Members of the Bullis Charter School community plan to apply this fall to charter a new elementary school with the Mountain View Whisman School District, with the aim of serving a high number of students from low-income families.
“Over the course of many years at Bullis, we’ve become more outward focused, we’ve become more focused on sharing our best practices,” said Jennifer Anderson-Rosse, Bullis Charter School assistant principal. “This was our next natural step, to bring this educational model to a wider community.”
The new school will be open to all students but will prioritize applicants from the district, students who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch and students who have a sibling enrolled at the school. It intends to serve 168 students in transitional kindergarten through second grade initially and eventually grow to 320 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade.
Anderson-Rosse is co-leading the charge to create the new school, along with former Bullis Charter School parent Grace Yang, a volunteer. The new school will keep the charter school’s hallmarks – science, technology, engineering, arts and math; personalized learning; and an emphasis on design-thinking and hands-on projects – but will incorporate educational practices that are especially important for children from low-income families.
The school will have full-day transitional kindergarten for kids who will turn 5 during the summer before the start of school, as well as full-day kindergarten, which should help families who might have a hard time paying for child care.
“There’s a lot of research that shows that how kids do in kindergarten has an impact on the rest of their lives,” Anderson-Rosse said.
The school also will offer competency-based learning, where students aren’t tied to grade-level standards. For most of the day, students will be together with other kids in their grade and focus on meeting rigorous grade-level standards, but for part of the day they’ll be in small groups with a higher teacher-to-student ratio, targeting whatever their area of need may be.
Addressing a need
While a school that serves more children from low-income families has been in the works for years, the team collaborating on the project settled on a school in the Mountain View Whisman district because there is a significant proportion of families that meet the requirements for a free or reduced-price lunch (approximately 35 percent).
Students who receive a free or reduced-price lunch come from families that earn below a certain amount of money each year; for the 2018-2019 school year, a child from a household of four would be eligible for the program if his or her family earned less than $46,435 annually, or was already receiving support from social services such as CalFresh or CalWORKs.
In addition, there are approximately 200 students from the Mountain View Whisman district already on Bullis Charter School’s waitlist for enrollment, according to Anderson-Rosse. Anderson-Rosse, Yang and a team of about 20 volunteers who are spearheading the project also talked with families around Mountain View and heard that they really want a school that serves a mixed demographic. The first information session, presented in Spanish and English, drew an estimated 20 families from a diverse range of backgrounds, Anderson-Rosse said.
A separate school
A school that serves a low-income population is unlikely to garner the $5,000 per child annual donation that Bullis Charter School in Los Altos requests. The new school would receive public funding and also could seek funding from donors or grants.
In California, charter schools are required to give admission preference to students who would attend school within the district through which the school is chartered if there are more applications than spots available. Bullis Charter School is different because it’s chartered through Santa Clara County but the Los Altos School District provides the school with facilities, and the admission preference for in-district students still applies.
The Los Altos School District does not have a large low-income population (approximately 5 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch), and many more students than can be accommodated apply to Bullis Charter School. Nearly all of the students at Bullis Charter School come from within the Los Altos School District, according to Anderson-Rosse. Therefore, to primarily serve a low-income population, the group had to charter a school elsewhere.
“It will be a separate school with a separate board and a separate funding model,” she said.
The Bullis Charter School team will submit the charter application this fall, with the intent to open the school next fall.