It is an outrage that Silicon Valley education leaders continue to choose battle ground over common ground. Despite extraordinary innovation that occurs everyday in our region, our education leaders too often choose to protect the status quo.
This path of the selfish "me" over the collaborative "we" has led to keeping the status quo in education, with few exceptions. In the 21st Century, mid-way through its second decade and with huge demographic shifts, taking the traditional path will lead to a calamitous future. One local exception that deserves a "shout out" is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s charter and traditional public collaboration in Franklin-McKinley School District which is being led by retiring Superintendent John Porter.
Don Shalvey, deputy director of the Gates Foundation, said: "FMSD is building collaborative partnerships with the goal of preparing every student, including students who have traditionally struggled to excel academically, to graduate 8th grade ready for college and beyond. ... Optimism emerges from the collaboration of strong educators in the district's charter schools and traditional public schools. They are working together—learning from one another—to make each other better and produce results."
That was the seminal goal of the Charter School Act in California—back in 1992.
More than 20 years later, in 2013, FMSD had more growth in its academic performance than any of the county’s other 30 districts. The district’s leaders are attempting to set a better course for the publicly-funded charter world through collaboration.
I would have chosen to put the district I represent, San Jose Unified, on the very top of this progressive list next to FMSD, but the recent threat to move DCP and Sunrise from their existing sites and raise facility lease costs are causes for grave concern. There is still time for all parties to get to compromise on what is in the best interest of all the children.
A continued course of collaboration with charters is the right path to take, as long as they are allowing children to achieve success. Charters are public schools funded solely by our public dollars. Should we not all demand high-level collaboration with our money on behalf of all children?
In most of our 31 districts the opposite of collaboration is at play. A case in point is what is happening in Santa Clara Unified. Magnolia Science and Math Academy Charter School signed an ill-advised lease agreement, where it agreed to move from its current site at the end of this school year. I am certain they agreed to this deadline to create a complicated lease agreement with the district. Magnolia pays the district $500,000 a year for the school they are currently leasing.
Magnolia, unfortunately, has not been able to find an alternate site that will work for next year. Yet the district has said it will not be needing the current Magnolia site until the 2016-17 school year for its growing enrollment needs at the K-5 level.
By most current accounts and through a recent visit of my own, the 6-12 grade science and math academy is doing very well by its students. There are a myriad of data points, as well parent and student testimonials, that are positive. But at this moment the parents and students are uncertain whether they will have a school next year, or where the location of that school will be.
My Board colleague, Trustee Dr. Michael Chang, summed it up brilliantly in his last appeal Wednesday night (available at sccoe.org link to Board agendas/minutes on video streaming for March 11). Trustee Chang implored the school district board members and the superintendent work together and keep in mind “a more human perspective, a community perspective, a PR perspective, all the other perspectives” to “generate a lot of good will."
County Board President Darcie Green agreed with Trustee Chang and said the lease agreement negotiated the rights away from students, contrary to the intent of facility laws governing charter schools. She also invoked the need for Santa Clara Unified to be more humane in its next steps. After all, most of the students likely to be affected live in district boundaries. I have hope that a solution will be reached on behalf of the 470 Magnolia students sooner than later.
As long as I hold this seat on the county Board of Education, I will strongly and loudly advocate for common ground over battle ground. The open warfare on publicly funded charters hinders the achievements of our children.