Bullis Char­ter School’s bid to move into Whis­man dis­trict gets frosty re­cep­tion

The Mercury News - - Local News - By Kevin Kelly [email protected]­yare­anews­group.com

Hun­dreds of Moun­tain View res­i­dents are urg­ing a pri­vate char­ter school with a con­tro­ver­sial his­tory in Los Al­tos to think twice be­fore ex­pand­ing into the Whis­man School Dis­trict.

“We im­plore you to de­fer plans to open a school in Moun­tain View and in­stead col­lab­o­rate with dis­trict staff, prin­ci­pals and par­ent lead­ers to de­ter­mine how best to pro­ceed,” reads a Nov. 29 let­ter sent to Bullis Char­ter School’s board of di­rec­tors by Whis­man par­ent lead­ers and signed by roughly 350 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Mayor Lenny Siegel.

“We be­lieve that, with­out fully un­der­stand­ing the unique cul­tures, strengths and chal­lenges that con­trib­ute to the fab­ric of our stu­dent com­mu­nity, your pro­posed plan would dev­as­tate Moun­tain View’s pub­lic schools.”

Bullis Char­ter School in mid-Oc­to­ber sub­mit­ted a pro­posal to the Whis­man School Dis­trict to op­er­ate a K-5 school within its bound­aries.

Bullis wants to en­roll 168 stu­dents in tran­si­tional

“We deeply value pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and we look for­ward to cre­at­ing a school en­vi­ron­ment that show­cases the diver­sity of the Moun­tain View com­mu­nity.”

— Jen­nifer An­der­son-Rosse, Bullis ad­min­is­tra­tor

kinder­garten through sec­ond grade at one of the dis­trict’s fa­cil­i­ties start­ing next fall and to even­tu­ally en­roll 320 stu­dents in all grades by 2022. The dis­trict board held a pub­lic hear­ing on the school’s re­quest Thurs­day night at­tended by about 45 peo­ple. The board is sched­uled to con­sider ap­prov­ing or re­ject­ing the re­quest at its Dec. 20 meet­ing.

Sara Ko­pit-Ol­son, a par­ent leader at Mis­tral Ele­men­tary School, said Bullis’ plans came as a shock to par­ents be­cause it wasn’t clear un­til Oc­to­ber that it in­tended to open a lo­cal school. Ko­pitOl­son said there has been no broad pub­lic out­reach or ma­jor study of the po­ten­tial im­pacts, par­tic­u­larly to dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents. She said Bullis has held sum­mer camps for dis­ad­van­taged fam­i­lies over the past sev­eral years but “be­yond that, they haven’t had a pres­ence in our schools.”

“I would like them to put the char­ter pe­ti­tion on hold and do a true needs assess­ment within the com­mu­nity to find out how and if these SED (so­cially-eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged) fam­i­lies want and need to be helped, build trust in the com­mu­nity and build upon what we are al­ready do­ing in our neigh­bor­hood schools,” Ko­pit-Ol­son said Thurs­day. “We would be will­ing to part­ner with them and talk about ways that they could help close the achieve­ment gap … (but) we’re not sure we have a need for this char­ter school in the dis­trict. … Our slo­gan tonight is, ‘Yes to part­ners, no to char­ters.’ “

Bullis ad­min­is­tra­tor Jen­nifer An­der­son-Rosse said in an email to this news or­ga­ni­za­tion that the char­ter school has served hun­dreds of low-in­come fam­i­lies in Moun­tain View through its sum­mer camp, “forg­ing strong re­la­tion­ships” with them, con­duct­ing out­reach and re­search into serv­ing a di­verse pop­u­la­tion and es­tab­lish­ing a di­verse lead­er­ship team.

“We deeply value pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and we look for­ward to cre­at­ing a school en­vi­ron­ment that show­cases the diver­sity of the Moun­tain View com­mu­nity,” An­der­son-Rosse added. “We are hope­ful to have a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with the Dis­trict and com­mu­nity mem­bers and work to­gether to nar­row the achieve­ment gap.”

The Whis­man board must make a de­ci­sion within 60 days of re­ceiv­ing the pe­ti­tion on Nov. 1. Ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia Ed­u­ca­tion Code, the board can deny the re­quest only if Bullis presents an un­sound ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram or is “demon­stra­bly un­likely to suc­cess­fully im­ple­ment” the pro­gram, or if the char­ter pe­ti­tion fails to ful­fill all state re­quire­ments.

Mayor Siegel, who noted he signed the let­ter as an in­di­vid­ual and not a coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tive, said he’s con­cerned that the char­ter school could com­pli­cate a plan to cre­ate a new Whis­man ele­men­tary school in the North Bayshore area

where Google plans to ex­pand and 9,850 hous­ing units could be built.

If the pe­ti­tion is ap­proved, it could take Whis­man years to find a cam­pus for Bullis’ per­ma­nent cam­pus, and that in turn could stall the dis­trict’s search for a site to ac­com­mo­date a new pub­lic school.

“We’re com­mit­ted to a neigh­bor­hood school and how do we do that if we don’t know where the char­ter school is go­ing to go?” Siegel said.

This is the first time the Whis­man board has re­ceived a char­ter pe­ti­tion.

Bullis has op­er­ated a K-8 char­ter school in the Los Al­tos School Dis­trict since 2003, but the first sev­eral years there were rocky. Then in the sum­mer of 2016, af­ter years of ac­ri­mony and mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar court bat­tles, Bullis and the Los Al­tos School Dis­trict agreed to drop their law­suits and peace­ably lo­cate the char­ter school on two shared cam­puses.

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