County board concerned with BCS lack of diversity, community discord

Bullis Charter School’s annual report to the Santa Clara County Board of Education left some board members concerned about the school’s lack of diversity and wondering whether its exemplary academic program outweighs the community discord over sharing facilities with the Los Altos School District.

In a 5-2 vote two years ago, the county board reapproved Bullis Charter School’s charter for an additional five years. At that time, there was dissension among the board about whether the charter school was serving enough English language learners (ELL) and special education and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

The April 3 report – required of Bullis Charter School each year – included extensive data on outreach efforts to attract all types of students. School officials reported that they hired translators for parent information nights, offered tours in Spanish, scheduled one-on-one meetings with interested parents of ELL students, advertised in Spanish and sent direct mailers to and recruited students in neighborhoods north of El Camino Real.

When board members asked if the charter school’s percentage of special education, ELL and socioeconomically disadvantaged students changed, Principal Wanny Hersey said their outreach efforts resulted in a little more ethnic diversity and an increase in special education numbers but were otherwise nearly the same.

“One of the challenges we face is that we can’t control exactly who gets in,” Hersey said. “The most we can do is try to recruit heavily.”

County board Vice President Michael Chang said he was more interested in results.

“Again, we look for the outcomes,” he said. “We can judge you by the outcomes, not just the outreach.”

Board member Julia Hover-Smoot expressed concern with Bullis Charter School’s low percentage of ELL students (2 percent) compared to the Los Altos School District’s (13 percent).

“That is a huge difference,” she said. “I am urging you to continue that reaching out. That is something you should keep an eye on, for sure. Your community, despite the trouble, is lucky to have you. Bullis is an incredible star.”

Hersey pointed out that many of the ELL students in Los Altos are either Chinese or Spanish speaking, and the charter school’s Mandarin program might not appeal to those families.

Ongoing conflict sparks concern

Board member and past president Joseph Di Salvo said that while the charter school’s program continues to impress him, he wonders whether that is enough anymore, given the school’s ongoing conflict with the Los Altos School District. Di Salvo noted that the “clock is ticking” on renewing the charter.

“I’m not so sure at this stage, tonight, what my vote would be, because I see a community torn,” he said. “(It’s) too torn for me to say this is the right thing to do. I feel this board shouldn’t further a divide in an exceptional community.”

Di Salvo recommended possibly presenting the ongoing facilities battle to the district’s and charter school’s older students to see if they could offer any creative solutions.

He admitted this was “altruistic” thinking but said healing community discord is as important to him as the outstanding program Bullis Charter School offers.

“I don’t want to be here next year listening to the same type of thing,” he said. “I probably won’t attend. I’m sick about it. We are much smarter and wiser than that, I think.”

Board President Grace Mah, who has attended several Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School board meetings focused on the facilities issues, said she hopes Bullis Charter School can work with the school district to resolve the “strife” in the community.

“I hope (one of your) main objectives is healing the community,” she said to charter school representatives.

Board members Anna Song and Leon Beauchman did not attend the meeting.

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