I was torn about what topic to focus on for my weekly column—this is installment 249. There’s a strong urge to write a response to Councilmember Pierluigi Olivero’s op-ed in the Mercury News, “Schools do well without mayoral interference.” I also considered pounding out an opinion on the education components of President Obama’s State of the Union speech last Tuesday. Yet, when all things are considered, there was one groundbreaking educational event that occurred last week in Silicon Valley that trumps the previous two topics.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granted $100,000 to Franklin McKinley School District to promote collaboration between the traditional public school district and all its charter schools. The possibility that this seed money can lead to a much larger piece of the Gates Foundation Collaborative Compact financial pie is real, and predicated on the effort and results of the start-up phase.
Franklin McKinley is the first district in San Jose to receive this funding. According to the Gates Foundation press release, the money is designed to strengthen the strategic components. They include:
• Joint professional development for teachers in traditional public and charter.
• Universal enrollment systems for all public schools in the city.
• Creating personalized learning experiences.
• Common metrics to help families evaluate all schools on consistent criteria.
• Support for teachers in implementing the Common Core State Standards.
Most of our nation’s largest cities have just one to a few school districts. There are 19 in San Jose, making it impossible to get agreement on a citywide basis, as the Gates Foundation would prefer. Perhaps an education-focused mayor who understands the economical importance of achievement results and graduation rates could get the other 18 districts to follow the lead of Franklin-McKinley.
The written and signed-off contract by superintendent, school board, charters, charter boards and the Gates Foundation must be bold and reach a high bar for cooperation. In order to radically impact the unsustainable results for student achievement and graduation rates in San Jose, especially for students of color and those living in poverty, we must work with all publicly-funded partners to reach new heights of high achievement. Too many public dollars are going into litigation in the old toxic model of competition between districts and charters.
Other cities funded by this new pact are Lawrence, Mass.; Spokane, Wash.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Aldine, Texas. Franklin McKinley is the only district in San Jose to request and receive funding in this cycle.
While Franklin McKinley enrolls only a fraction of the students who live in San Jose, I want to remain optimistic that this very sensible and laudable goal of collaboration can pick up steam. That will only happen if elected leaders, policy makers and teachers unions really care about how their students achieve. No district that I know of can eliminate the achievement gap without strategic help.
In the Interim Report (June, 2013) on Gates Compacts, regular and open communication was noted as increasing in the other major cities involved.
“District and charter leaders expressed a belief that more communication had made real progress possible where it wasn’t before,” the report said. “Conversations feel more productive than in the past because there is a strong focus on shared responsibility of school quality, which allowed everyone to move past the rhetoric of district versus charter.”
Congratulations to Franklin McKinley, its Superintendent John Porter, charter leaders and board members for showing what is possible when we agree to cooperate rather than compete. I hope Morgan Hill’s interim superintendent and school board members that denied Navigator Charter will rethink what is possible when we work together. Perhaps Franklin McKinley can mentor them for the sake of our region and its students.
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 and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.