Remember when broadcast television was the only game in town? Rooftop antennas picked up signals from basically three major networks: ABC, NBC and CBS. Our options have vastly increased since those days. My son doesn’t even pay for cable. Instead, he live-streams shows online.
Amazon has joined Netflix in an effort to gain TV market share, allowing users to stream a seemingly endless variety of content. While the letter networks hope to cling to their ever-dwindling viewers, there’s no going back. A common theme in the disintegration of establishment is that monolithic institutions are loath to change. This mentality parallels the resistance to innovation in our public schools.
Santa Clara County is nearing the 10 percent mark for students enrolled in public charter schools, and yet opponents of that movement would prefer to maintain a status quo that no longer exists.
During last Wednesday’s Santa Clara County Board of Education meeting, I went to the dais prepared to oppose an appeal from Spark Charter School. The school wanted to open up at a public school campus in Sunnyvale. Spark’s petition was replete with exceptional examples of 21st century learning methods, which also aligned with common core standards. The discussion lasted more than two hours, with the public school district and the charter school arguing their positions. When it was over, I had changed my mind and, ultimately, my vote.
The county report was thorough and thoughtfully done. Staff recommended we deny the petition, based on Spark’s insufficient funding model and lack of curricular mapping for the sixth grade. Their application got conditional approval from Sunnyvale School District in 2013, but was denied this spring. Spark is a grassroots parent group that has worked for six years to secure a quality K-8 project-based learning model.
The district opened Fairwood Explorer Elementary School in Sunnyvale after parents petitioned the district for a school that emphasized project-based learning. But the county viewed Fairwood as a more traditional elementary school than one that focused on project-based learning.
Sunnyvale Superintendent Ben Picard gave me a glib answer when I asked how he would channel the district parents’ energy and passion if we voted to deny the project.
“Fairwood Explorer is thriving,” he said.
Yet Spark’s founders vehemently disagreed. They have patiently and creatively worked within charter school law to get their dream school opened in Sunnyvale with public funding.
Votes from the county board landed at 4-3 to approve Spark Charter’s opening in 2015-16. I was the swing vote. Had Picard convinced me he would honor parents’ wishes by working with them and bringing a project-based learning model to Sunnyvale, I would have voted “no.”
County school trustees Michael Chang, Darcie Green and Anna Song voted in line with the staff’s recommendation to deny—as I was poised to do. The next day a parent, Christine Hernandez, wrote me an email, thanking us for “restoring some faith in the system.”
Spark may struggle to open if it doesn’t get a $225,000 start-up grant by January, or if it has trouble finding a facility. Still, educators and policy makers should welcome the change brought about by these parent- and community-driven movements in public education. We should work diligently to have them succeed on behalf of children. Choice is the new norm. Let’s embrace it.