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Summit Prep wants to reserve seats for volunteers' children, but high school district says no

Original post made by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer, on Dec 13, 2006

Summit Preparatory Charter High School, the high-performing four-year-old school that enrolls about 80 children from the Almanac's circulation area, recently submitted a petition to the Sequoia Union High School District for a five-year renewal of its charter.

The current charter is six months old. In May, the school district agreed to sponsor Summit, but for two years rather than the requested five. The district is doing "due diligence" in awaiting demographic and financial data from Summit's first sponsored year in the district.

Summit should resubmit it petition in August of 2007, said Sequoia district Superintendent Pat Gemma.

The state Department of Education recommends that charter schools facing the last year of a charter -- and a possible rejection of renewal petition -- have a renewal in hand before starting the school year in September. Summit would not meet this recommended condition if Sequoia's Board of Trustees puts off action until the fall of 2007.

The Sequoia district is particularly concerned about whether Summit's high test scores are a consequence of its attracting high performing students and not enrolling students with low and very low scores on standardized tests. Summit should share the responsibility of educating students of all skill levels, trustees say.

Public schools, including charter schools, are not allowed to pick and choose their students. If more eighth-graders apply for a charter school than there are seats available, California law requires the school to conduct a lottery.

Many charter schools have a tradition of reserving seats and bypassing the lottery for children of parents who perform volunteer services for the school to help get it off the ground.

Summit had such a legacy families program as part of its first charter in 2001 from the Summerville Union High School District in Tuolumne County.

In issuing its charter, the Sequoia district cancelled Summit's legacy program, citing a perceived unfairness, given that more than 100 of the 200 available seats for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years had already been reserved for parents who reside in Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley and Menlo Park.

Summit Executive Director Diane Tavenner says that just 30 percent of eligible legacy children typically apply for admission.

Summit could not go back to Summerville for a renewal because, in the intervening years, the state Legislature changed the law to require charter schools to seek sponsorship from home school districts only.

Some parents from the legacy program are incensed at the cancellation of the program and aren't happy about receiving a two-year charter either. Summit's renewal petition includes the legacy family program.

Should the Sequoia district reinstate the legacy program?

Comments (7)

Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Dec 13, 2006 at 3:13 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

For a more complete story on the stand-off over the renewal petition and the positions of Summit Prep and the Sequoia district, go to Web Link

Posted by Steve Levin
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Dec 16, 2006 at 2:58 pm

As a parent of a Summit student, I have attended Board meetings and listened carefully to the sincere and well-intentioned views of the Sequoia Board members. Sadly, I find that the Board has been consistently reluctant to celebrate and welcome the innovation and excellence shown by Summit Prep School.

Summit has an outstanding program because they recruited great faculty who are following a vision for better education, and they attract students who subscribe to their vision of "college preparation for everyone." Students of all backgrounds are welcome and equally supported to become extraordinary learners. Naturally, ambitious students (of all races and ethnic groups) will apply to the school while others will go elsewhere. It is true that Summit's ethnic mix is somewhat disproportional to the District's, but Summit does go out of its way to support a highly diverse student population.

The Board's attempt to constrain Summit's admission practices, both by eliminating the legacy program and by asking for a mirror image of the District's demographics, reflects resentment more than concern for local students. From what I have seen, the District treats Summit as an intruder who takes away District funds instead of as a welcome new player who can offer an exciting education to District residents who desire it. As for the legacy program, I believe that a great school program is truly a community effort, and participation by parents and prospective parents should be encouraged. Parents of all ethnic backgrounds and economic classes are heartily welcome to share in the work and to be part of the Summit community. The parents who have worked hard to establish an innovative program should be able to taste the fruits of their labors. I hope that the Board takes a more inclusive view and incents parent volunteerism in all of its schools.

Let us celebrate excellence in education, not dilute it with bureaucratic constraints.

Posted by Eliabeth Aaronson
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 16, 2006 at 9:37 pm

I am dismayed by the attitude from Sequoia Union High School District concerning Summit. During its four years of operation, Summit has succeeded where the local public schools have not: it has challenged and educated a diverse population and prepared them for college. I have seen two of my children attend Menlo Atherton High School where they were lost in the huge, impersonal institution. The experience was detrimental, not only because their individuality and talent was not encouraged, but also because of the virtual segregation of students.

Sequoia asks that Summit’s enrollment reflect the district’s demographics. I cannot speak to the percentages. But, as the parent of a senior, what I see when I walk among the students is diversity. Individuals from wide-ranging backgrounds are friends and equals, all included in the Summit community, all being offered the same excellent education.

Summit is not the elitist upper class white school the Sequoia board seems to envision. It is comprised of families committed to education from all walks of life. The requirement of volunteer hours, like the legacy program, is meant to encourage this kind of commitment. I am opposed to any program that would result in Summit becoming a school reserved for wealthy, white students. However, the legacy program does not have to have that result.

Summit managed to attract a wide variety of students for its first year of operation. It needs to renew efforts to recruit students from all neighborhoods in the area. With or without the legacy program, Summit is a positive addition to our community where people of all abilities and socio-economic backgrounds are respected and encouraged.

I am grateful that my second child had the opportunity to attend Summit where he discovered that school can be rewarding. Had Summit opened a few years earlier, my older son might have had the same discovery instead of failing in a hostile environment at M-A. I am thankful there is an affordable alternative to the local public high schools.

Posted by Summit Parent
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2006 at 10:29 pm

My child scores low on standardized tests and until attending Summit had experienced only failure in school. Summit's test scores are the result of outstanding and dedicated faculty and a vision of equal opportunity for all students. Had my child attended a typical public high school, s/he would have been tracked to lower achievement classes and probably would have slipped through the cracks. I think it is irresponsible of the Sequoiah Union High School District to portray Summit as a school that recruits high performing students. It is not true. Summit has provided a safety net for those students who would not succeed at a large, impersonal high school.

I urge the Sequoiah Union High School District to show integrity in reporting and welcome Summit as a model for how their other schools can do better by their students.

Posted by M-A parent
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Dec 17, 2006 at 12:03 pm

I am an M-A parent who tried (unsuccessfully) to encourage my son to attend Summit. I don't think Summit siphons off the best students (the traditional stars--student council leaders and jocks--will probably want to remain at a school like M-A), though I can understand that misreading the data may result in that conclusion. Rather, it has succeeded partially because it has attracted the best parents, people who are invested in their children's successful education. I think you will find that the top scoring students at the four district schools also have parents who are concerned and involved, but they represent a minority of those schools' student bodies.

Perhaps it isn't possible to replicate the Summit formula for success on a larger scale, but Gemma and the SUHSD should be looking at Summit as a model and trying to figure out what components of the Summit program can be extended to other schools.

At M-A, the parents who run the PTA and the Foundation are indeed the wealthier white families from Atherton, Menlo Park, and Portola Valley. I suspect the same is true for the other three schools. I'll bet the scores for those schools would rise if the district and the principals could figure out a way to involve more parents, as Summit has done.

Posted by Peter Mangione
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Dec 17, 2006 at 9:24 pm

As a parent, I deeply appreciate that Summit Prep gives my daughter the opportunity to learn with a diverse group of students while completing a college prep curriculum. Given Summit's success in helping students of different abilities, economic backgrounds, and cultural communities achieve high academic standards, I find it disconcerting that Summit continues to struggle for recognition and support in the school district it serves. A charter school faces many obstacles, and, in Summit's case, the Sequoia District has added to the difficulty--first by issuing only a two-year charter (instead of the usual five), and now by trying to delay even considering the school's much-needed charter renewal until August 2007. Several side issues have been raised, particularly about the legacy program. However, the real issue is whether Summit is meeting the state law's requirements. It is--with extraordinary distinction. As much as Summit would benefit from Sequoia's unqualified support, all that Summit needs is for the district to consider the charter immediately, as required by state law. There's no reason for the district to delay or to take action other than granting the five-year charter, as virtually all school districts in California do with qualified charter schools.

Posted by Summit Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 18, 2006 at 10:48 pm

About the legacy program: the question on the table is whether Summit can meet the commitments it made to volunteers during the time it was chartered by Tuolomne County, when the school was new. Because the program only deals with past commitments, its impact is limited.

About diversity: if you look at ethnic diversity in college preparatory courses, Summit is doing a good job. Data at the California Dept. of Ed. web site make this clear. For example, at M-A only about 5% of Hispanic students in grades 9-12 take introductory physics in any one year, while 18% of non-Hispanic white students take this course. Even if you multiply that 5% by four to get an estimate of the percentage of Hispanic students who take physics at some point during their four years, you only get 20%. At Summit, every Hispanic student takes introductory physics. All courses have a consistent level of ethnic diversity, rather than getting less diverse as the courses get more advanced.

Summit doesn't keep students out of honors or AP courses based on low grades in middle school or lack of a teacher recommendation. This is not the case for most other high schools in the district.

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