CONCORD — Nationally prominent charter school operator, Rocketship Education, will not be gaining foothold in Contra Costa County to erect one of its charter schools — at least, not for now.
Upholding the objections of a local school board, the Contra Costa County Board of Education voted 4-1 Wednesday to deny the creation of a Rocketship charter school in the Monument Boulevard neighborhood, citing concerns about adequate staffing to educate its English language learners, its use of non-credentialed teachers and a lack of clarity surrounding its finances and its board representation.
More than 200 people packed the Pleasant Hill Middle School auditorium for a public hearing before the vote. A contingent of Rocketship supporters donning purple shirts praised the school’s innovative methods of narrowing the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged and Latino students, while opponents who wore yellow shirts, many Mt. Diablo district teachers but also some parents, warned that allowing Rocketship to build in the county would drain support from its already struggling and underappreciated public schools.
Concord resident Alison Blair was among those who said that they wanted a Rocketship school for their kids, and for kids “who don’t have luck with the lottery and can’t afford private school.”
“Opponents tell us to give them time, that schools will improve,” she
said, “and that may the case, but our kids … need a good quality
education now, not years from now when they have slipped through the
cracks and have no hope of catching up.”
The Mt. Diablo school district board denied San Jose-based Rocketship’s charter application in mid-August, and the charter had appealed to the county board.
County board officials said they worried about the difficulty that local families would face in participating in Rocketship’s board meetings in San Jose — although they’d be allowed to participate by telephone. They also said they feared that local stakeholders would not be given seats on the school’s board, since it was unclear how board members are appointed.
“I’m concerned about its governance,” said board member Daniel Gomes. “It’s almost as if (the school) would be remote-controlled” from San Jose.
Although the county dangled the possibility of offering Rocketship a provisional charter of five years, based on its compliance with 14 conditions, including increased staffing to teach English language learners, increased local representation on the board and improved transparency in its finances, in the end the board decided that still wasn’t enough to turn the tide.
Board member Jeff Belle said he was concerned about the county’s legal liability if they granted a charter for the school, since they had so many conditions to fulfill before it could prove its compliance with state charter school law, based on an analysis by the county’s attorneys. “You have a very good school, but a weak petition,” he told Rocketship officials. “There are too many problem areas in it.”
But board member Christine Deane said that she supported Rocketship because she believed that a different system of education could help meet the needs of more students.
Rocketship exercised its right to appeal the local district decision on the county level, but failing that, it now may choose to appeal at the state level, said David Kuizenga, Rocketship Bay Area vice president, after the meeting.
“I’m very disappointed, especially for over 1,100 people who signed the petition hoping for a better school option for their child,” he said.
Mt. Diablo rejected Rocketship’s application, citing concerns about the validity of the more than 1,000 signatures of local families on its petition for a new school and the soundness of its educational program.
Proponents of Rocketship, a darling of charter school advocates that started in San Jose in 2007, say that it has significantly improved test scores in low-performing school areas, while critics say that it has been too aggressive in its growth, siphons off support of the public school system, and overstates its success rate. It currently has nine schools in San Jose and it plans a tenth this fall in Redwood City.