The Mountain View Whisman School District Board of Trustees Dec. 21 grudgingly approved a petition to charter a new school in the district proposed by members of the Bullis Charter School community. The new school, Bullis Mountain View, is set to open in the 2019-2020 school year.
Many district parents urged the trustees to reject the request or asked the school’s founders to delay it. Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph argued that creating the school would hurt the district financially, and parents contended that the founders had not taken the time necessary to get to know the community they intend to serve: low-income families.
“Our community is not in favor of this,” Trustee Tamara Wilson said. “Your timing could not be worse.”
But not everyone at the meeting agreed. Some parents and students voiced their support for the charter school, including the father of a Castro Elementary School student with special needs.
“I just wonder if he’s a square peg in a round hole, so if I had some options of a different style of teaching, perhaps that was the answer,” the father said.
Trustees said they had little choice but to approve the charter petition. First, the board is only legally allowed to reject the petition if the proposal is unsound in some way – if the educational model wouldn’t work, the financials aren’t in order or the petition lacks a required element. The trustees noted that simply not wanting a charter school in the district is not grounds for denial.
Furthermore, if the board denied the petition, the founders could charter the school through the county or the state, which would leave the district without oversight of the school, said Laura Blakely, Mountain View Whisman trustee. In 2003, when Bullis Charter School was formed, the Los Altos School District trustees denied the petition, and the school’s founders appealed to the Santa Clara County Board of Education, which approved the charter.
“Several LASD trustees have told us that if they could go back, they’d choose to have oversight,” Blakely wrote in an email.
In accepting Bullis Mountain View’s charter, the district trustees added several stipulations. The school must adjust the board composition to include as many trustees who are Mountain View residents as not. They also required that Bullis Mountain View perform regular assessments like the district does, and the test scores for every student subgroup must exceed the district’s scores by 5 percent – a requirement Rudolph called “proof in the pudding.”
“As the charterer, we've outlined our expectations for Bullis Mountain View, and BMV will have to make a concerted effort to meet those goals,” Blakely wrote in an email.
Addressing concerns that the school would not be able to meet its goal to serve a high number of students from low-income families, trustees included a requirement that Bullis Mountain View must adjust its enrollment preferences to ensure that the school has a greater or equal percentage of students from low-income families and English-language-learner students. The trustees also agreed to approve the charter for a three-year term, rather than the five-year term the founders requested.
“We’re happy to be partners with you and work together,” Founding Head of School Jennifer Anderson-Rosse said. “We are confident that the concerns raised can be addressed through the implementation of a shared agreement.”
With those recommendations in place, the board approved the petition 4-1, with Trustee José Gutiérrez Jr. opposed.
“We know it’s a good school,” Trustee Ellen Wheeler said. “We don’t know if it’s a good school for a large number of low-income (English-language-learner) students.”
The new school
Bullis Charter School and the new Bullis Mountain View will be connected but different. Bullis Mountain View’s funding will be distinct from Bullis Charter School, and the schools will have separate boards. However, Bullis Mountain View is expected to receive a $250,000 grant from the foundation that funds Bullis Charter School in its first year.
Some of the educational hallmarks will be the same: project-based learning and a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
But the makeup of the school will be unlike the Los Altos-based Bullis Charter School. The founders expect that 40 percent of Bullis Mountain View’s students will qualify for a free or reduced-price lunches. According to the California Department of Education, 1.5 percent of Bullis Charter School’s students fall in that category, so the new school will have a radically different socioeconomic makeup.
Trustees expressed their concern that the school would not meet the needs of socioeconomically disadvantaged students but also expressed hope that Bullis Mountain View can succeed in narrowing the achievement gap.
“I believe firmly that the schools and our systems can lead to equity or can lead to inequity,” Trustee Devon Conley said.