East Palo Alto parents and community members Thursday night (Feb. 24) appealed to trustees of the Ravenswood City School District to support the establishment of a new K-5 charter school in East Palo Alto.
The boardroom and surrounding hallways were crowded with children and adult supporters wearing purple T-shirts emblazoned with the name of the proposed school, Rocketship.
Rocketship Education, a charter school operator that runs three relatively new but high-performing schools in San Jose, submitted a petition to Ravenswood in January, gaining the support of nearly 700 parents in East Palo Alto.
Ravenswood trustees must determine whether the educational program described in the petition is consistent with sound educational practice, Tim Fox, deputy San Mateo County counsel, said.
If trustees decide the charter does not comply, the superintendent will provide written findings to the petitioner, Fox said. If the petition is granted, the school will be able to operate under certain regulations, he said.
Rocketship representatives touted their "hybrid" model of education, which uses classroom teaching, at least an hour a day of individualized instruction in a computer learning lab and six to 10 hours a week of face-to-face tutoring.
"We want to eliminate the achievement gap with the communities we serve. Our mission is that every student who leaves our campus by 5th grade is proficient and college bound," Preston Smith, Rocketship's chief achievement officer, said.
Rocketship representatives said they were eager to "partner with Ravenswood" and boost the district's scores on standardized tests.
Students in Rocketship's Mateo Sheedy School in San Jose 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.
Schools in the Ravenswood district averaged 688 in 2010, up from 633 in 2007.
Smith said a key to Rocketship's success is parent involvement, noting that school representatives make home visits to every child every year.
"The charter application should be accepted because the quality of education they can offer is inspiring. Ravenswood can attain it in a very short time," said a teacher testifying in favor of the application.
An East Palo Alto parent who has visited a Rocketship campus in San Jose said, "I was impressed with the children working on computers and very excited at the level they were at. The Board is worried about closing current schools, but Rocketship will be funded by private donors mainly and some state funding so this won't really impact school district funding as a whole."
East Palo Alto resident Robert Hoover said, "I know that this will have an impact on the district in terms of staff, maybe funding; but I know that getting the best education for our children should be our goal, especially in a community such as ours."
"I've seen what a lack of education can do to a community and the destruction that takes place if our children are not brought up in the right way. A child brought up in school is less likely to be brought up in court," Ricky R. Williams, pastor at St. John's church, said.
Others spoke against the petition.
"I've worked with the district for a long time and have seen charter schools come and go," said Ravenswood Teachers' Association President Aaron Williamson.
"We can't bankrupt this district to bring in this new school -- we are already looking at a $3 million dollar cut for this year. How could we cope with a $4.5 million loss, which this school may incur?
"We're asking for a silver bullet to save Ravenswood, but what's really going to save us is ourselves," Williamson said, adding that the district should make a greater effort to reach out to parents.
"We don't need Rocketship, what we need is more involvement from parents. The passion and motivation that you have now, that brought you here today," another resident said.
Ravenswood Superintendent Maria De La Vega said the district already employs many of the strategies discussed by Rocketship.
"Many of your strategies in our schools we have already. We have technology and experience in labs. We have been on our journey towards excellence as you can see in our data and test scores. We can't let one school go down and one go up. We all have to go up together."