Last Wednesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Education convened to hear a proposal from Rocketship Education to open 20 more charter elementary schools in the next 5 years. In terms of community impact, this would make Rocketship one of the two largest districts in San Jose by 2018. Students, families, and community members filled the room to the brim, overflowing into the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) hallways. Just the week before, more than 1,200 parents and family members also gathered at St. John Vianney parish in San Jose to demand great secondary schools for children in San Jose.
The meeting was heartening for dozens of reasons, some of which are described below:
- Rocketship families are invested in educational reform. They seek to grow Rocketship, but they also understand that proposals like this put pressure on local school districts to improve their results so that they do not risk closing. The parents who spoke at the meeting told powerful stories about student achievement and dramatically changed outcomes for their children. One mother, through tears, gave testimony to the fact that her kindergartener at Rocketship had recently outperformed her other son, a senior in high school, on a math test.
- Rocketship is fully responsible for its growth. Preston Smith, the Chief Academic Officer at Rocketship, gave an impressive presentation detailing the extensive process that Rocketship takes to greenlight new school openings. Rocketship ensures that there is a tremendous school leader available for each new school. Rocketship plans to open in neighborhoods with schools achieving an API score of 775 or less. Rocketship pledges to close its own schools with API scores of 800 or less. Rocketship has established accountability measures that far surpass those required by the legal documents that govern charter schools in Santa Clara County. Responsible growth is the name of the game, because we cannot risk student futures.
- Santa Clara County Board of Education members believe that closing the achievement gap is a civil rights issue and that San Jose could be the first large city in the United States to do so. Several of the members gave rousing speeches about Rocketship’s important role in this movement. Anna Song, a board member, bluntly stated that approving the Rocketship request was the “right” decision. After attending an extremely frustrating and unproductive charter proposal meeting in East Palo Alto, this meeting felt like a breath of fresh air. The board members will vote on the proposal by August 10.
In preparation for the meeting, Rocketship’s national office, teachers, and parents sought to gather support. The most important participants, of course, were the students. Two students in my first period class asked to give a presentation to their peers. As I yielded my stage to them, I watched them energetically ask their classmates: “Do you think it’s fair that 13,000 students in San Jose attend low-performing elementary schools? Do you think it’s fair that they don’t get to learn? Do you believe that they deserve to attend a Rocketship school like we do?” As my students yelled in support, I thought about how invested my second graders are in education reform. They are the movement: both as proof of the benefits of education reform and as its best proponents for the future.
In the last four days, I have dismissed my students for the summer, packed my classroom, moved to a new house, and driven to Los Angeles for my Teach For America summer institute position. In the whirlwind, I cannot stop thinking about how metacognitive and self-aware my students are about the potential their communities have to speak loudly and demand excellence. They are the true leaders of our classrooms and futures.
For the kids,