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Guest opinion: Why district opposes proposed charter school

Original post made on Dec 3, 2008

The county Board of Education is currently reviewing a petition for a new charter school in the Sequoia Union High School District.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 3, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (34)

Posted by Dick Moore
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 3, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Do you realize that, by saying that "The rigors of advanced placement-level coursework....pose significant, if not insurmountable, challenges to many special ed and English language-learning students"
you are basically denying the hard work and drive to succeed of many challenged students? They deserve a college prep education just like any other.

Look at Palo Alto's high schools, then look at the charter school in question. Even though you are not the super in Palo Alto district you surely must see the huge racial imbalance in those schools.

This charter school is trying hard to educate people with a different mindset to education rather than an education by worn-out teachers with tenure.

This is all propaganda by the Teacher Unions, because they feel threatened by a school that could fire an incompetent teacher, as so many of the district's schools should do but won't.

Posted by Jill Woodachre
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Dec 3, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Watch this video that Summit Preparatory Charter High School students made today after hearing about this editorial. It is hurtful to hear such distortions of the truth about Everest and, indirectly, Summit. I was impressed when I saw how positive and passionate these young people are, even when the District Superintendent makes such disparaging remarks about them. Go youth! Go school choice!

Web Link

Posted by Maura Dudley
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 3, 2008 at 10:06 pm

Superintendent Gemma wrote, "Moreover, it is our moral imperative to ensure no further advancement of the racial isolation that has been creeping back into our nation's schools."

As a supporter of Everest and teacher at Summit, I agree that racial isolation has no place in our schools, which is exactly why we at Summit believe that every student we teach can be successful and can go to college, and why we work hard as a community to support and challenge every student towards these goals. And if you look at our students, Superintendent Gemma, you will see that students of all races are successful in college prep classes and go to college. Summit has embodied that "moral imperative" and Everest will as well.

Posted by Eric Ponteri
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 3, 2008 at 10:41 pm

I have a son who is a Sophomore at Summit Prep and we could not be more happy with the school. I am very disappointed in the recent editorial by Pat Gemma. I think it is sad that the Sequoia District Superintendent would publish an editorial with such manipulative and illogical arguments against the Everest Charter. His arguments aren't substantiated by the facts and are meant for maximum emotional effect on those who are unfamiliar with Summit. I think his arguments about low performing students are especially misleading. The Summit model is most beneficial for low performing students and those with learning disabilities. It allows them to achieve success in a mainstream environment, instead of being marginalized as they would at the larger public high schools. His reaction is typical of people who fear that their performance will look poor compared to that of a rising star. Summit and Everest are a great alternative to the large public schools and I am certain will become a model for education in the future.

Posted by Claire Wampler
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Dec 3, 2008 at 10:43 pm

As a student at Summit Prep, the successful charter school that Everest will be closely based on, I feel that it is my testimony—and that of my peers—that holds the most truth. Although those on the outside may observe our Summit community and make critical judgments, those judgments are saturated with skepticism and bias. I urge anyone who doubts the success of Summit—and the opportunity that Everest holds—to view our video: Web Link
The accusations thrown at Summit and Everest are harsh and bordering on ridiculous—to suggest that racism is prevalent at our school is not only entirely untrue, but hurtful as well. I have never been part of a more diverse group of people, and all are treated equally and with respect—as they should be.
Moreover, Summit does not (and Everest will not) serve only “high-achieving” students. As testified in the video, Summit takes “low-performing” students, and helps them become confident, intelligent people, not only mastering academic content, but also holding the skills to be a contributing member of society.
Lastly, I believe it is imperative to have schools such as Summit and Everest available not because they are better, but because they are an alternative option for those students who might enter a mainstream high school as a low-performing student, and leave it no more prepared for life after school. Summit and Everest are simply different, and, as Superintendent Gemma stresses, diversity is necessary.

Posted by Deborah Smith
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Why is it that our school district is fighting what so many other school districts are trying to achieve? According to a recent article in the SF Chronicle, the San Francisco Unified School District sees tremendous value in requiring that every graduating senior passes all the college prep classes required for admission to the University of California and California State University systems and is proposing a resolution to support it. The San Jose Unified School District already requires this.

This is the precise objective of Everest and Summit, making this opportunity available to all district students, and Summit has succeeded in meeting their objective to the benefit of all.

In addition, the editorial above is filled with inaccuracies, innuendos, and is not backed up by facts. Phrases such as 'take away from the many for the benefit of a few', 'focuses selectively on high-achieving, privileged students', and 'racial isolation' appears to trying to gain support by invoking an emotional response rather than an objective debate based on the facts. If you read the article referenced below, these myths have been debunked. This type of thinking will only continue to perpetuate the achievement gap which Summit and Everest are trying to close.

Excerpts taken from a recent SF Chronical article follow below:

S.F. schools chief wants higher bar for grads
Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, November 21, 2008

The full article can be found at:
Web Link


San Francisco schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia wants to raise the bar for earning a high school diploma - requiring every graduating senior, starting with the class of 2014, to pass all the college prep classes required for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.

San Jose Unified is the only urban district to currently require it. There, starting with the class of 2003, students have had to pass the A-G courses to get a diploma, and 66 percent have met the UC and CSU requirement of a C or better in each class.

"Every myth that we hear about increasing high school expectations - that kids will drop out - that is debunked," said Russlyn Ali, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland nonprofit focused on closing the achievement gap. "When you give kids the right support, when you give teachers the right support, graduation rates will rise."

Posted by Chris Buja
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Dec 3, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Mr. Gemma deftly makes the case in favor of Everest more powerfully than any charter advocate.

Read closely what he writes.

1) "significant, if not insurmountable, challenges to many special ed and English language-learning students"

Mr Gemma underscores the district failing: low expectations. UCLA research shows what's different about schools that succeed in sending disadvantaged students to college "All school personnel provide a consistent message to students that supports their quest for a college preparatory K-12 experience" read more at Summit shows precisely how Everest will succeed at this goal though a focus on teaching and learning for all students. It already works.

2) " a problem that doesn't exist. The Sequoia district excels in preparing students for college, and in fact 96 percent of the district's most recent graduates went on to college."

Mr Gemma illustrates that fails to even grasp the magnitude of his problem. Take the recent class of 2007. It began in the fall of 2003 with 2,020 freshmen. In the spring of 2007, the district graduate 1,477 students and only 724 met the qualifications to apply to San Jose State (data from the Calif Dept of Education website)

that less than 1/3 of freshmen get a chance to apply to the CSU system is appalling, especially here in the heart of Silicon Valley where education is valued, and particularly in a district which is funded at higher levels than the rest of the state.

3) "to ensure no further advancement of the racial isolation"

Let's look in detail at those 724 college-ready members of the class of 2007

white 464 64%
latino 111 15%
asian 84 12%
other 65 9%

As freshmen they were
white 817 40%
latino 827 41%
asian 91 5%
other 285 14%

Notice the racial isolation? UCLA noticed the district problem in their report on college readiness. The state noticed it in reporting on gaps between White and Latino API: the district has the largest gap between white and Latino API scores among all high school in the state for three years running. The Wall Street Journal noticed it in an expose about API apartheid in the district. The district didn't notice this problem nor did it notice Summit's success at overcoming this gap. In his report on Everest, Mr Gemma wrote that he was unable to see any innovation at Summit. Give him credit at least for being honest about being unable to see.

3) "If the Everest petition is denied, no one is hurt."

This is the big lie -- untrue even if oft repeated. Many are hurt by the district's unthinking opposition: families who can be getting ready for college, district students who may gain improvements once the district can see; district teachers who can learn form a national model located nearby, district taxpayers who can see more effective results from our investment in education.

If Mr Gemma actually believed in his stewardship for "ensuring uncompromising quality and diversity " then he would have already approved Everest. Instead he is merely being uncompromising -- the reason for a county and state appeal process for bypassing reflexive denials.

I urge all to support Everest ... and to support the district schools, too. There are good programs in the district. There is no 'tyranny of the "or" ' with Everest and the district. Both district and charter can become great public schools; Everest has the advantage of an actual track record.

Posted by Julie G.
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2008 at 8:13 am

I live in the Friendly Acres neighborhood on the east side of Redwood City. My daughter is a freshman at Summit.

Has Mr. Gemma ever visited Summit and talked to the students, teachers, and staff? I assume he hasn't because if he had, he would have seen students from East Palo Alto to Atherton working together and excelling. And he would have seen dedicated teachers and staff along with parent volunteers making the students' achievements possible.

I think the school district is threatened by Summit's success. They see it succeeding with a population that they, by and large, have failed. And they see it as a drain on their resources.

Frankly, it reminds me of American automakers resistance to change even when faced with the reality of a changing world. Instead of presenting roadblocks to charter schools, the district should study why they are successful and replicate it elsewhere.

Posted by D. Ellen Mueller
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 4, 2008 at 8:16 am

My child, now a senior at Summit, was in Special Ed in Elementary school and Junior High. He had/has Apraxia which affected his speech and fine and large gross motor skills. He needed extensive speech therapy, he used an Alpha Smart, a special computer like device to help him “write” as he couldn’t grasp a pencil. He had a hard time walking through a room with out bumping into something and hurting himself or breaking something. It took over a hundred swim lessons before he looked like he was actually swimming, not drowning; being able to ride a bike took just as long.

When he was in 8th grade he wanted to try school without the extra help and his resource teachers agreed. He did ok. He worked hard and now can use a pencil and can type. He doesn’t crash into things so much. He only slurs when excited. He was ok with them putting him in with much younger kids so he could start learning Spanish, which was impossible before with his slur. He learned a sport, outside of school, that he loved and could do well.

Nevertheless, we were worried about High School. Despite his disabilities, we thought he was a smart child. He probably wouldn’t qualify for Special Ed, nor did he want to be in it, and he probably wouldn’t get into the “honors track.” We were worried he would “fly under the radar” in a big school.

At that time, we thought the only alternative would be private schools, so we looked into that. We found that private schools were either very elite, or mostly special ed, not much in between. Even though they were beyond our financial ability, we would have gone into debt if we thought that was the best school setting for him.

Then we heard about Summit. The small class sizes and extra after school help would be right for him. Everyone is in “honors track”. He would have a teacher mentor and a mentor group all through HS which meets daily. At the beginning of the year and throughout the year, they do a lot of community building so the kids from so many different schools and backgrounds, become friends. The innovative intersession let him try things he probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable trying at a larger school. (like guitar, which is very challenging for someone with small motor skills issues) The PE system would allow him to get credit for his after school non-traditional sport. It was very diverse; he wasn’t the slowest one in the class, nor the fastest. He fit in. We thought it was great and were very happy to get in. He is thriving at Summit

Now he is applying for colleges. His grades and SAT scores are good enough to get him into a UC.
Thank you Summit! As Everest is following the same model we support them 100%.
It is interesting to me that now that the word is out; many people from what some would call disadvantaged backgrounds are applying at Summit in droves. Have they heard they can be on college track and get the support they need to succeed on that track?
How can having choices be a bad thing?

Posted by Tracy Leclerc
a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Dec 4, 2008 at 8:32 am

Our communities and our children deserve the option of a local/district charter school program. This is about the children and the future of our communities. Children are slipping between the cracks and they deserve more.

It is evident that some special edcuation children are getting the services they need in the current high school system and most AS students are being serviced, but there is a huge gap where the "regulars" are forgotten. Especially our beautiful, deserving young men. We should not let them down. We support choice and applaud the wonderful work that Summit Prep has done with their opportunity and skills.

We are in strong support for Summit Prep as well as the future of Everest.

Posted by Vicki O'Day
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 4, 2008 at 9:14 am

Superintendent Gemma persists in maintaining his own facts on diversity at Summit Prep, which are contradicted by the facts of the real world. I know he has heard Summit students and parents speak at district board meetings and he has read plenty of Summit's statistics, but he has earned a failing grade in reading and listening comprehension.

His opinion piece ends with the assertion that "it is our moral imperative to ensure no further advancement of the racial isolation that has been creeping back into our nation's schools." I agree. Racial integration in college prep courses is one of the reasons my kids went to Summit. If Superintendent Gemma is sincere in his wish to combat racial isolation, there is plenty for him to work on at the larger district schools. Maybe he can pick up some ideas from Summit's successes in this area.

Here are some interesting real-world facts I pulled from the the web site of the state of California. If you want to explore the data yourself, look for DataQuest in the Education section.

In the 2007-2008 school year, Carlmont had 9 female and 4 male Hispanic students in advanced math courses, out of a total of 512 Hispanic students in the school. By contrast, 94 female and 95 male white students took advanced math. Imagine that you are a student in one of those math courses—this is what racial isolation looks like.

The situation is similar at other large high schools in our district. In 2007-8, Menlo-Atherton had 35 female and 24 male Hispanic students in advanced math, out of a total of 765 Hispanic students in the school. Sequoia had 35 female and 15 male Hispanic students in advanced math, out of a total of 1042 Hispanic students.

At Summit, 31 female and 28 male Hispanic students took advanced math in 2007-8, out of a total of 127 Hispanic students in the school. There were 43 female and 65 male White students in advanced math classes. The classes are racially integrated because all students at Summit take the same classes. That's not a practical or desirable model for every school, but surely there must be other ways for the larger schools to integrate their college prep courses. I wish all of our schools well in this task.

Posted by Linda R. Judge
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2008 at 9:15 am

The intent of the Charter School Act is to increase learning opportunities for all students.

The success of Summit and the approval of the Everest Charter is not a negative reflection on the efforts and accomplishments of students, teachers or administrators in the Sequoia Union High School District.

However, contrary to the comments of Sequoia District Superintendent, Pat Gemma, a problem does exit in the Sequoia Union High School District. There are kids who have difficulty succeeding in the environment offered by the Sequoia district's four comprehensive high schools. At the 2 hearings on the Everest Charter, numerous kids spoke up about how they were failing or falling between the cracks in a comprehensive middle school or high school environment and are now thriving under the Summit model.

Contrary to Mr. Gemma’s comments, the Summit/Everest model is not focused on high-achieving, privileged students. Due to the fact that there are many applicants for every freshman seat, the Summit student body is selected by lottery and therefore reflects the population of the local community. The Summit student body is both diverse and representative of the district as a whole. Summit has a mix of 30 to 40 percent Hispanic students in most classes, and for 2008-09, 52 percent of the freshman class is Hispanic and 34 percent are white.

For some reason, Pat Gemma has chosen to ignore these facts.

If the Everest petition is approved, no one is hurt. To the contrary, if the petition is approved, kids who might not succeed in one of the Sequoia district's four comprehensive high schools will be given the opportunity to be successful in the public school system. Isn’t this the intent of the Charter School Act?

I would hate to think that the Sequoia Union High School District believes that Summit and Everest are competing with the comprehensive high school model, when they simply provide another option for students who are more likely to succeed in the charter school setting.

Posted by William Coleman
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2008 at 10:22 am

Dear Superintendent Gemma,

I am completely puzzled by your apparent unwillingness to come to terms with the fact that neither Summit Prep nor the proposed Everest high school are 'exclusive, privileged' institutions 'designed for only high performing students', per your recent editorial. So I thought to offer the following questions for you here.

How you can look at the numbers and still argue that the schools are out of alignment in terms of demographic diversity? The percentages are as plain as the words on this page: Summit (and soon Everest) is right where it should be in terms of racial and economic diversity, comparing precisely with other schools in the district.

Further, how can you suggest that every student -- Latino, Asian, Anglo and the rest -- graduating to an institution of higher learning is a bad thing? One hundred percent -- all students, Superintendent Gemma --graduating from Summit Prep are given opportunities for a better quality of life, and opportunities to contribute to society's daunting problems. How can this be a bad thing?

I have two kids currently attending Summit Prep, soon to be followed by a third. The two boys were poor to average performers at their middle school, and one of them participates in an independent learning program. At Summit they have become A and B students. Top performers. Something there seems to be working right and I am both surprised and delighted. So how can you say that Everest (a mirror image of Summit) 'is not designed for low-performing students'? How many stories like mine do you need to hear?

Summit (and soon Everest) caps its enrollment at 100 students per grade. Last year there were over 300 applications for the available slots. This coming year 700 applications are expected. The word is getting around, Superintendent Gemma. The Summit-Everest model works, and it works for every kind of student.

So how can you argue that Everest isn't needed when the demand for Summit-type performance is so high?

In the face of real numbers like these your arguments are simply empty. You must be worried about something else. You and a few other mainstream educators must have unspoken concerns.

Could it be that Summit Prep educational quality sheds poor light on the character and performance of other public schools in the district? Could it be that the Summit model works so well it suggests a retooling of the rest? Could it also suggest that we need a new Superintendent who is actually capable of adapting our educational system to 21st century needs? Perhaps that is closer to the truth.

Summit and Everest are innovative, Silicon Valley type solutions to an under performing educational system stuck in outdated ways. In my view your current understanding badly misses this truth, and your position is a disservice to your constituents.


William Coleman
San Carlos

Posted by Jay Gertridge
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 4, 2008 at 11:53 am

I didn’t quite understand why Sequoia Union High School District Superintendent, Pat Gemma, in publicly soliciting anti-sentiment towards granting proposed Everest Charter High School, chose to sight Summit Preparatory Charter High School as his example.
But now I know the reason — Mr. Gemma just hasn’t done his homework!

Having never even visited Summit until this Thursday (to view a leak in the roof), Mr. Gemma clearly has zero first-hand knowledge to make an “educated” decision as to how a school in the District best handles the needs of special education students — especially in lieu of Summit’s outstanding record in very successfully meeting the educational and development needs of such a diverse racial and socioeconomic student body.

While Summit Preparatory economically may not be “firing on all cylinders”, this is hardly due to the enlightened teaching standards and countless volunteer hours and monies contributed by Summit parents and some generous, progressive outside supporters. Rather, it is due to the district’s imposed, underwhelming, per-student financial contribution ($2,000 less per student than other Sequoia Union High School District schools). But let the record speak for itself —no other High School in the District comes close to Summit in the college acceptance numbers.

As a graduate of Menlo-Atherton High School, with two children who also graduated from M-A, I was ecstatic to learn of Summit Prep when our 3rd child was ready to enter high school, and even more delighted when his name was selected in the open lottery system. Now, rather than being one of the 70% that seem to be rubber-stamped through high school in this “no kid left behind” joke of an education system, our 10th grade son is becoming the well-educated, well-spoken, thoughtful, caring and understanding young citizen that any parent would be proud.
And guess what Mr. Gemma, there are 400 students just like him at Summit — plus, close to 500 lottery applicants for the 100 freshman seats next year.

I urge San Mateo County superintendent, Jean Holbrook, and the county Board of Education to get the truthful facts about Summit Prep’s “against all odds” success, and publicly acknowledge that success before casting a vote on the petition for Everest Charter High School.

Posted by Elana Feinberg
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2008 at 2:14 pm

I have been an educator in San Mateo County for 6 years. I am writing in response to the scathing opinion piece by the Superintendant, which included many facts about Summit which were patently false.

The model for Everest is based on that of Summit Preparatory High School. As a former history teacher at San Mateo High School, I believe that the overall student experience and education at Summit is far superior for ALL students. At SMHS, a traditional high school in which students elected on their own to take AP courses, most of the AP classes were filled with only white and Asian students. Because of this traditional tracking, the achievement gap between white students and students of color, and similarly between students of high and low socioeconomic status, was high. Many of my students in "college prep" courses were capable of taking AP classes, but simply did not take the prerequsite courses or were not encouraged to sign up.

My experience as a teacher at Summit has been vastly different. All students, without exception, are encouraged and prepared to go to college. Last month, we held a CSU/UC night, to help students to submit their applications. Many parents also assisted their students. To see the outpouring of emotion of parents of students who will be the first in their family to go to college was truly touching. Similarly, there were tears in my eyes as I watched students who had struggled early in their careers at Summit, who entered the school lacking many of the skills of most students, submit their college applications.

The sense of community at Summit is greater than I have seen in my previous teaching experiences. Students feel intellectually and emotionally safe. I know all of my students on a personal level. They feel their thoughts and opinions matter to each other and to adults. I know this through the way that students interact with each other and with teachers on a daily basis.

Summit strives to prepare and send all students to college, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic or educational background. We use state of the art, research-proven teaching techniques, which allow all students to be successful. Furthermore, teachers stay after school to help students that may need extra help. It is certainly NOT designed to teach only an elite few.

Posted by L. Wohlsen
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Dec 4, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Supervisor Gemma,

As a professional interested in the best for students in our community, I welcome your visit to Summit to see for yourself what the environment is like. You would see a student population working together from various ethnic backgrounds and economic levels. Working cooperatively and with respect for each person's voice is a strong component of the Summit philosophy. Please check your facts about the population of Summit. Everest would draw a similar population. The waiting lists attest to that fact.

Everest has been constructed with the same core values. Please take a look at those core values, the students who current go to Summit and the long list of applications for next year at Summit. All speak to the success of this program and the need for another small focused high school rich with a diverse population that models our community and the hands-on creative teaching approaches found at Summit. Please be receptive to other approaches that have worked.

Our son graduated last year at Summit, the second graduating class. He feels very comfortable in his college classes, well prepared for his studies, the environment and with respect for others' points of view. Please be respectful of so many voices that are asking for a chance to study in a small class environment, with a program modeled after an already successful program. Thank you for your consideration.

Posted by Cindy Hill
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 4, 2008 at 2:40 pm

I am outraged as usual by Sequoia Union High School District Superintendent, Pat Gemma’s continued misrepresentation of facts regarding Summit Prep and proposed Everest. I applaud anyone speaking out for what he/she believes, but this elected official should not be publishing outright lies in local papers. Although the other public schools in the Sequoia Union High School District are excellent schools, Everest (like Summit Prep) provides an alternative to students who need a smaller school environment. Because Summit receives so many applications for admission and must turn away students, Everest will be able to accommodate some of these students.

My son graduated last year from Summit Prep, and is now a freshman at a California university. He has had much difficulty throughout his school years in passing classes due to various special needs. He would have gone to M-A and would not have been recommended for advanced courses. Of course, at M-A a parent may place students in the advanced courses even without the recommendation. However, if the courses are too full, students like my son would be excluded. In addition, M-A will remove any students from those courses if the students are not succeeding in those courses or if they did not do well in the courses leading up to those advanced courses. My son would not have succeeded in those courses. I know this because my daughter, who was an excellent student, did attend M-A, which was a good fit for her. However, she was not permitted to remain in some of the advanced courses.

Because of Summit Prep’s philosophy, my son was never removed from advanced courses. He was provided as much extra help as he needed to succeed in the advanced courses. In addition, the extra help and study sessions were available to all of Summit Prep’s students, not just my son with his special needs. I have seen many false statements against Summit Prep (and now against Everest), and in Pat Gemma’s words, “..Everest focuses selectively on high-achieving, privileged students.” I cannot tell you how enraged I feel when I see that comment. My son was not high-achieving nor are we privileged. This philosophy is just a way to discriminate against students who have not done as well prior to high school. Any student, no matter what ability, should be able to be prepared for college and ALL students are capable given the encouragement and assistance that Summit Prep provides--as will Everest Public High School.

Posted by Rebecca Slater
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 4, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Wow, it sure was silly of Pat Gemma to say such strong words without having all the facts. I followed this link Web Link so I could see for myself the types of students who attend Summit.

I wish I had a mentor to guide me when I was in high school. I wish I had teachers who worked above and beyond the hours of classes to make sure I had a differentiated yet challenging and community relevant curriculum.

Superintendants should wish that for their community as well.

Way to go, Summit!

Posted by Leslie Kriese Lee
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 4, 2008 at 7:59 pm

The attitudes expressed by the Superintendant is not new or surprising. This has been the attitude of the Sequoia UHS Board since Summit was on the drawing boards years ago. So my question to you is, why do we keep electing these folks?

Posted by Deborah Henken
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2008 at 9:30 pm

As a Redwood City parent who became involved in the Summit community several years ago, I believe Superintendent Gemma misses the point about what Summit and Everest applicants are looking for in the school. It is not just a small school environment, but one that believes each and every student, no matter their background, race or socioeconomic status, can prepare for college if they work hard and are supported through the process. Summit does not focus on only high-achieving individuals nor only the privileged. Summit and Everest, which will follow the model of Summit, select students by lottery and are very diverse. Any student who wants to succeed and prepare for college can apply for the lottery.

Furthermore, Superintendent Gemma mentions that the schools would push racial isolation. Actually, the make-up of the student body at Summit is statistically similar to Sequoia Union High School District as a whole, as verified by the district staff. 47% white (40% SUHSD),40% Hispanic (42% at SUHSD), 5% Asian (5.2% SUHSD),4% African American (5.1% SUHSD) and 5.2% other/multiple (7.3 SUHSD).

In addition, although Superintendent Gemma says that "The rigors of advanced placement-level coursework and required mastery of Mandarin would pose significant, if not insurmountable, challenges to many special ed and English language-learning students", the reality is that Summit students have a number of both of these populations with 18.3%, English Learners and 8.2%, special-ed, both statistically similar with the SUHSD as a whole.

Only 28% of district students are prepared for CSU/UC schools on graduation. 100% of Summit students are prepared.
I would think that the district would welcome more opportunities to prepare our students for the rigors of college education.

Posted by Mary Moran
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2008 at 5:49 am

I am a parent in Redwood City with a child entering HS next fall. I am in support of the Everest petition and after reading Mr. Gemma's letter am wondering if he has even taken the time to read the petition.
*Gemma writes: "Everest focuses selectively on high-achieving, privileged students". HOW? Enrollment to SUMMIT/EVEREST is open to everyone & selection is made by a lottery method. How are they selecting privileged, high achievers without ANY prior knowledge of the students?
*Gemma writes: "Everest proposes offering a solely college preparatory curriculum to prepare all it's students for enrollment in a four-year college". Is that considered to be a BAD thing? Is he suggesting the Sequoia District ISN'T preparing our High School students for college?
*Gemma writes: "Everest's expectations of parents would represent considerable challenges to many lower socioeconomic families" Are you kidding me? As a parent, you are either involved in the education of your child - or you aren't. Poor people love their children & make great sacrifices to be involved in their education, and rich people ignore their children & have no involvement. Social standing makes no difference. Believe it or not.
The demeaning stereotype Gemma continues to suggest regarding English-Language learners, special ed students & socioeconomic challenged families is inaccurate & offensive. Anyone who has spent time in San Mateo County knows that diversity is an area we are NOT lacking in. This is a beautifully intergrated community where it would be impossible for ANY school to ignore the needs of any ethnic group. The School District needs to stop using imaginary discrimination as the basis to deny the Everest petition.

Our children are growing up in a time when going to College is no longer an option but a necessity. I am appalled the Superintendent of Sequoia Union HS District appears unaware of that and is not in support of ensuring the needs of ALL students are being addressed.
I am not confident that Sequoia District can prepare my child and STRONGLY believe that as a member of this community I am justified in asking my child be offered more.
Allow ME, as a parent, decide what enviornment she will do best in - and give me ALL of the available choices!

Posted by it's about the money
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 5, 2008 at 11:06 am

It would be wonderful to provide every parent with the best educational opportunities for their child, but the funding just isn't there. I applaud Gemma for taking a very difficult position. Just as in physical disasters those in responsible positions must triage needs to preserve the most possible, the district is challenged to do the same. Our district and our state simply do not have the money to do everything we'd like. I wish it were different. We should be investing in education, not cutting back, but the funds aren't there. Please face this harsh reality.

Posted by Debbie B.
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2008 at 11:51 am

Pat Gemma makes a lot of accusations that don’t hold any factual evidence. To me, it is all political and does not want this to pass and is trying to taint the public’s opinion. He states “Everest is clearly not designed for low-performing students” What does he base this on? I don’t believe he is really taking a look at who currently attends Summit and in which way they are helped.He also states, “Everest is proposed as an alternative to a problem that doesn’t exist”. Again, I strongly disagree with this judgment.” He may believe this from a political standpoint, but there are many kids who need a charter school and obviously Summit can only allow so many of these kids and we are in desperate need of another. I am honestly terrified if my child has to be stuck into Sequoia High School next year. It is all I can do to get her to get through 8th grade along with the public school system who cannot seem to protect her now.

Posted by James Bibbler
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 5, 2008 at 12:18 pm

There are over 450 Charter Schools serving approximately 250,000 students in California. Extensive research, including that of the California Department of Education, overwhelmingly indicates that students in Charter Schools show substantially higher achievement than students in traditional public schools.

Yet Superintendent Pat Gemma steadfastly denies independently gathered statistics and the testimony of Charter School students and their parents.

Clearly, he is not responsive to the Charter School Act mandated by California law nor to the needs of the community which he serves.

His arguments for denying the Everest application fall between distortion of facts and outright lies. He states that granting the Everest application would "...further advance racial isolation". He is well aware of the fact that sister school Summit is racially balanced and that 52% of the current Freshman class are of Hispanic origin and 34% are white. He further states "....and, in fact, 96% of the District's most recent graduates went on to college". Does ANYONE believe that?

This man has no place in public education. The publicly elected County Board of Education should request his resignation.

Posted by More about the money
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2008 at 2:31 pm

in correction to "it's all about the money" who wrote "We should be investing in education, not cutting back, but the funds aren't there"

Were you to look at the budget, Summit and Everest cost far less than the district average AND get better results. Moreover, they both raise the average spending per child in the district since the district keeps the difference in funding (and skims even more off the top) all while no longer paying to educate the 400- 800 students.

In this time of fiscal caution, we should be accelerating more effective schools, not spending money and time opposing them.

Posted by Andrew Lichtblau, Director of Special Education at Summit
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2008 at 2:46 pm

“Everest is clearly not designed for low-performing students…The rigors of advanced placement-level coursework and required mastery of Mandarin would pose significant, if not insurmountable, challenges to many special ed and English language-learning students.”

The reference to the students as “special ed students” rather than “students with special needs” is the mentality of person that sees these students as incapable of achieving mastery in AP classes. A student should never be defined by his or her disability; doing so limits them, puts them within parameters, sets artificial ceilings, and, consequently, it makes people think that setting high expectations will be “insurmountable” challenge.

Students arrive at Summit, the charter on which Everest is based, from over 40 different middle schools, and their academic readiness is all over the map. Summit is designed to support and challenge these students with innovative and progressive techniques, such as differentiated instruction, backward planned curriculums, multiple structured opportunities to interact with their teachers in addition to their core classes, daily mentor/counselor programs with a student-teacher ratio 18:1, and strategically designed revision sessions for students who needed additional instruction. The education of students with special needs has long since left the “backroom shut-outs” of past. Research and empirical evidence show the triumphs of inclusion; we can and MUST challenge these students. Based on the tried and true successes of Summit, “Everest is clearly designed for low-performing students.”

Posted by M-A mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 5, 2008 at 6:48 pm

I have always had quite a bit of respect for Pat, but his credibility plunged with that editorial.

I do not have a child at Summit and I am not an educator. However, I have read educational theory and I have had the M-A parent experience. Pat seems to be afraid that Everest will siphon off the best students. Are these fears based on empirical evidence? I doubt it, as M-A seems to have as many bright kids as ever, as many AP classes, and as many students accepted to Stanford and other top tiers as it did prior to Summit's founding.

Pat says he is concerned that the charter schools cause segregation. Boy, I have to scratch my head on that one. M-A, arguably the best of the traditional high schools in the SUHSD, is about as segregated as anyone can imagine. And no one wants to change that for fear that the more affluent and better educated parents will grab their kids and leave if their darlings aren't safely cloistered in separate (and superior) classes and lunch areas.

For years, M-A had PI status and the state was threatening to take the school over, a byproduct of failing No Child Left Behind. Some fancy footwork ensued, a few principals shuffled through (four in three years?) and somehow the PI problem vanished, along with many of the minority students. Blame NCLB for a large percentage of those dropouts, though I'm not sure the school was sad to see them go.

For years, everyone has known that M-A is a terrific school for prepared, confident, and motivated students, a disaster for many others. Is that the model that Pat supports for district students?

Even though I have not had the opportunity to experience Summit as a parent, I know that it has provided an incredible education to the children of my friends. I would think that the SUHSD would be proud to be able to offer diverse learning environments to students. As a professional educator, I'm sure Pat is well aware that one size does not fit all.

Instead of disparaging Summit and rejecting Everest, maybe Pat can try to see how he can apply successful elements of those charter programs to transform the curricula at the traditional high schools. Those schools are failing to adequately serve 2/3 of their students. Why isn't he writing editorials about THAT?

Posted by $6.5MM Lehman toilet
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 5, 2008 at 7:51 pm

He's just trying to stay out of the flush, since the astounding losses from County Treasury pool $150MM debacle hit the district big time. Gemma's making excuses to not elevate an academically mediocre district with a an Everest/Summit model, because he knows he can feather his nest with a top heavy administration/compliant board only if he has tight control on fewer campuses.
Time for a new superintendant with vision.
Our kids deserve better.

Posted by Liz Ditz
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 6, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Superintendent Gemma has some interesting approaches to data.

He wrote, " The Sequoia district excels in preparing students for college, and in fact 96 percent of the district's most recent graduates went on to college."

We are fortunate to have an excellent community-college district, which is where many of Gemma's 96% are going, because they aren't prepared for either Cal State or UC.

The fact is, that only 36% of all SUHSD students met the University of California A-G entrance requirements. Of Latino SUHS students, only 13% met the A-G requirements

That doesn't even begin to address SUHSD's 27% drop-out rate.

100% of Summit's class of 2007 met the A-G requirements. There's no reason to think that Everest will perform differently.

Posted by Liz Ditz
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 6, 2008 at 2:47 pm

I guess Pat Gemma isn't opposed to all charter high schools, just the Summit/Everest ones that have really strong leadership:

Web Link

Oakland Tribune, Mar 18, 2008

Sequoia, Ravenswood districts negotiate charter high school

" In coming weeks, Gemma and Ravenswood Superintendent Maria De La Vega are planning to hammer out the details of the deal and bring it back to the Ravenswood board for a final vote.

Gemma told the trustees Thursday that his district's board has already committed to granting Aspire a 9-12 charter if Ravenswood does not. "So the school is coming," Gemma said."

Posted by James Safranek
a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2008 at 11:01 pm

My daughter is a freshman at Summit. Of the 325 applicants, we feel very lucky that our daughter was one of 100 accepted in the admission lottery. Summit is an excellent school, and I support plans for Everest. The September 3rd Almanac editorial, Web Link gives a good summary of Summit’s success and the argument for Everest.

I was very disappointed by the inaccuracies in Pat Gemma’s Almanac editorial. His final sentence, “Moreover, it is our moral imperative to ensure no further advancement of the racial isolation that has been creeping back into our nation's schools,” is completely off the mark when referring to a school that will be modeled on Summit. The current Summit freshman class is 52% Hispanic. Sequoia Union High School District needs new leadership.

Posted by Karen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2008 at 6:35 pm

I completely agree with the previously posted comments supporting the existing Summit and proposed Everest charters and opposing the SUHSD decision. I am currently evaluating high school options, including Summit and Everest as well as private schools, for my own child for next year. Most likely, we will choose MAHS precisely because it will best meet the needs of my "privileged" child.

From my perspective, this comes down to money. The SUHSD does not want to fork over money to charter students. Although Summit pays rent to the SUHSD, the SUHSD incurs a net outlay of money for each student who chooses a charter. Based upon the experiences of some families who have been underserved by the SUHSD, I suspect that at least some of the students who are successfully retained at Summit would have dropped out of the district high schools. Each one of those success stories at Summit costs the SUHSD money. Perhaps my interpretation of the circumstances is too cynical.

I do think the SUHSD is working to meet the needs of all its students. The overwhelming demand for admittance to Summit (and Everest by extension) should be a wake up call for the SUHSD to continue its improvements.

Posted by Lloyd L
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 10, 2008 at 12:03 am

Sup. Gemma -

I believe your heart is in the right place. However, instead of continuing to push the Summit model down, please consider trying to learn from it. You could apply some of the things which have been learned in forming and running such a successful school to the comprehensive high schools in your district. I would recommend that you seek out a good working relationship with the managements and boards of the two schools as well as the Summit Institute.

As the parent of two M-A students I thank you for your part in making the district schools as good as they are.


Posted by Josh
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 11, 2008 at 7:10 am

Earlier this year, the Sequoia Board of Trustees approved a $200,000 expenditure to hire a marketing consultant. When asked about this by another local newspaper, Trustee Lewin said that the district needs to "convince enough parents to send their children to public high schools instead of charter schools."

Superintendent Gemma has said that he is "the steward of the community's resources." I would like to know this – If money is so tight, why is the steward of our resources spending $200,000 to keep students from going to Summit Prep, the highest scoring public school in the District?

Mr. Gemma - whose "resources" are you protecting?

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