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Private Group Outlines Vision for District Charter School

A nonprofit group says the demands of the community compelled them to petition the district for a charter high school. Shasta would serve 400 high school students.

A crowd of about 250 packed a Jefferson Union High School District special board meeting on Thursday as a private group outlined its vision for a charter school it petitioned for last month.

Summit Public Schools, a nonprofit group that’s been in business 10 years and operates four such charter schools, has petitioned for a high school that would serve 400 students. The group wants to open its doors to a campus in the district’s North Peninsula region in time for the 2013-14 school year, starting with a 100 freshmen.

If approved, the school will be named “Shasta.”

The board is expected to vote on the petition at its Sept. 4 meeting, with a simple majority required for passage, Superintendent Thomas Minshew said. Four of the board’s five members attended Thursday’s special meeting. Maria Luna, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, was absent. Her availability for the vote was not known, Minshew said.

Summit promised a school with innovative offerings, smaller class sizes and individualized mentoring, telling the board that it was the demands of the community that compelled their group to petition the district for a charter.

Several district teachers voiced objections to the charter in public comments, saying the already low-funded district can’t afford to subsidize a school that will serve a small portion of the district’s student population.

District teacher Ed Lopez said the charter school would be “replicating what is already happening” in the district.

Stephanie Schaudel, a teacher at Oceana High, said the petition reflects “the franchising of public education.”

“This is a scary time for public education,” she said.

But even opponents are resigned to the inevitability of Shasta’s opening.

“It’s going to happen,” said a district teacher who asked not to be identified because they don’t want to inject themselves in the crosshairs of a controversy.

“They’ve met the legal requirements” for the establishment of a charter school.

Summit representatives told the board that it received a flood of emails from district parents, mostly in Brisbane, asking the group to petition for a charter in their district.

Diego Arambula, Summit’s Chief Growth and Innovation Officer, said the group has already started scouting the region for possible lease sites.

“Right now it looks like Daly City,” he told the board.

He said the group boasts a 94 percent graduation rate, with 80 percent of students completing their degrees within the original charter school.

Summit pledges to recruit a pool of applicants reflecting the district’s geographic and racial mix, with admission determined by a lottery. Students from outside districts would be eligible to apply, with state money “following the student,” Arambula said.

“Our intent is to create another great option in the North Peninsula (region) of the district,” he said.

Charter teachers are free to unionize but are not required to join.

Summit CEO Diane Tavenner said charter schools adhere to the same Brown Act requirements for public meetings as traditional public schools.

“The notion that somehow charter schools are not public schools is actually an inaccurate notion,” she said.

Tavenner said charter schools offer more accountability too.

“If you don’t adhere to what we’ve written into that document that says what we will do, we can be closed,” she said.

If their petition is denied at the district level, Summit can go to the county and then the state seeking approval for a school within the district boundaries.

“We believe in local control and we believe in local authority,” Tavenner said.

“That’s why we’re strongly encouraging this board to approve this charter so they can be the governing body.”

 

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