Are our children doing well? The data suggest some children are considerably worse than others. More than fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream Speech,” and a day after the anniversary of his birth, race and poverty are still factors at the root of some abhorrent local statistics.
According to data from the state Department of Education, socio-economically disadvantaged youth in Morgan Hill Unified School District in 2012 had an aggregate Academic Performance Index score of 699. English Language Learners and Hispanic students had an API of 715, while in the same year white children scored an API of 856. That gap is unsustainable and threatens the health and economic vibrancy of Morgan Hill and Silicon Valley.
This is one reason the Santa Clara County Office of Education and its Board of Education have been working to address this inequity through a myriad of measures, including the authorization of high quality charter schools. For this reason, I am troubled and angry about what happened at a seven-hour meeting last week.
Last Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting was gut-wrenching. We have been an activist board, voting to add charter schools for poor and minority children in San Jose and Silicon Valley. We have done so through our role as a charter school authorizer or appellate body. The Board has acted due to the urgency to improve achievement results for all children in an environment of equity.
Even though the 7-member board has been split at times, voting 5-2 to approve numerous charter schools, most votes in my tenure have been unanimous or 6-1 to approve after a careful review of the petitions. Our meeting was very different on Jan. 15, 2014. We have never been as divided on a charter school petition as we were on the Navigator Morgan Hill Prep petition. We were lobbied heavily to vote against or for the petition on appeal by parents, teachers, district leaders, students and labor.
All seven trustees believe we have a serious problem with equity and the achievement gap. We all believe we cannot sit back and wait for districts and their leaders to do things differently to address this gap equity issues. We have the bully pulpit to help create systems that work to improve achievement outcomes for poor and minority children.
The work is too difficult to do alone. That is why the charter school act was passed in California in 1992. The legislation was intended to allow small, autonomous schools to innovate and then spread what is working to systems where there are fewer governmental regulations.
Each member of the Board received hundreds of emails supporting a vote to approve or deny Navigator Morgan Hill Prep. Litigation was threatened by the MHUSD, which denied the petition in November on a 6-1 vote.
During the last year, Superintendent Xavier De La Torre has worked to develop a robust charter school oversight department, which is responsible for vetting petitions coming to the Board for countywide approval or on appeal from one of the 31 school districts. De La Torre believed we owed it to our district partners to make certain beyond reproach that a petition met a high level of legal conformity.
State law gives the county Board and state Board of Education the authority to do a de novo review to determine whether or not to authorize when a district denies a petition. The county’s new Office of School Innovation, charged with a professional review of the petition, came back to the Board with a recommendation to deny the petition due to minor yet “disconcerting” deficiencies.
Consistent with the recommendation, I voted to deny the petition. Three of my colleagues did as well. But the 4-3 vote to deny Navigator on appeal is troubling. I believe Morgan Hill Unified should have been a collaborator with Navigator, as Gilroy Unified and Hollister did from the outset. Hollister Superintendent Gary McIntyre testified to the SCCOE Board that Hollister Prep has made a positive difference in meeting the learning needs of its students, and in so doing has helped raise the educational bar in the traditional public school space it shares.
Navigator founder James Dent should fix the deficiencies in the petition and resubmit to Morgan Hill Unified. Hopefully, MHUSD will then agree that it can use some help in addressing the egregious gap in achievement. I believe MHUSD is trying to address the underlying problem, but working with credible partners will ultimately benefit children in Morgan Hill.
I have already invited Mr. Dent and Navigator to come back to the SCCOE Board with a new petition and submit a direct, countywide benefit charter for 2014-15 for Morgan Hill and surrounding areas.
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 and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.