Morgan Hill Unified Should Approve Charter School Petitions

Silicon Valley teachers would be wise to weave Cesar Chavez into their history lesson plans this month. A gifted community organizer and leader, Mr. Chavez helped create the United Farm Workers union and resided for many years in San Jose. A building where he did much of his community organizing and civil rights work, McDonnell Hall, was dedicated Sunday as a state historic landmark.

Monday also marked the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through Oct. 15. The first day of the celebration, Sept. 15, is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico’s Independence Day is Sept. 16. One of the key constructs of the celebratory month is to provide educational opportunities in classrooms and communities to highlight the seminal contributions Hispanics have made to the United States.

It is notable that this 30-day window to celebrate Hispanic contributions to society is also the time that Morgan Hill Unified’s Board of Trustees will decide whether to authorize Navigator and Voices Charter Schools. Both charter schools have dramatically improved Latino achievement in English-language arts and mathematics. Both would target Latino youth for enrollment in their schools.

Navigator and Voices have strong support from the Latino parent community, People Acting In Community Together (PACT) and the California Charter School Association. They have been approved to operate charter schools by school boards in Gilroy, Hollister and Franklin-McKinley school districts.

But Morgan Hill denied the Navigator petition earlier this year and the county Board of Education voted to deny the appeal on a 4-3 vote. This time around the petition has been rewritten and vetted by many experts on charter law.

Unfortunately, I believe that Morgan Hill Unified’s staff report to the county board will once again request another denial to the petition. Similar arguments from the last go-around will be used, including an unsound educational program.

It is curious that three other local school boards can view the petition’s educational program as sound. The seven elected Morgan Hill trustees should act boldly to authorize both petitions and keep close track of the programs. Acceding oversight on appeal to the county or state board seems antithetical to good governance.

The Board’s decision hearing is Tuesday, Sept. 23. Working together should be the goal. Eliminating the achievement gap requires an “all hands on deck” mentality. Other roads lead to the unsustainable status quo.

In fact, the newly released California High School Exit Exam scores show that Hispanic students in Santa Clara County scored lower when compared to their statewide peers in Math and English-Language Arts.

These are all our children and the funding sources for charter schools are public dollars. If Morgan Hill denies Navigator and Voices’ requests, I’m sure they will appeal to the county board.

I urge Morgan Hill Unified trustees to use the inspiration of this month to do what is politically difficult but right for the Hispanic youth in Morgan Hill.

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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