Last Wednesday night, the SCCOE Board of Trustees postponed a vote on exempting two new Rocketship Education schools from city zoning requirements. The item was continued to Tuesday, Aug, 14, immediately following a 9am closed session with legal counsel. School district superintendents and board members asked us for more time to study the ramifications of this proposed exemption.
The district’s concerns centered around the belief that this was an improper attempt to exercise powers only granted to California school districts, not county offices and charter management organizations. Those who spoke in opposition cited the SCCOE board’s attempt to circumvent planning processes put in place by cities to exempt or amend zoning requirements for a school.
The two primary parcels of land under discussion are located at Story Road, San Jose, APN 488-03-003, in the Alum Rock School District for Rocketship #6 and at 1178 Lick Ave. San Jose, APN 343-13-041, in the San Jose Unified School District. Since last Wednesday, the Rocketship #6 site has been removed from consideration for a zoning exemption.
The continuance to Aug. 14 was to allay the SCCOE board’s concerns and ensure that all affected parties, neighbors and interested citizens had the opportunity to be noticed and provide input. Jessica Kohl-Garica, Director of Community Relations for Rocketship Education, has told me that this site at 1178 Lick Ave., a city-owned parcel, has been discussed as a possible Rocketship Education site since 2009. The SJ city council unanimously approved the sale to Rocketship and negotiated a neighborhood park and school on the parcel, seemingly a win-win for all. This is the only parcel of land now under consideration for the zoning exemption.
I have received communications from a few parents and volunteers at Washington Elementary School — the neighborhood school where many Rocketship #8 students will come from — that speak to Rocketship Education’s aggressive recruiting for this future school. According to what I have been told, there have been heated exchanges between Washington parents and Rocketship recruiters, who tell the parents the school is failing the learning needs of their children.
Brian O’Halloran, a Washington School community volunteer, called to tell me that Washington School is a very important community anchor for many needed services. His perception is that Rocketship’s recruiting strategies were splitting the school apart.
It is instructive here to reread what I wrote for SJI on December 20, 2011:
“In my 38 years in public education, I never witnessed as consequential a vote as was taken on Dec. 14 and the early morning hours of Dec. 15. The Santa Clara County Office of Education Board, on a very controversial 5-2 and 4-3 vote, approved 20 new Rocketship Education charter schools in Silicon Valley.
“This is a momentous time for county public education. Rocketship Education is one of the best local non.com stories ever told. The board did not make this decision lightly. We recognize that there are many ramifications to sort out, but in the end the board majority felt it was in the best interest of all students. The ultimate strategic goal is for San Jose/Silicon Valley to eliminate the devastating racial achievement gap.
“Public education is at a crossroads. With the continued disinvestment in public institutions, new approaches to accomplish the mission on behalf of the children, all children, must be created. The achievement gap has not narrowed significantly for 30 years, and it is at the root of the new sense of urgency”.
I am not certain how I will vote tomorrow. My decision will be based on what I hear from the speakers and my colleagues. If for one nanosecond I believe this is another move to obstruct the decision in December made by the SCCOE board, I will vote to approve the resolution to exempt the zoning requirements for only this one charter school at this time. If I believe all parties have not been heard — or will not have an opportunity prior to the school being finally approved to be built — I will vote ”no“ or to continue the matter to a future meeting.
Rocketship is attempting to do Herculean work on behalf of building a system of 29 charter schools that provides a longer school day, blended learning, home visits by teachers and high academic expectations for all its students. The competition to the traditional public school system should be welcomed by our community, not scorned.
On the front page of the Washington Post two weeks ago was an article titled, “Is a charter school chain called Rocketship ready to soar across America?” by Lydsey Layton. The dateline for the article is San Jose, Calif. Layton wrote, “Rocketship’s scores, combined with an unusual educational and financial model, have made it the darling of the school reform movement. Cities across the country, including in the (D.C.) District and New York, are clamoring for Rocketship to set up shop. The Obama administration has invested $2 million to speed its growth.”
San Jose and Silicon Valley is fortunate to have the SCCOE board that took a risk to approve 20 more Rocketship schools in the next five years. Now we must work within legal boundaries to get it done!