Discover Charter Goes Back before County Board of Education

First, the Santa Clara County Office of Education denied it in November. Then, a couple months later, the San Jose Unified School District turned it down. On Wednesday, a third petition to build a second Discovery Charter School in San Jose goes back before county education officials.

The charter school would serve 490 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Before the county’s 5-2 vote against it, 700 families already signed their kids to the waiting list. The nonprofit charter went to the county first, because even though the school site lies within San Jose Unified’s boundaries, 400 of those students were from outside the district. That, plus the fact that going to the county for approval cut a year off the planning process, according to county school board trusteee Joseph DiSalvo (who voted in favor last fall).

Discovery school officials want to open the campus in August this year. But they can’t even select a site until they get county or school district approval to move forward with the whole thing.

But most county trustees just a few months ago found it fell short of criteria for a countywide charter, they said. DiSalvo slammed his colleagues in a Mercury News op-ed published a week after the Nov. 28 vote:

“The powerful status quo for public education, exemplified by this vote, is hazardous to the academic health of many children,” he wrote. “The children that suffer the most from the status quo are too often Latinos, African-Americans and Southeast Asians, as well as students who are poor and have special needs. Just look up the test scores of these subgroups of students enrolled in San Jose Unified, especially those in middle school.”

Just a year earlier, the board voted 5-2 in favor of another charter chain, the Rocketship Academy, which recently won a zoning exemption to open its eighth branch in Silicon Valley. Twelve more are planned, though the zoning exemption granted to the latest one prompted San Jose Unified to file a lawsuit against the county on grounds that it doesn’t have the authority to wrangle around with municipal zoning rules.

SJUSD says it isn’t against charters, just worried about the county setting a precedent for planning schools that usurps local authority. That lawsuit was discussed in closed session Tuesday.

Discovery Charter hasn’t had as much luck winning support from elected leaders. Still, 540 parents signed a petition to have the county reconsider the permit. The county says it needs a little more clarity from the charter, but found no legal reason to deny the petition this time, according to staff reports.

Other noteworthy items from the Santa Clara County Board of Education agenda for March 6, 2013:

• The sequestration, roughly a 5.9 percent cut to federal services, will cost county education about $2 million, according to a budget update going before trustees Tuesday. That evens out to a $1,686,335 cut to school service money and $302,173 less in other funds, says Micaela Ochoa, the county schools’ chief business officer, who calls the federal cuts “an ongoing concern.”

Foster youth in the county get about $250,000 this year from the California Department of Education to help with school support services, like tutoring and credit catch-up in the summer. The grant amount has dropped from $433,000 in 2008, according to a report about the program going before trustees this week. The biggest challenge for the county right now is how to continue those efforts to boost graduation rates and improve academic performance with unstable and steadily decreasing funding.

• Trustees hear an annual report from each of its charter schools throughout the year. This week, it’s University Preparatory Academy’s turn. The school leases facilities from the Cathedral of Faith Church, by Curtner Avenue and Highway 87. The 6-year-old, 7-12th grade school gives more than 500 students exposure to top-notch arts education, the report says.

The school aims to support kids who want to go to college with more individualized instruction than they’d typically get in a public school setting. Advanced-placement classes, personal lesson plans and a small-school setting help students achieve this goal, faculty say.

One challenge in the past year has been to fill a vacancy for an Algebra I teacher, the school says. It needs to raise its certificated teacher salary to attract interest in the position, vacant now for two years.

Other issues raised include the campus’ lack of a media center, too much homework for students, an overall lack of resources for teachers, a resistance to electronic learning and Latino students falling behind in Algebra.

• The county’s Alternative Education Court and Community Schools has been undergoing reform for the past several years, in part because of pressure from the No Child Left Behind Act and other state and federal accountability measures. Trustees will hear a verbal report of the program’s plans to improve in the coming year.

• A couple weeks ago county Superintendent Xavier De La Torre announced his plan to give back $100,000 of his salary over the next four years to help pay down a home relocation loan. The loan has a 30-year term and amounts to $970,000. As of last Friday, he’ll pay $2,500 a month.

WHAT: Santa Clara County Board of Education meets
WHEN: 5pm Tuesday
WHERE: 1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose
INFO: 408.453.6500

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

6 Comments

  1. If more than half the interested students (400 of 700 signed up) live outside the designated district, why doesn’t Discover Charter move the request to the actual school district that those out of district students live in?  Wouldn’t that make it easier for the students for commuting purposes anyways?  Rocketship schools were approved in abundance is there favoritism happening towards Rocketship?

  2. Aware,

    Few reasons come to mind not to move it:
    1. I would be willing to bet that not all 400 of applicants from outside SJUSD are from a single district.  In fact, I would venture to guess that the 300 or so from SJUSD is the largest number from any one district.
    2. There is clear demand for this type of education in SJUSD.  Hacienda (the science magnet in SJUSD) is way over-subscribed.  Having 300 applicants to a non-existant school at an unknown location is really quite astounding when you think about it.
    3. Discovery School has a charter for 3 more schools in Santa Clara County.  To think that one of them doesn’t belong in the largest district in the county (guessing here) doesn’t make sense.

    Moreover, I’m a parent of a soon-to-be kindergartener in SJUSD.  I want this kind of interesting, parent-involvement-intensive, curiosity-driven education for my son and there are few places where I can find it.  I love San Jose and I don’t want to move.  Hacienda is a great school, but as I mentioned, our odds of winning the lottery to attend that school are not great.  In fact, the whole concept of trusting my child’s education to a lottery is disheartening.

    If the district could open a second Hacienda, great. Since that’s not happening, I really hope Discovery School gets approved.

    • Thanks for the response.  I support the idea that parents should have choices for productive schools when their neighborhood public schools fail or fall short.  The Charter school movement creates challenges for school districts but the districts have to shoulder a big portion of that blame for continually having schools that under perform and not addressing students needs and success. 

      I am just unaware of Discovery Schools and wasn’t sure if there was a specific issue with that school system in the denial or if there is a bias towards Rocketship by the County office of ed.  A few weeks ago the Merc ran the article on the problems with the Ace high school so the way that Charters receive oversight regarding student progress and success is an important element of the charter and the issuing agency/district.

  3. The signatures were collected from numerous districts. The current Discovery Charter School in Moreland School District had over 650 people on the waiting list for the 2012-13 school year from 25 different districts. The 540 signatures collected the second time were collected in just 48 hours. So there is clearly an interest and demand for more schools like Discovery Charter School.

    The school originally applied for a Countywide charter because belonging to a specific district means that children in that district would be given priority registration over those outside the district. Hundreds of families have little chance of getting into the current Discovery Charter School in Moreland District for that specific reason. As a countywide charter all students would have equal opportunity to be selected in the registration lottery. By denying the petition in November and forcing Discovery Charter School to go through SJ Unified, the County School Board essentially denied access to hundreds of families again. The first year or so, families who are willing to transfer in at middle grades like 2nd and 4th have a decent chance of getting in, but once the grades fill up, most of the openings will be limited to Kindergarden and 6th grade and the long wait-lists will most likely begin to form again.

    As for the question about favoritism toward Rocketship, that is a matter of opinion. Having attended numerous County School Board Meetings and listening to the questions and comments of many of the board members, I would say yes. But that is simply my personal opinion.

    Last but not least, yes, the County Board did approve the appeal and Discovery II is still planing to open this fall.