Group proposes new East Palo Alto charter school

Led by Palo Altan John Danner, Rocketship already has three schools in San Jose

A group that runs three high-performing charter schools in San Jose is circulating a petition to open a new charter elementary school in East Palo Alto in the fall of 2012.

Rocketship Education, a 4-year-old nonprofit led by tech-entrepreneur-turned-teacher John Danner of Palo Alto, says it will apply in January for a charter with the Ravenswood City School District.

Rocketship has been scouting possible campus locations in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park as well as soliciting support from local opinion leaders.

"We've been spending a good part of the fall talking to school board members and such," said Evan Kohn, Rocketship's manager of community support.

"We're talking to key leaders and parents who want another choice in East Palo Alto," Kohn said.

"They're certainly happy to sit down with us."

The group has been "overwhelmed with support" in a signature drive aimed at gauging parent interest in enrolling their kids in a Rocketship school, Kohn said. They expect to collect 400 signatures before the holidays, he said.

Rocketship said it uses a "hybrid model" -- combining classroom teaching with one-on-one computer work -- that has its low-income students in San Jose achieving state test scores on par with those in the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Children spend about 25 percent of their day in a computer lab, working with software that individualizes instruction in mathematics and reading, he said.

"The programs are very good at helping children with basic skills mastery, and then teachers can spend their time introducing new concepts, helping with guided instruction and working with critical-thinking skills," Rocketship Vice-President for Marketing Judith McGarry said.

Rocketship opened its San Jose campuses in 2007, 2009 and 2010. All three operate under charter agreements with the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

Students at Rocketship's Mateo Sheedy School earned a 2010 California Growth Academic Performance Index Score of 925. The group's Si Se Puede Academy had a score of 886 in its first year of testing. Data was unavailable for the newest Rocketship school, Los Suenos Academy.

The 2010 Growth API Score range for Palo Alto elementary schools was 861 to 984.

The API score for the K-8 Ravenswood City School District has moved from 633 in 2007 to a current 688.

The fast-expanding Rocketship aims to prove that its tech-assisted education model can erase the achievement gap among low-income students in a way that can be replicated efficiently across the country, McGarry said.

"We hope to say that with the exact same funding (as traditional public schools), we're able to offer kids a public-school experience that really helps them succeed academically," she said.

"Our approach is to be as collaborative as possible and to help the community understand our priorities are on the children."

Danner, a Bellarmine graduate and Stanford-trained electrical engineer, was founder and CEO of the web-advertising software company NetGravity, which he took public and sold in 1999.

He went on to become a public school teacher in Nashville, Tenn., where he got involved in the charter school movement. He was founding director of the charter middle school KIPP Academy Nashville. After returning to the Bay Area, he co-founded Rocketship with teacher and elementary school Principal Preston Smith in 2006.

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Like this comment
Posted by Dave Peery
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 17, 2010 at 10:24 am

I'm happy to be the first to comment on this article. Just yesterday our family's foundation just decided to support Rocketship Education in it's ambitious mission to close the achievement gap in America. Having looked closely at their work and visited their schools, Rocketship is doing incredible things: proving that children in the most challenging of circumstances can learn and achieve on par with their counterparts from wealthier communities. Anyone interested in supporting the success of the most vulnerable children in our community should be supportive of this effort - be it financially or with your signature.
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Dave Peery
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 17, 2010 at 10:25 am

Please excuse the grammatical errors in my post above - didn't proofread! *I wish I'd gone to a Rocketship school!

Like this comment
Posted by Amen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

Thank goodness. Maybe then VTP/Tinsley will end. Those kids have to be ready an hour earlier to catch the bus, cannot stay after school due to the bus ride, mostly don't participate in group projects and they alienate themselves from others who are not VTP.

Like this comment
Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 17, 2010 at 11:10 am

It's a pleasure to hear about a school using the immense power of the computer to invididualize instruction! I'm not a big fan of charter schools, nor do I believe that current testing truly measures our students' educational progress, but this approach may be a way to invigorate current teaching practices if it continues to show progress with low-skills students.

The 25% lab instruction time sounds about right. I'd be interested to know what software Rocketship is using.

Teaching low-skills students can be great, but it's never easy. Kudos to these efforts!

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2010 at 11:17 am

Does Rocketship test students for entry? Do they require the families to pay a portion of the cost of their education? If they do either of these things, they are skimming from a very challenged district the families who are most able to support their students..and the better performers.

This is the kind of program that can destroy a public school system. Be careful what you wish for EPA. Make sure they are open to ALL students. Make sure that EVERY student is given equal opportunity to apply. Parents should not have to jump through any hoops that could exclude families who may not speak English or who have parents who cannot attend night "recruitment" meetings. The charter school should not require parents to pay any additional money if it is taking funds away from public schools. A charter school that does this would exclude the poorest students.

There are lots of ways these charter programs weed out kids who have parents without the means to provide strong support. Be wary. Look very carefully at their model and see what the districts they are in have to say about them. Don't just look at their test scores.

Like this comment
Posted by Amen, Amen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Seems like a solution to two problems. The Tinsley group will get a better education closer to home and Palo Alto will not have to support them.

Like this comment
Posted by Results-Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Charter schools were supposed to be an "experiment" in public education. For the most part, their performance has been about equal to those in the public school system, based on test results. There have been some areas of improvement, to be sure, and some very high performing charter schools--but for the most part, their test scores indicate that kids are not receiving superior education in these schools.

That said, if charter schools like Rocketship are actually turning out successes in the same districts where the public schools are turning out failures, or mediocrity, maybe it's time to try adopting some of Rocketship's techniques in the public schools (or other successful charter school operator's techniques). If these techniques can be transplanted, then maybe the charter school "experiment" here in California will turn out to be valuable. Right now, there isn't a lot of evidence to justify all of the trouble.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 17, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I'd advise Rocketship to get some kind of binding commitment from the Ravenswood School Board. Earlier this year, Stanford's Ravenswood K-5 charter school was shut down by the board. The article below seems to infer that it was done mostly to recapture the State funds that had been flowing to the Charter School so that the Board could avoid teacher layoffs in the rest of their District due to declining enrollment. At some point, the Board must choose a side: teachers or students.
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm

the link:
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I've work in Ravenswood District since 1997. Several comments:
1. All charters are not created equal. EPA Charter is great! Doing good things for EPA kids. Stanford Charter had poor test scores, high teacher turn-over. It wasn't about the money. It costs the district more per student than the state pays. Yes we got the money back, but we also got all the students and have to pay the teachers, etc.

2. Charters have to be open to all kids at no cost. They are public schools. But, if the school is doing well there is some kind of lottery to get in.

3. Test scores in Palo Alto Unified for low-income students (703)are not much better than the scores for low-income students in Ravenswood (687). The difference is that 90% are low income in Ravenswood. I'd invite the Tinsley kids to come back! There are great things happening in many Ravenswood Schools.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident One
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I'm a VTA parent, I was a VTA student. Graduated at 15, off to University, graduated at 21 - Masters graduate degree. I live in East Palo Alto, disappointed I couldn't allow my son to go to school with parents who aren't educated and can't support the education of their children, thus the VTA system.

I'm torn with dealing with people like Amen Amen who are racist and train their childern to say mean things and act rudely to my child. I am tired of working with staff who have the impression VTA students hurt their school test scores and relate poorly to VTA students. They make huge assumptions about who we are and what our children are capable.

I am unable and maybe unwilling to send my child to additional school (like Chinese school) to make them crazy and to feel so little self worth they want to committ suicide. A Charter school is always lottery in EPA, taking only the best students and the more capable ones, who will ultimately do better.

Palo Alto schools are good but at the expense of what? I need to re-think Ravenswood City School District. I welcome the opportuntiy to dialoge with school district officals. Observe classes. Interview teachers.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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