Charter Schools

A White Hill Student's Perspective

By Jackie McKillop-Herr and Ella Acker


[Editorial Note: We are thrilled to share this critical point of view, from our young, independent guest bloggers. The authors’ organic effort to communicate their thoughts and feelings regarding the impact of Prop 39 got our attention. Upon writing their perspective, nearly 150 of their peers had quickly endorsed their essay with signatures of support. More signatures are rapidly being added as of the posting of this blog. As they are minors, we will not be publishing the list of supporters.]

Do you have a student who will attend White Hill Middle School next year? If so, are you aware of the effects that the incoming Ross Valley Charter School (RVCS) will have on your child? We are 8th grade students who have spent the past three years at White Hill Middle School (White Hill). We are concerned that bringing the RVCS to White Hill will reduce the classroom space, quality of classes and White Hill’s unique learning programs. We think these changes will create confusion, and make it harder for students to get a good middle school education. We are not alone in our concerns. So far, 140 White Hill students (with more being added every day) have signed our petition to keep RVCS from disrupting education at White Hill Middle School.   
            
White Hill classrooms are split up by grade; 6th grade buildings, 7th grade buildings and 8th grade buildings. With RVCS moving into the 6th grade buildings, White Hill teachers and students will have less space. Different classes will need to share the same classroom. For example, when a music class is not in session, a 7th grade math class will move into that classroom. Since the equipment needed to teach a math class is very different from the equipment needed to teach a music class, students and teachers will have to spend time each day moving materials and equipment around. Some students are concerned that their expensive instruments are at risk of getting damaged or lost during daily transitions.   

We already feel like many of our classes are rushed. Carving time out from our already short class periods is going to make it harder for us to focus and learn. In addition, teachers will have to spend their valuable preparation time moving equipment and materials between classrooms rather than focusing on lesson plans or helping students individually. We are worried that all of this moving around will make things chaotic and confusing.  Middle schoolers already have a hard time focusing – so why make it harder?

As 8th graders we know that middle school can be a difficult time. After many years of having only one teacher, middle schoolers have multiple teachers in different classrooms and lots more homework. The school is much larger, and there are many students from other schools that you don’t know. Also, middle schoolers are going through a lot of personal changes. Adding more change, more students, and a whole new RVCS program at an already difficult time seems like a bad idea for all students.   
        
We are also worried that the Ross Valley School District will be forced to let go of some of our amazing teachers if the charter school is formed. We have already seen so many of our teachers leave our schools to teach in other school districts that pay more. Shouldn’t we be trying to keep our teachers rather than sending them away? It seems disruptive and unfair to lose even more of our amazing RVSD teachers to support the RVCS program that benefits only a small portion of our community. 

We know students who participated in the MAP program at Manor School, and many  enjoyed it. These students are our friends. The older ones (who are friends of our older siblings) are in high school now, and doing fine mixed in with non-MAP students. If MAP had not existed for our , and everyone had gone through the same program, we think things would have turned out pretty much the same as they are now. It seems that no matter which elementary school program each of us went through, all of the students get along, and it really doesn’t matter. Adults in charge, why are we making a program that will pull the student body apart when really it’s just the parents who need to be pulled together?

You might wonder why we are writing this blog as 8th graders who will soon be leaving White Hill to start high school. You might think that this isn’t our problem since we won’t be at White Hill next year anyhow. As 8th graders, we think we have a unique view of our RVSD education, especially the middle school years. We hope that by sharing our experiences and ideas, adults in charge will find a way to work together to continue to give all students a great education that prepares us well for high school. This is really important to us. Is it to you? What’s your STAND?
 

An Open Letter to Our Community

 Why would a supporter of Ross Valley Schools go to a charter Information Night?

        In the last few days, charter proponents have asked why members of the Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools attended the January 12 Information Night for the proposed Ross Valley Charter, held at the Ross Valley School District property at Deer Park.

        Good question.

        On one level, there is a simple reason: Information Nights are one of the few ways we in the community can learn how the proposed charter plans to use our tax dollars.

        The school will be funded with each enrolled student's "ADA" dollars:  about $8000 per child per year. That's approximately $1.5mm annually based on the charter's intended enrollment of 189 students. There is no public oversight of that money, as the charter board is self-appointed. The proposed school was authorized by a state board, which is also appointed, not elected. 

            So how do we, as taxpayers, have representation? Especially because we have no vote, we view it as necessary to learn as much as possible. The evening was billed as an "Information Night." We were under the impression that all were welcome to attend, ask questions and get answers.

            Every taxpayer in the district, regardless of age of children, or choice of school, should be asking: Is this charter a good steward of our public dollars? We regularly ask the same question of the staff and board of RVSD. There, at least, we can attend regular meetings, and vote for the board.

            At the Information Night, we did have the opportunity to learn. A few of us attended part, or all, of the formal presentation. Some of us stayed outside. And still, we learned a lot.

            We engaged several dedicated charter supporters in conversation. We questioned. We listened. We disagreed Sometimes, we agreed. “We” means all of us: charter and district school supporters alike. It was a challenge, and at moments awkward, but we made some progress toward understanding each other's concerns and passions. It was a circle of dialogue, a valuable moment, and an important reminder: We are one community.

            We appreciate the question of reciprocity: Do charter supporters get to attend events for district schools? By all means, yes! In fact, charter supporters have been well represented at recent public events held at public venues. Recent examples: RVSD Board Meetings. Manor’s Expeditionary Learning information session. The Brookside Parents’ Association meeting.


            To every member of our community, we say: Please come to all future public meetings at public venues. Keep learning and connecting. Keep the dialogue respectful. We shall do the same, and hope that this will build better understanding across our community.

            This is a complex situation, and there are other reasons we attended the charter Information Night.
             
            First, we want to make sure the prospective families who attend these sessions have the balanced opportunity to consider the truly public options available to elementary-school children in our district.

            The project-based Expeditionary Learning program goes live at Manor next year. Brookside, Hidden Valley, and Wade Thomas offer a balance of proven traditional and progressive, common core-inspired curriculum. The Readers' and Writers' Workshops are especially enriching. The YES Foundation makes exceptional art, music, theater, poetry, library, and special events available to our elementary school kids, with even more opportunities - especially in STEAM fields - available for middle school students at White Hill.
             
            How did we present this information at the Information Night? At most, with a one-page welcome letter. The handful of us who attended welcomed guests and offered them directions to the meeting room when they asked where to go. We were not forming a line. There was no line:  Not inside the meeting room, nor outside. Supporters of the Stand campaign were respectful in our attendance, whether in the meeting or in the courtyard.
             
            Second, we want to show our support for every child in the Ross Valley School District.

            The charter only expects to serve a very small percentage of our district children. An estimated 1800+ students will attend RVSD schools. The vast majority of students will not be at RVC.
             
            We want the children who don’t attend the charter, for any reason, to know their education matters to our community. We want our students to be confident that they will get a superb education. We want them to know that they, too, are important. The Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools embrace passionately the principle that all children deserve quality, free, public education.
             
            In closing, we found this Information Night to be just that: informative. A good start to a necessary dialogue. We thank the charter members who engaged with us in a positive and productive conversation. We all have more to learn, and we look forward to more opportunities to learn together.
             
            We acknowledge that people sometimes disagree, strongly, and we ask that our entire community commits to doing so respectfully. We are one community, and while we may have different opinions and goals, we are still neighbors, teammates, and even friends. We all have room for improvement here. Let’s start now.
             
            We invite anyone who wants to learn more about the Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools to check out our new Facebook page and website: www.standwithrossvalleyschools.org. All members of the community are welcome.
             
            The Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools look forward to seeing you at upcoming opportunities to get informed:

The RVSD Special Board Meeting on Tuesday, January 17, at 6pm, at Wade Thomas
The RVC Regular Board Meeting on Wednesday, January 18, 7pm at Drake High School
Future kindergarten orientation events at Hidden Valley, Manor, Wade Thomas and Ross Valley Charter

            These meetings are open to all.

     
    The Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools