Impact: Two Public School Teachers’ Perspective on Charter Schools

I have been an itinerant teacher for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) for twelve years. In this capacity, I travel to different schools, teaching adapted physical education for children with special education needs that attend both public and charter schools in SFUSD.  

I have witnessed the large disparity between the two groups. There is competition over buildings and space, funding, technology in the classroom, and enrollment. The public schools have larger class sizes. The charter schools target various populations based on ethnicity, socio-economic status, and English Language Learners. There exists a growing divide when there are charter schools and public schools competing for the same finite resources. Thank goodness the San Francisco mayor gives the SFUSD monies from the SF City Rainy Day Funds, or the public schools would have been in the red years ago. 

My partner teaches 7th and 8th grade science in the West Contra Costa School District (WCCUSD) where she has 38 students in a single classroom. The Summit Charter School down the street from her public school is using the same funding and ADA formula as her school district- yet they have only 24 students in their science classes.

In both these cases for SFUSD and WCCUSD, wouldn’t it have been a better idea to use the resources to work on the existing schools, rather than to siphon off a large portion of our public funds to charter schools? The existing public school districts could have invested in obtaining input from the teachers, administration, parents and community and put all the efforts and money to work to create something amazing for each of the existing schools, for the benefit of every child.

Here in the Ross Valley School District, we have a meaningfully smaller district than SFUSD or WCCUSD, and even fewer resources. Critically, we have no rainy day fund. We do, however, have high-performing public schools. We might soon also have Ross Valley Charter, an entity that will not only receive ADA money for the students who attend, but has also received a $375,000 public school grant. They enjoy staggering legal fees covered by the CCSA-funded team of Young, Minney & Corr, and other lawyers, while depleting our District’s limited resources with legal threats which are designed to further weaken the laws that protect our invaluable public schools. 

We may have to contend with a charter school that was explicitly denied authorization from both the Ross Valley School Board and the Marin County Board of Education. It has opened a Pandora's Box for usurping tax money that will have no oversight from the taxpayers of our community. This privately-managed school is an experiment at the expense of those who sign up for the school, as well as all of us who live in the Ross Valley. 

We have heard the term “innovative school” used quite a bit with regard to the this Prop 39 charter. How can the program be innovative for its employment of project-based learning which has been around for decades?  Rooftop Elementary School in San Francisco is a school-wide thematic/project-based SFUSD school (not a charter) that was considered innovative years ago. Several of the better aspects of project-based, interdisciplinary learning are already incorporated into many RVSD classrooms. 

Nor are multi-age classrooms “innovative.” They have been in existence since the creation of the one room schoolhouse. Teachers and parents often lack a full understanding of multi-age education, which can result in difficulties of implementing effective multi-age classrooms. Often teachers indicate that they are not adequately trained to teach multi-age groups of children. Perhaps some teachers are not aware of these inadequacies, and parents are wise to worry about the environment and the quality of instruction. Having the same teacher for two years in a row may present a familial environment, but that does not equate to or guarantee academic growth and success. 

To the parents that have signed up for charter, we hope the leadership is being upfront and honest with you. What are the learning outcomes that you desire for your child? How did students previously taught by The MAP 6 fare in middle school- academically, socially and psychologically? For those of you who plan to enroll in the charter from out-of-District, did you know that because the charter filed a Prop 39 facilities request, your child’s seat is only guaranteed for the 2017-2018 school year (for which the space allocation was based on a guess from RVC)? The following year it will be based on documented enrollment, and only in- District students will be provided space on the White Hill Middle School campus. Did the leadership tell you that? Did they tell you the school is still just conditionally approved by the state? If you have a child with an IEP or 504 plan, has RVC informed you how your child’s IEP will be implemented, who will be part of the IEP team, and who will be providing your child with speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy?  Do you know who the psychologist will be, or have you seen the credentials of the special ed teacher?  Did they tell you about the accommodations and/or modifications that will be made by the classroom teacher for your child per IEP? 

Did you know that the charter will be using eight classrooms at White Hill Middle School that currently house a thriving 6th grade cluster? Those 6th graders will soon be crammed into the 7th and 8th grade building, losing their dedicated space, and leading to larger class sizes. Some White Hill teachers will not have a dedicated classroom, but will be using mobile carts, or teaching in rooms with partitions to separate one class into two. If you live in the RVSD, your charter school child will also eventually attend at a crowded White Hill, unless you choose to send your child to private school. How will these changes impact all of our middle school children, yours included?  

As parents, teachers and members of this amazing RVSD community, we have seen our five schools have come together with passion, conviction and fortitude to STAND up for our children’s education. There is now a unified and growing group of over 400 families that do not want to just put up with this because of the charter school trend at the local, state and national level. We will continue to contact our local, county and state government leaders with our perspective and requests. We are dedicated to changing these laws because, at present, there is no law that protects our public schools from being taken over by any charter that eyes our District, and decides to set up shop. There is no reason to think the current charter is the only one that will ever try to open in the RVSD. So yes, we STAND at the door of the public schools which we hope will one day soon be closed to charter schools.

Teressa DiPerna and Gail Pavlich