Rocketship Vote A Game-Changer?

These are extraordinary times. The rapid change in economic, political and education systems around the world has accelerated to hyper speed. The Arab Spring, the European monetary systems in Greece and Italy in flux, and here in America, the increasing shift to charter schools to enhance education. It all appears to be part of a pattern of tumultuous change to institutions that were remarkably stable for so long, for good or ill.

I wonder if the growing presence of high quality charter schools in Santa Clara County will serve as the revolution for eliminating the achievement gap. Will innovative means of learning be the norm? Is the timing right for a revolution in our public school system in Santa Clara County? Will the status quo prevail? Or, can change be the only constant now?

We will know answers to some of these questions after the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) board meeting this week.

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, sometime after 6:30pm, the SCCOE Board of Trustees will vote on petitions to authorize (or not) Rocketship Schools 6, 7, and 8—all potentially opening in August 2012. Rocketship 6 would open in Alum Rock Union School District, while Rocketship 7 and 8 would be in San Jose Unified School District. These votes are listed on the SCCOE Board agenda as Action Items 9A-9C.

These three schools and two others were part of the original five countywide charter schools approved by the SCCOE Board in 2009. Their approval was withdrawn by Rocketship on a technicality, so that each school can be voted on again in order to have their own State Independent County School District # (CSD #) for accountability and funding purposes.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda, the county board will hold a mandatory public hearing on 20 additional Rocketship Countywide Charter Schools to open in San Jose and Santa Clara County over the next four years. If all receive approval, Rocketship will have 28 total charter schools in the county and approximately 15,000 K-5 grade students.

Six district superintendents are in the process of signing a letter that was drafted by the law firm Dannis Woliver Kelley. The draft letter, which I lifted from a board packet from Santa Clara Unified School District, reads: “We believe both the Guidelines and the Rocketship petitions themselves fail to satisfy statutory requirements as well as the spirit of the Charter Schools Act, and we urge the County Board to deny the charter petitions accordingly. … The undersigned school districts urge the County Board to comply with all legal requirements when considering the Rocketship countywide charter petitions. We further urge the County Board to deny the charter petitions for Rocketship 6, 7, and 8 as they fail to meet the requirements of law for countywide charters.”

It’s peculiar that no such letter was written before or after we approved the original five Rocketship Countywide Charters in 2009. In fact, there was hardly a whimper from the traditional educational community about the SCCOE Board’s approval of five countywide Rocketships. The recommendation by County Superintendent Charles Weis and staff is to deny the petitions for Rocketship 6-8. However, during the first vote in 2009, on the same schools, the SCCOE Superintendent/staff recommended approval.

I take what is happening in Santa Clara County—in relation to district schools, public charter schools and student achievement—as evidence that things are changing for the good on behalf of underserved students. For example, Rocketship told me to plan for over 600 parents and students at our meeting Wednesday. The parents plan to advocate for the quality of their children’s education. It’s a very good thing to have a large group of parents working to change systems that have not been as responsive to the needs of underserved students, as they should have been decades ago.

More evidence that things have changed for the better is San Jose Unified District’s recommendation on the agenda for Nov. 17, 2011: “The (SJUSD) Board of Education grant the Charter School Petitions to form ‘Rocketship in SJUSD’ Charter School for a term of five (5) years, beginning July 1, 2012.”

It was in 2005 that the SJUSD Board turned down a request for Mateo Sheedy, the first Rocketship school ever. Rocketship Mateo Sheedy School was approved on appeal by the SCCOE shortly after SJUSD’s denial in 2005.

Rocketship Mosaic, approved by the Franklin-McKinley Board of Education, opened to huge fanfare and support from the community in September of this year. Rocketship built the two-story school in record time for its grand opening. Students and staff are working very hard on raising achievement to new heights.

The times are a changin’. What happens at the Santa Clara County Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night will tell a story of how quickly the revolution is coming. There is no doubt, however, the horse has left the barn.

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. > The times are a changin’. What happens at the Santa Clara County Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night will tell a story of how quickly the revolution is coming.

    I’m reminded of a quip by an underling at corporation XXX concerning executive politics:

    “Change around here is like the mating of elephants: it takes place at a very high level; it involves a lot of trumpeting and bellowing;  it takes a long time for anything of consequence to come of it.”

  2. I have no doubt that there a lot of change efforts that resemble elephant mating, but one would have to be really immune to the abundant evidence of immediate, electrifying success at Rocketship to use the analogy here. Unfortunately, too many of our education leaders are content with the customary elephantine pace of reform—I hope that the members of the County Board of Education show tonight that they share the impatience and hunger for success of the Rocketship students, teachers and families.

  3. Charter schools to me is like outsourcing.  Why is it our elected leaders have 0 ability to maintain what their forfathers built for them?

    Our school systems weren’t so bad 30 years ago that people wanted to en masse pull their kids out of them.

    I guess it has to do in part, with our trivial, small minded, petty individuals like Joseph being elected.

    I only call him “petty” because we were friends on facebook, and one day he decided to remove me from his friends list after a particularly scathing post I made about him here.  U MAD BRO?

    Maybe if someday I’m unable to take care of my children, a responsibility given to me by society, I can simply get “Rocketship Parents” to fill the gap.

    Makes me ill seeing this happen.

  4. It’s wonderful that county would seek to approve the charter schools , while the recommendations of a law firm would meddle with the decisions of the county board . Politics as usual , but over the last few years the county had approved charters regardless of what local school boards said and fought county ed. The Rocketship issue should not be a problem with the County looking at the County Ed record of approval.


    Here is an ‘idea’ , lets deregulated the Department of Education. Like the Feds did with telecommunications , and cable. This would foster better competition among schools to close the achievement gap.

    • Here’s a better idea.
      Let’s impose a $50,000 fine on any public official each time they utter the phrase ‘achievement gap’.

  5. > I guess it has to do in part, with our trivial, small minded, petty individuals like Joseph being elected.

    And, REELECTED!!!

    I’m sure that Joe is on his way to being a SCCOE board member for the rest of his life, simply because 97% of voters have no idea what the SCCOE does or who the people are who constitute the board.

    The only thing that could derail Joe’s career is if he pissed off the teacher’s union or got caught having unnatural sex with an under-age child or an adult Republican.

  6. Three cheers for the Rocketeers, but let’s not suspend reason in our desire to praise. 

    The Rocketship scores really aren’t all that spectacular in comparison to the neighborhood schools.  Alum Rock Schools very near Rocketship actually outperform the rocketeers in 4th and 5th grade math. The difference in over all scores can be explained in large part by the students who have left Alum Rock schools already at the proficient level to go to Rocketship, and the percent of students who are commuting in from Evergreen and other areas. 

    Though they celebrate the high number of students who are English learners and who are living in poverty, the percentages are not as high as the neighborhood schools. 

    They have some innovative ideas and are worthy of congratulations, but let’s not lose perspective.  This is no magic bullet.