just compare the freshman enrollment with the graduates 4 years later.

graduates: Web Link

enrollment: Web Link

b) how much is the district spending per graduate?
budget: Web Link

one should deduct the adult school and charter schools from the $100M budget.

c) how does this $ per graduate compare with the charter schools?

In truth, considerable effort has gone into improving the district schools -- over the last four bond measures, over a 1/3 of a billion dollars has been invested in the district schools -- and some students do achieve great success there. But as Joe and POGO point out some is far from all.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 3, 2010 at 7:31 am

Nicely done, Observer.

Unfortunately, some people don't want facts because it's easier to echo the redirect that has been fed to them by the SUHSD. Charter schools - bad. Charter schools - steal money. Charter schools - white flight. Charter schools - for the rich. It's easier to spout off on these threads than take 5 minutes and drive by Everest or Summit to see these kids.

While a lot of money has been poured into our comprehensive schools, remarkably little has been done to change the way we teach students. New buildings are nice, but I think you get more motived students and obtain better results with energized teachers and a challenging curriculum in an old building.

The comprehensives seem to do an excellent job with the 5-10% of students at either end of the academic spectrum. It's amazing that when you hear from people who praise them (on this very website), inevitably it's the parent of a student who is academically gifted or the parent of a student who is terrifically challenged. You rarely hear praise from parents who have students performing in that middle 80 or 90% because those kids are the ones who get lost under the current system.

And it's undeniable that it is this group that appears to benefit most from an innovatative charter school curriculum the most.

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Posted by a concerned taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 4, 2010 at 7:34 pm

According to the November 2010 PTA newsletter at M-A, there were 15 National Semi-Finalists, 25 Commended and 2 Hispanic recognition awards. That is the most in years! The public system sure seems to be working for some.

I seriously doubt if the kids that go to the Summit and Everest charters would drop out if they had gone to a regular public school. They just had another choice that taxpayers had to pay for. I don't care if Obama is for it or not. It makes sense in an urban area with bad schools but not in San Mateo County.

My youngest child was not as good a student but was still challenged at M-A. That is the great thing about M-A. They encourage even the average kids to take Advance Placement classes. I think you should get your facts straight. I have experience to back me up.

Like this comment
Posted by public school parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Exactly, concerned. M-A is great for a small subset of students, many of whom go on to top tier schools. And it's hard to know how many kids who go to Everest and Summit would have dropped out of a comprehensive.

Here's what we do know: M-A was in danger of being taken over by the state because it was doing such a miserable job with the underachievers in the student population. We also know that there's a high dropout rate in all the comprehensives, with some indications that low-performing students have been habitually forced out so as not to bring down the test scores.

All charter school students take AP classes, not just the top kids, not just the top and average kids. All kids. I too have experience with comprehensives, but I also have knowledge of how the charter schools operate. Even though my own middle school student does not want to apply to Summit or Everest, I am glad he has that option.

By the way, we taxpayers pay less for students in charter schools than we do for students at the comprehensives. Of course, we pay nothing for the students who are forced to drop out, but I hope we can all agree that there are better methods of dealing with underperforming students. If the charters can help keep some of those marginal kids in school, then more power to them. Seems as though the district and the comprehensives could learn something from the charter model of student management.

Like this comment
Posted by Will
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 5, 2010 at 10:33 am

It seems most of the comments here wonder why the Sequoia District did not offer to keep Everest at their current location.

Maybe it is because Everest did not ask for that – Everest explicitly asked to be place on a comprehensive high school campus and the full use of the campus.

So if it makes so much sense, maybe the question to ask is why didn’t Everest ask to stay where they are currently located? Possible the Almanac could ask Everest that question.

If you want to look at graduations rates – Sequoia has as good as or better graduation rate than other school districts in county and state.

To say that Everest and Summit do better – well possibly it is because they do not take in low performing student who need the most help.

Most people who are in support of charter schools – such as Obama, see charter schools as helping the lower performing students get out of low performing schools – not to create schools whose mission it is to separate those students and keep them out.

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Posted by Diana
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 11:11 am

Come on, Will, do your homework. Summit and Everest have plenty of kids who were considered "low achieving" in their previous schools. Enrollment in both Summit and Everest is based on a lottery -- of course they're going to have kids with a range of abilities. Why do you make a statement like that without doing your homework?

Also, what makes you think Everest would accept facilities on a comprehensive school campus when it would be for only one year?

If you don't like the fact that Everest and Summit exist, and you want to find fault with them, then please make logical, informed arguments. Everything should be subject to debate, but you lose the debate immediately when you offer uninformed, knee-jerk comments.

Like this comment
Posted by BoarderMom
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 5, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I agree with the others that "concerned" is not doing his homework and continues to reflect the arrogance demonstrated by many M-A and Woodside parents. Just because the school works for your child, doesn't mean it is working for your neighbor's children or the families across the freeway. Of the previously mentioned national merit scholars and finalists, how many are students coming out the Ravenswood school district? The drop our rate among the schools is easy to spot. Just look at the number of listings of freshman in the student directory and the number of listings of seniors. Big comprehensive high schools, with a have and have-not mentality, do not work for everyone and do little to allow under-resourced students to achieve. What Everest and Summit offer are small classes, tracking by teachers, high expectations and high accountability. Don't do your homework, you stay after school until it is finished.

Our family was all done with Woodside HS when the head guidance counselor told me that my sophomore son would never go to a four year university and that I needed to lower my expectations. The problem at Woodside was not the kids, it was and continues to be the administration.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 5, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Concerned Taxpayer,
I fail to see why you appear to prefer that neither Summit nor Everest exist. Aside from the fact that it is the law, having additional choice hardly seems like a bad thing. To say that the existence of these charter schools takes resources from the comprehensives puts the situation quite backwards. Certainly having more choice gives more opportunity for innovation. If parents want alternative choices other than what the comprehensives offer, why is that a bad thing? Is it your position that in paying taxes, one gets no further say in their child's education?
To say that "The public system sure seems to working for some" hardly strikes me as either a ringing endorsement or an adequate standard. Public school makes exactly the right comment that Summit and Everest are addressing (based on their parents entering them in the lottery) children who are not adequately served by the current comprehensive schools within the district. The fact that both Summit and Everest are full should speak to the need for these valuable community resources. It is a logical fallacy to say that because some students at M-A do well means that the school is fine for all. There are tremendous changes that have happened in terms of media, evaluation, and understanding modalities of learning. Figuring out how best to apply them in our schools and what the modern classroom should look like is not clear, but to me trying new approaches rather than taking a one size fits all approach makes a lot of sense. Charter schools by their nature allow innovation (presumably some will succeed, some will not) that involves less systemic risk than trying the same thing at the comprehensives.
Rather than the district and the comprehensive schools having a monopoly on education, putting them in a situation where they need to earn the taxpayer dollars that they are given based on performance seems very reasonable.
So for those who are so concerned about the existence of charter schools, what are you afraid of?

As best I can figure, you would criticize parents for deciding the comprehensives aren't the right place for their kids because it takes away resources. Well, if the population isn't happy with the schools then they move elsewhere (Palo Alto, out of state, etc.) which leaves less money for the district. Perhaps they home school their kids. Forcing parents to put their kids in schools they don't believe are best for their children is hardly a prescription for more involvement and will not improve the comprehensives.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm

It's an interesting discussion but one that, unfortunately, we've heard before. Same old arguments and facts just seem to get in the way.

Perhaps putting this in business terms might be easier to understand. Suppose you had a business with several large facilities and several small facilities, each producing the same product. If the smaller plants outperformed the larger plants in a key metric, wouldn't you at least want to take note of what they're doing right... if for no other reason than you might want to incorporate those ideas into the larger facilities?

On the other hand, you could just keep saying the small facilities are bad.

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Posted by Concerned PArent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 5, 2010 at 5:54 pm

your analagy is an interesting one. The answer appears to be to do everything to handicap the smaller facilities and claim that they had better raw materials and so on and so on and so on.....

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Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Apr 6, 2010 at 4:40 pm

POGO: directors, managers and workers at large (established) facilities hate small (innovative) facilities and do whatever is in their power to destroy them ala NUMMI and Saturn.

Most Board Members will opt to kill the small facilities for fear of labor issues at the large facilities because large facilities have more clout. Often the politicos surrounding this process owe allegiance to the unions who secure their vote.

Only when the market is able to freely choose a small facility product (school lottery) or when an objective oversight committee (Board of Education Charter School Committee) can step-in, then pros and cons for each facility will be truly evaluated.

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Posted by high school parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 7, 2010 at 9:27 am

My neighbor from Lindenwood has not been informed that the money allotted to each student goes with the student. There is no extra money that the taxpayer needs to pay. The school receives money per student, no matter where that student lands.
Remember that Summit placed within the top 200 high schools in the country and I am sure Everest will be right in there with them after they get up and running.

Like this comment
Posted by Circle Jerk
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 7, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Perhaps there would not be all this negative hub bub about our excellent Charter High Schools if Summit founders had originally just named the school after Dr. Patrick Gemma, posthumously. Oh, what? He's alive?

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

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