A comprehensive plan must be developed to chart the best course for the ever-expanding charter school movement—before it is too late. Like urban sprawl, the unplanned process will be disastrous. I believe there is still time for a win for our students, a win for the teachers and a win for our region.
From my vantage point, the County Board of Education has attempted to work on the big picture issue of ensuring a high quality public school learning experience for every child, irrespective of income or race/ethnicity. Over the voices of dissent of school district colleagues, the Board has approved a number of high quality charter schools in the last three years. And more are on their way. This competition should lead to collaboration at the highest levels, but this element is still missing in the Board’s calculus.
Unfortunately, the Axis condo debacle, and public scorn of both former Superintentendent Weis and the SCCOE Board, makes leadership going forward more difficult. Certainly this is a mark against my headship on the SCCOE Board, and for that I take responsibility. It will be addressed, most assuredly by trying to get back every lost public dollar ASAP. In addition, I will advocate to prevent future board of trustees from making the same egregious error through the development of a Board policy to mitigate the risk of loss of public dollars in any future housing loans, if any are ever given again.
That said, I believe that we are on the verge of a perilous crossroads with the growth of charter schools and the clinging vestiges of the status quo at some traditional public school districts. The integral stakeholders at the table must include teacher union presidents, superintendents, school board members, charter management organizations, and school parent leaders. The SCCOE must bring these groups together.
I have concluded that the SCCOE must lead the development effort of a strategic plan to govern the changing landscape; call it the Traditional Public and Charter School Master Plan for SCC. All relevant social and educational issues must be on the table for the critical conversation. These issues should include:
— Quality of middle-level education
— Zoning exemptions
— Collective bargaining to prevent a Chicago Teachers Strike while reforming collectively
— Gates Collaborative Compact successes in other parts of the nation, including Sacramento
— Teacher preparation pipeline
— Location of charters
— Grade level configuration of charters
— District consolidation
— Special education equality
— Facility sharing and planning
At our Oct. 3, 2012 meeting the SCCOE Board will hold a hearing—vote to take place in November—about a second Discovery Parent Involvement Charter School in San Jose Unified School District. The County Board members have received several emails and letters of support from future Discovery Charter School parents.
One such parent wrote: “Last year I researched both public and private schools, the school that topped the list by a long shot was Discovery Charter School. Strong innovative ways of teaching, positive discipline, parent participation, smaller class sizes and inspired leadership all attracted me to the school. We are 186 on wait list for Kinder 2012.”
If we agree to authorize this school in November, there will be rippling effects across the educational landscape—some good and some not so good. Summit Charter School is planning 10 more countywide charters in the 101 corridor. We must do better at understanding and managing the big picture as this monumental change to our public education system continues.
Joseph Di Salvo is president of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.