After an impassioned late night meeting, the Ravenswood City School District's Board of Trustees voted to deny the Rocketship Education organization approval to bring a charter school to East Palo Alto.
In voting to deny Rocketship's request, the Ravenswood City School District's board accepted the recommendation of the district's staff and it's legal counsel. Before casting its vote during its meeting on March 24, the board heard from a number of the proposed charter school's supporters and opponents.
Those who supported Rocketship cited the high test scores of its students and the fact that many of the school's students went on later to gain college acceptances. Rocketship was founded in 2006 as "a national non-profit elementary charter school network dedicated to eliminate the achievement gap in high poverty neighborhoods." Currently the Palo Alto based organization serves nearly 1,000 students, who attend classes taught at two school sites in San Jose.
In responding to board member Saree Mading, who asked why Rocketship chose East Palo Alto for its proposed charter school, Preston Smith, chief achievement officer and co-founder of Rocketship Education said that over 700 parents signed a petition asking that a Rocketship charter school be located in East Palo Alto and the organization's application was supported by a number of community organizations and groups located in the city.
During Smith's presentation, it was brought up that, while many of Rocketship's teachers were not yet credentialed, all of the Ravenswood City School District's teachers were credentialed.
In speaking in opposition to Rocketship's application, East Palo Alto City Councilmember Ruben Abrica said that the organization's application came at the wrong time. He said that the Ravenswood City School District was a small district, and while a Rocketship charter school might have worked in East Palo Alto a few years ago, the timing was not right today.
Having such a school now, "would create disturbances in other schools," he said.
Board Trustee Marcelino Lopez' comments seemed to support Abrica's perspective. Lopez said, "We've had a lot of charter schools coming in and many promised the moon." But, he said, "They didn't stay."
Lopez expressed a lack of confidence in Rocketship's petition, since he found a lot of gaps in it. "Rocketship has come at the wrong time," he said.
There were other key issues that were brought up during the board hearing which was held in front of a sizeable crowd at the Costaño elementary school in East Palo Alto. The trustees were concerned about the uncertainty involving the school district's current budget deficit, the need for the school district to meet state mandated goals under the Ravenswood Self-Improvement Plan (known as the RSIP), and the amount of money that a Rocketship charter school would cost the district. These issues turned into arguments that seemed to weaken Rocketship's position with the trustees.
In the end, many of the advantages that Rocketship's supporters cited -- the high student scores, the low student attrition rate, the dedicated teachers, the interest in building a relationship with the school district and the 100% commitment that Smith said the organization could give -- were not enough to sway the majority of the school district's trustees.
Saree Mading, Sharifa Wilson and Marcelino Lopez voted to deny Rocketship's petition, while Ana Maria Pulido and Evelyn Barajas-Luis voted to approve the petition.
Rocketship has the option to appeal the decision with the San Mateo County Office of Education.
As he reflected on the board's decision, Larry Moody, a former trustee with the school district said,"The issue is not resolved. The appeal process will be very telling and we'll find out about Rocketship's resolve to serve in this community.
"At the end of the day," Moody said, "someone has to say what's best for the kids and someone has to put the kids first."
To contact the author of this article, email Henrietta J. Burroughs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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