September 4, 2008

Redwood City Charter School Petitions to Open Second Campus

By Shaun Bishop

Backers of a Redwood City charter high school have petitioned to open a second campus, setting up another potential battle in its turbulent history with the Sequoia Union High School District.

The proposed Everest Public High School would replicate the experience of Summit Preparatory Charter High School, a 400-student school that opened in 2003, according to the petition filed June 24 with the district.

A push for a new school, which would open in 2009, grew out of demand from students and parents who could not get into the popular Summit Prep, said Diane Tavenner, CEO of the Summit Institute, a recently formed nonprofit group that submitted the petition and acts as a support organization to Summit.

Tavenner said that Summit's waiting list this year tops 200 students, so the institute decided to start another school rather than make the original one larger.

"The concept of expanding Summit is really inconsistent with what that school's trying to do," she said. "Size makes a big difference in the personal approach."

However, Lorraine Rumley, president of the district's board of trustees, said she does not think the district needs another charter school. She said parents have called her with the same sentiment, pointing out that the district has to fund the school.

"It takes money from the general fund, and they feel it should be used for their students," she said. "It's a huge financial impact. It takes away from programs we can offer our students."

Tavenner denied that the school would be a drain on the district and said it may actually raise money for Sequoia, which is paid by the state per student.

Trustee Gordon Lewin declined to comment, saying he had not yet read the petition; several other trustees could not be reached for comment.

Parents said the school's small size is Summit's biggest draw, and they said they think Everest would have no trouble filling up.

"There are people on our street who are already talking about Everest because of the fact that Summit only has so many spaces," said Shari Kitzmiller, who has two sons at Summit.

Kerry Memole, who has a son and a daughter at Summit, said she was impressed by the intimate relationship the students had with one another and their teachers.

"They are the most diverse but harmonious group of kids you could ever want to see," she said.

Still, Rumley said that students who need a small school are a "very small population" and thinks the district's four traditional high schools help train youths for the real world. Tavenner countered that more than 90 percent of Summit's first two graduating classes went to four-year colleges, showing that it also prepares them well.

If the petition is approved, Everest would be the third charter school sponsored by the Sequoia district, which has had a rocky relationship with Summit's administrators. Last year, the district battled with Summit over the school's request for a charter renewal, which the district said was premature. After several tense meetings and the threat of a lawsuit from Summit, the district approved a new five-year charter.

After that, the two sides quarreled over the maintenance fees the district proposed for its building at 890 Broadway, which the school moved into this past August.

Besides Summit, the district also is sponsoring a new charter school in East Palo Alto run by Oakland-based Aspire Public Schools.

Everest's charter describes a small school with nearly identical academics to Summit that will "foster self-discovery and goal setting" and will emphasize planning for college and careers.

Cloning successful charter schools has become a common practice, said Gary Larson, spokesman for the California Charter School Association.

"This is definitely the trend," he said. "You're seeing more and more the replication of what is working in the charter school movement, so that more kids benefit."

A few unique characteristics related to Everest's name will set it apart. Everest will offer Mandarin language classes instead of the Spanish classes at Summit, and studies of eastern Asia will be worked into the curriculum, Tavenner said. Students also will be encouraged to study another culture and cap that research with a "cultural experience," or a visit to somewhere that enriches that knowledge.

A public hearing on the petition will be held at the district board's Aug. 13 meeting, and the board likely will make a decision at its Sept. 17 meeting.

Reach Shaun Bishop at [email protected]

Originally published by Shaun Bishop, San Mateo Daily News.

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