County Has Tough Call on New Charter Middle School in Alum Rock District

Last week, Alpha: Blanca Alvarado Middle School, a charter authorized by Alum Rock School District, presented its rationale for opening a second middle school at a public hearing for the county Board of Education. The school’s founder, John Glover, filed a petition with the Santa Clara County Office of Education to begin instruction in the 2014-15 school year. The Alum Rock board denied the original charter school petition July 2 by a 4-1 vote.

From what I can tell, Alum Rock trustees denied the petition because Alpha: Blanca Alvarado Middle School does not have enough data to demonstrate a record of success. Alpha’s 2013 Academic Performance Index (API) was 828—a very good score—but this is the only year of data. A major source of concern for Alum Rock officials and the county is that the state could suspend API scores for the next two years, as new common core assessments will be put in place by spring 2014.

Currently, there are three charter middle schools in Alum Rock’s district: KIPP Heartwood (API of 922); Downtown College Prep (API of 787); and ACE (API of 730). There are also two-parent choice middle schools that were created by Alum Rock: Renaissance I (API of 852) and Renaissance II (API of 844). There are five other traditional public middle schools in the district, with an average API of 742.

Charter schools and charter management organizations (CMO) have used API data to persuade elected members of the county Board of Education to authorize new charter schools if petitions meet all state criteria. Our Board has authorized more charter schools—40-plus approved to open by 2017—than any county in the state.

All of Alum Rock middle schools’ principals and deans were in attendance at last week’s meeting, and they spoke at the public hearing along with Dr. Tom Green, chief transformational officer. They each gave an impassioned plea for the county to deny the petition—not because they believe Alpha is not an exceptional learning institution; they say more time is needed to improve results for students at the already established schools.

Each advocate for keeping the current middle schools in Alum Rock were passionate and articulate. Each presented their individual case with concern for what would happen if 450 additional Alum Rock middle students move by choice to an Alpha 2 in 2014-15.

Meanwhile, dozens of parents and students advocated for a new Alpha school. Legal counsel for Alpha stated that the county must adhere to the charter school law when voting to approve or deny an appeal. If the charter school meets all requisite state criteria, on appeal the Board “shall” approve, the attorney said.

It does seem that Alpha will meet all statutory criteria: sound education programs, the proper number of signatures, etc. But does the district need another charter middle school?

Over time, I believe the competition of high quality charter schools and the choices created by Renaissance I and II will create a pathway to success for all middle school students in the Alum Rock district. Should we allow more time for transformational change or approve another school? I would appreciate your opinion.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

20 Comments

  1. “They each gave an impassioned plea for the county to deny the petition—not because they believe Alpha is not an exceptional learning institution; they say more time is needed to improve results for students at the already established schools.”

    So Alpha is good but the other schools aren’t.

    They’re arguing to slow things down so they can catch up?!  Is that good for the students?  Why don’t we just wait longer? 

    Let’s screw up the students lives until we fix things.  Nice.

    • Mr. Squad:

      Bingo! You have hit the nail on the head.

      > “Dr. Tom Green, chief transformational officer….  gave an impassioned plea for the county to deny the petition … more time is needed to improve results for students….”

      I presume the petitioned-for delay will have the effect of—delaying transformation.

      Has Dr. Tom looked at his job description recently?

      I am coming to the realization that one of the major problems with public educations is that the perpetrators, e.g. Joseph DiSalvo, completely lack a sense of absurdity.

      But then, since we’re on the subject of absurdity, how absurd is it that DiSalvo is a board member of a public institution with 1,700 employees and a budget of $270 million tax dollars.  (Um, that’s MORE than a QUARTER OF A BILLION DOLLARS!!!)

      Joe DiSalvo?  A quarter billion dollars?

      The voters and taxpayers of Santa Clara County REALLY lack a sense of absurdity.

    • Alum Rock and many other school districts have not been educating our kids at a pace required by federal government standards for decades. We’re talking about the loss of hundreds of thousands of students not properly transitioning through grade levels and not graduating on time because districts have chosen to delay the opportunity for change.  California has always had a chronic dropout rate since the early 70’s. If we continue to wait for change to happen, hundreds of thousands more students will be left to squander in poverty and prisons.  And if you believe the hype that our graduation rates are increasing don’t forget that the data doesn’t include students who left school before enrolling in ninth grade and it doesn’t include students who remained in high school for longer than four years.  Any business that would see gains at the pace of our schools districts would be out of business. Our future leaders deserve better than this.

      • Yes, I understand the impatience.  I also understand that there are those that might want to take advantage of that impatience to promote whatever their agenda happens to be.

        If what Lou Scannon wrote about the County Office of Education having a budget of $270 million is true, you have to wonder.  Wonder what we’re getting for all that money.

        Sure, the County Office of Education can approve another charter school, but if it’s going to be yet another underperforming school, that’s not going to be the change you’re looking for.

        • So far the charter schools in Alum Rock are not underperforming.  They are at the top of the list of performance district wide. 

          The slow down so we can catch up mentality is crippling our children.  Especially since the district is one of the oldest in San Jose.  Exactly how much time do they expect parents to give them to keep failing our children?  Alum Rock managed to lock down our kids when there were armed gunmen running around this week and society manages to lock them up when they drop out and turn to lives of crimes but it seems the Charter schools are doing a better job of UNLOCKING their potential academically. 

          Parents are tied of waiting for a district that has had a dozen different superintendents in the last 15 years to get their act together.  Jose Manzo was only the latest failure without a plan to address the success of charters and the failure of his schools.  His response?  Bail out and move to another district.  Approve the charter and give the parents the opportunity that their kid’s deserve and give the taxpayer a better use of our dollars.

  2. Sounds like what the Board of Trustees needs is a legal opinion. Does your law firm actually show up to your meetings or is their strategy to maintain plausible deniability by telling staff in private?

  3. It seems the question posed here is one of timing. So I will also pose a question: how urgently should we pursue excellent education for all of our children?

    Alum Rock is asking for more time, and I get that. As an organization they are hemorrhaging students every year, and it is probably affecting their ability to plan and organize effectively. At the same time, how much time have they been given to improve student achievement, and how much more time should the people of San Jose give? 

    As a parent, I want my child to have an excellent education from day one. If Alpha can provide that on day one (and I think they have), then they should be serving more kids.

    • Good question, Urgent Parent.  And one answer is that the federal government stepped in with money and a mandate in 2002 to materialize the slogan, “No Child Left Behind” by 2014.  That was a 12 year program.

      In October 2009, the local educational leaders with Mayor Chuck Reed joined together to kick the federal program and goals to the curb, and to start up another program called SJ220…which will be four years old next month.

      Let’s see the DiSalvo’s answer to your question: how urgently should we pursue excellent education for all of our children?

  4. Including Alpha, there are 4charter schools in the Alum Rock School District

    Alpha: Blanca Alvarado (828 API, 160 students) and KIPP (922 API, 392 students) are chartered by Alum Rock.

    Downtown (787 API, 250) and ACE (730, 420 students) are chartered by your County Office of Education.

    3 of the 4 charter middle schools approved by your County Office of Education have APIs in the 700s. The only exception, the Magnolia Science Academy Santa Clara, only has 103 of 479 “Socioeconomically Disadvantaged” students.  The Alum Rock School District is over 99% disadvantaged.

    So if you’re asking if your County Office of Education should approve a second Alpha: Blanca Alvarado Middle School, two questions come to mind are:

    1. With an enrollment of only 160 students, why is there a need for a second Alpha: Blanca Alvarado Middle School?  It’s about 2/3 the size of the next smallest middle school and less than half the size of the others.

    2. Why don’t the charter middle schools authorized by your County Office of Education perform as well as those the charter middle schools authorized by the Alum Rock School District?

    • I can answer one, Alpha now serves more than 370 students this school year, the 160 was for it first year in operation.
      And you should ask why do Alum Rock own Middles Schools don’t perform as well as the middle school charter they have approved??  If they have been in operation from more than 20+ years, how many more years do they need to perform good??

  5. Why do we need more years of data for Alpha??  They just prove in one year what most of the Alum Rock School District haven’t in 20+ years. Yes,Alum Rock school district can provided data for plenty of years where they have always underperformed and failed to reach at least 800 API, is this a disgraced? so how many more years and money for our own property taxes do they need to keep wasting until they can have all their schools running and competing to Palo Alto, Campbell, Cupertino, Santa Clara Schools?? I cannot wait 2, 5, 10 years until this happens. Our kids are not guinea pigs, they deserve the best education they can have as any other kid in this Country.

    We cannot waste more time, we need to educate our kids with excellent and high quality education that Alpha can provide and it is providing now.

    Politics should care more for the future of our city, our country, for that means our kids, yes they are the future.

    So don’t waste time, if charters are the solution, approved Alpha.

    • I don’t know much about your district and its schools, but I can see from the attendance figures that your schools are much smaller than the schools in my district.  I’m going to guess that the next big shoe to drop in your district will be school closings.

      So my guess is that what you’ll see is that those that get left behind will have a much worse experience than now.  Also, when there are a lot of charter schools to choose from, the better charter schools will rise to the top, and the other charter schools will revert to the mean.  I think you’re starting to see this now, and it’s only going to get more pronounced as more charter schools are added.  There will always be fewer spots in those good charter schools than there are kids to fill them.

      Di Salvo doesn’t want to spend the time to figure things out, he just wants another fast solution.  Creating more charter schools is like hiring a “game changing” administrator.  It doesn’t require a lot of effort.

      Without understanding the real issues, there will be no comprehensive solution coming from the County Office of Education.

  6. Politics are the real issue here, I do understand your point of view, and I don’t know what district you are on, and if you are lucky enough to have a good one or not. For me, my district has not done the job correctly, so I had to look for alternatives, and charter schools worked for me, so far I have not be disappointed.

    Well it cannot be worse than already has been for the last decade or so. They have been some school closing because of the low performing, nothing to do with the attendance or charter schools. If they get low test scores is because they are not doing their job.
    The County Office of Education is for all the Santa Clara County districts, and our district is one of the worst. This district is been here since before a lot of these charters were created, and has never been one of the great ones as far as I know, and I have live here for over 25 years. Nothing compare with the cities I mentioned on my previous post, and they all belong to this County. I do understand they have more resources and their students are not minorities, that I guess always being the excuse for this district. Why KiPP, Renaissance most of their students are minorities and they are performing as great as those school districts, so who’s to blame??

      Yes, charter school are much smaller than regular traditional schools, that helps them focus on the students and give the attention they need, that is why the results are great. Traditional schools just want to have hundreds of students in their schools and they don’t know what to do with them.

    If I was able to move to a great place, with excellent schools, I will probably would do it, but my reality is here, so I will help change my area(EAST SIDE) to be a great place by making sure there are changes in education, so if this means bringing more charter schools to this area to do the the job, I will support bringing another Alpha to this area of East Side.

    • You are right about politics.

      The County Office of Education used to publish an annual statistical report on school districts.  The most recent one I could find was for fiscal year 2009-10.  Mr. DiSalvo may be able to find you a more recent report.

      http://isb.sccoe.org/docs/DBASDocs/Statistical Report Final.pdf

      Go to page 63.  That is a table of total expenses per ADA.  ADA is average daily attendance, so it’s per-pupil expenses.  I don’t know if the figures for Mt. Pleasant are wrong, or if the rest of it is accurate.  It does say that Alum Rock is better funded than every elementary district on the west side.

  7. Mr. Di Salvo

    You mentioned that we have the following 5 School options in our district:

                Latino API 2012-2013
    Fisher           744
    Joseph Jorge     739
    Lee Mathson     682
    Ocala             699
    Sheppard         677

    as you can see, these are not outstanding scores.

    I have asked teachers and principals why the Latino performance is so bad; among the answers I got were: it is the parent’s fault, it is due to poverty, and the answer that caught my attention the most was the one from a teacher who told me “it is because there are not enough people from South America, which are more educated than the non educated Mexicans that live here”.

    Let me tell you a little bit about the non educated Mexicans: they are people that work very hard; but, barely finished elementary school; therefore, when they enroll their children at the school they expect their kids to learn everything necessary to go to college, and most importantly they expect their children to succeed and not to end like them, who sometimes face the necessity of working two or even three jobs to make ends meet and to try to give their children a better life.

    Let me tell you that if we, the Latinos, were greeks we could say that we see our teachers as our gods of education, we trust in them because they went to college and they know what they are doing and we expect them to share their knowledge and teach our kids; therefore, if one of the NON EDUCATED MEXICANS hears Mr Green saying that Alum Rock is doing amazing and the only bad thing is its reputation that has been carried over the years and that they can’t take off, we would trust him.

    So I ask you, Mr Di Salvo, are these schools doing any good? did you see the Latino API for those schools of 677,699,682,739, and 744 respectively? and even though after seeing those scores, Mr. Green comes and recommends not to open another good school, and then comes Mr. Renaissance and says that he recommends not to open another alpha, because they would lose 450 additional kids; 450 kids that could have a better opportunity to finish middle school , high school and go to college. I understand he is defending his job, I get that; but, we are fighting for our kids’ education and we are screaming for help so badly and nobody cares. Mr Renaissance could have suggested that instead of opening a new Rennassaince to close LEE MATHSON (awful performance) and with that give those children what they really need which is the opportunity to learn; but, he didn’t mention any of that!.

    Our children cannot continue to be an experiment for alum rock district; we cannot wait anymore, our kids are being left behind and nobody cares. Some of us don’t have any other option regarding our kid’s education, and that is why we are fighting for a better future for our children. The only way the children studying at any of these 5 middle schools could be in a college is if the school takes them on a field trip. Please help our community, we deserve better, we are tired of being called derogative names; our children are capable of becoming doctors, engineers, scientists, and so on do not take that opportunity from them.

    The Educational System needs to change; but it will take time, until then, please give our children the opportunity to succeed.

  8. I agree that the score shouldn’t reflect the type of education our children receive.  But unfortunately when the school system focuses most of the school year on preparing mainly for the Star test, that is what leads me to believe that the scores reflect the type of education our children receive. I’ve been on both sides of the school system, traditional and public charter schools.