County plans fresh look at Mandarin charter school in Menlo Park district


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.

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14 people like this
Posted by AME
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 8, 2015 at 12:31 pm

In a school district that has to fund music and art privately, it seems absurd to spend money on something that a few people deem necessary....let them fund it themselves as we do for music and art.....if there is money avaiable for this immersion program, lets apply it to the unfunded music and art programs....

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Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2015 at 12:44 pm

pearl is a registered user.

I'm confused. Isn't Claire Cunningham, the county board's attorney, also a proponent of the Mandarin Charter School? If so, wouldn't that be a conflict of interest? Someone correct me, if I'm wrong.

3 people like this
Posted by MPCSD Parent2
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 8, 2015 at 1:05 pm

CLAIRE Cunningham is San Mateo County Counsel (lawyer advising county board of education)

CAROL Cunnigham is lead petitioner for the proposed charter school. (AFAIK, no relation between the two).

BTW, to clarify, the proposal is to establish a Mandarin immersion CHARTER SCHOOL, not a Mandarin immersion PROGRAM.

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Posted by AME
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 8, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Thanks for the correction: Charter School is the proper term....I guess I was thinking that an immersion program could well do the job, assuming it is desirable and necessary....

12 people like this
Posted by SP
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 8, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Come on Barbara Wood. The portion of your article devoted to sharing Ms. Yen's vision and the portion of your article devoted to sharing the specific concerns of the opposition are totally off. How about stating that one woman cited here name being submitted on the petition, even though she ask that it not? How about citing that the 80 families who did sign were nowhere to be seen in the room? How about citing that the only allotment for reduced lunch was added AFTER the petition was submitted? The article is so skewed that it loses credibility. Please present what actually happened on both sides.

9 people like this
Posted by MP Mom of three
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm

This article does not summarize last night's meeting fairly. It lasted about 3h, and the few comments cited by Ms. Wood are not representative of the presentations and discussions, just anecdotal.
I attended the meeting last night along with a lot of community members. The 80 families are actually only a goal, which would be reached after strong marketing and community outreach according to Mr. Cunningham's speech (Carol's husband). They do not exist yet. Based on actual petition signatures (44 validated), they are unlikely to materialize.
What stroke me the most last night was that the petitioners are trying to present a Charter school project open to kids of all backgrounds, while only 2 or 3 parents speaking on their behalf last night were not Chinese. Pro-MMICS speakers actually demonstrated by their very presence the segregation that was discussed by the district and several other community members.

1 person likes this
Posted by JKR
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm

I like Charter Schools. I like the idea of keeping government propaganda out of the class room. Like Common Core. I would however put a limitation that 50% of the students must be other than Chinese or of Chinese heritage. Ms. Yeh states that this school will help promote "global citizens...of all ethnicities" At least that's what she observed in the Oakland Mandarin Charter School. So let's insure that "all ethnicities" are represented. I say "Yes"

11 people like this
Posted by Andrew Becker
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 8, 2015 at 3:59 pm

I think that the objections to the proposed charter school far outweigh the potential positives. First, Menlo Park is a high performing school district with an achievement gap that is closing. Therefore, there can be no argument made on purely educational grounds for any form of Charter School, without discussing the specifics of the type of school, within this district.

Second, recognizing that they cannot make an educational argument for a Charter School within the district, the founders are pressing forth with the argument that the school will provide more choices for parents and students. As I stated last night, "choice for whom". Based on the presentations, their own budgets, information provided by parents, the school district and even in responses to questions from the County School board, the following will be excluded from this Charter School (they will not have a choice to attend):

Tinsley Children (absence of transportation and a transportation budget;

The 11% of children with subsidized lunches (there is clearly insufficient budget for this and the founders stated that they hope to get money from the state or federal government to cover this through the school lunch program that they will join after founding---but funding is not guaranteed);

English language learners (unless they are primary Mandarin speakers) as their budget and staffing clearly cannot properly address these children's needs or those of their parents;

All children currently in first through eigth grades currently enrolled in the district (unless they are the 36 Mandarin speaking children in the district)

Children with special needs requiring IEPs and 504 plans that include physical therapy, psychologic therapy, ADD medications (in school), audio-ology and occupational therapy (services provided by the other district schools but clearly based on their budget will not be provided at the Charter School).

In short, this is a new "choice" for exceptionally few students, and may only be suitable for the Founder's children, assuming that they are not found to have any issues when they reach school age.

An absence of need and a choice for a few select students, sounds like a private school.

10 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Isn't there a new MI program opening in Redwood City? Seems logical to me that if parents want their kids in an MI program, they should just enroll them in the one in Redwood City. Still free, still public. Redwood City and Menlo Park, while different elementary districts, are part of the same high school district and feed into the same high schools. Redwood City has a new MI program that can receive funding from other districts for accepting students. Menlo wants an MI program, but does not appear to have enough in-district students and would have to pay for any out of District students that it educates. As a County, allowing interested Menlo Park students to attend the Redwood City school makes a lot more financial sense than okaying a Charter.

8 people like this
Posted by MPCSD Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 8, 2015 at 11:05 pm

I felt that the article was a little light on the details, so here are a few. We had many members of the MPCSD community in attendance and I would estimate that the crowd well exceeded 150. Also, one article correction, one parent captured the fact that there were 46 total speakers, clearly more were overwhelmingly opposed to the petition; AGAINST: 31 (5 teachers; 26 parents), and 15 speakers in support of MMICS. At least 5 MMICS founders spoke, at least 2 more believed to be founders spoke (confirmation on names 1/18/15 when the SMCOE public hearing notes are published). 2 speakers were grandmothers who I do not believe have grandchildren of eligible ages for the school, but this needs to be confirmed. 2 were MMICS attorneys, and I believe 2 parents identified themselves as meaningfully interested in the charter, but it was not clear if their children were eligible for fall. Where are these 80 in-district families who are meaningfully interested in attending in fall 2015? Why did MMICS not encourage these families to attend and support their newly proposed school? Where were the out of district families who are interested? The absence of families in support leads one to believe that MMICS has a petition that does not have 80 in district signatures, and the MPCSD's verification process was correct, there are only ~44 in district families still meaningfully interested. One speaker mentioned that in October 2014, in just 3 days, there were 580 signatures on a petition AGAINST the MMICS this petition AGAINST is up to over 1400 signatures! A show of hands during this speaker's comments confirmed that the majority of the crowd in attendance was overwhelmingly opposed to the MMICS petition.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Just curious - there are only 36 students in the MPCSD that speak Mandarin and only MP 44 students potentially interested in this program. So where does the 50 new students a year and a projected school of 450 kids come from?

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

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