Approximately 200 people packed into Blach Intermediate School’s multipurpose room last week to discuss potential long-term facilities options for Bullis Charter School.
The Los Altos School District hosted a charrette Sept. 25, the first of two solutions-based meetings that are part of the public engagement process the district is conducting to solicit community feedback on finding permanent facilities for the charter school.
Participants were split into groups of approximately six to eight and given an hour to review and discuss places to house the charter school. Everyone received a document summarizing the options considered in the past, but participants also were encouraged to brainstorm new ideas.
Once the hour was up, a representative from each table summarized the possibilities their group discussed. Many different potential solutions emerged, including using the 10th school site the district is purchasing to house the charter school’s elementary-age students, while the older students are on the Egan Junior High School campus; combining Blach and Egan onto one school site; giving the charter school the Covington School campus; and putting a school on the Hillview Community Center site, which the city of Los Altos owns and is currently constructing a new community center on. Some groups also supported using the 10th school site for a new neighborhood elementary school.
Last week’s meeting is part of a broader community engagement process the district decided to embark on near the end of last school year after protests against a proposed 10-year agreement with the charter school.
Bullis Charter School’s board approved the deal, but the district’s board tabled it after community outcry. The agreement would lease the charter school the bulk of the Egan campus and Egan would move to the 10th school site in Mountain View.
The district hired MIG, a firm with experience running public outreach campaigns, to conduct the process. Joan Chaplick, director of management and policy planning services at MIG, led last week’s charrette.
Staff and board members from both the district and charter school were in attendance, though they didn’t participate in the small-group discussions.
District board President Jessica Speiser, trustees Bryan Johnson and Vaishali Sirkay, Superintendent Jeff Baier, Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon and Director of Communications Sarah Stern-Benoit were present. Charter school board members Dorothy An, Andrea Eyring, Trenna Sutcliffe and Thomas Yih also attended.
Focus on possibilities
Speiser told attendees that the issue of charter school facilities has long been a contentious one and that over the years, community members have worked to help find the best facilities solution for the community.
“None of this has been easy,” Speiser told the assembled crowd. “It has always involved very strongly held and often conflicting opinions. With that being said, the purpose of this public process is to get your help in solving the age-old facilities issue.”
Participants were seated in table groups of six to eight, with the groups often comprising participants from both the district and charter school communities.
Speiser encouraged attendees to discuss the options they could support, not those they opposed. The organizers’ goal was to have people discuss possibilities rather than try to convince each other.
Near the start of the meeting, Chaplick used handheld “clickers” to gather demographic data from the audience. The findings showed that the bulk of attendees reported being parents of children enrolled in either district schools or the charter school.
Of the respondents, 47% reported being parents of children in district schools, while 26% had children enrolled in the charter school. Another 17% were residents without school-age children; 1% had children enrolled in private or parochial school; and 4% had children enrolled in some combination of district schools, the charter school and private or parochial schools. The remaining 6% chose “other.” The percentages don’t add to exactly 100 because they are rounded.
Seventy percent said they lived in Los Altos, with 16% from Mountain View, 8% from Los Altos Hills, 1% from Palo Alto and 4% from some other area. More than three-quarters of participants reported being between 36 and 54 years old.
The district will host a second charrette 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday at Egan, 100 W. Portola Ave. The district is encouraging people to attend one charrette, not both. The two meetings will follow the same format.
After the charrettes are complete, employees from MIG will work to compile the ideas participants discussed. Then, in November the district will host two workshops, where attendees will weigh support for different options.