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Bullis Charter School parents and staff brainstorm ways to make school-split work


Photo By: Ellie Van HOutte/Town Crier
As Bullis Charter School students face being split between Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools next year, parents and staff offer input to maintain the school’s mission.

After a two-night strategic planning session last week, Bullis Charter School Principal Wanny Hersey reported that parents continue to support the school’s mission – even in the face of a program split between two campuses next year.

The Los Altos School District, which provides facilities for the charter school, offered the charter school space on two of its campus for the next school year, Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools.

The planning sessions, held at a private residence, drew nearly 20 staff members and approximately 70 parents each night. Participants broke into small groups and later shared their suggestions with the entire group.

While Hersey declined to reveal specifics about how the charter school intends to make the split work, she did share some of the broader ideas the sessions generated.

She said the Bullis Charter School community still believes in the school’s mission, which emphasizes an experiental learning environment, individual student achievement, a global perspective, interconnectedness of students’ environments, civic responsibility and a lifelong love of learning.

“What was abundantly clear is that there is an extreme commitment to the mission of the school,” she said. “We are aligned in what we aspire toward as an organization.”

Hersey said that while many parents deem the facilities less than adequate, their children still come home feeling energized about learning.

The overarching theme: “Substance trumps conditions,” she said.

Hersey noted another common thread: “We are one.”

“Parents want to maintain cross-grade and cross-discipline opportunities. Whatever (the staff) decides needs to be developmentally appropriate and safe. We see this as an opportunity for positive outcomes.”

Split-campus plans

Hersey encouraged parents to share innovative strategies for managing the two-campus situation effectively. Although she wouldn’t relate the specifics, Hersey said she plans to explore programmatic and financial ways to incorporate parents’ suggestions and will outline solutions at a future date.

In general terms, Hersey emphasized that parents want both sites to be safe for students physically and emotionally, do not want a heavy burden placed on staff, want to be mindful of encouraging volunteerism for families new to the school, do not want the population at either site to feel as if they are “second-class citizens” and want to continue to provide choice for parents moving forward.

A significant amount of discussion involved transportation, and Hersey said she is reviewing options, including restructuring the schedule.

“The next step is really for me to take these suggestions and ideas and see what I can come up with,” she said. “We should have a third meeting where I can put these proposals to the parents and get more feedback.”

Feedback on openness

Hersey asked parents if they thought the sessions should be open to the public. The question met with a resounding no.

“It is better served to have people who understand the mission of the school and support the school and are invested in the school to be the ones who continue to participate,” she said of parents’ feedback.

Janet Medlin, member of the Bullis Charter School Board of Directors, added that the presence of Los Altos School District Board of Trustees President Doug Smith, who said he wanted to attend the meetings to observe the process, would have a “chilling” effect on parents.

“It is a really safe place for parents and staff to speak frankly about what is working and what is not,” said charter school board member John Phelps. “It’s about what makes this community work – and for it to be attended by folks who are hostile to it would not work.”

“I would very much like to let everyone see that we have nothing to hide,” said charter school board member Joe Hurd. “But we are also our own distinct community with our own set of values. I think there needs to be some capacity to meet in a safe environment.”

Charter school board member Peter Evans said he did not think Smith wanted to help the charter school succeed. Medlin added that if Smith had attended the sessions, the district would have filed declarations in court regarding the meetings the following week.

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