County board unanimously denies Mandarin immersion charter school proposal


The San Mateo County Board of Education on Wednesday night, Feb. 4, unanimously denied the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School's proposal to open a new school in the Menlo Park City School District.

The county board used as its grounds for denying the petition a report by county staff analyzing the petition to open a Mandarin immersion charter school next fall.

Board members said they found that the charter petition had too many flaws to be approved. The petition, if approved, becomes the governing blueprint for a charter school and can only be changed by a vote of the group originally granting it.

"I can only vote to deny this appeal," said board member Joe Ross, who represents the Menlo Park district area. "I don't think it would do the public, or the community, or the parents, any good to move forward with this petition."

He pointed to a requirement in the school's petition that all students in second grade and beyond must pass a Mandarin proficiency test to be admitted to the school. County staff said that requirement violates a state law that says all students who want to attend a charter must be admitted if there is room for them.

"I am afraid that this assumes that all students beyond second grade who do not speak Mandarin actually can not learn at this school," Mr. Ross said.

Board member Susan Alvaro said she was concerned about the lack of specifics about how the school would deal with special education students. "I am really concerned about the students in our county who are struggling and not making it," she said.

Board members seemed sympathetic to the school's general concept, which is to eventually be a kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school of 450 students that would teach students mostly in Mandarin in lower grades and use, according to the group's website, "an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and experiential approach that nurtures the whole child."

"I think that with the right support," board member Ted Lempert said, "the petition could be fixed. But that's not the petition before us."

Board members had offered to allow the Menlo Mandarin group to withdraw their charter petition and start over by bringing a new petition to the Menlo Park City School District. But after a hurried conference, a group of charter backers said they would prefer to have the charter either approved or denied. A denial allows them to appeal to the state board of education.

Board member Rod Hsiao, who said his own children are in an immersion program, said he would have preferred to see the charter group try again. "I am disappointed that they are not going to take a run at correcting the deficiencies and reapply," he said.

About 80 people attended the meeting at the County Office of Education's board meeting room in Redwood City. The size of the crowd was indicative of the attention the charter proposal has received. County Superintendent Anne Campbell said the board heard from 45 speakers at a January public hearing, received 240 written comments, and had seven speakers on Wednesday.

The proponents of the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter school had appealed to the county board after the Menlo Park district school board voted unanimously in November to deny their petition.

Carol Cunningham, who has been leading the drive for the charter school, said Feb. 4 that backers have not yet decided if they will appeal to the state board of education.

The school's charter must be approved by May 7 in order to preserve a $375,000 grant from the federal Public Charter Schools Grant Program, via the Charter Schools Division of the California Department of Education, which would help pay the school's startup costs. If appealed, the state board would have 60 days after the date of the appeal to vote on the charter.

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39 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 5, 2015 at 8:44 am

"Carol Cunningham, who has been leading the drive for the charter school, said on Wednesday night that backers have not yet decided if they will appeal."

I would expect that they will appeal, they don't seem to mind wasting school district resources and time in an effort to get what they want. It seems to me that the majority of parents are opposed to the charter school and that there are plenty of other options for Mandarin Immersion including a program in Redwood City and may private options. Why do they need to try to force a charter school in Menlo?

21 people like this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2015 at 10:06 am

The San Mateo County Board of Education has saved the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School proponents from themselves. Everyone knows why.

28 people like this
Posted by Ken
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 5, 2015 at 11:45 am

Personally, I would love to reach out to the organizers and re-state some points,

1) there is good support for a mandarin program, immersion or not, in the district

2) Work with the MPSCD board to influence and even accelerate it broader adoption of world languages, don't keep working at odds

3) Let's all move on and work together!

Please don't waste more taxpayer time and energy on a State Board Appeal...

20 people like this
Posted by lmr
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Thank you to The San Mateo County Board of Education for representing the majority of citizens.

15 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2015 at 4:20 pm

pearl is a registered user.

If you want your kids to learn Mandarin, then send them to the Redwood City Mandarin program, or one of the other Mandarin programs in the SFBA. What is the motive of those promoting a Mandarin Immersion program for the MPCSD?

Knowing Mandarin is not a marketable skill here in the SFBA. There is no need for kids living here in the SFBA to learn Mandarin. Such a program would be a total waste of the District's time, and would take away from the teaching resources that should rightfully be used for students to give them solid math, science, reading and writing skills, as well as teaching them such simple every-day things as knowing how to write a check, how to count change, how to prepare a simple tax return, how to balance a checkbook, how to responsibly manage their credit cards, etc., etc. Those kinds of skills are what will help your kids get jobs, and get ahead in this world.

There is no need for Mandarin skills here in the SFBA/Silicon Valley!!! What are you people thinking?!? What is your motivation!?! Please tell me.

23 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 5, 2015 at 4:25 pm

I'd like to think that this is over but I suspect these self-entitled people will continue to challenge the commonsense decision of the County Board.

10 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 6, 2015 at 3:28 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

The elected state representatives now need to be contacted. It is time to put an end to this Charter School. Perhaps the law needs to be changed. Perhaps this Cunningham needs to be sued for the return of the money spent by the MP School District and the County Board of Education.

10 people like this
Posted by Enough already!
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 6, 2015 at 4:36 pm

My plea to the founders (Carol Cunningham in particular) is to just stop this madness. You have a losing hand and let's move on. There wasn't any wishy-washy decisions made. They were unanimous in each decision and enough resources have been utilized in this! I would love to send MMICS an invoice for money poured into this incredibly awful idea for a charter. The "critical window" is selfishly the founders critical window based on their kids' ages.

The twisting of what a charter school should be is disgusting. It is supposed to help kids, not exclude kids that don't make the testing cut. This school is in every way trying to be a boutique elitist school on the taxpayers' dime. Just please go find another route to have your kids learn mandarin. The expense of this fight has a cost to all the other students in the MPCSD.

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