Morgan Hill Charter School Clash Could be Coming to County Level

Last week’s column was meant to highlight the struggle many of us on the Board of Education are having with approving or denying a particular charter. Should we err on the side of complying with state law or give more credence to social justice issues, relative to equity and excellence for every child. Certainly the adherence to state law is a solemn part of the oath we took when sworn into elected office.

Our votes have had a dramatic effect on changing the education landscape in Silicon Valley. Some say for good, some say for ill. It is an ever-changing landscape that screams for increased collaboration and cooperation between stakeholders. Education results in some regions of this county are deplorable and need solution sets with a fierce urgency of now. (See the report: Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind In Silicon Valley Schools).

Matt Hammer, executive director of Innovate Public Schools, recently told me that a six-month update of the first Broken Promises report will be out in November. It will recognize Navigator public charter school in Gilroy for raising Latino achievement—an urgent need in our system.

To demonstrate the headache these decisions give each member of the Board, our email inboxes were filled last week with more than 100 signatures on a digital petition sent at different times over a one week period. The petition signers asked us to approve Navigator Morgan Hill, a recently denied charter by the Morgan Hill Unified School Board. By state law, Navigator can come to the SCCOE or State Board of Education on appeal.

The Navigator petition states: “Vote to enable Navigator Charter School, the best performing new Charter in California, to come to Morgan Hill. Gilroy Prep School’s first year API was 978 2. Help close the educational performance gap to provide the best educational options for every kid.”

Interestingly, the MUHSD Board will decide on whether to approve Rocketship at its upcoming meeting in November. I much prefer Morgan Hill look at the Rocketship school as an education partner in serving their students, not a competitor. Use the energy of the parent choice movement to enhance the portfolio of their schools and share best practices. I see the decision as a win for students, parents, the district and city. Talk to Franklin-McKinley or Alum Rock School District Boards, which have approved Rocketship and other charter schools to better serve their students and families. 

On Friday, I began receiving another online petition, this time with 66 signatures and individual emails from Mario Banuelos and other concerned Morgan Hill parents and educators. This opposing petition reads: “Support MHUSD neighborhood schools. We offer Math and Music Academy and a Dual immersion & multi-cultural program. … We serve all students regardless of race, socio-economic level and ability. DO NOT APPROVE NAVIGATOR or Rocketship Charter Petitions that offer educational programs that narrow the curriculum.”

Should individual board members take into account the financial burden placed on districts when charter schools we approve on appeal or on a countywide basis arguably hinder their development? How much should parents’ voices be considered? And what about new plans for a district that has underperformed for Latino students in creating new magnet schools of choice? Is it an important fact that charters are usually non-union?

These questions are complex and gut wrenching at times, especially when you hear story after story from students and parents about how their unique learning and social needs were not addressed at the traditional public school.

The charter war continues to intensify. Perhaps it is time for the state legislature to retool the law.

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.

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