On Wednesday, the county Board of Education will make a decision on the charter petition for Alpha: Blanca Alvarado Middle School 2. The vote will be difficult for me.
A few weeks ago, I met with former county Supervisor Blanca Alvarado, who advocates passionately for Alpha 2. On Sept. 30, she sent an email to all county Office of Education trustees. It reads in part, “We have a civic and social obligation to provide all of our children with an education that instills a love of learning and that prepares them to carry forward the ideals of a democracy.”
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed also wrote a letter to the Board this month requesting approval on appeal for Alpha 2.
In order to make the most informed decision possible, I visited five Alum Rock Union School District middle schools last week and Alpha Middle School 1 on Sept. 30. During my visits, I spoke with staff, parents, and students representing Alum Rock Union and Alpha 1.
Here is what I learned:
• Alum Rock Union has made great strides in developing high quality programs for its middle students at Adelante Academy (K-8), Renaissance Academy 1 and 2 (a college preparatory middle school) and Joseph George Middle (Performing Arts emphasis).
• Administration, faculty and staff are working diligently at all ARUSD middle schools to improve achievement, school safety and increase parent involvement. The use of student test data drives professional learning communities to come together for the common goal of increasing student achievement across grade levels.
• Staff at Ocala Middle in ARUSD told me at a lunch meeting that there is an imbalance with special education students in the district versus the charter schools operating within the district’s boundaries. They assert, with conviction, that children at the charter school who do not perform academically and/or behaviorally get sent back to the district schools. Some believe that the charter movement in their district has created a situation where the most involved parents opt out of the traditional public school for a charter school (i.e. KIPP, Downtown College Prep, ACE, Alpha, etc.), This leaves more children with less involved parents at the traditional public middle school. Data to back up these aforementioned positions are not readily available but should be.
Is it possible that charter middle schools are more parent-friendly and know how to ask for support with the students? I’m not sure but hope we can find out so all can benefit.
A District-Charter Collaboration Compact from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for all the traditional public and charter schools in ARUSD boundaries, has a strong chance for approval. Dr. Tom Green, district transformation officer, who generously gave up several hours of his time to take me around to the schools, believes the compact will be a force for positive change for all children. He believes it is premature for the county Board to approve Alpha 2 on appeal pending the funding of the Gates Foundation work.
Alpha 1 is doing exceptional work. In a blended learning classroom environment, I witnessed highly engaged 7th grade students, similar to what I observed at Adelante and Renaissance.
According to John Glover, executive director of Allpa, 51 percent of his students are from the ARUSD attendance area, many of them coming from charter elementary schools such as Rocketship. The competition for students in ARUSD the last five years has been elevating instructional programs for all students. It is time now for cooperation and collaboration at the highest levels, irrespective of the how the vote comes out for approval or denial of Alpha’s appeal to the SCCOE Board.
If the Board denies the appeal, Alpha can appeal the decision to the State Board of Education. Stay tuned.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.