Bottom-up-reform for improving education in Silicon Valley is more effective than top-down-reform efforts, however there is a paucity of examples of the former. In our climate of entrepreneurial know-how one would think there would be a bounty of examples of schools rearranging the apples on the proverbial cart to innovate and improve achievement for all. Yet, school the way we knew it back before the Apple II was introduced is still the norm.
One noteworthy local exception is Downtown College Prep. Jennifer Andaluz and Greg Lippman (now Executive Director of Ace Charter), the teacher-founders of DCP, wanted to create a small college preparatory school where high expectations for achievement in a personalized environment would be the driving force behind its success for a largely underachieving population of Latino youth.
In September 2000, DCP was founded as a charter school by San Jose Unified School District, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit and vision of Andaluz and Lippman and the courage of Superintendent Murray and the Board. The charter was approved by a unanimous vote of SJUSD Board of Trustees in 1999. DCP was the first charter high school in San Jose.
Since then they have grown to a system serving 535 students at two campuses, their most recent expansion DCP Alviso, was authorized as a charter school by Santa Clara Unified School District in 2008.
Now, Executive Director Andaluz and her board of directors are petitioning the Santa Clara County Board of Education for a new DCP Charter in Alum Rock serving grades 6-12. Two months ago the DCP Alum Rock Charter was denied by the East Side Unified Board of Trustees on a vote of 4-0. The reason cited was that the petition failed to comply with California Education Code 47605(a)(6), which says a district cannot approve a charter to serve pupils in a grade level that is not served by the district. ESUHD does not serve pupils in grades 6-8.
In a new report commissioned by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Chuck Weis for San Jose 2020, the facts are startling. Fifty percent of San Jose’s 120,000 K-12 students are not achieving grade level proficiency based on multiple measures of performance including the California Standards Test. As the report says, “these children will find it difficult to graduate from high school, let alone a four-year college…In fact, the city is producing three dropouts for every ten high school graduates.”
This brings me back to DCP. Using good work done over many years by the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) and Stanford Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond’s work on school design and student success, DCP operates from the following premises:
• Students learn best in a culture of high expectations for all.
• Students learn best when they are able to spend extended time with teachers and build multi-year relationships with the same adults. DCP utilizes looping strategies (teachers stay with students for at least two years in the same academic subject) and advisories as integral components of their structure.
• Students learn best when families and communities are involved and feel welcomed at school.
• Students learn best when a school puts “culture before curriculum.”
I praise Mayor Reed and Superintendent Weis for having the courage to gather the community together for a call to action. We must end the morally reprehensible gap between the graduation and achievement rate of whites and Asians and their Latino and African-American peers. It can be done. It is the morally right thing to do. The city of San Jose and the districts and schools within its boundaries working together can achieve the desired results and create a region second to none for more than the microprocessor, I have no doubt.
In the draft report for the SJ2020 initiative it states that there is no simple recipe to ending the achievement gap, however I beg to differ. If one looks at the sequence of practices that we know work at DCP, then we can build all schools with these underpinnings.
October 29 at City Hall San Jose 2020 will be launched. Launch is an appropriate word for in 1962 very few thought we would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. In San Jose 2020 we are giving ourselves more time to reach a much easier goal, to eliminate the achievement gap by 2020.
A couple of caveats: We will fail without a collectively bargained performance pay model that will compensate 10 percent of the top teachers at salaries that equal their superintendents (but they must work a full year, at least 225 days); and we must find ways to recruit and retain the best teachers for Silicon Valley. It will help immeasurable if we recruit and retain those teachers who share the culture of most of our students. Si Se Puede, San Jose.