San Jose’s Cornerstone Academy Vows to Appeal Charter Denial

The Franklin-McKinley School District on Tuesday voted 3-2 to deny the K-8 Cornerstone Academy Preparatory School’s charter petition, igniting backlash from from families and employees who vow to fight the impending closure.

“I'm really angry,” Cornerstone Academy CEO Shara Hedge says. “When I founded the school almost 11 years ago, I had a vision of creating a high-performing school for families of Franklin-McKinley. We are deeply saddened and hurt and surprised by this decision. ... We 100 percent did not expect this.”

The school board’s vote went against the district’s recommendation to keep the school open. Everything was lined up for approval, Hedge says: the MOU, facilities agreement and draft charter renewal. The resolution to deny came out of left field, she says.

At the meeting, the board first voted against renewing the charter petition. Since the charter would still automatically re-up if the board doesn’t explicitly vote to deny it, trustees took a second vote to put the nail in the coffin.

The board then prevented attendees from voicing concerns after the vote. “It’s unfair,” Cornerstone families hollered at trustees during the meeting. “We did not have the opportunity to review this resolution before the meeting,” Hedge recounts. “Our parents were denied the opportunity to speak on this when it came up at the last minute.”

And Cornerstone officials say that the board’s stated reasons for denying the petition are disingenuous. According to the board, the charter submitted by umbrella organization Alpha Public Schools failed to enroll enough Latino students compared to the broader school district. “It’s required by the California Department of Education,” board President Rudy Rodriguez says. “It’s not voluntary.” Almost 60 percent of the school district’s students are Latino compared to just 30 percent of Cornerstone’s.

Cornerstone officials acknowledge the disparity and say they’ve been actively recruiting students from all backgrounds. “We don’t match up perfectly with the district's demographics,” Alpha Public Schools CEO John Glover says. “We are required by law to actively recruit students across a range of ethnicities, and we do that. We don’t have total control over who shows up.”

Glover says the board is so fixated on the charter school’s demographics compared to the school district’s that they overlook Cornerstone’s academic achievements. “Why was our two-time California distinguished school ignored?” Hedge asks. “We are a stalwart in the community. I just want to know why it’s OK to just rip that away from them.”

At Cornerstone, for example, Latino students scored 265 percent higher in English language mastery on standardized tests than district schools. Cornerstone’s disabled students outperform district schools, too, scoring 190 percent higher in math in 2019.

Still, the board expressed concern with the math proficiency of Cornerstone’s disabled students. Almost 50 percent of students with disabilities at the charter failed to meet math standards in 2019. That’s a 27 percent increase from 2017.

Glover says he has “never ever seen a district or any other authorizer look at the percentage of students at the bottom quartile over a period of time. It’s disingenuous.”

The board also accused Cornerstone of excluding students with moderate or severe disabilities. Glover says he’s perplexed with the board’s rationale. “It was never clear to us what they meant by ‘moderate’ and ‘severe,’” he says. “We don’t submit classifications of students beyond ‘students with disabilities.’”

Cornerstone officials say that students with disabilities like autism, learning disability and speech language impairments have attended Cornerstone over the least three years. Currently, 40 students with disabilities attend the charter academy.

Charter officials say they will appeal the denial to the Santa Clara County Board of Education. “Students came in with a lot of questions,” Cornerstone Principal Marion Dickel says. “The hard thing for me is that teachers came to me and asked, ‘What do we tell them?’ I didn’t have a good answer for teachers, other than the fact that we are here to stay, we are going to fight [and we will] go to the county and get this overturned.”

Charters have become major players in the public education system since California passed the Charter Schools Act in 1992. Legislators granted them more leeway in hopes that they’ll create more innovative curricula and learning models.

But public school districts have increasingly pushed back in recent years out of concern that the law has created an uneven playing field.

“That’s how the legislation was set up—it created an adversarial situation between public schools and charter schools where the rules don’t apply equally—all the latitudes that has been given to charter schools and none given to us,” Franklin-McKinley Superintendent Juan Cruz says. “They don’t have to abide by all the rules and regulations that we do and they get to claim to be better than us.”

School districts also see charters as a drain on their resources. “When kids leave and go to charter schools, our staffing doesn’t go down at the same rate the kids leave,” East Side Union High School District Superintendent Chris Funk explains. “That’s why we said, give us a mechanism to say, ‘No more.’ Because it increases our fiscal instability.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom has approved a series of laws this past year to regulate charter schools. Earlier this month, he signed AB 1505, which allows public school trustees to deny a charter petition based on its fiscal impacts to the authorizing district.

SB 126 mandates open meetings and requiring charters to respond to all public records requests. Meanwhile, AB 1506 is making its way through the state legislature. If approved, it would prohibit public school agencies from authorizing a new charter unless an existing one in its jurisdiction closes first.

Nicholas Chan is a journalist who covers politics, culture and current events in Silicon Valley. Follow him on Twitter at @nicholaschanhk.

9 Comments

  1. Charter schools continue to be an embarrassment to public schools that fail at most every thing they teach. If these Latinos in charter school succeed in and go on to higher education goals who will sweep the floors, pick the fruit, cook fast food or carry the golf bags of the Rich White Liberals, RWL’s. Charter School threaten California’s RWL’s with having their children compete for good paying jobs. RWL’s send their kids to privet schools. Just look at the pay to play scandal going on today in collages mostly right here in California. Teachers union hate charter schools as well, cutting into their political power and the monopoly in the brain washed class room.

    What to do? Vote out your school board, show up and protest the school board meetings, run for the school board office your self. Demand better education for your kids and be a pain in the ass of the of the teacher union.

  2. New Math, Race to the Top and countless other nonsense programs have failed in public schools which have become bastions of bureaucratic malaise. Calif sinks more and more unimaginable amounts of $$ into our schools and they only get worse and worse. the classroom has become a battlefield between the state and the unions, which on the surface are agreeable since they share the same culpability of failure. The CA Ed Code is a ton of useless language and here is the one telling thing – -the law states that there will be “compulsory attendance” – – NOT compulsory learning.

    As we have seen countless time’s over the past few decades – there is always some blame or fault that can be pointed at for justification of- — – – – -more money. How many elections do we have wherein NO new taxes for schools are on the ballot?

    Now we are in the era of the “Woke” generation where fault for failing schools and children must be found someplace – -here for example – -https://www.dailysignal.com/2019/10/24/woke-math-aims-to-teach-seattle-kids-that-western-math-is-racist/

    • > the law states that there will be “compulsory attendance” – – NOT compulsory learning.

      “Compulsory learning” would be slavery. We’re AGAINST slavery.

      “Compulsory attendance” is merely imprisonment. It’s OK to imprison children if their not U.S. citizens.

      Wait. Aren’t school children U.S. citizens? At least some of them?

  3. It would be great if you could name the names of the trustees voting to end the charter school and force children into underperforming District schools. Without their names listed in the article, parents must ferret out the info themselves and cannot as easily reach out to those responsible. Thank you for listening!

  4. First, this school is in the heart of San Jose’s Little Saigon so it isn’t surprising that it has slightly more Vietnamese students than Hispanics. And please stop lying about the facts Mr. Rodgriguez. You know well that almost 40% of Cornerstone’s students are Hispanic. Also, did you forget to share your primary concern with having Cornerstone in the neighborhood? You stated in every board meeting the school caused too much traffic near your home. Further, in my opinion, your suggestion to have the school traffic run through the narrow streets behind the school where there are no marked crosswalks and no drop off zone would endanger the lives of our youngest children. Shame on you Mr. Rodriguez.

    Franklin-McKinley Superintendent Juan Cruz says. “They don’t have to abide by all the rules and regulations that we do and they get to claim to be better than us.” Ok, Mr. Cruz please share with us which of the rules and regulations they don’t have to comply with. I bet you won’t because your statement isn’t true. Face it, they take the same kids from the same neighborhoods and have a significantly better result. This isn’t saying someone is better than someone else. These are hard facts proven through standardized testing and recognized twice by the state. This is certainly an embarrassment to you and the school board. Instead of owning your own failures and working with your best performing school (Cornerstone) to learn how to improve your other district schools you decided to shut it down to attempt to hide your failures. Apparently, your goal is to drive down the district’s school’s performance to that of the lowest performing school.

    “Almost 50 percent of students with disabilities at the charter failed to meet math standards in 2019.” Well, again, let’s look at the facts. Maimona Afzal Berta expressed concerns that the school had not served students with disabilities. This statement was made despite her knowing the fact that there is a larger percentage of disabled students at Cornerstone (8.7%) vs. at Kennedy Elementary (8.1%) where the school is co-located. Disabled students at Cornerstone met or exceeded standards for Math at 40.5% and ELA at 32.4% vs. a district wide average of 16% and 14.2%, respectively. Who is not serving disabled students Ms. Berta?

    Regarding increasing the number of Hispanics and students with disabilities in general, Ms. Berta and Mr. Rodriguez appeared stunned when advised that it was illegal for Cornerstone to give priority in admissions to any student based on race or disability status. Despite this, Kerry Rosado also voted to close the school.

  5. Charter Schools are mostly located in school attendance areas where schools are rated as under-achieving based on test data. Parents who live in these areas, who take a look into this data, or see the behavior issues of kids in their neighborhood and schools, go look elsewhere. Those who can pay for private or parochial schools go there. For those that still need a free public education, they go to charter schools. Therefore you have parents who are opting-in to the school, and will follow any rules they are told to follow (which public schools cannot insist on) as long as their child has the benefit and opportunity to attend a “better” school.

    This is then leaving our neighborhood schools with children who have higher academic or behavioral needs. Leaving the test scores at those school to further plummet. Our neighborhood schools are not benefiting from the academic or socio-economic diversity because charter schools are taking kids who have better learning aptitudes or at least parents who can support better learning and behavior habits.

    Our school districts are then left with declining enrollment, students with higher needs, and the teachers and administrators take the heat for the state of the educational environment. If we returned to our model, where kids attended schools based on where they live, we’d have a better shot at lifting our neighborhoods via our schools. Our schools would have more funding to serve our neighborhood kids. Our kids would have more role models around them. And our schools would have more engaged parents at their sites.

    • > If we returned to our model, where kids attended schools based on where they live, we’d have a better shot at lifting our neighborhoods via our schools.

      Wow! This is essentially the definition of “serfdom”. A serf was “tied to the land”. How is this different from “kids attend[ing] schools based on where they live.”

      Public schools have been around for two hundred years. How much longer is it going to be before they get things right and start delivering quality education?

    • Charter Schools are located in school districts that already have abysmal performance such as the Franklin McKinley School District. The school district was dysfunctional long before the charter schools started there and that’s why they were allowed in the district in the first place. Charter Schools don’t play any role in dragging down the overall statistics for the district’s schools. In fact, Charter Schools are public schools in the district just like the traditional district schools.

      Blaming the children and the parents of charter schools for the poor performance of the school district doesn’t really make any sense. If you want to increase the enrollment in the non-charter district schools, the focus should be on improving the quality of education to attract students.

  6. In the midst of fighting for the impeding closure, Cornerstone Academy Preparatory School is hosting a Winter Festival at Cornerstone this Friday from 5-7.

    Councilmember Johnny Khamis will be attending this event from 5-6 to support the hard work of the students, teachers and parents at Cornerstone in preparing their wonderful performances.

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