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.