The Santa Clara County Office of Education hosted a special meeting Saturday for a charter school study workshop. Approximately, 50 community leaders, elected school board members and parents participated in a discussion on the role of charters and traditional public schools in meeting student academic needs. Even though all those who spoke appeared to have the right intentions, eliminating the achievement gap is a divisive issue.
After attending the meeting, one community member wrote an email to the Board of Education and Superintendent Xavier De la Torre. “When I hear you all speak individually, I hear a very similar message of helping kids in need,” the email read. “I do feel that this is a noble goal indeed, and if we are not able to take advantage of our substantial means & capabilities in order to figure out ways to help those who need it most, it will truly be a shame.” I concur with the writer. Let me highlight a few of the most contentious issues that we must address:
1. In January, after five months of community discussion, the Board voted 5-1-1 to approve a zoning exemption for a Rocketship school on Lick Avenue in San Jose by the Tamien Station. A Mercury News editorial before the vote said, “When the SCCOE Board approved 20 new Rocketship charter schools 13 months ago, the trustees knew it would transform public education in Silicon Valley. They knew, too, that locating schools would be controversial and that they would need to stand behind the plan to better educate thousands of Silicon Valley low-income and mostly Latino kids.”
The SCCOE Board was sued by San Jose Unified School District and a neighborhood Tamien resident, Brett Bymaster. In a preliminary ruling, Judge Franklin Bondonno stated the Board lacks the authority to exempt Rocketship from zoning regulations. Interestingly, the Mercury News editorial in January stated that multiple legal experts have concluded that the Board does have the legal authority.
The Board has not decided whether to appeal the ruling by Judge Bondonno, once the decision is final. Rocketship is now asking the city of San Jose to exempt the Tamien site from zoning restrictions. I respectfully ask the majority of our city’s elected leaders to be courageous and act on what is in the best interest of the thousands of students on Rocketship’s waiting list and approve a zoning exemption at the Tamien Site.
2. Trustee Darcie Green and I spoke under public comment at the Campbell Union High School District Board meeting last Thursday, on behalf of the Communitas High School students that received zero credit for either their freshman or sophomore years. The reason given by the district was Communitas was a non-accredited Charter School approved by the Board and Campbell’s policy did not allow for credit to be given. Communitas closed after the first year of operation due to fiscal sustainability. The CUHSD Trustees are placing the item on their Nov. 7 agenda. I hope the item is an action item that can make the students whole again on an individual case-by-case basis.
3. A new website is attacking Rocketship, which is a home-grown, start-up in San Jose with involvement from the late Father Mateo Sheedy of Sacred Heart Church. From day one, Rocketship’s faculty and staff have had the best of intentions—giving some of our poorest children in an region a great education with high expectations for achievement. Attending college is an emphasis for Rocketship students.
Until we treat all children as our own, we will never get to the point of implementing strategies collaboratively. San Jose Unified is doing some exemplary work in this area and should be applauded. However, I found out recently that there were no longer conversations taking place with Rocketship at the table. I hope that will change after progress made at Saturday’s charter school study session.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.