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Everest charter high school outflanks school district in surprise move

Original post made on Jul 21, 2009

In its oft-thwarted efforts to find a home in Redwood City, officials of Everest (charter) Public High School have invoked the sovereign right of all public schools and now have a site that cannot be challenged through city planning processes.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 21, 2009, 5:12 PM

Comments (53)

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 21, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Here we go again. The district now has the worst of all worlds: land in EPA with facilties they have invested in (and continue to invest more on a daily basis apparently), a plan for an adult school in Redwood City which requires a building to be torn down and another built, and apparently unused buildings on the Sequoia campus. And Mr. Gemma's comment: "I didn't know that charter schools could do that." That's pretty clear becasue anyone following this saga would surmise that if Mr. Gemma did know about it, he and the district would have pulled out the stops to block it and force Everest into the district's second rate site. I'm now waiting for the district's official response which I imagine will bemoan the lack of funds and try to blame Summit and Everest. At this point the district would be best advised to cut their losses, stop the EPA site and offer to pay the rent for the building Everest has set up. It sounds like it's a lot less than the Charter Street location, but it might mean actually cooperating with the Charter schools. Teachers looking at possible pay cuts should look to Mr. Gemma's poor management as a contributing factor.

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Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Jul 22, 2009 at 9:48 am

Well done Everest!
I still don't know why Sequoia High School District is so threatened by the Charters other than competition. Look at what Joel Klein has accomplished in New York City despite huge challenges from within the Districts (Charlie Rose interview Web Link). Charter schools are part of NYC's long-term strategy (as with the Obama Administration).

Our education system is based upon a Pre-WWII model. Times have changed folks in every aspect of our life and society. If I was a parent of an 8th grader, I would be giving Summit and Everest a very close look as a viable alternative.

Why in the world would the District not just give them some of the empty space on the Sequoia campus? How many teacher jobs and programs could have been saved rather than building out a campus in East Palo Alto? Is that the price of ego in the public sector.

Also, did the District conduct a traffic analysis and neighborhood impact study for having 150 people a day come to Green St. Was that part of their "due diligence?" I've driven by the portable pad, this is a tough area to maneuver and I think the neighbors will tire very quickly from having parents turnaround in their driveways and yards.

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Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 22, 2009 at 11:25 am

I agree completely with the previous comments. The Sequoia district, most notably it's leadership, is more concerned with self-preservation then it is with embracing alternative learning models that have proven to be successful.

This debate should not be about preserving jobs and tenure for teachers and bureaucrats ... it should be about providing the best possible learning environment for our children, and the District has lost site of this. This is America -- entrepreneurship, effective change and self improvement eventually prevails over antiquated thinking and status quo preservation.

Congratulations to Diane Tavenner for clearly outsmarting Pat Gemma. Unfortunately, the District's irresponsible behavior and mis-management will most likely come at the expense of taxpayers by virtue of legal settlement. This could have been avoided and the District leadership should be held personally accountable for this.

More important, congratulations to the students who will have the privilege and benefit of the Everest learning experience at their wonderful new facility.

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Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jul 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Through this entire sour sage, the school district has never really come clean with their concerns about Summit and Everest. These are smart people, and I'd love to hear an honest, open discussion of the concerns that the district has about charter schools. Instead we get Pat Gemma putting boulders on the road and the Board staying quiet.

I wonder why the Almanac doesn't do a bit of investigation and analysis on the pros and cons of charter schools, so there is more open public awareness and discussion? I'd love to see it.

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Posted by New Everest Parent
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Could it be that a major component of District opposition to the Charter School movement has to do with the teacher's unions? Charters are not required to hire unionized teachers. Coincidentally, charters in this region have recorded a strong record of budgetary management--in fact, educating students at lower cost than do the regular comprehensive high schools. As a parent seeking the best quality education for my incoming ninth grader, I became convinced that the large comprehensive high schools were not going to provide it. And, as the last poster suggested, we are a very long ways from hearing balanced, accurate information from the District on this subject.

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Posted by Concerned tax payer
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 22, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Likely not a coincidence that two members of the Sequoia Union HS Board are not seeking re-election. They probably realize now their error in not supporting the highly successful Summit Prep High School (recently rated by Newsweek as a top high school in country at #121). Let's make sure we elect new board members this fall who recognize the value Summit & Everest bring to our students, community and tight budgets.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 23, 2009 at 10:01 am

Simple Simon,

Your point about traffic is a good one, but may even underestimate the problem. SUHSD plans a "charter campus" for the Green Street site, hosting 4 schools. If one assumes full enrollment (4 schools, 100 kids per grade level per school, 4 grade levels) that rapidly escalates to potentially 1600 cars. Assuming some efficiency with some kids walking and others being siblings or car pooling, even 50% of that results in 800 cars in a short time period. This is an issue for the comprehensives (drive around Woodside, M-A, or Sequoia around 8 am and you'll quickly get the picture) and it appears this space is even less well conceived for that type of a traffic mess (Oh did I mention there is no good public transportation access?).
This is location planning based on an anti-charter agenda rather than any logic and Mr. Gemma and the SUHSD Trustees should be grilled extensively on this.

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Posted by Ms. Frizzle
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Jul 23, 2009 at 10:40 am

I certainly hope the charter schools will work with SamTrans to get bus service for students.

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Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Jul 23, 2009 at 11:01 am

David Boyce is a registered user.

A slight correction to Concerned Parent's post, for the record:

The Sequoia district's proposed plan for a charter high school campus in East Palo Alto would create space for "two or three charter high schools (to) provide students and faculty the benefit of smaller, individualized smaller charter high schools," according to Superintendent Pat Gemma.

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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 23, 2009 at 12:50 pm

This article is highly slanted in favor of Everest's point of view as have David Boyce's previous articles on the subject. SUHSD has every right to do what they have done and they are supported by the majority of SUHSD parents for their efforts. Most feel that Everest is unfairly using precious taxpayer money for the benefit of a very small number of students. Having to provide facilities for them if ridiculous enough but the ones offered in East Palo Alto should be accepted by Everest.

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Posted by A local parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 23, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Agree with all the comments above.

If the SUHSD board looked at student outcomes, and the SUHSD budget, they'd conclude that the best way to save money AND to improve pupil outcomes would be to outsource the entire district to Summit Prep. Summit Prep spends thousands of $/year less than the SUHSD, and yields a much better output (student-graduate), as measured by test scores, Exit Exam results, etc. It'd save us taxpayers $millions/year, and give us "better" graduates as well.

It'd also stop this waste of money by the SUHSD buying sites and putting up yet more partially filled buildings, and stop them wasting huge sums (hundreds of thousands$/year) on legal fees to fight the charters, suing the State of Calif and the US govt. to try to overturn state and federal law, etc. That money would be much better spent on pupil outcomes: teachers, materials, etc. rather than more parasitic legal fees that have nothing to do with improving education results.

Most of the teachers in the SUHSD are talented, dedicated and committed. There remains a serious leadership problem in the SUHSD.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 23, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Concerned parent from Atherton,
On what basis do you conclude that the article is slanted in Everest's favor? There are facts: The district has strongly opposed Everest's coming into existence and lost at the state level. Everest asked for facilities on the Sequoia campus or in RWC and the district declined. The district offered a not-yet-built site on Green street. Everest and SUHSD have a strong disagreement about whether Green street is an adequate facility. Everest declined it and threatened a suit. Everest pursued facilities on Charter St. and the district intervened (I would guess trying to force Everest to accept the "offer"). Now Everest has apparently secured a site despite the district's actions. The story has quotes from both Summit/Everest and Mr. Gemma. It sounds more like you don't like the news, but don't blame the messenger.
You are absolutely correct that the district is within its rights to take the actions they have, however they also are responsible for the consequences of their decisions and actions. To me it appears they made a bad faith offer, tried to force Everest to accept it and now will be in the position of justifying why Green Street is substantially equivalent to their other facilities and compliant with Prop 39. Frankly, independent of the result of a lawsuit (I'd predict some sort of settlement now given how this has played out, but that's a guess), it is clear that the district has wasted substantial time, effort, and resources that could have been directed FOR education rather than AGAINST, which is what they've done.
Incidentally, on what basis is the statement made that the majority of SUHSD parents support what the district has done here? Somehow a quarter of the district's high school freshman applied to Summit/Everest, another fraction goes to private schools, and others attend other charter schools. That strikes me as a number approaching 35% or higher and the assumption that all the remaining students are in the public schools by choice rather than due to lack of choice is not supported by common sense. I presume the anger about some dollars spent on Everest facilities (remember the money follows the students, it is not the district's money) applies proportionally to the money spent on performing arts centers ($25 million or more)?
It's a shame that there is such anger directed toward groups that want basic academics in school as a priority.
As far as Mr. Boyce's correction, I thank you and with that correction would revise my numbers down to the 400-600 range ( 50% X 2-3 school X 400 students per school at max.).

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 23, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I have a friend whose child is in Sequoia High School. They have repeated the argument to me that it is a shame Everest is taking away funds in this economic time. This seems to be an argument that SHS is providing the parents to generate the concerns about Everest. The same friend pointed me to the district web site, which had a press release up on it announcing the work they were doing at the Green Street location to prepare it for Everest, despite Everest turning down the offer several months ago. I was amazed at the PR tactic they were using to pressure Everest to take the site. So if they are so concerned with the money used by Everest, why would they spend money on portable classrooms and landscaping for a site already turned down legally by Everest. If they are so concerned about the money, why would they not offer facilities underused at Sequoia.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 23, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Concerned Parent, Emerald Hills:

The district's position is very clear as was actually articulated in an Almanac column last year. Mr. Gemma sees charter schools as elitist. THe link is here:
Web Link

The opinion piece demonstrates several things about the current Superintendent. There is no concern about having actual facts and using these for making the best decision. There is no curiosity about investigating something before drawing a conclusion. Sad qualities in our previous President (Bush) and also sad qualities in a so-called education leader.
The interesting thing about that writing is that it basically trashed the students of Summit and the students responded in a rather professional manner. Sadly, MR. Gemma had no problems writing what he did having visited Summit exactly once.
It appears that the district has a Superintendent who arrives at conclusions unbothered by any contradictory facts that might interefere with the desired conclusions (hmm sound familiar?). He is also perfectly happy to be divisive and play different groups against each other("yes, we have to make cuts because of those evil Everest people" as opposed to the more accurate assessment that making a bad faith effort space offer to Everest may end up costing plenty and has always been unneccesary.)
Keep in mind that the propaganda posted on the district web site and the divisiveness fostered by Mr. Gemma in an aim to keep control and avoid competition is funded with taxpayer dollars. Very unfortunate.

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Posted by Parent of Student
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Very happy to see that Everest was able to do this in time for school to start. I am a parent of a student at the related school Summit. I have three children who have attended schools in RWC. Also experience with St, Francis in Mtn. View, a very well respected private school.


The district should support the Charter School effort and LEARN from it, not put up BS arguments and obstructions.

Please consider this when you vote in the next election.

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Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Jul 23, 2009 at 11:59 pm

So the issues are:
District says Everest/Summit is stealing our money.
Everest/Summit (and the State of CA) say the money follows the student

Everest asks, give us some of your empty classrooms at Sequoia
District says not own your life!

District says we took at vote among ourselves and decided the portables on Green St should serve Everest just fine.
Everest/Summit says look at prop 39 "reasonably equivalent" to traditional schools (we've got some pretty cool traditional school in SUHSD - check out the theaters and pottery studio)

If it gets that far, San Mateo County Superior Court will rule on what is reasonably equivalent. This conflict is about to go the big stage as it has the potential of setting the precedent for Charters in the entire state. The issues of a "good faith offer", "due diligence" and "reasonableness" are going to examined under much greater scrutiny now. Dr. Gemma and SUHSD Board, there is still time to cut your losses and make peace. It would be sensible and fiscally responsible. Teachers Union, we know you are in on this as well.

25% of incoming freshman applied to Summit/Everest last year. I suspect after the Newsweek ranking it will be A LOT more. And their taxpaying parents may not be so willing to accept the party line.

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Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Jul 24, 2009 at 12:24 am

I apologize for the typos, I really am Simple.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jul 24, 2009 at 8:17 am

Whether you support charter schools or not, you must ask yourself what are our School District officials thinking? They are acting like four-year olds having temper tantrums!

They are STILL spending $3 million on the Green Street campus in East Palo Alto knowing that it is not Prop 39 compliant and knowing that it will remain empty. When completed, those five trailers will stand as a monument to this District's mismanagement. Fortunately, they will all will be torn down in two years for something else - but they are a complete waste of $3 million. Three million dollars that could have been spent on our children, books, facilities and teachers!

Now our district is about to enter an incredibly expensive legal battle that they will most assuredly lose - as they have every other legal action. This will cost us millions more - and all for nothing. You shouldn't be worried about CHARTERS stealing money from other students - it's this DISTRICT!

The trustees have been far too indulgent of their Superintendent's misguided actions. This has been a very sad chapter in our district's history and they cannot continue to let Mr. Gemma continue on this path of self-destruction.

Trustees: who's the boss around here, anyway? Enough, trustees - do your job and reel this guy in! This is ridiculous!

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Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Jul 24, 2009 at 8:51 am

David Boyce is a registered user.

For the record, the Sequoia district already owned the land (purchased for $1.6 million) and the portable buildings (a $400,000 investment) before Everest got rolling, so it's not as if the district is spending $3 million in new money in response to Everest.

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Posted by M Giusti
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2009 at 10:02 am

High Tech High Bayshore School was forced out, and Sequoia High School District was buying the property the school was using! Instead of helping a school that had helped many many kids it purchased the property and would not allow the parents to work a solution. Many of those children were back in the Sequoia district....and that is all they wanted. Or at least as a parent, it felt like it was all they wanted, and we all felt quite abandoned.

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Posted by concerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 24, 2009 at 12:08 pm

I am all for a high quality public education that costs less per person than the current system but lets not pretend that these schools are not white flight, elitist, exclusive schools - lets make the application process automatic - put every eligible freshmans name into the lottery and then notify the families of the wonderful educational opportunity available for their child
Maybe then students who really need the extra attention and small class size would benefit from this special 'Public' school program
until then these schools remain a place serving only a small percentage of the district children

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jul 24, 2009 at 12:19 pm


Good suggestion, but the Everest and Summit charter schools ALREADY select students by lottery.

As far as your suggestion that charters represent "white flight, elistist, exclusive schools," if you refuse to believe the published statistics from the distric which undermine this common charge, you should as least drive by the campus one afternoon. You might be surprised at the mix of students. The charters actually tend to be more racially and economically diverse than the district at large.

No, Everest and Summit do not "hand select" their students. The fact that their students are selected by lottery makes their stunning results - now recognized by Newsweek magazine - even more impressive.

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Posted by concerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 24, 2009 at 12:32 pm

their lottery does not include every freshman in the district

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Posted by Interested citizen and parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Jul 24, 2009 at 12:49 pm

If you'd like to see a change in the way Charter schools are treated by the District, please consider running for one of the two open seats on the Sequoia Union HS District's School Board this November.

Registration forms must be complete by August 7th and there's a Candidate Seminar upcoming on July 30 10 AM at 40 Tower Road in San Mate. It's perhaps a little late in the game to register, but still quite possible.

Quoting from the brochure:
"Our website,, has a wealth of election information including an interactive election
calendar, candidate resources, past election results, information on how to register to vote, voting options,
poll worker information and much more.
My office is ready to help you in your undertaking by serving as a resource and helping to answer all of your
questions. Feel free to contact us by phone at (650) 312-5222 or by email at"

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 24, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Concerned from Central Menlo,

Your concerns are unfortunately a common misperception which the district is more than happy to suggest.

Charter schools, by definition in general, and as required by California law, do not have selection requirements. In the event that a particular school has more requests than available slots, a random lottery must be held. This has been the case for Summit and for Everest. Now, to be clear, the lottery does not include ALL district students as a student's parents need to believe the Summit/Everest model and setting is appropriate for their child. Keep in mind that for a star athlete, sports facilities and teams are likely to be not as good at a charter compared to a comprehensive high school.
The demographic statistics presented to the district about Summit (and I would guess that Everest would be similar) were very similar to those of the district overall. That says to me that if people were looking to Summit/Everest as a "white flight", elitist school, the demographics don't support it. If a desire to have their children in an innovative school focusing on college prep academics makes these parents elitist, perhaps we need more elitism. I might call that higher standards as our President does. Finally, there are studies of charter schools in Chicago showing that there is actually MORE integration in charter schools than within regular comprehensive high schools. One could call the AP classes at M-A or the IB program at Sequoia examples of elitist programs within district schools and the reality is they likley result in de facto segregation even within a large school with good "numbers" for integration. The bottom line is that from what I've seen, this group of charter schools does have a diverse group of students and works to assure ALL get educated at a high standard.
The district should work with them and see what methods can scale up and which might not. Wasting money on battles hurts everyone.

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Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Jul 24, 2009 at 1:02 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

Since Gordon Lewin and Sally Stewart are incumbents choosing not to run for re-election, the candidate filing period is five days longer.

The extended deadline is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

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Posted by High School Parent
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

No, not every freshman's name goes into the lottery, because not every freshman has said they are intrested. Just as if you want your child to go to Carlmont but are in the Menlo-Atherton fill out a form. Well for the charter school you fill out an application is not that diffrent.

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Posted by concerned
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Thank you Mr. Boyce for pointing out the facts on the money the district is investing. Could you now confirm that the Green Street site has buildings that are much like the ones that were used at M-A in the G wing and H wing. Perhaps M-A should sue the district for providing sub par buildings. The proper adjective is not "portable" but "prefab". There were portables at M-A during one building phase, and they are certainly not equal to other buildings.

I have no idea why the Sequoia buildings were not used, perhaps Mr. Boyce can find out why that was not done. That would have been the best solution especially if the Everest students want access to elective courses.. Setting up academies at ALL of the high schools with the Summit and Everest guidelines would be even more cost effective. We already have one sort of academy, more would be great.

The fact that Everest found a great site is wonderful. Too bad they had to play games with the other site wasting everyone's energy. If you were superintendent and ran across the note on the environmental concern wouldn't it be your job to make sure the city looked into it? So they did. Stop crucifying Dr. Gemma for doing his job on that one.

As for the union...... it would be nice if you didn't drag the union into this argument with speculation. If you have some facts to present, please do.

As for Board Members, Sally Stewart has served on the board and other school boards for years and years. She is not leaving her post due to any of this issue. She has served loyally and been an asset over the years to all the students in the district. Dragging her down serves no purpose.

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Posted by teacher
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I've read the passion on all sides of this issue and I have a few questions:

1. If, as the ardent supporters of Summit and Charter suggest, the value of the charters is the "innovative teaching model" then why does the facility make such a big difference? What is wrong with the Green Street site? The portable buildings being placed there are the same portables Summit used while they were housed at Sequoia a while back. I’ve read several Everest supporters demand “facilities reasonably equal to those at Menlo Atherton” – here is a great way to get those facilities – send you child to Menlo Atherton. If the value of Summit and Everest’s approach is what happens in the classroom, why does it matter where the classroom is? If you want to prove that your model is better, take the Green Street site that was offered, open your school, and amaze the rest of us with your fabulous results. I’d look forward to reading that story in Newsweek. The arguments about parking and traffic ring hollow – It sounds like you are more scared on East Palo Alto.
2. Why does everyone bash the “teacher’s unions” and blame them for these issues? I am a teacher in the Sequoia District and I am a union member. When people bash the schools, why do the teachers unions take the brunt of this abuse? Teachers unions are made up of teachers like me who chose this profession because we want to make a difference and help people. I know that some people think we have it easy because classes let out at 3PM and we have summers off. Well, let me tell you that I usually arrive at school around 6:30 AM and leave at 6PM or later most days. I spend several weeks of the summer working with my colleagues, attending classes or workshops and preparing for the next year. I agree there are bad teachers in every district who have tenure, but here’s the truth – if a teacher is that bad, a Principal can get rid of them even if they have tenure. Sure, the union is there to make sure that the process if fair and it may take some work, but if the teacher is bad it is the Principal’s job to make sure it gets done. For every lousy teacher you complain about, I can probably show you 100 who work hard because they are here for the students.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 24, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Concerned in Portola Valley:
There are a few additional things to keep in mind regarding the "pre-fab" or whatever term one uses for the buildings planned for the Green Street site. I don't believe the complaint was with the the buildings themselves, but the Green Street location does not have either suitible facilities for food service nor to appropriately serve students with special needs. The expectation that students travel 7 miles ropund trip for lunch on a daily basis would be bad enough, but since the district has specifically tried to have Summit's charter denied for not adequately handling special needs students, it would appear three portable buildings would allow Everest to adequately handle students with special needs thus setting the district to be able to deny Everest's charter. Given the district's unabashed opposition to Everest's existence, it's understandable that assuming good faith on the district's part would be naive. My point would be that the buildings within the context of a larger campus may be a lot more workable.
As far as wasting people's time with the new site, it's ironic that you would fault Everest for having a backup site. Mr. Gemma's actions are not "just doing his job" as you might imagine, but more likely a calculated move to try to force Everest into his desired site. From my recollection of the BOT meeting, the district position was along the lines of it would interfere with their plans (some classrooms would get more use and some subject areas would be more spread out). Having learned about Everest's charter approval, there was much time for site discussion. SUHSD's approach was to wait as long as possible, then bully RWC into a full probe of a site that per the environmental experts was a closed case. That was not diligence but a calculated attempt to sabotage Everest's opening anywhere but where they wanted. I view Everest's plan as unfortuantely necessary manuvering to deal with a hostile district.
As far as Sally Stewart, I appreciate she has put in years of service, but from what meetings I have attended I cannot support her educational philosophy as she appears perfectly happy to use schools as a tool in a social agenda rather than worry about educating students.
I appreciate your passion as a teacher and your stake in this ongoing issue. Understanding that Everest is going to open and understanding that it needs to enroll students from anywhere within the district, why would any rational person locate it on the geographically far southeast part of the district, unreachable by public transportation? And as a teacher or parent, would you want your children travelling 7 miles each day for lunch? As hard as it may be to believe, the location concern is actually about having a central location which will actually minimize the overall car driving. I agree that once in the classroom, the location shouldn't matter and don't think it does as Summit is not exactly located in a prime spot. It is however located in a place that students can get to.
As a teacher, I'm sure hearing your profession bashed is troubling and it sounds like you are a dedicated professional. However, as a professional, it would seem to me that you might want the unions fighting different battles than they have been. As I understand it, teachers can get tenure after 2 years of teaching. While you claim teachers with tenure can easily be dismissed if they aren't performing, what are the actual statistics? The last study I read about teachers getting evaluated, something like 80% of teachers were graded "excellent" or the highest. The teacher's unions have also both resisted anything allowing school choice (charters or vouchers) as well as any sort of performance based pay. Whether true or not, it certainly gives the appearance of a lack of accountability. Given that teachers evaluate and grade students regularly, the refusal to be meaningfully evaluated (and the opportunity for feedback and perhaps improvement)seems rather hypocritical. On the other hand, I think that parents have also not been doing their share and from what I've seen, one thing that charter school have the potential to do (Summit appears to have succeeded to date) is more actively engage parents and both allow and demand they play an active role in their school. For whatever reason, it doesn't appear that the comprehensives are open to true input.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 24, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I had heard that Summit required parents to volunteer a certain number of hours before their child even made it to the lottery? If this is true (and I don't know for sure) Summit's demographics would be very different than the other high schools. There are many parents who can not afford the time or are not inclined to commit to their children's education.

I tried to find the answer on Summit's website but I couldn't. Does anyone know if they still have this as a requirement?

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Posted by Summit Parent
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2009 at 4:28 pm

I'm a Summit parent with a student entering Senior Year. While we have been asked to volunteer, as every school needs help and it is the strength of the community that builds excellence -- no-one has ever monitored my volunteers hours. In fact, I don't even know how many hours we are supposed to contribute? All I do is bring in food when asked, help carpool kids to events and attend school meetings. They seem fine with that, it sure is a lot less than what I did at our child's elementary and middle school.

In our experience, there is no pressure or selection filter based upon volunteer hours. I'm sure I would be doing the same hours and type of given if my child attended Sequoia HS.

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Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Concerned Parent:

About the facilities:

I am not sure where all the kids for Everest would come from, but perhaps a location in East Palo Alto would draw more students from that area. As it stands now, students from East Palo Alto travel to sites more than 7 miles away every day. Carlmont High School and Woodside are far from East Palo Alto and yet students attend those schools in large numbers. As I recall from the SUHSD board meetings last fall, students from Portola Valley and other areas more distant had students attending Summit while it was housed at Sequoia’s campus. Is the location on Green Street really that inconvenient? Traffic and parking concerns seem overstated. All local schools have these issues – every morning Carlmont and the other schools have traffic issues – so do the surrounding middle and elementary schools. I doubt the lunch issue is as bad as you suggest. Currently the SUHSD has a central location for food preparation and the food is transported to the sites for distribution. How many kids bring their lunches each day? With all the parent involvement and volunteer work that is planned for Everest, surely some kind of food plan can be arranged. I don’t see the need move the students 7 miles to Summit’s campus for lunch. Doesn’t having all the students together in such a large group defeat the stated purpose of the “small school setting” that is presented as the most important factor in Summit and Everest’s models?

As far a teachers and their unions:

I am not sure anyone keeps statistics on teachers that are not retained. I would image that the state would track that. When a teacher is hired, they can be let go for any reason during the first and second year. The administration doesn’t have to tell the teacher why they are being released. During those two years, teachers are regularly evaluated and observed both formally and informally. If the administrators are doing their job properly, the less effective teachers are let go. After becoming “permanent” teachers are still evaluated on a regular basis. Additionally, students in my district get to evaluate their teachers in addition to the administration – parent input in encouraged. Most of us have enough professionalism and passion to continually re-evaluate and improve our instruction. I didn’t say teachers could be easily released after they get tenure, I said that it could be done. The Administration has to observe the teacher and document the discrepancies and short-comings. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen and we get some that fall through the cracks.

What exactly constitutes “meaningful evaluation” in your mind? Most of the proposals for teacher pay based on performance have based the teacher’s evaluation on state mandated tests. As a teacher who has guided his students through the state mandated STAR exams and the high school exit exam for many years, I am here to tell you that these tests are not great instruments of evaluation. I am all in favor of some tests to evaluate how well teachers and students are doing – they way they have been implemented is rather poor. The STAR test only covers Science, Math, Social Studies, and English – how do we evaluate those Art, P.E., and Foreign language teachers? The
Exit Exam covers English and Math – what about the rest of us? A proposal to have administrators choose who gets a raise and who doesn’t seems fraught with potential for abuse and favoritism.

Most of the proposals for “vouchers” or school choice are not well conceived, from what I have seen. From what I’ve read, the fear is that could afford it would use the money to subsidize a private school or self-segregate into some small elite enclaves and leave the poorer students and schools with few resources to educate the students who would need the most help. Since it hasn’t happened yet, I don’t know what it would look like in practice. If the experiment worked out that would be great, but if it didn’t they would be a lot of chaos. If a voucher proposal is to be successful it needs a lot of careful consideration.

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Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 24, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Parent in University Heights:
I'm not sure what the source of such rumors are but not only is it not true, I don't believe it would be legal.
My understanding of charter school requirements is that if lottery is required to determine admission, that it be conducted in a transparent manner with all district students having an equal chance. I agree that if there were either intense requirements to qualify for a lottery or an enforced time committment that the population and demographics could be skewed, but from both the actual demographics as well as what I've heard from Summit parents, I don't think that is the case.
It may be true that the demands from the parent community in general are by necessity more for a charter school, particualrly one starting up, but as Summit Parent above indicates, these are likely people that would be involved in one way or another (PTA, clubs, other volunteering, etc.) in a comprehensive school. It could also be that Summit/Everest selects for parents that are more interested in being highly involved in their children's school and the result is a better integrated home-school link, hence better results, but I don't know how you can control for that. If parents believe that Summit/Everest do a better job of that then the comprehensives, then perhaps the district could investigating translating some of that.
My sense is that the Summit/Everest group actually demands more from both students and parents, but has the carrot of more engagement (less central control and bureaucracy) and both groups respond to that.

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Posted by Summit Parent
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2009 at 5:35 pm

As the Summit Parent mentioned above, I don't necessarily think that Summit does a "better" job than the comprehensive, we chose Summit because we felt our child would do better in a smaller environment, with focus on academics and faculty mentor. I can tell you that we are very pleased. Our older children attended Sequoia, we felt that this child would benefit from the smaller environment and personal attention. The IB program at Sequoia would not have been a good fit for our Summit student. Our Sequoia children played sports and enjoyed the large school environment, our Summit students does musical theater.

Like I said, we didn't volunteer hours ("founding families" which has been abolished) ahead of time, no-one asks us to pitch-in hours and we are neither rich nor white.

Selfishly, we would have liked Summit to stay on the Sequoia campus as it is closer to home, but the Summit campus on Broadway is fine. If Everest is a well run as Summit, it will be a great alternative for our students. It has been a very good experience for us.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 24, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Admission to charter schools would be by lottery independent of location so demographics would presumably reflect where people applied from. If your argument is that more students from EPA (and presumably fewer from outside EPA)would apply, I suspect it's wrong, but if that were the case that would then serve to draw students away from the charter high schools already in EPA. According to Mr. Gemma's Op/Ed on why the district rejected Everest's charter, there are two charter high school in EPA that serve the district's need for a small school environment. If the district believes there is no need for Everest at all and believes that the current high schools in EPA are serving the district well, why would another school be located in the same area? Keep in mind as well that when a different charter high school actually wanted to locate in EPA, the district wanted to locate them in RWC. One of the reasons given was that drawing too many students from the EPA area out of the comprehensive schools would have an adverse effect on the their demographic mix. The district can't have it both ways- arguing that you must locate in EPA to attract local students, but if you do that will goof up the district's stats. That also ignores the district's latest idea which was to locate in EPA for a year, then move to RWC for two years, then move back to EPA. As a teacher, even with master teachers, you can't tell me you think that's good for students.

As far as the lunch issue, not only does the food need to be prepared (and that can be done centrally), but there needs to be an acceptable setting in which to serve it. This is not a matter of convenience, it is a health requirement. And keep in mind that while you are happy to talk about children from EPA being bused as far north as Carlemont, as best as I can tell the district has not offered to provide buses for children attending charter schools a distance away from their homes. It appears there are many things that you don't see the need for, yet are actually important for health or legal reasons. At the end, I suspect that it comes down to money in that the SUHSD had already purchased the Green Street facility planning to use it for an adult school while at the same time denying Everest a charter. When Everest's charter was approved and the plans for an adult school were delayed, the district was unprepared and tried to make the offer that would cost the least, independent of whether it is Prop 39 compliant or not. Apparently the courts will be deciding that issue and frankly I wouldn't want to be in the position of defending the Green St. facility.

As far as Unions:
There are actually some data on websites and the listed number is 0.3% of tenured teachers are dismissed. Based on that, one would conclude that if the process is working well, that 99.7% of tenured teachers are performing well. As one who works in the business world, I would doubt that any group can maintain that record consistently. As far as teachers being let go in their first two years, keep in mind that in California, employment is "at will" and even after being at a company for more than two years, most people are not spared the possibility of being laid off.
I'd agree that the evaluation process is a challenge, yet I would argue there needs to be a process. At universities, there is system of review, tenure, etc. which is based on multiple factors though some will criticize it for having political nature to it. There will always be politics. I would advocate evaluation based on regular written evaluation, some independent observation from an independent state group, and a packet put together buy the principal that would include evaluations from peers, students, parents, and adminstration. Keep in mind that performance evaluations are a regular and standard part of corporate America and if done well can serve their purpose.
I'd agree that if vouchers are to be done, they need to be done right and as with charter schools, not all are good, nor are all bad. There have been some programs (notably in Wash DC) that appear to be proving a real opportunity for disadvantaged kids, but the concern has always been raised about the result being private schools, particularly with a religious orientation, being paid for with public dollars. The bottom line is that people seem to want some choice about their schools and teacher's unions are perceived, whether fair or not, as blocking school choice, innovation, and competition.

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Posted by unconcerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 24, 2009 at 7:22 pm

The lottery for Everest was conducted before the site was selected, and the majority of new students come from Redwood City. A good reason to locate the school there, plus Redwood City is the geographic center of the district! "Teacher" (Pat Gemma in disguise?) seems awfully quick to dismiss East Palo Alto parking and traffic issues; perhaps s/he isn't familiar with the Green St neighborhood? It is residential, not adequate for a high school.

I am an M-A parent and I know that most of the teachers are excellent. I also understand that it is almost impossible to dismiss a tenured teacher who is below par. It is even difficult to get rid of a new teacher who is underperforming because the district is required to give such teachers priority for any open jobs. The CTA does teachers a disservice with these policies, as the weak teachers drag down the good ones.

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Posted by M-A Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 25, 2009 at 12:01 am

M-A Central Parent:

I received a card in the mail this past winter inviting my son to apply to Everest and Summit. My son wanted to go to M-A so we did not apply to the charters. The schools didn't just hold a lottery for the "elitist" crowd that applied. They invited my son to apply, and I have to believe we weren't the only people who received that postcard. How is that "elitist", if they are actively trying to get students from different neighborhoods to apply? I'm not sending my son there, but I appreciate what they did.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside School
on Jul 25, 2009 at 10:10 am

This isn't an argument over charter schools anymore - that verdict is clearly "in." The charters perform extremely well - with a more diverse student body and with less money - and even the District's own trustees have praised Summit and Everest. That argument is long gone, folks.

The current issue is how the district is handlinig the locating of the Everest School. Even Mr. Gemma's strongest supporters would be difficult to characterize the district as anything other than deliberately misleading and obstructionist. If this were the first instance of this strategy, one might assume their actions are not intentional. Unfortunately, the district did precisely the same thing with Aurora and Summit and no one denies that they have consistently opposed Everest at every turn.

According to law (Prop 39), the district is required to provide equivalent facilities to a charter school at a site of the charter school's choosing. If you don't like the law, change it... but be advised that your lawmakers, recognizing their success, are trying to increase the number charter schools.

Our district hasn't been compliant. The Green Street site is far from equivalent (what other students have to travel 7 miles during their school day just to get lunch?) and it is not centrally or conveniently located. In addition to being closer to a majority of the district's students, the Redwood City sites are far more conveniently located to bus and train lines.

The district is simply wrong on these issues. Unfortunately, our Superintendent and his trustees are a very stubborn group and they haven't learned from their past mistakes.

At least we'll have a bunch of empty trailers on Green Street to remind us their incompetence.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 25, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Perhaps the space on Green Street could serve as new homes for the District Administration.
There should be a change to charter school law and there ought to be an authority separate from local school districts that grants charters. It could assure some consistency about decisions to grant charters.

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Posted by a parent from Woodside
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 26, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Everest and Summit do pre-select their students by limiting those that apply to the lottery to those whose parents can volunteer hours. Also, preference is given to the legacy siblings. I'd like to know if postcards were sent to kids living in East Palo Alto?

As for the SUHSD following the model set up by Summit, if all the kids in accelerated classes at SUHSD were forced into taking the same math classes, English classes, etc., and not allowed to participate in sports at a high level, many would not have the success that they have had in getting into elite colleges.

The usage of the word "outflanks" in the title of Mr. Boyce's article shows his bias. Why not attempts to outflank?

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Posted by Check your facts
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 26, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Parent From Woodside, please check your facts. My daughter is enrolled in Everest and we have never been told that we need to commit to a number of volunteer hours. I would like to know where you get your information from. Likewise, all siblings in the SUHSD have priority enrollement. Summit has the same. Critics like you can say what you like, but we feel very fortunate that my daughter was one of the lucky one who got into Everest.

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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 26, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Parent from Woodside:
While accusing the story writer of bias, you appear to be the one exhibiting that behavior. THe headline appears to accurately reflect the content. If subsequent information changes the thrust of the story, I suspect the next headline would reflect that updated information.
In contrast, without any supportive information or even the semblance of an understanding of the situation, you are happy to arrive at the worst possible conclusions regarding Everest.
What is your basis for stating that Summit and Everest limit their lottery participants? Can you provide a single example of an individual student or a family that wanted to apply to the lottery for either school and was not allowed to be part of the process for ANY reason. When you use false information, admission arguments made by you and your ilk can never be completely put to rest because there are always more levels of outreach Summit/Everest can be accused of not performing (I suspect that personal visits were not made to the home of every family with an 8th grader to inform them of the existence of these charter schools). As a comparison, would you demand the same standards from other charter schools? As it turns out, the outreach is done automatically for the SUHSD (middle schools automatically remind them to sign up for their assigned high school). Somehow, with what you describe as a pre-selection process, approximately 25% of the potential students ACROSS the district applied for either Summit and/or Everest. That strikes me as a pretty high level considering there are many who would not apply for any reason (comfort with regular HS, sibling in regular HS, friends going to regular HS, don't want to go to a small high school, told by middle school that this is theior assigned school, etc.). In addition, when the actual demographic data are looked at, the demographics of Summit/Everest do reflect those of the district. That would certainly argue that the random lottery process is working as it would be expected to. Rather than posting information that may reflect your opinion, I would encourage you to visit these schools and observe that 1)there are diverse student groups, 2) they work together in a collaborative manner, and 3) all are brought to a high academic level (i.e. those with challenges are given extra help).
As far as the assumption (again, where are the statistics and/or supportive data?) that says that SUHSD students NOT playing sports wouldn't have been admitted into elite schools? Frankly that sounds like the typical rumor used to bash these charter schools without basis in fact. It is also confusing why you would see someone excelling in basic academics as a problem, particularly if it's not mandatory, but an option. If students want to bank on admission to an elite college because they are premier athletes, they probably don't belong in the smaller charter school environment and that's a decision for these students and their parents to make.

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Posted by teacher
a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Concerned Parent:

I would assume that more students in EPA would join the lottery for a school located in their community rather than ride for more than 7 miles a day to get to Woodside or Carlmont. I don’t know if that would adversely affect the number of students who apply to the other charter schools in East Palo Alto, but I doubt it. I do know that until very recently, East Palo Alto had a relatively large number of students yet no high school within the city limits (until the charters opened there over the past decade). Palo Alto Unified doesn’t want to allow those students into their community schools even though they are just across the freeway. They have always been a welcome part of the SUHSD, the real issue is distance to the district’s schools. I can see why the District is interested in a location in East Palo Alto – it would provide better options for those students and limit the length of their commute for quality education. Those who oppose the Green Street cite seem to be afraid of the possibility of larger numbers of East Palo Alto students applying to their school.
Summit was successful in the parking lot at Sequoia for a few years and then moved locations and apparently is still successful – so how would moving Everest from a temporary site to a permanent site after a few years be any different?
I am not sure about the health code, but when I was younger my school didn’t have a cafeteria and we ate outside and in the classrooms when it rained. From my experience, most of the high school students I work with bring their lunches and carry them in their backpacks all day.
Has Everest asked for busses?

I wholly support an evaluation system that rewards the effective teachers and gets rid of the ineffective teachers. I think your numbers are a little misleading because they don’t show how many teachers are dismissed within the first two years and never get permanent status. This district is governed by the same laws that regulate education in the state and I have yet to see a fair proposal from those we elect in Sacramento. They are too busy playing political games and trying to keep their jobs. I’ve seen many comparisons between education and the “business world” and in some ways there are fair comparisons to be made. The problem is that education isn’t a business, it’s about our children. A private business can afford to dump non-profitable products and projects. School’s products and projects are our children. We cannot afford to dump those that aren’t profitable. It is our job to educate EVERY student in this area even the ones that struggle and fail. Considering the nation’s economic system and the business practices that played are huge role in getting us here, I am not so sure I’d say schools have a lot to learn from businesses at this time.

Concerned, you are right about one thing, this is all about money. Summit applied to this district and not others because there is a perception that SUHSD has lots of money and they probably have more money that many surrounding districts. The reality is that this district has one of the most diverse and challenging populations in the state and it takes a lot of money to provide opportunities for all of those students. As a teacher in this district for nearly 10 years, I can tell you that I have seen money spent unwisely, but I have also seen some amazing things develop. Speaking of money, how much does Dianne Tavenner pay herself as Director of the Summit Institute? How much does the Summit Institute charge for the “consulting” their web site offers? How much tax payer money has Summit spent hiring lawyers to argue at board meetings?


No, I am not Pat Gemma in disguise, I am a teacher who works for a living and worries about the future of all the students in this district. I have been to the Green Street site and the traffic and parking issues don’t seem any more challenging than Carlmont High School, which is also in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I wonder if the results of the lottery would have been different if people knew the school would be opening on Green Street. If more students from East Palo Alto applied, how would that be a bad thing? (see my earlier comments)

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Posted by Tired of propaganda
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 26, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Sigh. Yet another person who asserts their own facts, which are different from the facts the rest of us live with.

Summit applied to "this district and not others" because it was required to do that by state law. That law was not in place when Summit was first chartered, and life was a lot easier then. If the law were changed again to allow high schools to seek charters outside their districts, I bet Summit would do it in a heartbeat.

The money Summit receives is taxpayer-contributed money that is being used to educate the taxpayers' children, as intended. It is not money the district owns. Somehow the district (and its teachers?) tend to lose track of that fact.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jul 27, 2009 at 9:18 am

It's truly incredible that people continue to perpetrate inaccurate information.

1. The charter schools take money away from the district. If 100 students switch to the charter school, that's 100 less students the district must teach. The money for those 100 students stays with the children when they go to the charter. When pressed, even the district officials have admitted that they actually make out a little better on a "per student funding basis" when students switch to the charter.

2. The charter schools are elitist. Charters select their students by a pure lottery - there are no "legacy" students, "founder" students, requirements for volunteering or other provisions. Repeating lies doesn't make them true.

3. The charters schools are less diverse. You have only to look at the published statistics from the district itself that shows the charters are the same or more diverse than the district.

4. The Everest Charter should be in EPA because it will encourage those students to enroll and participate there. First, if this is such a huge issue, why hasn't the district established a high school in EPA??? BY LAW, charter schools get to establish their campus where they want and their students are selected by lottery. Students have just as much chance as attending a charter whether they live in EPA or Atherton. Locating the school in EPA doesn't increase an EPA's student's chances of getting in.

5. The Green Street site is equivalent to other district high schools. Even the district's trustees have admitted the EPA is not Pro 39 compliant. It's not a question of trailers, it's a question of location. Yes, some district students travel 7 miles to get to their school - as will some of Everest's students. But NO STUDENTS in the district's other schools have to travel 7 miles DURING THEIR SCHOOL DAY just to get lunch. It's time consuming and dangerous. That's not equivalence.

6. The district isn't against charters. Really? Then why did they fight Aurora, Summit and Everest every single step of the way?

7. District parents don't want charters. One fourth of the district's entering class wanted to attend Summit or Everest.

I've searched these postings for the past year and it's funny how supporters of the charter school never "rip" other district schools. Not once have a found a posting that was critical of Woodside, M-A, Carlmont or Sequoia. They are VERY critical of the district officials, especially Mr. Gemma. On the other hand, critics of the charters seem to lash out at the schools families and students - elistist, stealing money, white flight, etc. - all without even a morsel of fact.

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Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Jul 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Dear Concerned Parent,

Nice try suggesting that the District relocate it's administrative offices to 763 Green St. Unfortunately, the District Administrative offices need to serve the entire student population of the SUHSD, that is why the District Offices are located in Redwood City, the center point for SUHSD.

Wait a minute, isn't that also why those sneaky Summit/Everest people keep saying that they want to be located in Redwood City?

Here's a challenge, go to Google Maps and type in the address of 763 Green St, East Palo Alto and the address for where you live, then click on Public Transportation and see how long it will take our students to get to a Green St campus from random points within the District. Like the District Office (I found this address at 350 James Ave, Redwood City, CA 94062-5119 (Sequoia Union High School District: Receiving-Warehouse)). Because I assure you, even if all school have traffic problems, Green St will not be able to handle the traffic coming and going 2x a day. I get over an hour travel time from the District office to Green St using public transportation. Significantly less using public transit to go to Carlmont or MA -- Woodside is tougher - it takes an hour to walk from the District office.

I understand why Everest asked to be located on the Sequoia Campus, this is about as close to a central, easily accessible location you can find. Also, that is where there was space because Sequoia is under-enrolled. What a shame, what a waste.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 27, 2009 at 3:35 pm

You are either extremely stubborn or are starting with a conclusion and lining up facts to fit it.
Your assertion:
-if people in EPA knew that Everest would be in EPA, perhaps more would have entered the lottery.
Some underlying facts:
-There are currently two charter high schools in EPA.
-The district has fought tooth and nail to keep Everest from opening. The only reason it has a charter is because there is an appeal process going up to the state level (by which the charter was UNANIMOUSLY approved).
-That Palo Alto Unified does not serve EPA is true. As it turns out, Palo Alto is in a different county than EPA (Santa Clara vs. San Mateo).
-Temporary buildings on the Sequoia campus (near comprehensive facilities including a place to serve food, centrally located in the district with easy access to public transportation) are in no way equivalent to the same buildings in an inaccessible area without health-code compliant areas.
-Summit has been criticized and called elitist for not having a high enough percentage of students qualifying for the free-lunch program (a surrogate measure of low socioeconomic status). By serving (and even catering to the lower socioeconomic group) lunch, there needs to be the capability to serve hot foods in a health-department compliant manner. This is not a desire but a mandated requirement.
-Summit was initially chartered by a district other than SUHSD and was forced to get chartered through SUHSD. From everything I've heard, the folks at Summit/Everest would love to have a chartering organization other than SUHSD.
My questions:
With two existing charter high schools in EPA and the district's strong feeling that there was no need for Everest to open, why is it now imperitive that it be located in EPA?
With the two current charter high schools in EPA, are you not concerned that a third charter school in essentially the same location will draw from the EPA students already applying to the existing charter school making it more likely that they fail? Then again, that might be the intent.
Are you not concerned, as Pat Gemma has been in the past, that drawing many students from EPA will upset the existing demographics at the comprehensive schools? That argument was used by the district to initially NOT place a charter school in EPA. Has this need suddenly changed?
Do you believe that the current charter high schools in EPA are not doing a good job? If so, are you taking steps to improve them or have them closed? If not, why would you add a third to the same area? Are the current charter high schools fully subscribed?

Would you be willing to have your classroom located at the Green Street facility with the understanding that in the middle of the day your students would have to make a round trip of perhaps 30-60 minutes to get there and back? Do any of your students have a routine car trip in the middle of the day? Would you consider that loss of time during the school day to be conducive to best educational practices?

Have you considered that the fact that most of your students bring bag lunches means they do not qualify for the subsidized lunch program and are perhaps a non-representative population?
Why would you as an educator put forth misinformation (assuming Summit/Everest wanted a charter in SUHSD as a means of getting money)? As a teacher, even one proud of their district, would you accept assertions such as you have made from your students without a bit more research into the facts? Frankly, I would hope so. It's fine to have points of disagreement, but your blatant lack of concern with some basic facts of the situation is rather troubling.

If you have seen some amazing things develop within the district, does it not follow that it is possible that some amazing things could be developed outside of the district's direct control?

As far as the few other issues, I prefer not to speak to things I don't have direct knowledge about. I can't speak to what arrangements Ms. Tavenner has with The Summit Institute nor what the consulting you mention either consists of or how it might be reimbursed. With regard to lawyers fees, I don't know what Summit's legal fees have been, nor do imagine that you know what the Board has spent. I would hope you would agree that all of that money could have been better spent.

Evaluating teacher performance: I'm sorry you feel the numbers I posted were misleading. Frankly, I quoted them as they were and I don't believe they misrepresented what they are. The point was that a VERY small number of teachers are dismissed, once granted tenure. If you have numbers about what percentage of teachers are terminated (not those leaving teaching voluntarily) in their first two years, please share them.

As far as using methods from corporate America, I disagree with your analogy. I would argue that we should be able to agree what the the desired outcome is from schools, namely an educated population. We do need relatively simple measures of success ( I would lean more on functionally important things like graduation rate of both high school and college and perhaps even something like gainful employment) that can be followed longitudinally. Then schools can use different methods to achieve these goals.
I'd agree that as a society, we have an obligation to educate ALL of our children. Rather than looking at education and schools as a factories where teachers are workers churning out students as the final product, I would make a more medical analogy where students have an intervention (interactions with teachers and subjects). Given limited societal resources (similar to the ongoing debate about medical care), it is fair to ask what results are obtained with different interventions and what approaches work best for different students.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 28, 2009 at 11:40 am

For Teacher:

While traffic may not appear to be an issue for you, it might be worthwhile taking a look at this article from May, 2009:
Web Link

Basically there are several people from the neighborhood who are likely to be directly affected by SUHSD's attempts to locate Everest in EPA. Since school districts are exempt from local planning boards, they did not need to seek approval.
Residents have concerns about traffic as well as speeding.
Apparently a consultant from SUHSD did a study assuming 40 cars a day and determined there would be little effect.
As this thread has noted before, that is a rather rosy assumption and also short sighted. Assuming Everest is successful, even with an assumption of 40 cars for transporting 100 students, that would quickly become 160 cars for 400 students. Where is the planning for expansion? No wonder residents are concerned.
While Gemma talks of giving a gift to EPA, apparently he never bothered to check with the people he wants to affect.

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Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Jul 28, 2009 at 12:03 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

According to Gary Larson, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association, a public school district has, and has always had, the ability to sponsor and operate its own charter school.

This is an option for the Sequoia Union High School District in East Palo Alto.

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Posted by unconcerned...or not
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 28, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Teacher (though I doubt you are, given your lack of familiarity with pretty common aspects of high school life such as the mechanics of the subsidized lunch program), this line kind of sums it up for me:

"The problem is that education isn’t a business, it’s about our children."

"Business" isn't just a word that applies to greedy capitalists. It's what you do, day to day, to get from point A to point B. The only aspect of public school education that makes it unusual, as a business, is that the customers (the students and families) are paying for education services indirectly, via taxes, rather than directly.

Although we families generally believe that schools should be in the business of educating our children, Pat Gemma seems to believe that he is in the business of appeasing the CTA and playing the numbers game that will keep the SUHSD schools out of trouble, especially PI status. This means moving around management personnel and establishing a curriculum that forces underperforming students to focus on two subjects, English and math (the two subjects tested by the state) in hopes that the students either pull up their scores or (preferably) drop out. (Teacher's allusion to dumping unprofitable products and projects is rather ironic.)

The business of Summit and Everest, conversely, is to give students a good quality education that will prepare them to enter a four-year college and to do everything possible to encourage them to continue their education at a four-year college following high school graduation.

At the comprehensives, seniors often find that they have been channeled into coursework that will prevent them from being accepted to a UC or CSU. At that point, it's too late to undo the damage. Pat Gemma, in an editorial printed in this newspaper last December, claimed that it is wrong to expect all students to go to college (the Everest/Summit mission) because too many students have "insurmountable challenges." I'd say their main challenge is his attitude, and how dare he decide a priori who is college material and who should graduate from high school unable to quality for a CSU?

Summit has been successful by every measurable indicator, and that is what truly rankles. Gemma keeps trying to prove that the school has had some hidden advantage, when in actuality, Summit has excelled despite its inherent disadvantages: less money, a barebones campus, a lean (one administrator) staff.

Teacher (and others), if you truly care about the kids, you should be looking at the Summit and Everest models and saying "what can we learn from these schools?" instead of screeching "send them away -- they're making us look bad!" You and Pat should be ashamed. You are doing a great disservice to the children of our district.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside School
on Jul 28, 2009 at 2:30 pm

It amazes me that we're still arguing whether charters are good or bad or where they should be located.

Those are settled issues.

The issue we should address is what our district officials are doing with OUR money. They are completing a campus in EPA that no one will use. What's the sense in that? They are waging an ill advised legal battle about the location of the Everest School. At this point - with the school now situated in the middle of Redwood City - that battle it is as senseless as it is expensive.

It's no longer about which school does a better job teaching kids or whether or not the trailers on Green Street will work.

Our trustees - who we elected to be responsible for oversight of our district - must put a stop to this fiscal madness. Enough is enough.

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Posted by Go Everest
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 29, 2009 at 6:08 am

Too bad the lawsuit cannot name Pat Gemma as an individual. If Pat was to spent his own money to stop his nonsense attitude and arrogance things will be different. Now the suit will cost money to the much Pat for trying to save money for the Sequoia school district, your management style is obsolete. I can bet that when you went to "school management 101," Charters schools were not part of your curriculum since you seem to know so little about how they benefit the communities. You still see them as the "enemy." Wake up and stop the nonsense. You already caused enough PR damage and money to your district fighting the Summit Schools.

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