Other Voices: BCS should not pursue own plans for Mtn. View school

Following is an open letter to the Bullis Charter School Board of Directors.

On behalf of the 5,000 elementary and middle school students in the Mountain View Whisman School District, we implore Bullis Charter School to defer plans to open a school in Mountain View and instead collaborate with district staff, principals and parent leaders to determine how best to proceed.

We believe that without fully understanding the unique cultures, strengths and challenges that contribute to the fabric of our student community, your proposed plan would devastate Mountain View’s public schools.

We wholeheartedly believe that if you were to engage in rigorous communication with district stakeholders, you’d come to see that your current plan will not provide benefit in scale to socio- economically disadvantaged (SED) students and will dramatically weaken our neighborhood schools.

If Bullis Charter School’s true intention is to improve academic outcomes for SED and English-language learner (ELL) students, that goal would best be accomplished by working directly with schools in our district to build upon the strategies already in place. If you engaged with our community at a deeper and more meaningful level, you would learn about the effective and supportive relationships among school staff, teachers and families that have been built through many years of partnership.

SED students in Mountain View will not benefit from being uprooted to take part in an experimental educational environment that may be unprepared to meet these students’ needs. Given Bullis Charter School’s minimal experience working with SED students, as well as your nascent relationships in Mountain View, a more appropriate starting point for the charter school to help disadvantaged students would be to collaborate with the Mountain View community to offer before- or after-school intervention or enrichment classes at their current schools. The summer camp programs you have offered in the past are a good example of such effort, and school-year programs could provide meaningful evidence that your model works in an SED environment.

If you are approved to proceed with your current plan to open a school for 320 students in our district, your ability to serve SED/ELL students will be limited from the beginning. You’ll be placed at one of our neighborhood schools, and some SED/ELL students who live within those school boundaries will enroll. However, Mountain View SED/ELL students overwhelmingly attend their neighborhood schools because commuting isn’t a viable option.

Bullis Charter School will siphon off more affluent and likely higher-performing students from neighborhood schools, whose parents have the resources to drive them to school. This will make schools more segregated and decrease available resources due to fewer parent volunteers and fewer donations to the schools’ PTAs and the Mountain View Educational Foundation. Bullis Charter School will provide a private school experience to a small number of students at taxpayers’ expense.

From articles we’ve read on the history of Bullis Charter School, we’ve seen that in 2011 and 2016 the charter school was sharply criticized by the Los Altos and Santa Clara County school boards for its low number of SED/ELL students as compared to the overall percentage of those students in the Los Altos School District. You’ve had many years to figure out ways to increase the charter school’s population of SED/ELL students and have struggled to do so.

We ask that you first work to increase SED numbers at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos and, if still desired, work with the Mountain View Whisman School District to provide before/after/summer school programs that could allow you to serve SED/ELL and special-education students districtwide.

In closing, we’d like to refer to the Bloomberg article on Bullis Charter School from 2011: “The growing ranks of U.S. charter schools in affluent suburbs are pitting neighbor against neighbor and, critics say, undercutting the original goals of the charter movement. Families who benefit cherish extensive academic offerings and small classes. Those who don’t say their children are being shortchanged because the schools are siphoning off money and the strongest students, leaving school districts with higher expenses and fewer resources for poor, immigrant and special-needs kids.”

So please, defer your request to open a school. Work with the Mountain View Whisman School District on a plan for programs to enrich students instead of opening a school that, in the long run, would likely not achieve your stated goals and that would upend the current progress we are making in Mountain View schools.

Sara Kopit-Olson leads a list of parents who co-signed this letter. To read the list of co-signers, visit tinyurl.com/y9qb67ez.

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