Recently, I was asked to take part in a community stakeholder interview for Cristo Rey High School in San Jose, which is currently going through a feasibility study. The landscape of public and private schools in Silicon Valley looks the same to many as it did in 1980. However, in reality, the new scene is vastly different and rapid change is occurring.
The interview process involved answering almost an hour of questions from Jessica Garcia-Kohl, who is a member of the Founders Circle. Currently, there are 24 Cristo Rey schools in 16 states, and these Catholic Jesuit high schools target adolescent children of the working poor, many of whom live in urban communities with limited education options.
In 1980, there were limited options for our impoverished high school students. But a little more than three decades later, there are a myriad of opportunities to attend unique schools. Far too often, we tried a one-size-fits-all high school model, leading to a high dropout rate that persists—as high as 30 percent in some districts last year. But times are changing, and we must learn from past to improve education models funded by public dollars.
For example, in the last six years a variety of small charter high schools were approved by the county Board of Education: Downtown College Prep (Alum Rock-6-12); Summit-Tahoma (9-12); Leadership Public (9-12); University Preparatory Academy (7-12); Communitas High School (9-12); Magnolia Science Academy (6-12); and Silicon Valley Flex Academy (6-12).
This doesn’t even mention all the district approved charter schools: Escuela Popular Center for Training and Careers (9-12); Summit-Rainier (9-12); Kipp San Jose Collegiate (9-12); Latino College Preparatory Academy (9-12); and San Jose Charter Academy (9-12).
And a growing number of elementary and middle school charters demonstrating strong results include Rocketship Education (K-5), Kipp Heartwood Academy (5-8) and ACE (5-8).
Getting back to Cristo Rey, it could very easily become a publicly funded charter or small district high school. The homepage states, “Cristo Rey high schools combine personal responsibility, academic rigor, and a corporate work-study program to empower children of the working poor to reach their full potential.”
The vision statement is also bold: “The Cristo Rey network strives to become one of the finest educational networks in the country demonstrating measurable impact in the crucial national imperative of launching low-income youth to and through college and into lives of productivity, meaning, and consequence.”
Philanthropic dollars from Bill and Melinda Gates helped get Cristo Rey off the ground in Chicago, and now John Sobrato, a major donor for Cristo Rey in San Jose, is looking at the role of private schools with a corporate work-experience component in altering the high school model for the better.
We’ve seen similar examples of Catholic schools successful preparing students in the past, and many are connected.
The first Rocketship School approved by the county Board was Rocketship Mateo Sheedy. Father Mateo Sheedy, former pastor of Sacred Heart Church, worked to get qualified Latino boys to qualify for entrance to Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school for higher learning. Sheedy and John Danner, Founder of Rocketship, also launched Sacred Heart Nativity School.