Sat10252014

Charter school here to stay; so why not work together?: Editor’s Notebook

I entered the Bullis Charter School campus last week with an open mind. School board member Joe Hurd invited me on a tour, so, I thought, why not? It was about time I took a firsthand look at the school that has been the focus of such furious debate since its opening eight years ago.

I was impressed. From kindergarten up, students were actively involved in the lesson plans. I saw kindergarten students taking turns in front of a Mandarin class. I saw sixth-graders working collaboratively on math problems. I saw kindergartners learning how to read music from an experienced music teacher.

I saw motivated, enthusiastic and involved students and some very good teachers. The school is legit, and it’s obviously been very successful.

This is coming from a dad whose three daughters attended Springer and Blach Intermediate schools in the Los Altos School District. They all had great educations in the district. I am fully aware of how good our schools are. And with the high level of parental involvement through volunteering, the schools have a nurturing element often lost in other public schools across the state. The consistently high test scores every year – among the highest in the state – attest to the district’s strong academic health.

OK, all the schools, Bullis Charter School included, are wonderful. So why is the charter school on the outside looking in? Why is it not embraced and added to the district as another learning alternative? What’s the problem? Politics. And sadly, lingering bad feelings on both sides of the aisle.

After years of fighting and feuding, the two sides have no trust in one another. The district and charter are not helping the situation by fighting in court. Recently distributed fliers about the charter’s shared campus decision came across as a spin job. Officials claim it was a response to the district ramping up its own PR campaign. The leaders from both sides seem to blame the other for the problem.

This is the idealist in me, but school leaders should be meeting each other face to face – without the lawyers – in the spirit of compromise. Come from a mindset of preparing to give something up. If current leadership can’t or won’t do it, it’s time for new leadership – on both sides.

The common ground is obvious: providing great K-8 education. Perhaps a naive question, but why can’t Egan Junior High School share the track with the charter school? On the other hand, why does the charter school need to grow beyond the capacity of the surrounding schools? If it is a nonprofit, public school as advertised, put an enrollment cap at 550. If charter school leaders insist on growing at the current rate, then the school should accept a split campus with a split program. Based on what I saw last week, the facilities are not hampering the quality of education being delivered.

I do have a few suggestions for the charter school regarding meetings and communications. Being a public school means allowing interested residents to attend meetings, even informal ones. It certainly seemed awkward at best to see district board President Doug Smith ousted from a Bullis Charter School parent meeting last week.

In addition, Bullis Charter School leadership traditionally has been guarded. A public school involves openness and accountability from its leadership. I have hope, after our visit last week, that the charter will improve in this area.

I think the charter school should be part of the Los Altos School District, not sponsored by Santa Clara County as it currently is. So let’s change that and start working together. As Nike says, “Just do it.”

Bruce Barton is editor-in-chief of the Town Crier.

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