Once again a crowd packed a hearing room to listen and speak about the Mandarin immersion charter school that has been proposed in the Menlo Park City School District. On Wednesday night, Jan. 7, the San Mateo County Board of Education took the testimony.
Backers of the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School have asked the county to approve their school after the Menlo Park City School District's governing board unanimously denied the charter school's petition on Nov. 12. The county board, which held the public hearing Wednesday, is scheduled to vote on the charter on Feb. 4.
About 150 people filled the county boardroom in Redwood City. More than three dozen spoke about the proposal after presentations by the charter backers and the Menlo Park City School district.
The county board's attorney, Claire Cunningham, told county board members that the county office of education is conducting a fresh review of the charter. "The charter petition review committee, comprised of staff at the county office of education, is conducting an independent review of the charter petition," Ms. Cunningham said. "So it isn't dependent on whether the Menlo Park City School District team got the correct answer or not. It's conducting its own independent review of the petition."
The review by the county staff will look at the details of the charter school's proposed program, "based on our teams' professional judgment," she said. "
Ms. Cunningham also told the county board that the charter petition does not need to be perfect to be approved. "A charter petition could still be granted even it doesn't meet certain aspects of the elements that are laid out in the education code," she said. The county's report on the charter proposal is "what you'll be reviewing and making your decision (on), in addition to the information that's being presented and the public comment," Ms. Cunningham said.
County board member Ted Lempert agreed. "We're going to do our own analysis here," he said.
The board will also have to take into consideration the strong opposition to the charter school, some of which was voiced at the hearing.
Oak Knoll reading teacher Jacqui Cebrian said she fears the school will promote inequality in the district. "It seems to me that it only serves to widen the opportunity and achievement gap that over three years our school has narrowed," she said. The proposed charter school, she said, "seems designed to provide a boutique experience for a small number of mostly privileged students."
"They should not be a vehicle to further advantage already advantaged children, while further disadvantaging our neediest," Ms. Cebrian said.
A number of supporters of the charter school also addressed the county board. Jennifer Yeh, one of the school's founders, shared the vision she has for the school. "Imagine standing in the school yard where children of all ethnicities are speaking fluently in Mandarin and English," she said. "This is what I actually saw when I toured our neighboring school's Mandarin immersion program in Oakland."
Ms. Yeh said that when the district turned down their proposal for a Mandarin immersion program within the district, "without any other recourse" they researched charter schools and their impact on local communities. "Our team decided that the benefits of the Menlo Mandarin far outweighs any potential risk" to the district, she said.
"We respectfully ask that the county approve our vision, a school that would create a progressive learning environment, and a school that would prepare students to be lifelong learners and engaged global citizens," Ms. Yeh said.
Under the proposal, the Mandarin immersion school would eventually have 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The presentations made by the Menlo Park City School District and the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School can be seen on the county's website.