Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rocketship Charter - SCCOE comments

Tonight I attended a meeting for the Santa Calra County Board of Education. Our biggest contact with the County Board should stem from the services they provide (like payroll, etc.). However, they are also the authorizing agency for the Bulis Charter School.

I went tonight to provide comments on an application by Rocketship Charter Schools for an expansion of their charter to add 20 new charters, run directly by the county. Since BCS is chartered directly from the county, I felt the need to weigh in on the impact of direct county involvement.

The following is a draft of my remarks. Due to time, I had to edit them slightly when speaking, but the general thrust of the comments was the same.

My name is Doug Smith. I am a Trustee in the Los Altos School District. My comments today reflect my opinion as a trustee, but I haven’t had a chance to survey the other members of my Board, so my comments don’t represent an official board policy.

First, I want to commend Rocketship. They have an incredibly important objective – to serve the needs of students who are currently not being helped by their local neighborhood schools. As educators, we have to meet the needs of our students, and I applaud Rocketship for dedicating themselves to this goal.

Unfortunately, I also have some experience with the charter school process that gives me concerns about the manner in which Rocketship is proceeding.
As you are well aware, Los Altos is also home to Bullis Charter School, which is chartered directly through the county. There are some unique issues with schools chartered directly through the county that I feel must be considered and weighed against the application from Rocketship. As our Board’s representative in discussions with the charter school, I have first hand knowledge of the challenges that are created when charter schools are not accountable to the community in which they reside.

The proposed 20 new charter schools lack any meaningful connection to the community they serve. Bypassing the local school board says effectively “we don’t care about you, or the people you represent.” Rocketship’s petition demonstrates a frightening disregard for the local community. Their petition complains that requiring Rocketship to petition each local district would take time away from working to achieve their vision. I’m sorry that the feel that “consent of the governed” is such an inconvenience, but it is still one of the core principles of how a government should function. It speaks poorly of how they relate to the community that they think it’s OK to completely bypass this step of the process.

At a broader level, the County School Board simply isn’t set up to provide the type of close working partnership that would best benefit the schools and the students involved. At the local level, we discuss the academic operations of our schools at every board meeting we hold. We have principals in to present, hear from students, and challenge our administration on how things might be improved. The county board has a broader mandate, and it is literally impossible for you to track the detailed activities of individual schools. An annual review is not sufficient to ensure that the program is running at it’s best.

Charter schools exist not just to serve the students who walk through their doors, but to help improve schools that serve all students. In our own district, if we have teachers running a pilot program, they are in regular contact with their peers to feed back the results of their efforts. I am certain that Rocketship would meet this goal within their own schools, but it still leaves the rest of the students behind.

We discuss critical issues in real time, and adjust the mandate of the programs to ensure that the outcome of the pilot is beneficial to all of our students. A charter school that is disconnected from it’s local community does not have this connection and, in our experience, does not fulfill this mandate.

I would urge the County Board to direct Rocektship to go back to the local boards and work with those local boards to obtain charters. I am willing to appear with them and speak in favor of local charters, but they need to make sure they’re fulfilling the desires of the populations they seek to serve, and that they are providing a meaningful way to work with those local districts for the benefit of all the students, not just those that come to their schools.

1 comment:

  1. Doug, Please let the community know, in case they did not, that BCS did NOT bypass LASD in seeking its charter. It is my understanding that LASD rejected, not once, but twice, BCS's charter application many years ago. LASD rejected BCS's initial charter and BCS had no choice but then to proceed to the county level (SCCOE) to obtain a charter. The SCCOE told BCS that it would grant BCS its charter application, but to first go back to LASD and ask LASD, once again, to issue the charter, making it clear that if LASD rejected to do so, SCCOE would. LASD refused... again, So BCS is chartered by SCCOE because LASD twice rejected BCS's charter application. BCS tried to get LASD to accept the charter and LASD refused, even knowing that another entity would do so it LASD refused. I would hate for there to be a misunderstanding by our community that BCS tried to circumvent LASD, which may be erroneously inferred by your posting.


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