A volunteer group of retired Los Altos residents is collaborating on a comprehensive study of the Bullis Charter School and Los Altos School District conflict.
The PrimeTime Project is delving into the finer points of the charter school and its relationship with the district in an effort to “lower the heat” with regard to the contentious relationship between the two parties.
The pilot program – which uses the expertise of retired Los Altos professionals to study divisive community issues – sprang to life in 2010 after receiving support from the Los Altos Community Foundation (LACF) and has since published a report reviewing the costs of city-operated versus district-operated libraries in Los Altos.
PrimeTime founder Karen Duncan told the Town Crier that the goal of the study isn’t necessarily to solve long-standing issues between the district and the charter school. Instead, she noted that the group aims to complete a fact-based analysis without bias and emotion that educates the community “so that we’re not arguing about things that can be known.”
“If people just understood how little basis there was to some of the things they’re so upset about, it might help them to calm down and turn their attention elsewhere,” Duncan said about the philosophy behind her project.
The goal, she added, is to calm the community.
“The process is to educate them as to the facts,” she said.
Examining the big picture
Duncan said her group – which comprises a handful of volunteer analysts with backgrounds in law and finance – will cover several facets of the issue in the study, such as the history and rationale behind Bullis Charter School and laws governing charter schools in the state.
Duncan added that public resources and other funding for charter schools, as well as enrollment procedures for students and disadvantaged groups, will also be studied at length.
“So we are looking at the big picture of what’s the funding and what’s the legislation, but we’re also looking at what (the district and charter school) are actually doing,” said Duncan of the study, which will include interviews with administrators and board members, as well as some parents, from Bullis Charter School and the school district.
“My biggest job is truly to be open to everybody. It’s really a tightrope, because you don’t know what people are sensitive about,” she said.
Duncan noted that all volunteers participating in the study first undergo “Joe Friday” training – named after the famed “Dragnet” television show, known for its “Just the facts, ma’am” detective. The training, she said, will include education on what she calls “The Dozen Deadly Deceivers” – which, among other things, include use of misleading statements and applying a mismatched set of facts to certain situations.
“Because we’re all trained in truth-telling, if an analyst comes back with a biased report, we’re going to know it – we’re going to spot it,” she said. “Everything has to be verified.”
One item the group won’t be examining closer, however, is the ongoing facilities dispute between the district and the charter school. Duncan called the issue “very complex, with a lot of opinions and a lot of water under the bridge.
“Why would we weigh in on this?” she asked. “We’re unpaid volunteers on a part-time basis and we’re going to go make judgments where you have law firms with whom millions of dollars have been spent weighing in on these opinions? We really have nothing to add to that at this time.”
Duncan noted that charter school and district administrators have been “very cooperative, in terms of interviews and information” to date, adding that she hopes to publish the study sometime in the spring.
“I can say that I have met a large number of educated, well-meaning people who really care about the children,” Duncan said. “I’m very optimistic that we’re going to help – our little piece of it is going to make a positive contribution.”
For more information, visit losaltoscf.org/primetime.