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District raises concerns about school site

Original post made on Jun 16, 2009

Officials from the Sequoia Union High School District are criticizing the efforts of Everest Public High School to set up operations in Redwood City and open in September.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, June 16, 2009, 10:56 AM

Comments (50)

Posted by M-A grad & M-A/Summit parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 16, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Here we go again. Will SUHSD officials stop at nothing to deter the opening of another Charter High School in Redwood City? This is just plain filibustering at the taxpayers expense.
Trace PCB contamination may be harmful to students? Hmmm, let's see. Sequoia High School was built in 1895, and Menlo-Atherton built in 1951. Tell me there's no trace PCBs left over in the old insulation and lead paint that still exists in those two institutions. Heck, just the amount of motor oil that was poured out into the ground outside of auto shop class for years at Sequoia (way before anyone knew better) and the 60+ years of leaking oil and fuel in the school bus motor pool yard, would seem likely to cause very harmful mental effects to anyone spending much time on the Sequoia campus.
Oh, wait. That's it! Isn't Superintendent Patrick Gemma's District office on the Sequoia campus?

Posted by Janis
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 16, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Why is the Sequoia District going ahead and developing the East Palo Alto site, when Everest isn't going to use it? More waste of money by Sequoia. The Sequoia Distric would rather spend money on lawyers than students, that is "unfortunate, if not unconscionable" in a time of economic hardship for the Sequoia district.

Posted by D. Carr
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jun 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Given the article "Grim school-funding outlook will get grimmer
Sen. Joe Simitian briefs area school officials about dire cuts in state funding for schools" by Chris Kenrick Palo Alto Online Staff would appear that the battle for Everest is ill timed. My understanding is; at full enrollment Everest will only benefit 400 students….their thirst for success at any cost will cause even greater hardship than indicated in the forecast from the above mentioned article for 8,000+ students in the SUHD.

Posted by jim watson
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 16, 2009 at 4:21 pm

SUHD is just wasting more money and not following the logical steps to allow a great education for our future leaders at Everest Charter School. Summit charter has an amazing track record. Lets copy what works and spend our money wisely. Keep up the good fight Everest. You have my support!

Posted by Summit Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 16, 2009 at 4:40 pm

D. Carr needs to be reminded that MONEY for a student's education FOLLOWS THE STUDENT. When a student goes to a charter school, that school gets funding for that student. When a student goes to MA or Woodside, THAT school gets funding for THAT student. How does a student cause hardship for other students just because they are at a charter school? Just because a student may wish to go to MA and not Summit, I don't feel that it is causing a hardship for my student at Summit!

Posted by because i care
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2009 at 4:41 pm

So nice to hear of Pat's sincere concerns for the wellbeing of Everest students. Perhaps his fears can be assuaged by an orientation class for all incoming students that reinforces the importance of not eating dirt?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 16, 2009 at 4:44 pm

After seeing Newsweek's ranking of Summit (118) in the nation, all arguments against Summit and Everest are null and void in my opinion. That is quite an achievement. Why isn't our community proud of this?

Posted by Angry Taxpayer
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 16, 2009 at 6:45 pm

If Charter Schools aren't covered by Measure J, then why does the District's own website say that $13 million is allocated for "EPA Charter HS (Stanford) - Myrtle St. new const." Web Link If the district can come up with the money to develop Greene Street, why can't they find the money for Charter Street?

Why? Because the SUHSD Administrators and Trustees are acting like incalcitrant children who have been caught doing something they know they shouldn't do but are too immature to admit it. They are flinging around the PCB excuse in a desperate attempt to not have to do what they should do - which is support and embrace the success of Summit and Everest High Schools. The District has lost almost every battle with these two Charter Schools and yet they soldier on, wasting our money in the process. What a shame for the students and taxpayers that there are no adults in charge of the District.

Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Encinal School
on Jun 17, 2009 at 9:23 am

Why not just give Everest the empty classrooms sitting on the Sequoia Campus like Everest originally asked for and open Green St for the Adult School as ultimately planned. There are already 2 Charters in EPA and a third coming next year. I don't see what the big deal is other than egos.

If financial conditions are so dire, utilize your resources most efficiently. Duh!

Posted by M-A grad & M-A/Summit parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 17, 2009 at 9:26 am

The building at 955 Charter Street, slated to house Everest Charter Preparatory High School but now being reviewed as unsuitable because of trace PCB contamination at an adjacent property by Pat Gemma and the rest of the SUHSD, has housed numerous, entrepreneurial, start-up companies with no negative short or long term effects on any of their employees.

Of special note, was a start-up named, Currenex, who occupied this building from 1999 to 2001. During that period, Currenex developed revolutionary software that allows Foreign Exchange traders — both buyers and sellers — to carry out real-time, error-free, secure transactions via the internet (a $1+ trillion a day global market). Currenex was acquired in 2007 for $564 million and remains the worldwide, gold standard for executing FX transactions.

If the future students at Everest can achieve the same level of inspiration and success that other occupants of 955 Charter Street have, I say let’s drill a well, bottle and sell the water. That should quench the thirst for money that SUHSD officials keep crying about.
Once again, Mr. Gemma, do your homework!

Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 17, 2009 at 9:44 am

The district should be ashamed. It is playing out the classic "old guard" strategy to avoid competition. First deny charters because "charter school might fail", then when overruled (thank goodness for state level appeals), throw as many obstacles in the way to assure charter school fail. This reeks of the old time "separate but equal" approaches taken in the old deep South. History has shown the error of that approach (as has the Supreme Court) and sadly Dr. Gemma will be shown the error of his ways with "collateral damage" being the waste of district dollars that could certainly be better used elsewhere. It should also be noted that Dr. Gemma freely uses the district website (paid for with our taxpayer dollars) to present a one sided view of what is clearly an indefensible legal case. Where is the transparency of spending by the district? Sad and sleazy Dr. Gemma, we deserve much better and so do the students.

Posted by Steve L
a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I wish that the Sequoia School Board would see their mission as advancing the well-being of the students, not defending the existing institutions. Then they would welcome Everest and ask, how can we learn from Summit's best practices?

Wouldn't it be great if Dr. Gemma and the Board sought out innovations to promote healthy competition and improvement, instead of blocking Everest and denigrating Summit?

Why would we, the citizen-voters of the school district, expect or tolerate anything less?

Posted by a concerned resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 17, 2009 at 2:14 pm

The SUHSD should be thanked for thinking of the well-being of the Everest kids even if the Everest people are not. PCBs are very dangerous. I wouldn't want my kid going to a school where they could be in the air and in the dirt. Just ask the people who used sludge from property that had been used by Westinghouse in Indiana who contracted cancer. The environmental rules for public schools should also be applied to charter schools.

Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 17, 2009 at 4:24 pm

concerned resident from Atherton should wake up. While toxic waste is always a concern, there are ways to manage virtually any site and rather than citing a largely irrelevant example, it would be better to deal with the facts presented. Furthermore, in following the chronology of this mess, concern for the students of Everest is about the last thing on SUHSD's mind. This is yet another ploy in their attempt to make opening Everest harder. It is by raising the spectre of doubt and invoking scary words rather than educating the public that SUHSD is engaging in. Knowing that Everest has little time to get a site ready, they are sabotaging Everest's plans trying to force the new school into a second rate facility that from what I can tell does not meet minimal standard for a school. It is a cynical game of delay. Studies of charter schools tend to show that performance is worst in the first year of operation and the district's behavior here demonstrates one reason this may be. Rather than working collaboratively to get the school open, or using exisitng space on the Sequoia high school campus, Pat Gemma wants to make life miserable for Summit/Everest for having the audacity to make him look bad. In this case, Dr. Gemma and the SUHSD are making themselves look bad. As a district, county, state, and country concerned about having an educated population, we deserve better.

Posted by LSE
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 17, 2009 at 5:15 pm

SUHSD has done everything possible to stop Everest from opening. This baloney about PCB's (which have already been remediated) is just the latest desperate act. The District needs to get past its irrational and childish defensiveness born of its own inability to achieve the success of Summit Prep and start thinking about the children it is supposed to serve. Large-size traditional high schools are great for most kids - I went to one. But some bright kids will be lost in the machinery and won't achieve their potential. That is a great loss to the individual as well as the community. Moreover, some kids who have never been seen as bright, can shine when given the individual attention they can get in a smaller environment. Don't we want all our children to succeed?

Charter schools do not take money from other public schools. If the child goes to a charter school, his state funding goes with him. If he goes to a private school, as many who were lucky enough to get into Everest might have, there is no state funding for him at all. Which is better? With Summit and Everest in our district we can proudly say that we serve all children and help them reach their greatest potential and scores and admissions rates district-wide rise.

The District needs to embrace the Summit model and recognize that not all children will thrive at MA or its other large schools. It should be grateful that Summit has taken on the task of educating the kids who don't fit into the big-school model. If it is truly concerned about PCBs, why won't it offer space at Sequoia as requested? Everyday I drive past the new multi-million dollar theater at MA and wonder who is in charge of priorities at District headquarters?

Posted by a concerned resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 18, 2009 at 3:04 pm

I do believe that Gemma does have the interests of the students who go to Everest and Summit in mind along with the multitude of other children in the whole SUHSD, not just the kids who want to go to a particular charter school. I question whether that can be said of the proponents of Everest and Summit.

Posted by because i care
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2009 at 3:16 pm

You're being awfully cynical, concerned. I have only had kids at M-A, not at Summit, and my middle school child wants to go to M-A, but I am a very vocal advocate of Summit/Everest.

What is best for all the kids in the district (and kids everywhere) is to provide them with an educational experience that is suited to their needs and appropriate for them. Obviously, adding a charter school (or two or three) is not going to ensure that every single child will be adequately accommodated, but at least it is a huge step in the right direction.

Am I worried that my kids at M-A will be shortchanged? Not at all. They will continue to have excellent teachers and take advantage of the amenities that a small charter school can't offer. By the same token, they will not get the personalized attention that their peers at charter schools are getting. There are tradeoffs all around, but I am so glad that our district is moving beyond yesteryear's one-size-fits-all comprehensives and exploring more flexible educational models.

Posted by a concerned resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 18, 2009 at 3:38 pm

By taking away kids from the SUHSD and requiring the SUHSD to provide facilities for them, they are taking away funding from the SUHSD which in turn impacts it. The funding for the theater was approved by voters in a bond measure and is separate from this. If the kids going to Summit and Everest need individualized attention, they should go to private schools and pay for it and not take away from the others.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:15 pm

People, the funding issue is not a very difficult concept. Maybe this example will help.

If you ran a restaurant (or a school district) and had to feed 1,000 kids and received $5 per kid you would receive $5,000 in funding.

Now if 100 of those kids wanted to go to a different restaurant (ie, the charter school), that nearby restaurant would receive their $500 so they could feed them.

The remaining 900 kids at the original restaurant don't suffer one bit - they still get their $4,500. The original restaurant receives $500 less because they have 100 less kids to feed.

Less students, less funding - BUT SAME PER CAPITAL FUNDING FOR EVERYONE.

If this doesn't make sense to you, maybe you should have gone to a better school!

Posted by Ancora diNovo
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Try to follow along. There is per-student funding. The funding follows the student. If kids don't go to M-A and go to Summit, the education funding goes with the kids to Summit. M-A doesn't get the funding, but M-A also don't have to pay to educate those kids, hire teachers, find classroom space, text books, janitorial services, etc.

Posted by Roger
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:20 pm

This thread is a testament to the need for better public education.

Posted by Confused
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:55 pm

So "concerned parent" you leave me confused. If a child goes to Everest or Summit the school district gets to keep some of the student's funding. Not all of it follows the student to the Charter school. How can this be better than a student who attends private school and the district would receive no funding? Also, I am shocked by your ignorance of who is actually attending the charter schools. Educate yourself on the demographics of Summit and then tell me how many families can afford a $25,000/year private highschool.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 18, 2009 at 6:05 pm

"concerned parent"- If I follow your logic, people who pay taxes that fund the schools have to take whatever their local school district offers or fund their children's education privately (in addition to continuing to pay taxes going toward public education)? I would modify what has previously been stated as "individual" attention to be a different educational process. Why should "concerned parents" have no choice but to subject their children to the whims of a monolithic monopoly when it comes to education. From everything I've read about Summit, the school is achieving better results even when accounting for variables like background, socioeconomic status, parental education, etc. The reality is that large comprehensive schools are not ideal to address the complex educational needs that our population has. Charter schools have more freedom to innovate more quickly than the district thoug that doesn't mean every charter school will be a success. On the other hand, Summit shows every sign of being one of the charter school success stories (despite the district's response to it, which is more like a childish tantrum)and should be applauded. If the district adopts some of the successful charter approaches and improves their overall performance, it would seem there would be no need for charter schools, but many concerned parents see a present need for alternatives to the comprehensive schools, it's too bad you are not one of them.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 18, 2009 at 7:04 pm

PCBs are not baloney. Do your research.

I have always wondered, do Summit and Everest parents get credit for their volunteer hour by posting comments to negative newspaper reports? The volunteer requirement is a way to sift out the kind of people that Everest and Summit do not want to attract.

Posted by Jason Culverhouse
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2009 at 7:08 pm

At the November 19th 200 meeting the Sequoia Union High School District Board
voted to exempt itself from San Mateo County Zoning for an Adult School
and pre-school program. The proposed site at 414 4th Avenue site is in the
unincorporated area of Redwood City and is covered by County Zoning (parcel
060-071-220). The entire site is comprised of 1.67 acres including 435, 455, 461
5th Ave and 414, 428 4th Ave.

The 414 4th Avenue site and adjacent sites are
contaminated lead, organochlorine pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls

I brought this to the boards attention and yet they voted to approve building a preschool for the adult school operated by a no school entity on the site. This vote was in in violation of the California
Education Code Sections 17515-17526 Article 8. Joint Occupancy.

This is also the same district that operated 3 generators on the Sequoia Site in violation of the Bay Area Air Quality Management regulations.

Seems like the law only applies to them when it is convenient.

Posted by Jason Culverhouse
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2009 at 7:22 pm

The statements from Gemma clearly show the hypocrisy of the District.
see Web Link

Adult school project moves forward in unincorporated Redwood City
By Shaun Bishop
Daily News Staff Writer
Posted: 11/23/2008 12:09:16 AM PST

Plans for a new adult school campus at the site of a former church in unincorporated Redwood City are moving forward, almost two years after the Sequoia Union High School District bought the land.


State law says school districts don't have to be bound by local zoning if a construction project is for educational uses, said Chief Deputy County Counsel John Beiers.

Sequoia Superintendent Pat Gemma said going through county processes would cause unnecessary delays.

"It's more bureaucracy than we need to go through," Gemma said. "It's time-consuming and it's wasteful, and time is money."
But Gemma said the contamination is minor and the soil will be cleaned up prior to construction.

Posted by Parent in support of Everest
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Anonymous in Atherton. Your comment is not only insulting but ignorant. Did it ever occur to you that the residents of the SUHSD support Everest and Summit because we believe in them and the educational opportunities they provide our children. Do your own research on the schools before you sling accusations.

Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 19, 2009 at 5:21 am

I agree with Anonymous's "Less students, less funding - BUT SAME PER CAPITAL FUNDING FOR EVERYONE"(except it should be CAPITA). However, there are always unintended consequences.
In this example, a reduction in student count necessitates a teacher reduction. Since tenure is the norm, this means that the District doesn't get to choose which teachers to keep. Whatever happened to separating the wheat from the chaff?
On the bright side, Everest might pick up a talented teacher who still fervently enjoys teaching!

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 19, 2009 at 9:49 am

To Jason Culverhouse:
thank you for your diligence. The facts as presented shine light on the cynical hypocrisy of Gemma and the district.
They are concerned about money, except when providing facilities they are required by law to provide.
They are concerned about full investigations into potential contaminants of sites when the site is one requested by a charter school, however not for a pre-school they might run themselves.
While I'm not a toxicology expert, I believe that just based on body weight and surface area, young, developing pre-schoolers are likely more succeptible to possible toxins than teenagers.
It is quite clear that the district doesn't care about the well being of the students of Summit or Everest, but is is being obstructive. Frankly they should not only be liable for the cost of providing Everest a facility, they should be required to pay punitive damages as a deterrent to such egregious behavior. While I know there are some on this thread that would argue that this is taking needed money away from the schools, that argument is being used to empower someone (Gemma) who is not reasonably managiong the budget provided.
As far as Mr. Hickey's comment about separating the wheat from the chaff, ditto. Sadly, teachers get tenure after two years after which termination is near impossible and performance based pay has long been fought by the teachers. Crazy, isn't it?

Posted by WhoRUpeope
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2009 at 10:08 am

Gemma's use of the "legal" exemptions provided school districts is really getting old. The examples noted by Mr. Culverhouse are evidence of this. I'll also remind everyone that Gemma used the exact "we're not required to comply" line when asked why the Fine Arts Center project on the MAHS campus went through without an EIR or traffic study--the lack of which is now showing there obviously was a need for a study (traffic congestion, inadequate parking, destroyed trees and an ugly building). He should be recalled, but that would cost us even more money. Please, however, lets not re-elect him! WHILE IT IS TRUE THAT SCHOOL DISTRICTS ARE EXEMPT FROM SUCH STUDIES, THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT DISTRICT OFFICIALS CANNOT OPT TO DO THE RIGHT THING FROM A DUE DILIGENCE STANDPOINT AND CONDUCT THE STUDY.

Posted by because i care
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 19, 2009 at 10:26 am

I don't think we voted for Pat. Wasn't he hired by the board? We do vote for them, including Menlo Park's own Gordon Lewin.

Posted by Summit Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 19, 2009 at 10:53 am

anonymous --
do you really think the volunteer hours are tactically used as a tool to filter only acceptable candidates? Wow! You are sadly mistaken.

I've been a Summit parent for 3 years, no one has ever checked or requested volunteer hours from me. I don't even know how many hours I am required to volunteer if I even tried complying with the request. I know I haven't done many at all. Just like every other school, some parents give a lot, some a little.

Summit is a good school. My kid is happy. He wants to go to school there. He will be going on to college. The others school in the SUHSD are good too. Summit is the right fit for my child. MA was a better fit for his older sister. MA was great too. I am very grateful that we have a choice.

Summit and Everest enhance SUHSD, not detract. All this argument is a waste of time, money and well-being.

Posted by Michael Grove
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:17 am

The root cause of many of these issues is the District Board. The same Board members get re-elected and they do what they want to do regardless of state laws, neighborhood inputs, etc. What we need is fresh air and a diversity of view on the District Board. That means we need to elect two NEW Board members this fall. We have tried many ways to get compromise from this Board and have failed. Vote for change.

Posted by Thomas
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

The problem is finding someone to run for any school board. Lots of the elections get canceled for lack of candidates, because it's hard to find anyone willing to take on such a thankless job.

Posted by Curioius
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:34 am

I wonder if it is really the Teachers Union behind the whole negative Summit/Everest campaign? The Board members and Administration may be compromised in their action/reaction due to some other threat that we are not privy too?

Posted by agree with curious
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:56 am

Having been to the County Board of Education meeting, I agree with Curious. The Union presense there was strong, the tone political and self-serving. It was clear to me that they were less concerned about the student's needs and more concerned about protecting their jobs and power base.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jun 19, 2009 at 12:37 pm

One of the trustees said that Everest was a gift to the community. She obviously likes the idea of the charter school now!

We definitely need to find candidates to run against the current slate of trustees. Given the overwhelming opposition to the SUHSD that I see on this board, it shouldn't be very hard to replace them.

Shame on us if we live with these people for another term!

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Good to know that they may not keep track of the volunteer hours but I am sure that the requirement discourages parents that don't speak English well and/or work two or three jobs with several children from applying.

Posted by agree with curious
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 19, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Again anonymous, check your facts. Summit and Everest do not seem to be having trouble attracting potential students as 1/4 of the incoming freshman applied to these schools. Based on my current involement with Everest, I can promise you that volunteer hours as well as being from a Spanish speaking family are not deterring applications or enrollment from these groups.

Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 20, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Anonymous of Atherton, while I respect your right to an opinion, you would benefit from some fact checking. Your implications however are not based in fact and imply rather nasty things about the charter schools. If you choose to educate yourself, you would find that in studies of charter schools, the data point toward MORE integration (whether African-American, Hispanic, Asian, White, or any other group) than seen in standard schools. The subtle implication that a school requesting parental involvement discourages those who don't speak English as well is frankly patronizing to those parents (a parent's interest in doing their best for their children's future transcends race and culture in my experience) and insulting to the schools. From what I read about Summit's recent Newsweek ranking (blowing away all the regular district schools), the school provides AP exam funding for students who can't afford the fees. If you don't like charter schools, that's your right, but in this case, the state has already ruled in favor of Everest, so the school has an approved charter for five years. The district's subsequent action is just leading to wasting money at the same the district already has budget issues. I encourage you to visit Summit in the fall to get insight about the demographics of the student body and their families. What I will say I've observed is that by enduring continual attacks, the students tend to be united across cultural lines.

Posted by because i care
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 20, 2009 at 6:05 pm

The demographics for all the schools are pretty similar: Summit has not been an enclave for middle class white kids, as the bashers would have you believe. The big difference between Summit (Everest) and the comprehensives is that at the comprehensives, the top track is all white and Asian. At Summit/Everest, there are no tracks, and all kids take the most challenging classes.

That is one noteworthy aspect in which the comprehensives have failed: they don't adequately educate 90% of the black/Latino students. The charters do. The comprehensives give up on ethnic minority students when they're freshman and funnel them into rote classes that will either drill them to pass the holy-grail STAR test or bore them so badly that they drop out. At Summit, members of those ethnic groups flourish, graduate from high school, and go to college.

Instead of trying to put charters on the defensive, maybe it's time to ask Pat Gemma some hard questions about why he's failing to educate so many kids.

Posted by Will
a resident of James Flood Magnet School
on Jun 22, 2009 at 10:49 am

That's a question all of California's superintendents should be asking themselves: why is public education failing low-income and minority students?

Posted by Pat
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jun 23, 2009 at 11:05 am

Public education is certainly failing low-income and minority kids, but it fails middle-class and "average" kids, too. The charter school experiment has its downsides, but its saving virtue is that it can be a laboratory for teaching methods. Traditional schools can learn from what works. Public school districts can take what works and apply it to their schools.

The state's public schools are not cutting it, in general, and districts like Sequoia that claim otherwise, and fight alternatives at the expense of their own improvement, need to change course.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 23, 2009 at 1:25 pm

If we are going to compare "public charter schools" to "public comprehensive schools" lets see the comparable data. Does anyone have data about students with equal state scores from similar neighborhoods.

It really doesn't matter where the students go to school if they appreciate their education and make the most of what is offered.

We should all be pressing to lift the graduation levels of the middle school students to be comparable. We can't do that by holding some back. We should certainly do more to convince those with better scores to attend our high schools so that all parts of the community have role models from their neighborhoods.

It's a bit odd to say that the money "follows the student" and that the charters don't cost anything extra when the schools that they are using have to be built or leased. That money is not "following the student." This investment is new. To say it should magically come from bond money that had to be designated at the time of the election defies the logic of how bonds are passed.

The charter school may not be tracked, but the student body does not match the diversity of students attending the other high schools. If you say it does, you certainly have no comprehension of the range of students that attend our schools. If might make sense to devote each school to a particular purpose, but those on the perceived "lower end" would certainly not be happy. There is incredible effort made to "mainstream" many students at the "comprehensive" schools.

I'll say again. MORE should be done to ensure that the students entering the 9th grade are all ready for high school. Perhaps we need an "upper" middle school for those who aren't quite ready. The schools do run summer programs before 9th grade to help, but again, those students are self selected. We need to help those who aren't really interested in helping themselves.

All the schools should do more to help student find a good niche and to understand that their goal is to go as far as they can for themselves from their own starting point. We have outstanding junior colleges. A four year school should not be goal that determines success. Somehow along the way we have devalued many professions that students could opt for while trying to create measurement bars for the schools. We will be facing shortages of skilled workers in many areas very soon in America in good paying jobs.

Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Concerned from Portola Valley, you bring up many issues but offer little in terms of practical solutions. There are a few points to consider, however.
1) To talk of the generic charter school is not too meaningful as charter schools are quite heterogeneous in terms of approach and performance. If you are specifically referring to Summit and the schools of the SUHSD, I would submit that sample sizes at Summit will be too small to be able to make a statistically meaningful statement. If you want to look at some of the charter schools further south, there are some charter schools that have taken up running some of the worst performing schools in LA and turned them around. There is the Harlem Children's Zone in New York which is working at the elementary school level and markedly outperforming the loacl public schools. I'm not saying that any given charter school will be better than the standard public alternative, but there are clearly some success stories out there.
2)While in theory, it doesn't matter where one goes to school as long as they appreciate the opportunity, in fact for high school age kids, having an involved adult as a mentor can make a huge difference. The Summit approach builds this into the educational experience, whereas, from personal experience, the large comprehensives do not and some children can fall through the cracks. Again, it would be nice if that didn't happen, but it does. These children may better achieve their potential at a smaller school, and that option should be available.
3)I'm completely confused by the statement that we need to press for better middle school education and we can't do that by holding some back. We can only assure readiness for 9th grade by having some standards. If students are not ready for 9th grade, just because they have turned a certain age does not mean they should be moved on. This approach (social promotion) has helped create the problems of students who are out of place in a school.
4)Having good quality high schools will easily convince high scoring students to attend the comprehensives (actually those parents). This is not done by removing choice (the district's preferred approach). Note that if there was general satisfaction with the schools available, charter schools would not be oversubscribed and require a lottery. The district has also moved the areas that feed into Sequoia (enlarged cachement area) to include part of San Carlos that used to feed into Carlemont. This action combined with denial of intradistrict transfers to Carlemont has resulted in an increased enrollment at Sequoia. I strongly suspect this has driven students from the district toward charters.
5)As far as money following the student, that refers to operating money. Charters don't have the option of funding buildings with bonds. In fact, as best as I can tell, charters don't have to cost anything. With fewer students, SUHSD does not need to spend the same amount. I would have to believe that they could find a few classrooms on the Sequoia campus that are being underused that could be used for Everest at virtually no cost. There are a variety of other creative solutions that the district could propose but there appears to be an amazing desire to avoid working cooperatively with the charter schools. The charter process is rather transparent and SUHSD initially turned the charter down. IF they are then surprised that Summit/Everest persisted, it demonstrates poor planning.
6)Regarding the statement of diversity made: "the student body does not match the diversity of students attending other high schools. If you say it does, you certainly have no comprehension of the range of students that attend our schools." First, I would wonder on what data you make your rather strong, statement. Second, in a strict sense, given that the number of students at a given grade level at Summit is, by design, limited to 100 students, there are limits as to how diverse the group can be (there obviously can't be more than 100 different groups represented). On the other hand, in terms of there being Asians, African-Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, Pacific-Islanders, qualifiers for lunch supplementation (taken as a surrogate for low socio-economic status), all groups are reasonably represented. From what I can tell, the approach is to take all students, at whatever academic ability level they start high school, and work to get all students to a college level before graduation. True, it would be nice if all students were better prepared academically for 9th grade, but shouldn't schools be able to teach all types?
7)Finally, while it might sound good to say people should just go as far as they can for themselves, we need to understand that the future we are educating our children for is global, multinational, and multicultural. Most major tasks will need to be accomplished via teamwork. Learning how to think critically and work cooperatively to solve problems will allow our children to be leaders of the future. It is true that it should be acceptable for students to respectably opt into a "vocational" track, but even in that case, thinking skills will be useful.

Posted by Paul Goeld
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Jun 24, 2009 at 9:58 am

I just wanted thank "Concerned" in Menlo Park (The Willow) for your thoughtful and analytical point-by-point rebuttal.

I think you hit every point right out of the park!

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 24, 2009 at 1:45 pm

1.) So, there's no way to statistically compare OUR district's charters to the comprehensive schools? Good. Then no one will have to worry about the graduate rates and all the rest as they are quoted as proof that the charters are better. An optional way to learn? I can live with that.

2.) So, the Academy model of using mentors that started at M-A long ago works? That's nice. It should have been expanded long ago. It is hard to do on a large scale though without a lot of community involvement.

3.) Confused about our middle schools? Look at the statistical differences between their test scores, and then find a cure. Holding students back at the last moment is not the answer. Giving them extra classes to help them advance when they get to high school is also not working. The entire community should be diving in to help much earlier. At a very early age there should be a LOT of help being offered.

4.) I think what you meant is good quality high school for all students. If we are debating that the comprehensives offer a top quality education for many students, then I see some of the anger you might be facing. Could the smaller environment be preferable to some students? Certainly. The high scoring students and great athletes, I referred to are being wooed not by our charters, but by the private schools. All of our schools need to be more involved proving to those communities that we have a lot to offer so that when their students arrive they are well represented.

5.) I thought part of the current bond money was going to building a charter school. I guess I was wrong. Utilizing unused rooms on campus would be great. I don't know what issues at Sequoia that prevented this.

6.) Diversity: special education, below basic on the standardized tests, English as a second language... and still offering a full battery of AP classes... (Not that the charters aren't offering AP's which is great. All of us should be utilizing our community colleges more for the higher levels in courses instead of recreating college courses on campuses) Can some students move from a 4th grade level to 12th in 4 years? Yes, but starting them at the 8th grade level would do a lot more for them and make the job a lot easier with a higher success rate. (see #3)

7.) Critical thinking should be taught in all courses. Group work is wonderful. No debate. But, no student should feel like a failure for making the community college and a good vocational school a goal. Can you name a good vocational school? For... welding, plumbing, carpentry? I can't. Thinking globally is great, but we have local needs that are worthy and profitable.

Posted by observer
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2009 at 4:31 pm

replying to "concerned of PV/Ladera"
1. issue is that no one has apparently been concerned about district graduation rates and all that: the district record here is poor and the personal/social cost high. I've counseled MA grads who could not qualify to go to college. You posed a different standard: proof by disaggregation down to the skill level by middle school - that poses a statistical significance issue as you drive N down into the single digits.

One can still aggregate results usefully. Alternatively, one can apply the results of Caroline Hoxby looking at the results of students who opted for the lottery but attended their district schools. One must also examine the relative costs: if the district rises to comparable results, but costs 40% more, then expand the charters.

2. Don't know if the Academy model of M-A worked or if it was the same. - worth shedding light on how integrated it was into the curriculum. But if Academy built or perpetuated the dual school one finds at M-A, then it was probably not the same.

3. Agree that there is huge disparity among middle school and much needs to be done. On the other hand, waiting until that other issue is solved is also not an option.

4. See #7

5. Part of the bond money is being used to build a different charter in EPA, it's also being used to build a facility on Greene Street that no charter will use next year. Just as H was used to buy property on 5th Avenue and 890 Broadway. What the district asserted is that they're forced to create Everest funds out of the general budget, which is patent nonsense and directly contravenes both prop 39 and case law eg the Ridgecrest v. Sierra Sands case

6. see #3

7. Agree that no student should feel a failure for community college/vocational school/apprenticeships. But it should be the student's choice and desire for his future: no student should be forced into those paths merely because their high school diploma (or skills) fails to qualify them to college paths. It's also a virtue to have carpenters, welders, plumbers who are versed in math, language, writing & government - that's the foundation of a good citizenry.


All of this discussion obscures the core issues: why is Sequoia actively spending tax dollars to evade/obscure their state law requirements on facilities? Why are they actively working to thwart Everest? The superintendent should be asking those questions. The board should be asking those questions. And then they should provide their answers to the public who are paying for this willful violation of the law.

Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 28, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Concerned in PV,

1) I'm not sure I would take the extreme view I presented as the be all end all. My argument was that if you truly want to control for 100 different variables, it won't be possible. On the other hand, you can take the standard approach and control for a few things and look at a few outcomes. There, what data exist would lead you to a conclusion that charter schools are heterogeneous (some good, some not so good) and from what data do exist, I would say that they trend toward Summit being stongly in the category of "good" charter. These are the types of programs that should be both expanded (as with Everest) as well as finding out how to transfer some of the results to the traditional schools. A few things to ask: a) if there is a mentor program at M-A that was very successful, why wasn't it expanded (my guess is that these mentors give a lot and within the traditional schools there is no way to differentiate yourself as salary appears to go by seniority only), b) how will Summit/Everest's mentoring program fare in the longer term, after the initial founding phase?
2)see 1
3)I agree holding back at the last minute is not the only answer, but social promotion doesn't help. As far as the middle schools, I recommend looking at the work of the Harlem Children's Zone, where there is community involvement as well as very high expectations. The bigger issue raised here is the separation between middle shool and high schools. Here, our apporach which can only be described as silo-ed in corporate speak, is crazy.
4)Taking away non-paying choices is not the answer. It makes sense intuitively and there are some data suggesting that having other schools (charter, e.g.) can help improve performance of other public schools by stimulating competition. It strikes me that this is exactly what the district is working very hard to avoid and I find that unacceptable.
5)I'll not claim to be an expert on the district's budgeting though I would appreciate more transparency from them. If there are resources that exist to shed light in this, I be appreciative if someone could point me there.
6) We need to be careful about how the community colleges are used as their funding is also an issue and if tuition is required, that raises the issue of additional family funds, transporation, etc. all of which will be barriers to the lower socioeconomic group.
7)I'd agree that if someone heads off the "vocational" route, they will still be a better citizen with exposure to AP classes an critical thinking and may make connections with friends who do go on to college.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on May 30, 2017 at 4:57 am

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