High-scoring Summit Prep in Redwood City, California got a two-year charter extension from the local school district, instead of the normal five years, despite its lack of diversity: More than a third of students are Hispanic but very few are low achievers. Pat Gemma, superintendent of the local Sequoia district, complained the three-year-old high school is “lacking in its number of low-performing students as well as students in special education and English-learner programs,” reported the San Mateo Times.

For example, data from the 2005 state standards test show that no sophomore or junior is classified as “far below basic” in the English language arts category.

Nonetheless, he recommended the board approve the school’s charter, with the condition that the school strive toward enrolling more struggling students.

. . . Though trustee Olivia Martinez said she was very supportive of what the school offers students, she too developed concerns after she spoke to five students learning English who left the school.

“The consensus was they didn’t feel comfortable there,” she said. “The expectations were too high.”

In the future, she said, she would like Summit to work on helping students be more at ease with the school’s curriculum.

The charter school is one of the top-ranked schools in the state: Both Hispanic and white students post the highest scores in the county, notes Chris Buja, one of the charter school’s founders, in an e-mail:

The board did add one other concern: a request that Summit stop showing Sequoia district scores in comparison.

He also says the academic skills of Summit’s ninth graders resemble the district average.

Well, at least Martinez didn’t tell Summit to lower its expectations so that students who face huge challenges “feel comfortable” but aren’t pushed to improve their performance.

A small school — Summit will have 375 students in the fall — can’t and won’t serve the needs of all students. Summit is designed for students who can step up to the challenge of a college-prep curriculum. Most of the working-class Hispanic students who enroll are meeting these high expectations.

Sergio Fernandez, in his third year at Summit, said the school’s teachers helped him overcome his struggles in math with tutoring and encouragement.

“When I first went to Summit, I didn’t believe in myself,” Fernandez, 17, said. “They (the teachers) believed in me, and they’re 100 percent sure I can go to college.”

Small schools focused on college preparation don’t let the Sergios skate through and then discover too late that they’re not prepared for college or a skilled job.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    I really really hope that they are talking about the “low performance” of kids before they start attending the school, and not saying that a school has to fail a certain number of its own students in order to continue existing.

    And it seems that the students that left did so on their own initiative… which makes me wonder what exactly the district would like Summit to do to increase its “diversity.”

  2. Remember, the goal of this kind of oversight of Charter Schools is to make sure that they don’t make the public schools look bad.

    Perhaps if the public schools had the same high expectations they might also serve their students.

  3. hardlyb says:

    I guess the school is doomed. Clearly if they ever have any kids leave because it’s “too challenging”, then they aren’t “inclusive enough”. It doesn’t matter how poorly the kids are doing before they arrive, of course, it’s the ones that were doing poorly and then left because they were expected to work hard.

    We know a family from Palo Alto whose kid goes to the school, and they looked into whether our daughter would be served by the school. Someone (I think that it was the principal) at Summit suggested that our daughter wouldn’t fit, but it’s because our daughter is too far on the other end (she’s been doing college level work in math and English since she was 13, and wasn’t interested in going to high school anyway). So I know that the school isn’t trying to pump up their test scores by bringing in ringers.

    My impression is that Summit is doing precisely what they claim to be doing, and doing it so well that their local school board will do everything possible to kill them.

  4. I looked for info on the Summit Prep website on how many of the incoming 9th graders were ‘washed out’, but didn’t find anything. Given the overall size of school (375), and size of freshman class (100), it doesn’t appear that the washout rate is really excessive. School board and district are a bunch of idiots. I don’t think they will be able to kill the school, and I would like to see it expanded by cloning with, perhaps, a more vocational slant as opposed to college prep. Not everybody wants college, but everybody needs basic literacy, math, and citizenship education.

  5. The Superintendent is apparently upset that there are too few underachieving Hispanic students.

    So the students who left felt “uncomfortable”.

    And the Sup requested that Summit stop showing scores – don’t make others feel “uncomfortable” by showing off success.

    GASP. What would LA Mayor Villogorosa say? He would be upset, because these “over achievers” would likely vote Republican. Can’t have that in LA.