Two events I attended this week provide some optimism about traditional public and charter schools’ ability to coexist. On Tuesday, I participated in a People Acting in Community Together (PACT) panel with two of my Board of Education colleagues, President Grace Mah and trustee Darcie Green. The event was titled, “Low Income Families Deserve More!”
In many places in Silicon Valley, low-income parents are playing a transformative role in reshaping public education. At this event, I heard parents and students of charter schools, from Gilroy to San Jose, talk about how their children—most from low-income households—are achieving greater success in the classrooms. This will result in more high school diplomas, college degrees and better preparedness for careers.
Stories of eliminating inequality in public education are playing out in real time all over the valley. We should stand proud of how the region is rising up to form powerful coalitions to lobby elected officials and public leaders. They’re using legally available options to alter a course that was imperiling their children’s quality of life while creating deep economic divisions.
Yet some adult leaders lag behind a vision for collaboration and cooperation. Lawsuits and threatened legal actions against charter schools are not helping anyone.
The real enemy is a 40-percent dropout rate for Latinos. Quality education is the great societal equalizer. It lowers crime and homelessness and increases wages and salaries.
For this trustee, the greatest story being told in Santa Clara County involves the leadership of the school board, superintendent and charter schools in Franklin-McKinley School District. They own the problem and have decided to think out-of-the-box for solutions.
On Wednesday, I attended the ribbon cutting of Rocketship Spark Academy, the second Rocketship charter the district has authorized. It is located on the Sylvendale Middle School campus. Superintendent John Porter was introduced by Preston Smith, Rocketship’s co-founder, to a huge ovation.
Dr. Porter said the partnership with Rocketship has taught his district many things, including the importance of professional development throughout the school day and quality use of technology in the blended learning model. Doing this has put a “dent” in the achievement gap. He added that the key to success is a strong school culture and high expectations.
Porter said FMSD schools emulating the Rocketship model have made the most student gains in the district. Certainly, this is a prime example of a win-win partnership. FMSD gets nearly $100,000 each year, as part of a 35-year lease for the property given to Spark Academy.
Don Shalvey, a deputy director with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also addressed the crowd. He praised the cooperative work of the Board of Education, Superintendent Porter, parents and staff who have chosen “common ground over battleground.”
Contrast that with what occurred last night in Morgan Hill, where the seven-member Board voted 6-1 to deny Rocketship a charter in its district. Now the SCCOE Board inherits the legacy on whether to deny or approve on appeal both the Morgan Hill Rocketship Charter and the Navigator Charter denied by MHUSD two weeks ago. Both preliminary hearings are scheduled for an county Office of Education special board meeting on Nov. 20.