Charter School Wars Heat Up; Can Cooler Heads Prevail?

The Santa Clara County Office of Education hosted a special meeting Saturday for a charter school study workshop. Approximately, 50 community leaders, elected school board members and parents participated in a discussion on the role of charters and traditional public schools in meeting student academic needs. Even though all those who spoke appeared to have the right intentions, eliminating the achievement gap is a divisive issue.

After attending the meeting, one community member wrote an email to the Board of Education and Superintendent Xavier De la Torre. “When I hear you all speak individually, I hear a very similar message of helping kids in need,” the email read. “I do feel that this is a noble goal indeed, and if we are not able to take advantage of our substantial means & capabilities in order to figure out ways to help those who need it most, it will truly be a shame.” I concur with the writer. Let me highlight a few of the most contentious issues that we must address:

1. In January, after five months of community discussion, the Board voted 5-1-1 to approve a zoning exemption for a Rocketship school on Lick Avenue in San Jose by the Tamien Station. A Mercury News editorial before the vote said, “When the SCCOE Board approved 20 new Rocketship charter schools 13 months ago, the trustees knew it would transform public education in Silicon Valley. They knew, too, that locating schools would be controversial and that they would need to stand behind the plan to better educate thousands of Silicon Valley low-income and mostly Latino kids.”

The SCCOE Board was sued by San Jose Unified School District and a neighborhood Tamien resident, Brett Bymaster. In a preliminary ruling, Judge Franklin Bondonno stated the Board lacks the authority to exempt Rocketship from zoning regulations. Interestingly, the Mercury News editorial in January stated that multiple legal experts have concluded that the Board does have the legal authority.

The Board has not decided whether to appeal the ruling by Judge Bondonno, once the decision is final. Rocketship is now asking the city of San Jose to exempt the Tamien site from zoning restrictions.  I respectfully ask the majority of our city’s elected leaders to be courageous and act on what is in the best interest of the thousands of students on Rocketship’s waiting list and approve a zoning exemption at the Tamien Site.

2. Trustee Darcie Green and I spoke under public comment at the Campbell Union High School District Board meeting last Thursday, on behalf of the Communitas High School students that received zero credit for either their freshman or sophomore years. The reason given by the district was Communitas was a non-accredited Charter School approved by the Board and Campbell’s policy did not allow for credit to be given. Communitas closed after the first year of operation due to fiscal sustainability. The CUHSD Trustees are placing the item on their Nov. 7 agenda. I hope the item is an action item that can make the students whole again on an individual case-by-case basis.

3. A new website is attacking Rocketship, which is a home-grown, start-up in San Jose with involvement from the late Father Mateo Sheedy of Sacred Heart Church. From day one, Rocketship’s faculty and staff have had the best of intentions—giving some of our poorest children in an region a great education with high expectations for achievement. Attending college is an emphasis for Rocketship students.

Until we treat all children as our own, we will never get to the point of implementing strategies collaboratively. San Jose Unified is doing some exemplary work in this area and should be applauded. However, I found out recently that there were no longer conversations taking place with Rocketship at the table. I hope that will change after progress made at Saturday’s charter school study session.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

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.


  1. Rocketship is not subject to the same laws and rules as public schools and is therefore given advantage.  The ability to avoid students with IEP’s along with not bring required to cater to other requirements (ESL, low income, behavior problems, large class sizes, parents not participating or giving any money) add up to huge advantages.  Of course Rocketship threatens public school.  If DiSalvo wanted better education for all students, he would work to reduce a lot of the red tape teachers face every day, reduce the requirements to cater to the lowest performing kids and rally AGAINST Rocketship which avoids the anchors attached to public schools.

    • This must be where the Elitists want there kids to go . essentially it eliminates having to deal with Minorities and other individuals not up to your standards .  Lady you belong in the south

  2. Given your frequent outbursts during public meetings, I certainly hope that cooler heads than yours will prevail. I also don’t understand how Communitas is part of that “charter schools war”. You take issue with CUHSD’s credit transfer policy. While there might be a case for more flexibility, that policy is not anti-charter, it applies equally to any student transferring from a non-WASC accredited school (private, charter or public). By all means, support the students in getting at least some of their credits transferred, but please don’t fabricate a link to the war that you decry, that’s really unhelpful.

  3. Joe, does “cooler heads” mean people who support building this separate system of charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools?  Here’s a good analysis that thrown some cold water on the model.

    “This is where the flaws of charters as a reform strategy start to come into focus. A plan that relies heavily on serving more selective student populations is not only unfeasible systemwide, it has a decidedly negative effect on the district schools left in its wake.”

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