A high-performing East Palo Alto charter school prevailed Thursday night when it received permission to continue operating for five more years.
A standing-room-only crowd of children, parents and teachers cheered when trustees of the Ravenswood City School District voted unanimously to renew the charter of the K-8 East Palo Alto Charter School as well as to add its sister high school, East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, to the charter.
The charter school consistently has led the district's nine campuses in standardized test scores.
But in recent years the Ravenswood board has not always been friendly to charters, voting in 2010 to close a Stanford University-operated charter elementary school and rejecting a bid in 2011 from the high-performing charter organization Rocketship to open a K-5 school.
Phoenix Academy principal Thomas Madson said Thursday he was nervous until last week about whether the petition would be approved. He credited a "spirit of collaboration" among education leaders, including new Ravenswood Superintendent Gloria Hernandez and Sequoia Union HIgh School District Superintendent James Lianides, for negotiating a charter agreement that worked for all sides.
Hernandez said discussions surrounding the deal, including the still-to-be-negotiated sharing of field space, were "around having it be a collaborative based on consensus from both parties, with emphasis on serving the students from our district (as well as) taking care of all of our students in that comprehensive K-12 perspective, and allowing access as much as possible."
Both the K-8 East Palo Alto charter school and its sister high school are operated by Aspire Public Schools, a 15-year-old charter management firm that now educates 13,500 predominantly low-income students in 37 schools, most of them in California.
The two Aspire schools in East Palo Alto have a combined enrollment of about 700, as well as waiting lists.
Longtime Ravenswood trustee and charter-school skeptic Sharifa Wilson, who voted to close the Stanford charter elementary school in 2010 and against Rocketship's bid to open a charter in 2011, made the motion Thursday to renew the Aspire charter.
"Aspire is a public school and, from all the documentation, it's a good public school, and that opportunity should be available to lots of students," Wilson said.
Wilson said she overcame her chief reservations about Aspire after talking with the charter group's CEO James Wilcox.
"One of the main issues that came up for me was demographics," she said. "While they reflect the district, the reality is that there's a small number of both African Americans and Pacific Islanders enrolled at the school. As I looked at the lottery (admissions) process ... it sort of resembled the legacy policies of, 'once you're in there, your whole family stays there.'
"Unintentionally, it can create a policy that excludes certain groups of people," Wilson said.
Wilson said she received assurances from Wilcox that the school "will make an effort to do more outreach so the history of legacy does not exclude other families.
"I want to thank him for doing that and with that I make the motion that we approve the Aspire renewal petition," Wilson said.