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Fragile comity unwinds between Everest, district

Original post made on Oct 6, 2009

Board president's disclosure of charter school enrollment data in proposed guest opinion and to selected school board candidates widens rift between Everest (charter) Public High School and the Sequoia Union High School District.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 6, 2009, 10:02 AM

Comments (105)

Posted by A concerned local parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 6, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Ouch. When will Mr Gemma learn? Should we call this latest incident "Gemma-gate"? It's got his fingerprints on it, and his "no comment" sounds like Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" comment in the 1970s. This is one of dozens of incidents over the years when Mr Gemma personally acted inappropriately, or shamelessy mis-represented data, in crude attempts to publicly discredit the local charter schools.

Summit/Everest is not the enemy; the status quo is the enemy. Good luck to whomever the public elects to serve on the board, to get Mr Gemma and their peers on the SUHSD board to spend their time on improving student outcomes, instead of squandering limited resources on misguided political hatchet jobs.

Thank you to the Alamanc for reporting this story. I'm squirming just reading it. It's sure to make other people uncomfortable, too.

Posted by M-A grad, M-A & Summit Dad
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 6, 2009 at 12:55 pm

This latest attempt at undermining the success of our charter high schools by Sequoia Union High School District officials should come as no surprise to any of us who have followed this story. These seemingly endless, negative propaganda campaigns against Summit, and now Everest, have reach the point of ridiculous.
I, for one, am tired of any taxpayer dollars being directed towards throwing obstacles towards these schools that we as taxpaying voters to endorse many years ago. Mr Gibson's actions and Dr. Gemma's non-action have all but squelched any chance District lawyers might have had in averting the pending lawsuit by Everest against the District. And guess who foots that settlement? Not Gibson. Not Gemma. It's you and me.
This latest action makes the November 3rd election of two new board members even more important. Vote and stop this insanity!

Posted by wondering
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 6, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I'm sure the answers will be forthcoming.

The numbers of non-district students would have eventually become public knowledge, true?

Wouldn't it be nice to have all the facts before this election?

How in the world did non-district students get into spots that were in such high demand from within the Sequoia district??

Due diligence to get student residency information becomes really important when names are from outside the district and there is money to be collected from other schools, but most within the district had already been checked once by the district. Note that the schools from outside the district really didn't make out in this situation unless they are also basic aid. Hopefully those students gave their schools ample warning that they would not be attending their schools this fall.

Posted by Concerned Parent and Active School Volunteer, Parent of Hillview student
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Oct 6, 2009 at 1:29 pm

I strongly echo the comments of the 2 prior posters - it's time for the SUHSD (from whose district I graduated in 1981) to stop the insanity and see the exemplary performance of Summit (and, in time, Everest) NOT as a threat but rather as an OPPORTUNITY to create success in the district high schools. Mr, Gemma et. al, Summit's using LESS MONEY and having MORE SUCCESS with its students than the district schools - which part of that is confusing to you and the SUHSD?

I strongly urge voters to ensure that candidates Chris Thomsen and Bob Ferrando fill the two vacancies on the District Board - their vision and understanding of this topic are desperately needed!

Posted by Concerned about SUHSD board
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 1:50 pm

The article says that two prospective board members were given the data: "Alan Sarver and Virginia Chang Kiraly, who noted Everest's out-of-district students in an interview with The Almanac."

Who mentioned the out of district students to the Almanac? I fear it was Virginia Chang-Kiraly, although perhaps it was both.

I'm worried that Ms. Chang-Kiraly might get elected to the SUHSD Board. I have seen her in action on a number of boards and committees, where she has displayed a lack of discrepancy similar to this incidence of talking about priveleged information in a way that excites negative opinion.

When she was President of the Las Lomitas PTA, she devoted her year to switching the organization from a PTA to a PTO. (A PTO has a lot more leeway than a PTA, and is more of a private, loosely affiliated entity rather than a chartered chapter of a national organization.) It caused a lot of strife and wasted a lot of time. When her year was up, with no success regarding the PTO, others breathed a quiet sigh of relief and got back to the business of helping the school. I don't believe the issue was ever raised again.

When she was on the Palo Alto Junior Museum's Board, she tried to take to Museum and Zoo private. That upset a lot of people, too, including long-time city employees and many big donors. Again, her term ended without success for her number one objective, and the idea of privatizing a public resource went dead.

Ms. Chang-Kiraly has run for office as a Republican and I believe she was a
major fundraiser and supporter of Bush. My concern is that she is dedicated to the Bush concept of taking public resources private, in a way that limits oversight and transparency. She has also employed partisan politics as a fundamental tool in achieving her ends.

Considering Mr. Gemma's challenges as a leader, and Mr. Gibson's poor decision to write a "personal" opinion using public resources and restricted data, I don't think it would be helpful to add Ms. Chang-Kiraly to the mix. She has a kind of charisma that can distract people from thinking all the way through an issue, and I don't understand or trust her motivations. It wouldn't be a good idea to add her to a weak board without knowing what her big objective is. (Resolve the charter school issues by spinning them off as private schools?)

I don't know how to voice my concerns without seeming catty or character-assassining. I know her legions of friends will rise to her defense and be very personal about it. I'd like to see an objective presentation of her contributions to the public sphere, including unsuccessful attempts as well as successful ones, before the election. She has a reputation as a community volunteer, yet I don't know of her successes or of her ability to work with others towards consensus. We don't need a fighter, we need a cooperator.

Posted by One-eyed Jack
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I find it most interesting, that some students and their parents outside the Sequoia High School District recognize the merits and achievements by Summit Charter Prep High School — enough to travel long distances to attend these (Summit & Everest) institutions, yet our own district Superintendent and Board continue to turn a blind eye to both schools' short-term accomplishments.
I don't see any kids from outside the district clamoring to get into Sequoia, M-A or Woodside. Now that would be newsworthy!

Posted by Concerned parent & taxpayer
a resident of Las Lomitas School
on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:21 pm

I think your comment about Ms. Chang-Kiraly is interesting, especially that she has not respected priveleged information. I must agree with you as I was surprised to see her send out a mass campaign email to the Las Lomitas parent community. It is specifically stated that such email addresses are not be shared or used for solicitation purposes. Clearly Ms. Chang-Kiraly does not feel compelled to follow the rules.

Posted by A Concerned Parent and Taxpayer
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:22 pm

There is a strong public interest for public officials to act impartially to support the government of the day. Leaks by public officials undermine the trust that is necessary to this relationship. Leaks of privileged or restricted data for individual and political purposes is deplorable. Not to mention, the use of public funds for political campaigning is unethical and perhaps even illegal. Mr. Gibson and Mr. Gemma should be held accountable for their actions.

Posted by confused further
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Wait! Doesn't anyone else read this to say that Everest is trying to cover up the fact that 16 of their students do not live in the district? This is exactly the information the public needs to know. Perhaps Mr. Boyce will explain how long it will take SUHSD staff to re-coop the $100,000 + we're paying out for these students to attend Everest. How many students at Summit live outside SUHSD? How many students attending the other SUHSD schools are non-residents? I am still trying to figure out why the SUHSD school board approved the staff's recommendation against Everest. The Almanac's articles do not help. Mr. Boyce, can you shed some more light on the subject?

Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:37 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

There is no indication that Ms. Chang Kiraly knew that the enrollment data that Sequoia board President Don Gibson gave to her was privileged or restricted.

Indeed, information about in-district and out-of-district students is public information -- when it is made public. The situation here is that Everest staff made the information available to the Sequoia district early and did so even though it was not obligated to, Everest co-founder Diane Tavenner said in an interview.

Enrollment data normally comes out in January, after the population has stabilized, and is normally published through the charter school's sponsor, Ms. Tavenner said.

And candidate Alan Sarver did not mention enrollment data in the interview he had with The Almanac.

Posted by A Concerned Parent and Taxpayer
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:48 pm

In regards to confused further's question,

No, I do not read this to say that Everest is trying to cover up the fact that 16 of their students do not live in the district. Quite the opposite. The article states that Everest staff spent over 30 hours collecting and confirming student residency data in a very urgent fashion for the Sequoia district. How would this type of considerable, good faith effort by the staff and parents of Everest to satisfy a district request be construed as a cover-up?

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm


this is pretty much a smoking gun. This is the district directly providing confidential information preferentially to two separate candidates. While I cannot fault the candidates who received information, the buck needs to stop with Mr. Gemma. My understanding is that the SUHSD cannot directly support any of the board candidates. This appears to be rather blatent disregard for such rules as well as basic decency. Thank you Mr. Boyce for disclosing this additional shameful chapter in the SUHSD's decent into what one can only hope is a terminal tailspin for the current group to be replaced by an accountable body. Anyone with a little common sense can see how this fits in with SUHSDs continuing attmepts to destroy the charter schools and manipulate a local election to their advantage. At this point, the candidates receiving these documents are clearly tainted by association. I would urge any decent voter to note that these district-favored candidates are clearly not going to provide the necessary change needed at the SUHSD and not vote for them.
I don't know what the mechanism for removal of Mr. Gibson might be, but htat should also be explored.
I can only hope that this further demonstration of the true intentions of SUHSD is able to influence the ongoing lawsuit against SUHSD.
With regard to any students being from out of district, I see that as a non-issue. As far as I can tell, the only person representing the SUHSD who behaved reasonably is Ms. Martinez. It is a real shame to see what appeared to be progress in building bridges blasted away by Mr. Gibson's fearful rush to say something bad about Everest.


Posted by college student
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm

The unprofessionalism of certain board members disgusts me. What a flagrant disgrace.

Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Oct 6, 2009 at 4:46 pm

SUHSD Staff and Board (with the exception of Trustee Martinez) --- is this the actions you want to model for our students? Manipulate, lie, provide inside information to your preferred candidates? You call yourselves leaders? You are disgraceful! You are petty hypocrites who see students as widgets that provide you and your status quo with a stipend - NOT leaders of our educational community and are certainly NOT the role model I want my children to follow.

Trustee Martinez, I don't know whether you are pro-charter or not? I applaud you for holding your ground and exposing this deliberate abuse of the public trust. I hope we will find more leaders like you.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 6, 2009 at 5:01 pm

So let's get this straight. Mr. Gibson, within a month of a school board election, wants to publish an opinion that is his own, yet requires the services of the schoold district's PR person, and several drafts were reviewed by the Superintendent.
Further, Mr. Gibson's draft apparently sought to portray Everest as scrambling for students, with the result being that some students are from outside the districts (for which the district is reimbursed). Note that Summit/Everest often need to depend upon the SUHSD to reimburse them and these required payments are sometimes used for leverage. Let's flashback a bit to this time period during Mr. Gibson chooses to characterize Everest as struggling... the district, in stark contrast to the publicly professed position of cooperating with Summit/Everest, did their best to muscle the school into accepting whatever crumbs the district would throw their way and clearly hoped a location in EPA would cause further "scrambling".
So, Mr. Gibson is happy to take the resources of SUHSD, as an adult to help him express himself. Will he reimburse the SUHSD for helping him craft his "personal opinion"? He is also happy to take confidential information only available to him as a result of his being on the SUHSD BOTs and use it for expression of his "personal opinion". And if that weren't enough, he saw fit to selectively provide it to candidates in an election. This is clear violation of his oath to serve us. He should resign tomorrow opening up a third slot for the BOT. If he hasn't learned such basic rules regarding confidential information, he clearly has no business being in an adult role. The sad thing is, that as the SUHSDs behavior toward the opening of Everest clearly shows, decisions and actions that impact our children's education and our tax dollars are being made by petty, greedy, dishonest individuals who are doing a shoddy job of representing us.
I hope the broader Bay area media find out about this and hold SUHSD accountable for their actions. I suspect the answer would be "no comment".

Posted by no answer...
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 6, 2009 at 6:09 pm

With the HUGE percentage of students that supposed applied to go to Everest. How in the world did 16 students from outside the district get in? How is it not public information within our district and their home districts that funds are having to be sought out from outside the district. There is no way that the funds are just being floated until January unless Everest is borrowing money.

I agree the identity of the students and their addresses should be private, but the numbers and make up of the school are certainly data that should be public. There should also be a public accounting of other students enrolled in the district that live outside its bounds since we are all paying for their educations. Presumably Everest's students will eventually have their home districts pay for their education.

The question remains.... what 16 students within our district were turned away from the opportunity to learn at Everest and why?

Posted by Outraged In-District Parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 6:15 pm

As a parent of former Sequoia High School students, current Summit and Everest students, I am appalled and beyond outraged at this latest display of disgusting and inappropriate behavior by the parties involved in using my tax payer’s time and monies in their attempts to slander, libel and discredit my childrens' schools.

As in-district Everest parents, we have had to scramble last month, to get documentation for the District to reprove our residency once again, this time at the last minute, as the District had “lost” our previous paperwork from last Spring. Everest staff spent extra time contacting parents, gathering information and compiling the required data for the District, in a very hurried fashion, instead of focusing on our students. Now, we find that these were extra requirements that the District exacted, so they could further attack Everest. At that time, we were fearful that our student would be disenrolled (we had already experienced the dumping of our application and having to reapply and have another lottery with our Summit student in his freshman year). The timing was totally inconvenient for us, scrambling our already overloaded schedules and creating more undue stress.

A student caught lying, cheating and using school properties for self-serving purposes, or stealing from the school, is held accountable for his/her actions and must serve the consequences. These actions usually are grounds for expulsion, repayment of damages, as well as public apologies to the parties involved. I mentioned lying, because as a parent, I have been anxious all summer regarding the question of whether or not Everest would have a home, not whether there would be enough interested students to attend in the fall. We were on pins and needles waiting for word about the school’s location, as were other parents. We saw the huge number of students applying for both Everest and Summit and we attended the lottery. If there was the shift to enroll in other schools by potential Everest students, it was because of the uncertainty of location and the District’s attempts to sabotage the Everest opening. The alegations made about Everest scrambling for students were not true. In my opinion, false information, publicly stated, used to discredit and slander a person, school, or organization equates lying. So, if a student will be held accountable for lying, cheating, etc, what about public school board officials and trustees? As taxpayers, the District Administration and certain Board Members are stealing from us by using public funds to fight their personal war.

What kind of examples of ethical conduct and good citizenship are these parties giving to out students?? I cannot believe that we can expect our students to respect the establishment if their behavior is allowed to pass without consequence. No-one should be above the law. Where, pray tell, is justice??

Posted by Really???
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Has anyone looked at the performance of Summit vs the other schools in the district objectively..? Summit sends 97% of it's students on to 4 year colleges including Berkeley, Stanford and other highly respected universities. 97% is a Tremendous success rate for any school. SUHSD should be working to adopt the programs that these charter schools are using because they are obviously working. This is a case of the status quo scratching and fighting to maintain it's crumbling foothold on the way its always been done kind of thinking. If you can't get on board get out of the way! Cheers to Summit and Everest for the job they are doing!

Posted by Simple Simon
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Oct 7, 2009 at 11:55 am

Since it appears that the Charter School issue is the central issue of this election, and will be the main concern of whomever wins the office and faces the lawsuit. I suggest ALL candidates schedule appointments to spend a day at Summit and Everest to observe the students and talk (or campaign) with parents at dismissal time. See the schools in operation first hand, not taking the third party opinion of the District, CTA or Summit/Everest administration.

See for yourself. That is what we did when selecting schools for our children. We attended their sports activities, their performing arts, walked around campus at lunch and after school. 8th grade school nights are for show, see the real campus and talk with real students and parents. Observe the diversity yourself.

Parents of these two school are passionate for a reason - their children are thriving in these environments. At the end of the day, that is all that should matter. Please lets bring some sanity back into our District, no-one wins when we fight these wars.

Posted by M-A grad, M-A & Summit Dad
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 7, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I would like to add Dr. Gemma's name to Simple Simon's suggestion that all board candidates (old & new) should visit the two Charter Schools during the school day. I believe the only time Dr. Gemma ever graced the halls of Summit in the three years it has occupied its current location, was to inspect a roof leak reported last year!
Is roof inspection even part of the curriculum in Chapman University's PH.d. program.
I guess it adds further credibility to the old axiom: "Good educators teach, poor educators become administrators."

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 1:39 pm

This is a truly shocking display of "insider politics" at its worst. Mr. Gibson should resign for his incompetence and Superintendent Gemma and those members of his staff who knowingly and willfully participated or allowed this happen should publicly apologize to our community. Trustee Martinez appears to be the only one with a shred of common sense and kudos to her.

Electing our trustees is supposed to be a democratic process and the SUHSD's transparent interference is outrageous, perhaps even criminal.

I suggest Mr. Gemma and Mr. Gibson resolve their dispute with the charter school quickly. Your indemnification agreements will not protect you for unlawful behavior.

Posted by M-A parent who is also a concerned tax-payer
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 7, 2009 at 1:46 pm

2 things-
I take issue with comment that students from other districts were not "clamoring to get into Sequoia, M-A or Woodside". In fact, diligent residency checking started several years ago led to several hundred students being removed from M-A enrollment rolls. M-A still turns down requests for out-of-district and transfer enrollment in order to try to stay a manageable size.

I have always wondered "why are there out of district students at Summit?" and, before it became a part of SUHSD, its status as a struggling, emerging school rationalized how this could happen.

Now that Summit and Everest are within the SUHSD, I find it fiscally irresponsible and a sign of Summit/Everest leadership hubris that due diligence was not performed to make sure that any students accepted into the lottery and offered admission were not certified as being within the district before being actually enrolled.

While I applaud the success of Summit and friends' children have benefited from the small school experience there, if my tax dollars are helping to pay for this intimate small school experience, please at least let them be students who live within the district!

Okay, and one more thing. Why didn't Everest start in EPA for 2 years? Were you afraid you'd lose your 97%-to-college record?

Who is really wasting tax-payer dollars here?

Posted by jim watson
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 7, 2009 at 2:03 pm

One sure way to stop wasting time and money is to vote for Bob Ferrando and Chris Thomsen. Let's keep new and improved options like charter schools available to our youth. SUH board members must fight for all students and move with the time. For a better future, please join me in voting Bob Ferrando and Chris Thomsen.

Posted by jim watson
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 7, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Check your facts. We pay LESS money per child attending Summit and Everest. We also get better results.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 3:11 pm

OMG. You must be kidding. Didn't you read the article.

The reason the charter provided the listing of students early (and under an agreement of confidentiality - which the district violated!) was so the district could recover any required funds for out-of-district students. In-district tax payers do not pay for out-of-district students at charters or comprehensive schools.

M-A Parent: (One more time with feeling) The charters select their students by lottery. It doesn't matter if you live in EPA or Atherton, you have the very same chance of admission. By state law, the charter can locate where it reasonably wants - not where YOU want it, where THEY want it. Redwood City is clearly a central location that makes it easy for all students and families to attend, whether they're coming from Eastern San Carlos or Western Menlo Park.

Posted by Margaret Fruth
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 7, 2009 at 4:31 pm

I have been asked who I support in the election to the Sequoia Union High School District Board. The answer is Bob Ferrando and Chris Thomsen, both of whom appear intelligent, creative, and dedicated to educating all of the high school students in the Sequoia Union High School District.

The Sequoia Union High School District has serious problems that have persisted for too long, such as poor retention rates (for example, as low as 28% for Hispanics). Charter schools are one way of providing additional educational opportunities within the tax-payer-supported public school system. When a child transfers from a traditional public school to a charter school, the expense of educating that child, along with California's low per-pupil allotment, goes with the child, creating an approximate balance, since no District charter school has ever received any funds from the Sequoia High School Education Foundation. Cost is not a legally defensible reason for denying a charter, which is one of the reasons the California Board of Education approved Everest's charter. But no one in the District, staff and teachers alike, appears to know this.

The Sequoia Union High School District can't afford the cost of fighting charters. It took almost a year & many emails, for me to obtain the legal & consultant fees used to close Aurora Charter High School, a total of $125,522.13. Their actual report used to close Aurora did not arrive for three and one half years.

The cost of fighting Everest Charter High School is another matter. Because I indicated that I was not willing to wait as long for information about the District''s fight against Everest, Superintendent Pat Gemma contacted John C. Beiers, San Mateo County Chief Deputy County Counsel, who does legal work for them. He brought up the standards of the Freedom of Information Act, and claimed that they are not required to supply me with figures for legal fees, because they are part of a larger total bill for legal services that the District pays the County . They did admit to spending $5000 on one consultant.

Reports about both schools claimed that no accountable staff time was spend on these efforts, because all staff who worked on them are on straight salary (apparently including clerical employees/support staff). I have not even received figures for overtime/staff compensation time.
I have received no data on High Tech High's demise, which also closed as a result of diverting resources to defend itself from the District. The only reason Summit still survives is its large enrollment & impressive waiting list--a demand Everest was designed to meet.

The legal costs to close Aurora are over six years old. Since legal costs have not declined since then, I believe it is safe to assume that the Sequoia Union High School District has spent at least another $125,522.13 fighting the Everest charter. That is over a quarter of a million dollars, and their fight isn't over. This money would have been better spent educating the children in the District. Wouldn't working with families be more productive?

If you believe that the Sequoia Union High School District needs more effective, broadminded leadership please vote for Bob Ferrando and Chris Thomsen.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 7, 2009 at 5:00 pm

M-A Parent and concerned taxpayer:

A few things to note based on the story and prior stories:
1) As a charter school, Summit/Everest admit students based on a lottery. True if the school is located in EPA, Belmont, or Atherton. I would guess that if there were slots after in district students were admitted, then out of district students were admitted, but can't state that for sure.
2) For each in-district student, Everest is reimbursed (I believe by the district) at a state average rate. This reimbursement amount is substantially lower than the district receives, hence the district actually makes a profit on these students.
3)For out-of-district students, it would appear that the district is able to get reimbursement from the student's district of residence. The district breaks even on these students.
4)Reporting about out of district students apparently usually occurs in January to allow for stabilization and accurate numbers.
5) Everest made a special effort to provide the data to the district early (presumably out of goodwill and to potentially allow the district to seek reimbursement earlier)
6)The district blatently misused the information in an attempt to inflence the SUHSD BOT election. Whether truly criminal or not (it should be), it cetainly violates standards of behavior for an elected official, and sets a horrible example for the students these people claim to care about.
7)So when it is all put together, people complain if students from the district attend Everest ("taking money from the district") and if they aren't. You can't have it both ways or one might draw the conclusion that you just don't want any schools separate from the SUHSD monopoly.
I'll agree with Simple Simon above who raises charter schools as a major issue for the BOT election (and clearly this is on the mind of the unethical leadership of the current BOT). I'd clarify it not to be about specifically the Summit/Everest issue, but about what sort of relationship the district needs to have with charter schools. Cooperation can be a win-win for everyone, but Mr. Gemma has long invested himself in fighting this to the bitter end to the detriment of his district, and us, the taxpayers.

M-A parent, while you rant about your tax dollars, you might want to note the mounting legal fees the district has racked up and will continue to do so, hopefully in a losing cause as they should be held accountable for their ongoing campaign to avoid meaningful competition in the public education realm. If you want to be angry, direct your anger in the appropriate direction, the deceitful leadership of SUHSD and the BOT.

Posted by Person
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 9:09 am

Perspective from a person who lives in a racial and socio-economically diverse neighboring district whose white, upper-middle and affluent students are siphoned off by Summit/Everest, I suggest those of you who fall all over yourselves patting the charter schools on the back, remember that the applicants are self-selected and that the students who come to the schools from out of district do not fit the demographic profile of SUHSD.

Personally, I will fight tooth and nail to prevent my tax dollars from leaving my school district to pay for Summit/Everest, so don't count on getting that per student funding for those out-of-district students.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 8, 2009 at 9:28 am

"Perspective from a person who lives in a racial and socio-economically diverse neighboring district whose white, upper-middle and affluent students are siphoned off by Summit/Everest..."

And what district is that? San Mateo? There are only about a dozen out-of-district students at Everest. What evidence is there that they are upper-middle class and affluent?

"The students who come to the schools from out of district do not fit the demographic profile of SUHSD."

Sigh. The schools in the SUHSD are all very different from one another, but statistically speaking, Summit has similar ethnic diversity to the other SUHSD schools.

Web Link

Again, I don't think we know enough about that handful of students from out of the district to make any sweeping statements, plus their number is so small that it doesn't really matter what subgroups they belong to -- statistically insignificant.

Posted by Person
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 9:38 am

I do not live in San Mateo school district. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the school districts in San Mateo County before commenting. The point is not that the Everest/Summit demographics are different than SUHSD, the point is that the pool of students entering Everest/Summit from districts other than SUHSD are white/affluent.

Please don't assume that the number of students in this group is "statistically insignificant". It might be in a district as large as SUHSD, but it is statistically significant to the district whose "white flight" parents are taking their kids to Summit/Everest.

I can tell you for a fact that 100% of the students who attend Summit/Everest from my school district are white, upper middle class or affluent students.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 8, 2009 at 10:22 am

I'm not that interested in other districts -- it's enough of a challenge to keep up with the SUHSD. Person, I doubt that all or even most of the non-SUHSD Everest students are from your district, wherever that may be. So maybe two white affluent kids fled your district for Everest? Five kids? Sorry, still not statistically significant. If you have nothing more important to fret about, you're a lucky Person.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 10:45 am


You couldn't be more wrong. Even the SUHSD admits that the charter school is as diverse (even more by some metrics) than the district.

There is no "white flight." One more time, all charter students are selected by LOTTERY. When the candidate names are "mixed in the hat," the ones from EPA are indistinguishible from those from Atherton.

And, if you don't want to believe the official statistics, I suggest you take a moment and actually visit Summit or Everest and re-post. You may be surprised at what you see.

Finally, the district's tax dollars don't leave the district and that's state law. The money the state provides to the district for a student is FOR THAT STUDENT, whether they go to M-A, Carlmont, Redwood, Sequoia or Summit. Sorry.

Posted by Person
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 11:27 am

To Anonymous:

I suggest that you do not make so many assumptions. I am completely correct in all of my statements. I am very knowledgeable about the demographics of my own school district, I personally know most, if not all of the persons from my school district who attend Summit and Everest and I have toured Summit. Please do not presume. We are not talking about Atherton or EPA, they are both in SUHSD. We are talking about students who attend Everest and Summit who do NOT live in SUHSD. My community is very small and I would prefer to keep identities private.

I'm sorry to hear that you do not care about other districts, but those who live in them do. Since Summit opened, there have been at least 10 students from my community attending Summit/Everest. 100% of those students are white, non-hispanic and affluent or upper middle class. My school district is very small, and is 65% Hispanic and has many low socio-economic students. Please clearly understand my point: 100% of the students siphoned from my school district by Summit and Everest are white, higher socio-economic students. 0% of the students attending Summit and Everest from my district are Hispanic or non-white and 0% are low socio-economic students. That is a fact and it has absolutely nothing to do with the demographics of SUHSD.

If our low-socio-economic students wanted to attend Summit or Everest it would be next to impossible for them to get there (without any transportation.) 10 students represent 10% of our high school population. This may be "statistically insignificant" numbers in SUHSD, but there are not so in my school district.

So, please don't assume that you know my community or my school district. These are facts, not suppositions and I am trying to get you to understand the impact of Summit and Everest on a neighboring school district. You may wish to support these schools, and that is your privilege, but please do not deny the facts about students who attend those schools from neighboring districts.

Finally, you are also incorrect about the funding. SUHSD is trying to collect $$ from other school districts whose students attend Summit and Everest. That is money taken away from the students who live in those districts.

Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 8, 2009 at 12:23 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

School districts receive funding based on their level of property tax revenues. The large majority of school districts in California do not receive enough revenues to meet a state-defined threshold and receive supplemental funding from the state. These districts spend about $6,700 per student. For reasons that need not be explained here, these are called revenue-limit districts.

If a district's revenues are above that threshold, that district can elect to keep all of its excess funding. These are called basic-aid districts and there are about 60 out of 1,000 or so districts in the state. The Sequoia Union High School District is basic-aid and spends about $11,300 per student. (Roughly a $95 million budget shared among 8,400 students.)

Per Gary Larson, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association, the matter of District A getting reimbursed for students from District B who attend a charter school in District A is not a defined formula.

If Districts A and B are both basic-aid, District A pays the charter school $6,700 for the out-of-district student, and should then seek reimbursement from District B through a memorandum of understanding, Mr. Larson said.

If District A is basic-aid (relatively wealthy) and District B is revenue-limit (relatively poor), the state reimburses District A for its $6,700 payment at 70%, or $4,690. District A is not reimbursed for that other $2,010.

That un-reimbursed difference simply highlights the ongoing issue of unequal funding for school districts, Mr. Larson said.

State Senator Joe Simitian has tried, so far unsuccessfully, I believe, to pass legislation that would fill in that 30% gap with state funds.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 8, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Person, I have a solution to the problem both of white flight and of money leaving your district. Talk to the Summit Institute and see how you can start a charter school in your district. Summit has proven that it is possible to achieve success with kids from the lower ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Instead of bashing the charter model, why not import it? Sure, it will take some work, but it's a heck of a lot more productive than coming here to whine.

Posted by SUHSD tax payer
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 12:48 pm

I am trying to extract facts from froth. Here's the essence as I see it:

--The number of out-of-district students is public info, not private. Public schools are funded by the public and funding is supposed to be transparent. Anything beyond this is froth.

--If a charter school says it has a 325-family wait list but then must backfill by reaching out beyond it's district to meet the required number of students, there is something wrong.

--As for public funds, the state says our district is to cut millions from their budget (these cuts do not affect the charter schools). At the same time, the state is giving $450,000 to Everest this year (in addition to the $6,700/student from the district) for its 106 students. The public is paying more per student at the charter school ($11,200/student) than at the district high schools.

• Looking at the state report of funding for charter schools, Everest is only one in the long list of charters that are each receiving $450,000-$600,000 extra state funding this year. Where is this money coming from? I assume it is coming from our State's education budget, the same budget that is requiring districts to cut back.

• Some severely disabled students in our region cost $80,000/child to serve each year. These services are mandated by law, but even if they weren't, this is what a civilized society does for its neediest children. I only want to point out that this cost comes from the per-student income the district receives. As far as I know, our charters don't have any students with such high needs.

In summation, charter schools are getting more public funding and districts less. Charter schools do not provide services to districts while districts do provide services to charters like housing, oversight, and facilities such as fields, pools, etc. in addition to per/student financial support. Districts provide services to high-needs children.

The Biblical quote Lincoln pulled seems very apt in this situation: a house divided cannot stand. It appears that the charter movement, which began humbly and with good intent, is now forcing the public to divide its support between charter or district. If our school districts fail, the whole house falls. We need to preserve and protect schools.

Posted by Person
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 12:49 pm

To "Just the Stats":

Unfortunately, on these on-line boards, too many times people refuse to address the points made by others and resort to comments like, "...more productive than coming here to whine." Again, you do not know me, you have no way of knowing what I have done in my community to promote excellence in my local public schools. Again, please do not assume. If you actually knew me, you would realize how very inappropriate your comment was.

The problem that I outline is quite real. No one is denying that Summit has gotten results. No one can also deny that the attendees of Summit are self-selected. It is also quite true that Summit was founded mostly by parents from Menlo Park, Atherton, Hillsborough, Portola Valley and Woodside. It is also a fact that some parents perceive that their local public schools are inadequate when, in fact, they are really quite excellent. "White flight" is a very real phenomenon which has created de facto racial and socio-economic segregation in our communities.

Summit is not going to start a charter school in my district. Trust me. Please note that the Everest folks don't like that their school site is located in EPA. They are definitely not going to want to locate their school in my area, either. As a point of fact, some people from my community were Summit founding families (yes, even though they don't live in SUHSD.) They are all, again, affluent or upper middle class white families, some with one parent not working, who have the means and the time to drive their students 15 miles to Summit. The families with 2 working parents, the migrant farm worker families, etc., do not have the resources to provide transportation all the way to Summit.

I would really like to hear you address my central point, which is that 100% of the students who attend your charter school from my school district, are white, affluent students. What is your opinion on this? Does it bother you? Do you care? I would really like to know. Please respond to my question rather than bashing me for having an opinion which differs from yours.

One more comment on David Boyce's post: Basic Aid now no longer means "affluent." There are now districts which are becoming basic aid because the revenue limit has been lowered. In other words, their property taxes now exceed the per-student funding supplied by the state not because the property values have increased, but because the amount of per-student funds supplied by the state have decreased. Old assumptions are now no longer valid.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 8, 2009 at 1:03 pm

One point that needs emphasis: the Sequoia district has an ongoing problem of failing the kids in the middle.

Self-selected these families may be, but how does that matter? They are voting with their feet for a legal, less expensive and more promising alternative to a top-heavy, industrial-model education system that seems incapable of meaningful change.

The popularity and success of Everest and Summit Prep is a message to the Sequoia district: We've given you many chances to fix this problem and we're tired of hearing you say that it's a challenge and that you're looking into it. Our kids' futures are at stake today. If you're not going to fix it, we will.

Posted by community member
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 8, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Granted the Almanac may not cover the subject, and the district PR person is not making this point, but there are programs within the Sequoia District that are addressing the problem of the "middle" student. M-A was home to one of the first Academies in the country. This program continues to this day. There is also AVID and a few others, perhaps someone from the Almanac should ask why these programs aren't being expanded, but part of the success rate is also related to the SELF SELECTION process... just as Summit's and Everest's success is due in part to the self selection of its families and students.

Is anyone going to answer how our charter schools with SOoooooOOO many students applying are taking affluent white students from other districts??

Is there any truth to the supplemental money that our charters are receiving from the rest of California? If they win their lawsuit, where will the cost per student be then in comparison? (And please, make sure you do not include any Foundation additions to the money that is spent by tax payers on Sequoia Union High School Students... nor would I expect any additions be made to charter school numbers for any donations)I think it's great that they are making due with less money per student, if that is really true.

Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm

To One-eyed Jack--"I don't see any kids from outside the district clamoring to get into Sequoia, M-A or Woodside. Now that would be newsworthy!"

You are wrong. There is a waitlist for inter-district transfers to get into M-A. Kids from outside the district are not eligible. Duh.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 8, 2009 at 2:54 pm

We don't know if the out-of-district students are all rich and white. That's speculation, and their color and family bank balance is irrelevant. It does bother me that Everest took anyone from outside the district, given that there were so many SUHSD kids trying to get a spot in that class. So I am hoping that someone will clarify. I know that the charters received hundreds and hundreds of applications, so perhaps they were unable to properly vet the applications to determine who was a resident and who wasn't.

Person, no matter how much you are knocking yourself out to help your district, maybe you could apply your efforts more effectively if you pursued a different direction. Maybe you don't like the Summit model, but don't dismiss the charters. They have been successful in quite a few Bay Area cities with demographics similar to yours.

Posted by SUHSD tax payer
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 3:04 pm

To Resident of Atherton,

Here is a link to the state site that lists grant awards to charter this year:
Web Link

As you can see, 14 charters are getting $600,000 each; 11 charters are getting $450,000 each; 7 charters are getting $250,000 each. That totals $15.1 million dollars to charters in addition to the money received districts provide, the cost of buildings districts must provide, and services previous mentioned.

One more thing, a charter is not required to turn over its publicly-funded furniture, books, technology, and supplies to the local district. A charter petition can name another charter or foundation in its petition to inherit tangibles upon its closure. The inheritor is not requried to be within the charter's district or county though the tangibles have been purchased with district educational dollars.

As you can see, charter law itself needs serious revision. It is currently not set up to benefit the district that supports it.

Posted by SUHSD Tax payer
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 3:46 pm

More info on charter grants:

The link above lists grants awarded to charters for fiscal year 2009-10 (totaling $15.1 million).
Web Link

Grants awarded to charters for 2008-09 (Everest is among them) totaled $38.5 million: 32 @ $600,000; 1 @ $500,000; 14 @ $450,000; 10 @ $250,000.
Web Link

Posted by Resolved
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 8, 2009 at 4:14 pm

I am appalled at the staff's now plainly apparent inappropriate actions, especially passing this information along only to candidates Alan Sarver and Virginia Chang Kiraly -- one of whom disclosed it to the Almanace staff, in violation of what seemed to be a confidential communication.

Sarver and Kiraly just lost my vote.

I have heard Chris Thompsen who is very impressive, and am considering who will get my other vote. Focusing on providing a quality education for our kids and responsibly spending limited monies as well as wisely and ethically using staff resources matters. We should elect Board members who can end this distraction and get back to focusing on the basics and what works.

Posted by SUHSD tax payer
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Sequoia Union High School District Trustees govern the 4 high schools in the district. The SUHSD Board Members do not govern, set budgets for or set curriculum for the 4 charter schools in the SUHSD. Each charter school has it's own governance board that is appointed by the person or group that created the charter school. The charter governance board is not elected.

Why would the parent of students who attend charter schools in the district (Fernandez and Thompson) be the best choice to serve on the SUHSD Board? This makes even less sense than having a district parent appointed to a charter governance board.

Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 8, 2009 at 4:59 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

Please note that during her interview with The Almanac, Virginia Chang Kiraly gave no indication whatsoever that she was aware of Everest's enrollment data being privileged or restricted or delicately negotiated.

Since I was there, it seemed to me that she was simply making a talking point on the issue of money the district spends on charter schools.

Posted by Person
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 5:33 pm

To "Just the Stats":

You wrote "We don't know if the out-of-district students are all rich and white. That's speculation, and their color and family bank balance is irrelevant."

Please re-read my post. I am not speculating. The out-of-district students who come from my school district are white and none of them fall into the low socio-economic category. That is a fact. I live in a small community and everyone knows everyone. Trust me on this one.

Race and socio-economic level do matter. Educational resources in our state are more and more being allotted in less and less egalitarian ways. Just a few miles from each other, we have districts which spend $15K per student (because they are very wealthy, basic aid districts and they receive an enormous amount of local revenue besides property taxes) and districts which spend $7K per student, because they receive the Revenue Limit and the citizens living in those communities do not have the financial resources to provide that additional revenue.

Race and socio-economic status do matter, because the charter school, while professing to draw from the same racial and socio-economic mix of its home district (SUHSD), is then allowing students from other districts to enroll who are not of the same mix as either their home districts or SUHSD. I think this bears study. Again, it may not be relevant to you as someone who lives in SUHSD, but it matters a great deal to the people who live in my district.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm

So Person,

If I am to take anything away from your writing, it is that we should all just trust you. You can't say who you are, but if we knew, we'd understand. Sorry, that sort of BS doesn't work for me. It's great to come on a board an express your opinion, but if you aren't willing to put your name on the line, you get the same treatment as the rest of us who prefer to remain anonymous. You can't claim special knowledge, no matter how passionate you may be or how long your posts may be.
How can you say that all the out of district children at Everest are white? (I can tell you for a fact I know that to be completely untrue as I met an African-American family from the East Bay when visiting Everest).
What you describe as self-selection (the seeking out of what appears to be a better education for their children by parents at charters), appears to be an effort for parents to get the best for their children. Is it truly your position that only white families can do that? How does limiting school choice help the non-white families? How do you propose avoiding the de facto micro segragation that occurs in the comprehensive schools via tracking?
Have you visited any charter schools? Summit, Everest, or any of the others?
You have stated with conviction several items that I know from direct observation to be untrue which really shoots your credibility on everything else you say.
SUHSD taxpayer:
In electing people to serve on the SUHSD BOTs, we are looking for people to broadly represent us in overseeing education for the district. Despite not directly approving budgets for the charters, the district has many ways of impacting the charters (and has chosen to use this power in what appear to be rather nefarious ways). Being a parent of a child in a charter school, but being a taxpayer, is hardly a reason for someone not to be on the BOT. Actually, quite the opposite, having diverse views might allow better cooperation between the comprehensives and charters.

Posted by Summit informed
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 8, 2009 at 6:23 pm

a few facts to clear the air:
"Person" appears upset due to 10 people attending Summit from a distict similar to, say, La Honda Pescadero: 100 student high school and 60% Latino. Rather than draw over-reaching conclusions about 10 of the roughly 800 students who have enrolled in Summit and Everest (3 graduating classes, 4 grade levels at Summit & 1 grade level at Everest) the set of 10 students is small and unique enough to look at the particulars: where the high school is located, where the homes are located, how the demographics differ within that un-named district. "Person" raises a good question about how funds are transferred - does the home district claim the students, then transfer them? It does seem to be a case of the funds following the student, but I would be interested to learn more.

"Person" also misses that "just the stats" suggested applying what work and putting one's own shoulder to the wheel to improve schools, not waiting for Summit to build one.

"SUHSD taxpayer" speaks out on several topics
a) "isn't this public information?" The answer is no: it was provided to the district -- and the information was misused and funneled into an election campaign. If there were an ounce of integrity, then there would be apologies and even resignations rather than a "no comment" and a "I figured I wouldn't get in the way" That's the difference between character and characters.
b) "Can out of district families clear the wait list" The answer is yes: wait lists can still include out of district families: they just have to outwait in district families as the school year goes on. It's well into the semester, and six months after the lottery. After the superintendent took deliberate steps to poison facilities: creating an illegal location, blocking Redwood City sites, exempting sites at Sequoia HS as unavailable and injecting considerable uncertainty after the spring lottery, are you still really puzzled that families went ahead with school plans?
c) The education budget cuts affect all public schools. charters get less funding like any revenue limit school.
d) The grants are from a Federal fund to develop exemplary schools: it is a startup fund. What "SUHSD taxpayer" neglected to include was the link describing the grants (which is a ringing endorsement of Everest) Web Link "The federal Public Charter Schools Grant Program (PCSGP) is administered by the Charter Schools Division. Grants are reviewed by peer evaluators and awarded on a competitive basis to nonprofit entities and local education agencies that are likely to develop and open high-quality charter schools. The primary focus of the PCSGP is to create charter schools that will provide public school choice to students whose assigned traditional public school is chronically low performing."

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 10:15 pm


Sorry I couldn't post my response earlier - I've been traveling and it's hard to keep up with this board when you're flying from airport to airport.

First, my apologies because I misread and misunderstood your post. I thought you were referring to students inside the SUHSD who were attending the charters. I now understand you are discussing the impact of these charters on neighboring districts. I accept your position on that, period. It's not something I had previously considered and I think you are right, so thank you for enlightening me!

Another poster - SUHSD taxpayer - said that something is wrong if there's a really long waiting list for in-district students and yet the charters took in students from outside the district. Although I am a strong supporter of the charter schools and equally strong critic of district officials, I agree.

There are certainly enough students within the SUHSD who wish to attend charters that there is no need to "poach" students from neighboring districts.

That would solve both problems.

But let's get back on point. The underlying story isn't about funding or the effectiveness of charter schools. We've beat those issues to death and I don't see many people changing sides.

The point of the story was having the district's personnel work on Mr. Gibson's personal opinion piece (with the full knowledge of Supervisor Gemma) and Mr. Gibson's subsequent leaking of confidential data to his two "favored" candidates.

I think this is unconscionable behavior from an elected official. Mr. Gibson did something that was clearly unethical and has embarrassed the district's board of trustees. He should resign immediately and if not, the other trustees should condemn his actions and strip him of his leadership position.

He is one trustee who cannot be trusted.

Posted by Time-for-change
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 8, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Let's all put our efforts to productive use in ensuring that Gibson and Gemma are put out to pasture. Vote effectively at the next election. They are mean spirited, small minded, jealous people. Time for them to go.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 8, 2009 at 11:52 pm

anon, thread drift isn't uncommon in this forum, and in this case it was almost inevitable -- the antics of Gemma and crew are so predictably outrageous that it's not even worth the energy to roll our eyes over this latest disclosure. It's hard for me to understand how anyone still supports him.

I agree with t-for-c -- time for a change. I have not yet decided whom to vote for, but I know who is not going to get my votes!

Posted by concerned in MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 9, 2009 at 1:24 am

I am also concerned about Chang Kiraly, having served with her this pasy year on the San Mateo Civil Grand Jury. Let's just say, the comments previously made about her performance and management are in line with my observations of her capabilities: poor.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2009 at 12:17 pm

This election represents a rare opportunity for voters to change the direction of the SUHSD. This doesn't happen very often!

If you're tired of the insider dealing, transparent favoritism, lack of ethics, and mean spirited attitude to change, please vote for Bob Ferrando and Chris Thomsen.

Along with Trustee Martinez, we can finally get some adult supervision for Superintendent Gemma.

Posted by SUHSD parent and tax payer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 10, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Independent of how you view the charter schools in our district there are fundamental issues raised in this article that should concern every parent and tax payer in the district.

SUHSD administration shared confidential student data with political candidates who are not employees of the district administration or teaching staff. This is a breach of personal data privacy and ethics.

Candidates Sarver and Kiraly received the confidential data and tried to use it for personal gain in a news article. Recieving confidential information in violation of data privacy is a breach of ethics and possibly as illegal as the district administration's action in sharing it.

Board President Gibson used tax payer funded district staff as his private administrative assistants to write personal opinion letters to the Almanac and justified it because he is dyslexic. This is a misuse of public resources for personal services, and implies that having a learning disability justifies illegal actions.

Pat Gemma says no comment but acknowledges he was aware this was going on.

Data privacy and responsible use of public resources are non-negotiables -- How can these current and want-to-be leaders of the SUSHD be trusted with our children's minds and tax payer dollars? Gemma and Gibson should resign and Sarver and Kiraly should withdraw their candidacy. Personnaly I don't want these people setting policy or an example for our highschool students or spending my tax dollars

Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 10, 2009 at 2:20 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

Once again, there is no evidence that candidates Alan Sarver and Virginia Chang Kiraly accepted Everest's enrollment information knowing the circumstances of its origins and dispersal.

Let me repeat that. There is no evidence. Linking them with the actions described in the story is alleging guilt by association.

While both spoke against Everest at the request of Superintendent Pat Gemma, both have also said in interviews that, if elected, they would like to serve as bridges between the charter schools and the comprehensive school establishment. They have said they would like to lower the level of discord that they see.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I agree with Mr. Boyce and he knows the facts, firsthand. Given what we know, it is clear that the two candidates are not the culprits in this affair.

But it is equally clear that Mr. Gibson and Mr. Gemma are culprits. First, these two knowingly shared confidential data in violation of their agreement with the Everest Charter School. Second, they knowingly shared this data with their two "favored" political candidates. Third, they knowingly used or allowed the use of SUHSD resources and staff for what Mr. Gibson characterized as a "personal" task. Truly shameful.

Will they have the integrity or decency to offer an apology to the other members of board, the other candidates and, of course, to the public. At their October 14 meeting, I hope the other trustees express their outrage about this disgraceful activity and strip Mr. Gibson of his leadership role. This should, of course, be done in a public forum. One of the trustees should put this on the agenda... right up front. Will any of them have the courage?

Posted by question for Mr. Boyce
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 10, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Mr. Boyce, can you explain a bit further your previous statement about candidates Virginia Chang Kirlay and David Sarver: "both spoke against Everest at the request of Superintendent Pat Gemma"? When and where did this occur, and what did they say? Thanks.

Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

To find a summary of Ms. Kiraly's comments, go to and search for her name. She spoke before the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools on Feb. 3, 2009.

As for Mr. Sarver, he spoke to the state Board of Education on March 11-12. The minutes do not elaborate on what he said, but he said in an Almanac interview that he'd concluded that a charter school "did not make economic sense to the district" and that he was "part of the district's efforts in rejecting their (Everest's) charter at this time."

Mr. Sarver is on record as having spoken against Everest on Dec. 8 to the San Mateo County Board of Education.

At this same county meeting, candidate Chris Thomsen is listed as having spoken in favor of Everest.


Posted by Utter McKinley
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 11, 2009 at 4:13 am

Also concerned about Chang Kiraly, for the reasons listed above.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2009 at 6:24 am

I agree. Although there is no evidence that Mr. Sarver or Ms. Kiraly knew they were receiving confidential information from Mr. Gibson, I do not support their candidacies. It is apparent that they have been "hand picked" by the current leadership. Given the serious problems in our district and questionable ethics, the status quo is simply unacceptable.

For a fresh start, innovative thinking, real fiscal management and oversight of the Superintendent and his staff, I am supporting Chris Thomsen and Bob Ferrando. If you want change, I hope you will contact your friends and encourage them to help with their vote!

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 11, 2009 at 2:27 pm

It strikes me that while Sarver and Kiraly are not directly guilty as a result of their actions, the fact that Gemma and Gibson chose them to selectively disclose to should have consequences. To me it implies a level of collusion and interaction with the status quo such that the presence of either or both of them on SUHSD BOT would not be change of any sort, not would it provide Gemma with INDEPENDENT oversight. Whether it is guilt by association or not, it is clear who is chummy with who in this picture and Sarver and Kiraly can essentially be seen as Gemma surrogates. The fact that Kiraly was happy to use data against Everest hardly makes her appear as one who is trying to decrease the dischord between SUHSD and charters. It appears the Gemma's idea of cooperation between charters and SUHSD is the charters shouldn't exist, and if they do despite the obstacles SUHSD puts in front of them, they should do whatever the district wants and certianly not do anything that might make SUHSD or Gemma look bad. And it appears that Sarver and Kiraly are happy to help with that agenda and hence should be "guilty by association", not of the unethical, perhaps illegal activities of Gibson and Gemma, but of being willing participants of an insider-driven status quo that has resulted in tremendous waste of time, effort, and money within the district.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2009 at 6:16 pm

I can't disagree with you on any of your points.

People who want real change and adult oversight should vote for Thomsen and Ferrando.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 11, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Chris Thomsen will be at Burgess Rec tomorrow, October 12, at 7 p.m. I have talked to him and a couple of the other candidates and encourage everyone in the SUHSD district to come to his forum and/or to the League of Women Voters' forum in Redwood City on October 15.

It's pretty clear to most of us that maintaining the status quo is not viable, and we are fortunate to have strong candidates who are willing to take on the trustee job.

Posted by A concerned parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 12, 2009 at 2:39 pm

A couple comments on this thread:

1) by illegally avoiding a decision on the site (the reply came back well after State law mandates the response to Everest's Prop 38 request), the SUHSD was trying to use it's "same old" tactics to kill a new charter. Many parents of 8th graders make their decisions in January, in Feb, maybe March of their child's 8th grade year. SUHSD came back with an answer to the question "where will Everest be located?" in about April. Most of the families had already decided that there was far too much uncertainty associated with the new school for them to risk 9th grade starting in August. This is exactly how SUHSD/Gemma killed Auroura charter school. Think about it: if it was June, and your kid was in the 8th grade, trying to decide where to go to high school in 9th grade, and the charter school site was still not identified/built out, would you risk your child's year on a "trust me, we'll get it worked out in time" promise by the Everest superintendent? Easy to understand how stalling works in the SUHSD/Gemma favor, and cripples recruiting attempts by Everest.

2) one of the writers keeps insisting that the charters pick rich/white/affluent students from their district. Let the actual data be your guide, not internet flame comments. Student selction is by lottery, at this point. Look at the overall statistics, and you'll find Summit Prep HS pretty much matches SUHSD enrollment data of 8.2k students: 42% Hispanic, 1-2% African-American, etc. Don't have any idea of Everest enrollment data, since it hasn't been published, and nobody illegally/unethically leaked it to me!

I've watched Summit Prep HS very closely since it's inception, expecting to attack it. Instead, the opposite has occured. I've been aware of the student demographic (Gemma kept telling us that it was rich/white/affluent, but my simple act of walking their hallways and using one's eyes reveals otherwise), happily surprised by the # who graduate AND who pass the Calif Exit Exam, amazed at their test scores, and delighted that they are doing this off almost 40% less money per student per year than the big SUHSD. Great results, at a bargain price!

The person who listed all the grants? That's to cover the charter facility cost, which the SUHSD doesn't count in their financials either. For the first several years, Summit Prep didn't take a penny from the district or state to help cover the facility cost, instead choosing to raise the funds privately in order not to be beholden to the institution that's currently trying to kill you. SUHSD doesn't count (in their $/kid/year spending numbers) all the tens of millions of bond $ raised, and spent, to build things like the new MA theater. Calif. law requires "reasonably equivalent" facilities be provided by the district to the charters. All the SUHSD campuses have things like bathrooms inside, a lunch room on campus, teacher prep rooms, plus sports facilities, performing arts facilities, etc. SUHSD site proposal for the EPA campus for Everest had a lunch room 4 miles away, outdoor bathrooms, sports facilities scattered around the entire district (San Carlos/Belmont to EPA, and only available after their kids were done; i.e. that convenient 8-10PM JV girls basketball practice time once per week, 12 miles from your classroom). WTF? That's what SUHSD calls "reasonably equivalent"? Let them explain that one to a jury. It'll be funny to listen to their arguments; can they do it with a straight face?

When SUHSD/MA was on probation from the US Federal Government for violation of the "No Child Left Behind Act", their response was to angrily deny that there was a problem, and instead to sue the US Congress in an attempt to overturn the Federal law which made them look bad. I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were wasted in this misguided and futile attempt. How many kids lives might've been dramatically improved if instead they had spent that money on trying to get those same kids to pass the Calif Exit Exam, instead of on wasted lawyer fees?

The new broom sweeps clean. Elect a couple of SUHSD school board members who will spend their time improving student outcomes, instead of being hatchet men/women for the status quo.

Posted by C. Aution
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Are you interested in poor people skills? Self-serving agendas? Lack of integrity? Then Virginia Chang Kiraly is your choice for a seat on the Sequoia Union High School District school board. So says this Grand Juror who, like “Concerned in MP” (October 9 post) served under her and saw firsthand her leadership shortcomings. The Sequoia Union High School District deserves better. Being outside the district I may not know all the issues, but I do know bad leadership when I see it.

Posted by Former Menlo-Atherton Parent
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 12, 2009 at 5:49 pm

I do not want my taxpayer money paying for students who live outside the SUHSD! If Everest and Summit are accepting them, then they should have to pay for them. I do not support having to pay for a quasi private school education in the first place and this only adds to it! I do not doubt that Everest is doing a good job for its students but at whose detriment? Please! Stop this nonsense.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Former M-A Parent:

You need to read the article that started this thread.

The reason that Everest provided the demographic data to the district was so the district could RECOVER the tax dollars for the handful of out-of-district students that attend Everest. Everest provided this data early - which helped the SUHSD - provided the district kept the information confidential until it is publicly published in January (as with other schools). The SUHSD violated that agreement.

Yes, I agree that charters should enroll in-district students first. But the SUHSD doesn't pay for out-of-district students - the students "home" district does. There's no need for you to perpetrate this falsehood any further.

And the SUHSD would have far better standing on this issue if THEY had chartered Everest instead of denying the original application and forcing the organizers to appeal to the state for their charter.

Posted by Concerned San Mateo County Resident
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Oct 13, 2009 at 4:20 am

Having served on last year's Grand Jury, I too have concerns about Virginia Chang Kiraly's vying for a seat on the Sequoia Union High School District School Board. Our Schools are in difficult and stressful financial times. We need management that can work cooperatively across and along many strata without being poisonous, and who will listen and represent without personal agenda. She didn’t do as good a job, in my opinion, as she would have if she wasn’t so personally oversubscribed and stressed.. We lost so many good Jurors mid-year, many who voiced concerns about working with Virginia. Let’s get people on this Board who can work with each other. This is just my opinion and observation.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 13, 2009 at 9:33 am

Former M-A parent, can you clear up one question: what do you mean by a "quasi-private school education"? That term gets batted around a lot by the district - what does it mean to you?

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 13, 2009 at 9:55 am

Former M-A Parent,

you need to educate yourself on facts rather than district PR. Everest is a PUBLIC school as is Summit. It is fine to ask questions about out-of-district students, but I would avoid drawing conclusions in the absence of information. Your accusations of district money going to non-district students are not only misleading, but directly contradicted by multiple facts within the article and available from other public sources. Hence, you show yourself to either have a preconceived agenda and are not concerned with contradictory facts, or you have not been careful with your research.
So now that we have cleared up your concerns about who pays for out of district students, let's look at a few other numbers. If you take 15 out-of-district students and say the reimbursement is $7500 (I think this is slightly high) per student, we are talking about a total of $102,500 as a conservative estimate. Is your guess that between the Everest lawsuit and expenses for preparing the Green Street site in EPA the costs are less than that? How about the costs of the M-A performing arts center that a vast number of people within the district will not use? What were the cost overruns on that? These numbers kind of dwarf the approximately $100K you are so concerned about and is not actually costing the district. I respect your concern about how the district spends the money it receives from our taxes and agree that there needs to be oversight as to how it is spent. I would submit that unless you are hopelessly biased or unable to look at the available facts, that your anger and concern are sorely misdirected.

Posted by Belmont Parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Why we didn't send our child to Everest.

I find it interesting how polarized this message board has become over the issue of Out of District students attending Everest. Perhaps my perspective as a parent who decided not to send my daughter from Everest will shed some personal light on this controversial issue. We live in Belmont and Carlmont is our home school. We entered the lottery for both Summit and Everest and were on the waiting list for both. Summit would have been our first choice school, Everest second until we saw the facility that SUHSD built to house the Everest Students. Both my wife and I work full-time jobs, we do not have the luxury of driving our daughter to school, she would have to use public transportation to go to and from school. Redwood City is do-able for us in Belmont, East Palo Alto would have been impossible.

For our daughter to travel by public transportation (bus, train, bus, walk), we were looking at a minimum of 90 min commute each way, plus having to have our 13 year old walk a couple of blocks to school on residential streets without sidewalks to get to class. Had we known that Everest would eventually be in Redwood City on Main St, we would have opted to take the slot that was eventually offered to us. By that time we had already made a commitment to Carlmont. Our decision was made in June by 8th grade graduation.

East Palo Alto is far from Belmont, the Everest faculty assured us that they would do everything in their power to find an alternate location, more centrally located -- which they did. But we needed a sure thing. Our daughter is fine at Carlmont, but wishes she could have attended Summit or Everest like her friends. We feel bad as we liked the school, faculty and their concept, but we didn't know whether we could trust the District. I'm sure there were a lot more parents like us that made other plans while the District was messing around with location and strong-arming Everest to East Palo Alto. This is probably why Out-of-District parents got in at Everest, In-District families had been intimidated out of Everest by SUHSD. I do not believe Summit has enrolled any Out-of-District students.

Now looking at the way things are developing, we know now not to trust the District, but we will consider submitting an application to transfer to Summit or Everest next year if there is any space available. Our daughter has two friends at Everest, their freshman years has sounded great so far. We will cast our vote for Thomson and Ferrando (sp?) as Board Member Martinez needs company in the integrity department. We feel it is important that the voters and the District maintain the option for future incoming students to access a variety of educational opportunities. If Everest performs as well as Summit, then this would be a great addition to any District (and at a bargain rate).

Why is the District and certain Board Members so against these schools? I defies any logic we can comprehend.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 13, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Belmont Parent,

Thank you for sharing your challenges. While I have not seen Everest data (on in-district/out-of-district or demography), I suspect your scenario did probably play out for multiple families.

Simply put, SUHSD did their best to generate uncertainty and cut off part of the district as viable students (for just the reasons you mention) by trying to strong arm Everest into locating at a geographic extreme of the district. So while you have the district doing their best to sabotage Everest's opening, at the same time, SUHSD BOT President Gibson getting ready to write a "personal" opinion implying that Everest was "scrambling for students". Apparently educating ALL the students in the district only counts if done exactly as Mr. Gibson sees fit. In what appears to be a game to Mr. Gibson (who one must assume has done all this in collusion with Mr. Gemma), concern for ALL the students doesn't include your child who while having access to Carlemont (admittedly a good school for many students), may benefit more from a different school. While it would be interesting to see the numbers on in and out of district students between Summit (established school, known location) and Everest (new school on the same model as Summit but without a location known until about a month before the start of school), I think all of us can wait (in contrast to the SUHSD and their preferred candidates) for the usual release times.

Why is the district against these schools? While nobody knows for sure, you can seek answers from at least two sources: 1) the SUHSD web site has a self-serving "candid conversation" where Gemma's PR folks do their best to obscure his actions, or 2) you can observe the actions of SUHSD and deduce what is behind it.
Frankly, #1 is a waste of time (though I'm confident the district paid someone to write it), and #2 smells like fear. Gemma and SUHSD don't like charter schools, particularly those that might raise any issues at all with regard to their performance. Hence their behavior is to spend resources attacking these schools early in an effort to avoid real competition. It is also true that education of any population has its challenges and virtually any school district has areas for improvement. The sad thing is that the district, relatively speaking for California and nationally, is quite rich (note the two lovely perfoming arts centers at Woodside and M-A, five miles apart from each other), and there are two groups (SUHSD and Summit/Everest) that appear to care about education and could act in a complementary manner, but the district is being a bully. So the outrage about the SUHSDs latest betrayal of good faith is quite justifiable.

Posted by Data
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm

In 2007-08, the API scores of Carlmont and Summit were exactly one point apart, FYI. So nice of you to "admit" this (and then misspell the name of the school.

Posted by Belmont Parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2009 at 2:32 pm


My comment was not meant to imply anything negative about Carlmont. We feel very fortunate to have Carlmont as our home school and will support our daughter in her high school experience to the fullest. Carlmont is a great school and I am very confident that our daughter will receive a first class education.

However, she has close friends who are attending Summit & Everest and we have watched their older siblings blossom in this environment. Our child may not be a "big" school student. Then again, we will wait to find out. From what we have observed by talking with students and parents, there is something very special going on at Summit.

I have no issue with the traditional schools or their teachers. It is the School Board and the District whom I feel has done a great disservice to our community.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 13, 2009 at 2:35 pm

what a fine teachable moment

Carlmont and Summit are indeed close in overall scores. But let's look a little deeper.

start at the 2009 Growth API Web Link

Carlmont and Summit are both 827. Kudos to the Carlmont community for a remarkable accomplishment.

Look at the individual school scores
Carlmont Web Link
Summit Web Link

Carlmont has 340 Latinos in 1496 students ie 23%
Summit has 127 Latino in 304 students ie 42%
Latino scores: Carlmont 695 Summit 746

Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Carlmont has 328 socioeconomically disadvantaged students 22%
Summit has 116 socioeconomically disadvantaged students 38%
Disadvantaged scores: Carlmont 663 Summit 728

Carlmont has 792 Caucasians 52%
Summit has 142 Caucasians 47%
Caucasian scores: Carlmont 881 Summit 884

and Summit runs on 3/4 the operating budget per student that Carlmont does.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 13, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Thank you for your post. While I'm not a statistician, it would appear that Summit is doing better in some of the groups that contribute to what the district would call an achievement gap. The demographics would certainly argue against the "cherry picking" story the district often spins.

Posted by Concerned Parent About the SUHSD School Board and Who Sits On It With What Personal Agenda
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 14, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I was reading along with all of the above reader comments, learning a thing or two about the current issues and personalities...when I suddenly come across a comment about a current SUHSD candidate that threw a light upon a situation that appeared to be possibly highly questionable and I thought to myself...Wait a minute...Ms. Virginia Chang-Kiraly spoke at the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools against Everest Charter School at the bequest of Superintendent Pat Gemma on February 3, 2009? As I recall, wasn't Chang-Kiraly the Foreperson of the Grand Jury at that time? And, is it not also true that Ms. Chang-Kiraly's very same Grand Jury allegedly investigated the Charter Schools system in the southern part of this County at one point during this past year?

The big question that pops right off the page here is: "Was Ms. Chang-Kiraly using her Grand Jury Foreperson position to further her own political agenda, while she was serving as Foreperson of the Grand Jury? How ethical is that?

As a Foreperson, was she legally or ethically allowed to outright be allegedly speaking against a Charter School in this County when the Grand Jury, of which she was the Foreperson, might have been investigating or had already investigated a Charter School System in this County at that same time or whatever time they did investigate during her tenure as Foreperson of that Grand Jury? And, even if it wasn't this particular Charter School, I believe that it is accurate to state that the Grand Jury was investigaing the Charter School System somewhere in this county at some point this past year.

Are Grand Jurors allowed to be "lobbying" against or "lobbying" for issues or topics or categories which they might, at the same time, be investigating, while still a sitting Grand Juror? I can understand possibly speaking out on issues and concerns after they get off the Grand Jury, but while still a sitting Grand Juror and the leader of same? Isn't that a bit of a "sticky wicket"?

Another writer questioned what Chang-Kiraly's goal might have truly been. It now possibly appears to me that her end goal might not have been about any of the Charter School issues at all, but rather, about being elected to a public office, any office, down the line, after her term with the Grand Jury was over...It's also been known that,at some point,SUHSD candidate Chang-Kiraly had been speculating with different folks in the Countyt about possibly being a candidate for County Supervisor in the not too distant future.

However,when Carol Groome was appointed to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors earlier this year, it appeared that Ms. Chang-Kiraly's Grand Jury, which she led, subsequently investigated the "appointment process versus the election process" for filling County Supervisorial seats, and came out with a recommendation for elections rather than appointments, in most cases. That recommendation could have worked in her favor if Ms. Chang-Kiraly's future chances at being elected were better than being appointed by the current Board of Supervisors? Say not?

I am not saying that one was directly connected to the other,I do not know that, and certainly could not prove that, but it certainly was a convenient development for future attempts at a run for the Board by Ms. Chang-Kiraly's for the Grand Jury that she led to come out and recommend that the appointment approach be seriously questioned, in favor of the election process. On first glance, election over appointment does make better sense,in my opinion, because I believe it is more in line with the democratic process to elect, rather than to appoint.

However,if I were planning to be on the Board of Supervisors at some point in the future and I felt that I had a very small chance of being appointed by the current Board of sitting Supervisors, I would make every effort to push for elections rather than appointments in the future filling of Supevisorial seats.

I also read that she, additionally, unsuccessfully ran on the Republican ticket for the 21st Assembly District a few years back, but, from reading all of these other comments made by citizens in this County, it would appear that Ms. Chang-Kiraly has either been running or planning to run for office, any office, all the time, whether is was for PTA,PTO,SUHSD Board of Trustees,21st Assembly District seat or whatever...perhaps, we could call her a "career candidate"..."me thinks that the lady might be protesting too much" against Everest Charter School and acting too much on behalf of her own future agenda,as opposed to looking after the true welfare of the District's students. Not good.

Although, it's not a county-wide position, the Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees is an important position in the future of its students, and is,therefore, too important to be just a "glorified pitstop" on someone's resume', who, just might have their eye more on running for yet an even higher political office, instead of concentrating on the current job at hand...

Vote for whomever you want. But, I think you know, by now, whom I won't be voting for either now, or in the future...also the idea of only Chang-Kiraly and Sarver receiving information, whether they knew it to be confidential or not bespeaks of insider favoritism on the part of the administrationi.e. the Superintendent etal, which, frankly, turns me off...way off...

And, as a final observation, reading what former Grand Jurors, who have apparently recently worked with Chang-Kiraly and P/ members who have also worked with this woman in the past, have written in this comments section points out all you need to know...When it comes to the candidacy of Chang-Kiraly for the SUHSD Board of Trustees, all I have to say is, "Houston we got a problem..."

Posted by District parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2009 at 10:52 pm

I came across these postings and read every word. This is fascinating reading and I will definately not miss the candidate debates tomorrow night. The state of California is in financial ruins. Charter schools are NOT the answer to student achievement. The charter movement has pulled kids from their neighborhood schools and has cost the state of California billions of dollars. We can't keep opening schools. The originators of the charter concept believed that education needed to be reformed. That was not the problem in our state. Our educational system needed to be fully funded and fully supported. I am dismayed that the SUHSD/ Everist decision was overturned by the State Commission on Charter Schools. I am horrified that a majority of seats on the State Board of Education are filled by Charter advocates. We don't need multiple mini (charter) schools in each school district in California. I do not want a charter advocate elected to the high school board. If Everist was playing fair, they would be perfectly satisfied with the facility in East Palo Alto. If they were playing fair, they would accept the local decision of our elected officials.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 15, 2009 at 12:22 am

District parent,
The idea is to open schools that work well. Charters aren't the panacea: but a vehicle for creating excellent schools.

You should be dismayed, but for different reasons: it took state oversight to have the district and the county follow the law on charter approval. It appears that it may take court oversight to have the superintendent follow the law on school sites. Everest is one of the few parties playing fair.

We don't need multiple mini schools: we need excellent schools that run frugally.

The best outcome for the election is strong independent oversight with an eye towards educating the children cost-effectively. See you at the debates.

Posted by former Menlo-Atherton parent
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 15, 2009 at 8:47 am

I like the fact that Alan Sarver has been involved in the SUHSD for a number of years as a volunteer. That experience will pay off for him when he serves on the Board and he is supported by many in the community because of that.

I also support Wallace Greene because she is a SUHSD grad and has children in the District. She has the support of the residents in EPA and they need to have someone on the board to represent that community. Also, she has the support of the teachers' union which means something to me.

I do not want someone who has a spouse on the Summit or Everest Boards or who is biased toward the charter schools from the get go on the SUHSD Board.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 15, 2009 at 9:17 am

It's not a big board and I don't think we can reasonably expect every community to be represented, but it's great that we have candidates with experience in charter and comprehensive schools. The charter schools are obviously the big issue in this election, and we can all see how painful (and expensive) it has been for the district to continue to whack away at the charters. I doubt that many informed voters will opt for an anti-charter candidate, given the other choices.

I don't know much about Sarver, but the fact that he seems to have been handpicked by the current regime is a huge strike against him.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 15, 2009 at 10:08 am

District Parent,
While your concerns are valid, I would take exception to some of your conclusions. In addition, I would submit that independent of how one feels about the specifics of the district/Summit/Everest debacle, the district in general, and Mr. Gemma in particular need an active board that is truly independent. That does not equate to being charter advocates or friendly necessarily, but it does mean critically evaluating Mr. Gemma's top down dictatorial style and serving as a true check. While superficially, it might appear nice to have the BOT agreeing with the Superintendent, I suspect that the lack of debate means that difficult problems are being approached with tunnel vision (Gemma has an idea of wehat he wants and the BOT basically ratifies it). From the meetings I've been to, there does not appear to be criticial review of what goes on within the district, but self-review and congratulations. I'm not saying there aren't good things going on, but the public sessions tend to remind me of debate in the old Soviet Union, where the party version ruled, and that was that.
Watching the manner in which the charter debate has occurred in SUHSD is just a way to gain insight into how things work and the answer is not pretty.
As written above, charter schools are not one type of school, but potentially many. Charter schools may be good or bad at an individual level, but do offer an opportunity to test educational innovation on a small scale. Gemma's approach has been so constricting, and so clearly comes from a place of feeling threatened, that the possible benefits within a diztrict of having charter schools have been minimally realized.
In terms of opening up new schools, I'd agree there shouldn't be any reason, since presumably the number of students hasn't changed, but the distribution. In that case, however, you may want to check in with the SUHSD as to why they were unable to find room on one of the existing campuses (e.g. Sequoia). Oh wait, Everest requested that and the district (despite as you put it having fewer students since they are going to charter schools) said they didn't have space.
If we can't afford charter schools (by the way, to my knowledge, there is no evidence they cost the district money, though they do redistribute it), how is it we can afford to set up an unwanted site and take actions that appear to violate state law resulting in a lawsuit that certainly costs the district some money (just in defending it), but may result in damages?
I would also note that many of what the district touts as new and innovative has come since Summit started up (schools within schools, for example) and I suspect this is as a result of having charter competition.
Fundamentally, while one may not like individual charter schools, why would one completely reject the idea of public school choice?
In terms of the debate, it should be interesting to see how the various candidates address the issues. We've tried having an entire board stacked against charter schools and all that's happened is that our district has been overruled at the state level. Rather than being outraged at this, we should be embarrassed by our district BOT and county school board. Having seen the result of a decidedly anti-charter board, I suspect that having people that are more knowledgeable about charters can't make things worse that the results of the present BOTs. On the contrary, the result might actually drive SUHSD to work more collaboratively with the charters. It might also result in more accountability from the charters. Sounds like a good thing to me.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2009 at 10:38 am

Most of us understand the importance of independence on a corporate board of directors. It provides objective oversight and keeps management honest.

So why would anyone want the SUHSD management - Superintendent Gemma and his staff - to "hand select" THEIR board of trustees? You must surely understand that this won't provide oversight in a district that is facing many serious challenges. This makes no sense whatsoever.

For that reason alone, I am against Mr. Sarver. And Ms. Chang-Kiraly appears to be the ultimate political opportunist and just looking to get her face into a public spotlight... any spotlight. For me, her actions on the grand jury and other obvious conflicts disqualify her candidacy.

We can do much better. I support Chris Thomsen and Bob Ferrando.

Posted by response to former MA parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Dear "former Menlo-Atherton parent" from Atherton: I'd recommend doing a little investigating before recommending Jacquie Wallace Greene just for the sake of getting someone from East Palo Alto on the board. Ms. Greene had a poor reputation on the Ravenswood School Board, and she was voted out of office by her own Ravenswood community last year. Also, if you look up her job title on Stanford's website, you'll find that she is listed as "Administrative Associate" in a development department at Stanford. The "Development Associate" that she has given herself on the ballot appears to be a deliberate attempt to mislead voters into thinking that she has a higher level occupation than is actually the case. Mr. Sarver should try to distance himself as quickly as possible from Ms. Greene. Any association with her will not be good for his candidacy.

Posted by a taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 15, 2009 at 3:47 pm

When you don't have to provide facilities and programs per state and federal law such those required by Carlmont of the SUHSD like football fields, equal sports teams, testing, etc., of course Summit is going to be operating on a lower budget. All Summit needs to do is use the SUHSD facilities for that. And as a taxpayer I don't think we should be having to pay for it, especially when they have kids from outside the district going there.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Taxpayer, we have to pay for all the students in your district who attend public schools, and as has been well-documented, the cost to the district for charter school students is lower than for comprehensive students. In a sense, the charter school students subsidize the comprehensive students and make it possible for them to afford their incredible athletic facilities! However, the true reason the charters can operate on less money is that they don't have a lot of staff overhead, whereas the comprehensives all have boatloads of administrators and paper pushers. At Summit, one guy, the principal, does all that. Everyone else on the payroll teaches.

As to the "kids outside the district" -- the demand for Summit and Everest is extremely high, as evidenced by the number of applicants. If the district hadn't jerked Everest around so much, it would probably be 100% SUHSD students. However, not to worry, we are not paying for the out-of-district students -- their districts will cover their costs. So even less of your precious tax dollars are flowing to the charters, which should make you exceedingly happy!

Posted by a taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 15, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Do you honestly think that one principal can do the job for 1200 kids? Give me a break! And do you think that not providing kids with proper athletic facilities is the way to go? 300 some kids subsidizing 4000 kids. Give me a break. That isn't the way basic aid districts work. When a kid is out of the district, the district loses.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 15, 2009 at 10:10 pm

[I took this post offline. There seem to be a lot of unsubstantiated allegations here. > editor ]

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Taxpayer, that's not how basic aid works. The district gets the same amount of money no matter what schools the students attend. But remember, we're talking about a district that has spent, what, over $50 million on performing arts centers in the last couple of years? Can't really plead poverty with a straight face.

Summit has fewer students than the comprehensives do, but its administrator:student ratio is about 1/4 that of the comprehensives. And of course kids should have proper athletic facilities, but wasn't it Pat Gemma who wanted to maroon them on a campus where they would have none?

Posted by StudentsFirst
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2009 at 1:11 am

This Board will have to make decisions in the best interest of all the approx. 8000 students in the district, not merely in favor of a few hundred students in charter schools. This criteria suggests that a ranking of candidates from most suitable to least suitable will look like something like this:


Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 16, 2009 at 8:45 am

Actually Students First,
It's not about putting students who attend charters first, it is about not putting them last. It is quite clear that the mere existence of charter schools incents the district to keep improving the comprehensive schools. It is also clear that the comprehensive school structure with the need to deal with thousands of students is not able to innovate quickly. Having the option of charters is actually in the best interest of ALL the students in the district. The rank order you provide is just a recipe for more crony heavy, top-down, unaccountable SUHSD behavior. Hardly the best approach to the present and future educational challenges our society has.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

Students First,
It is refreshing to see what candidate the status quo fears most: you rank Thomsen at the bottom of your list even though he is an M-A parent, even though he has most professional experience in education.

Placing even Noria Zasslow as a more qualified candidate reveals colossal lack of judgement.

There are important decisions to make for all students and families. 1. How do we increase comprehensive school quality in the face of reduced budgets? Look to the world-class examples here in the district. Summit was ranked in the top dozen high schools in California and it already graduates more college-ready Latinos than many of the far-larger comprehensive students. Vote for Thomsen, the candidate who has done more than a drive-by of the charters.
2. How do we improve the graduation rate? Over 25% of freshmen aren't graduating. This is a crisis. Vote for Thomsen, the only candidate (or board member) even talking the problem.

Finally you dismiss charters as merely "a few hundred students". Last year roughly 25% of district freshmen parents sought to enroll in Summit. Charter students already comprise 10% of the student base, a number which will grow over the years ahead. What is needed is more communications and experience, not higher defensive palisades nor rubber-stamping career politicians.

Posted by Alter Ego
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2009 at 10:33 am

Taxpayer and Students First - maybe you should change your handle to SUHSD employee or Status Quo.

As a parent of the 7th grader within the SUHSD what this says to me is by the time my daughter is ready for high school you will hope to eliminate Summit/Everest; or at least place them on an island in EPA.

We want the options of these schools. They may or may not be the best choice for our students, but we want that choice.

Or do you know some much better than me or the estimated 25% who applied last year???? I am voting Thomsen/Ferrando just so we have this option available.

Posted by just the stats
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 16, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I have a 7th grader who is adamant about wanting to attend M-A rather than a charter, but I so appreciate that he and his classmates have that option. I assume our collective objective is not to get the cheapest education for our kids but the best one that we can afford. Gemma and the current board should be thrilled that Summit has managed to educate students that the comprehensives would have flunked out. Isn't it all about serving our kids?

I admire Chris Thomsen because he not only has an impressive resume, he is focusing on helping all the kids, as anonymous mentioned above. And that is key. No matter how strong the district test scores, those numbers are meaningless unless we can keep the high-risk kids in school. My observation is that Gemma is just as happy to see the underperformers drop out because they hurt his statistics. He needs a board that will challenge him in that belief.

Posted by Alter Ego
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2009 at 6:32 pm

just the stats, I totally agree. we live in RWC and feed into Woodside. That is probably where our daughter will go. But we want the option of the Charters. We have friends who have kids at Summit. The two kids I am thinking about went to our middle school (Kennedy) and were doing OK there, at Summit they really came out of their shell and have thrived. The parents and the students rave about the program there. We hear good things about Woodside as well and see benefits to both. It will be an interesting decision for us next year.

I want to make sure we keep the option for Summit/Everest available. Selfishly, I like the Redwood City location for these school (as we live here) and it is the central location in the District. Makes sense because this is also where the District headquarters is as well and can serve the greatest number of SUHSD students.

I am afraid if Sarver & Chang Kiraly are elected they will find a way to kill the Summit programs. I believe that will hurt everyone except the folks at the District who want to eliminate competition.

BTW--The performing arts centers at MA & Woodside were built with special bond money and community support, NOT state money. They are wonderful facilities and serve as a testament to what we CAN do (positively) in our District. I want Trustees who will recognize the positive in all of our programs (who will add the names of Summit and Everest to the District web site) and put their petty agendas aside and focus on providing the best education to all of our children.

Posted by Sophmore Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 16, 2009 at 9:58 pm

I attended the candidate's forum last night and I was completely impressed by three of the candidates

Chang Kiraly

Thomsen was a HUGE turn-off for me. He criticized Chang Kiraly for her talking points on adult education. We need people with good governance traits, so I would not vote for him.

Sarver is clearly in this race for the right reasons. His answers were thoughtful and brilliant.

Chang Kiraly, as usual, was very impressive.

I will work even harder to get Sarver and Chang-Kiraly elected to the SUHSD.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 17, 2009 at 7:46 pm


what would you define as the right reasons? From the tone of the posts, maintenance of the status quo with the Board or Trustees remaining a rubber stamp for the Superintendent. I also suppose that working "even harder" means you already are working for Sarver and Chang Kiraly. If that's the case, it is not surprising that you would maintain that bias. Frankly, the comments made by some hwo have worked directly with Chang Kiraly are rather frightening. Add to that, her willingness to quote sensitive information without questioning its source, willingness to use a school e-mail list for her personal political gain, and the fact that she appears to be a professional candidate with a decidedly anti-charter bias, makes her seem particualrly unsuited for the difficult decisions this board will need to make.

Posted by M.E. Too
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 17, 2009 at 8:04 pm

As former Grand Juror who has served under Ms. Kiraly, during the 2008-2009 term, I have to agree with the previous comments left by Concerned about SUHSD (Oct 6), Concerned Parent and taxpayer Las Lomitas (Oct 6), Concerned Parent MP (Oct 14), and the postings by three former Grand Jurors.

Concerned about SUHSD (Oct 6) states that Ms. Kiraly has displayed a lack of discrepancy similar to this incidence of talking about privileged information in a way that excites negative opinion.

Concerned parent & taxpayer (Oct 6) states that your comment about Ms. Chang-Kiraly is interesting, especially that she has not respected privileged information. I must agree with you as I was surprised to see her send out a mass campaign email to the Las Lomitas parent community. It is specifically stated that such email addresses are not be shared or used for solicitation purposes. Clearly Ms. Chang-Kiraly does not feel compelled to follow the rules

Concerned Parent about the SUHSD, MP (Oct 14) states…”was reading along with all of the above reader comments, learning a thing or two about the current issues and personalities...when I suddenly come across a comment about a current SUHSD candidate that threw a light upon a situation that appeared to be possibly highly questionable and I thought to myself...Wait a minute...Ms. Virginia Chang-Kiraly spoke at the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools against Everest Charter School at the bequest of Superintendent Pat Gemma on February 3, 2009? As I recall, wasn't Chang-Kiraly the Foreperson of the Grand Jury at that time? And, is it not also true that Ms. Chang-Kiraly's very same Grand Jury allegedly investigated the Charter Schools system in the southern part of this County at one point during this past year?”

The big question that pops right off the page here is: "Was Ms. Chang-Kiraly using her Grand Jury Foreperson position to further her own political agenda, while she was serving as Foreperson of the Grand Jury? How ethical is that?

In addition to the above summarized behavior pattern observed by others in different organizations plus the fact that the Grand Jury website confirms the suggestion that there was a report issued on Charter Schools during Ms. Kiraly's term as foreperson, I am stating that I observed similar behavior and had the same expressed concerns about Ms. Kiraly's motivation. I have seen firsthand her gossip-mongering, lack of honoring privileged information, and not working co-operatively with others to complete a task for the benefit of San Mateo County. Her personal interests always seemed to be of paramount importance to her.

We lost several wonderful, hard-working, ethical jurors this year as a direct result of Ms. Kiralys management style.

My hope for the SUHSD is that the voters think long and hard before casting their ballot for Ms. Kiraly. The students in the district deserve better.

Posted by Four members of the 2008-2009 San Mateo Civil Grand Jury
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Four residents of San Mateo County, who served on the 2008-2009 Civil Grand Jury, have been watching with concern the campaign for the Sequoia Union High School District Board. We strongly urge the voters to reject the bid of Virginia Chang Kiraly for a seat on that Board.
On October 6, 2009, a poster commented on Ms. Kiraly in the comments portion of an online article in The Almanac Online by David Boyce, “Fragile comity unwinds between Everest, district.” The comments included Kiraly’s lack of discretion and her exercise of personal agendas on both the Las Lomitas PTA and Palo Alto Junior Museum boards. The authors of this letter encountered similar behavior from her. Ms. Kiraly initially creates an impression of commitment to organizational goals, but in due course shows a second side that causes those she works with to question her ethics, trustworthiness and integrity.
Our opinion based on our experience with Virginia Chang Kiraly is that electing her will create a contentious environment on the Board and that in a choice between the best interests of the school district and her personal agenda, her personal agenda would be paramount.

Unfortunately, we had no voice in the selection of Ms. Kiraly as Grand Jury foreperson; the foreperson is appointed, not elected. But the voters in the Sequoia Unified High School District do have a voice. We reiterate our recommendation that the voters reject Ms. Kiraly’s bid for a seat on the Board.
Four members of the 2008-2009 San Mateo Civil Grand Jury

Posted by Kate
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:42 pm

As I've skimmed through the comments posted here, I have not been surprised to see, in the midst of the SUHSD Board campaign, anonymous attacks on candidates. I will not make my decision regarding who I will vote for based on anonymous postings. I would recommend that if you want to make an informed, objective decision about the various candidates you go to, where each candidate has the opportunity to make their case.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:06 pm


While I do read each of the candidate statements, I've never read one that stated "I'm very difficult to deal with."

Fortunately, The Almanac staff monitors this site and frequently removes posts from a single person (IP address) responsible for multiple posts but claiming different identities. So when I see several posts on this site that note the same issue about a candidate's integrity or behavior, I am able to draw my own conclusions.

So thank you for your anonymous advice. Like your posts, comments and advice on this site are usually anonymous. Anonymity doesn't mean a post has no merit.

Posted by Leslie
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:22 am

I attended SUHSD to complete my secondary education. I graduated from Woodside High, and have had a lifelong healthy and active interest in what happens to the SUHSD. I also served on the Grand Jury last year, from whence many of the previous comments derive. I propbably worked more closely than anyone else on the Grand Jury with Ms. Chang Kiraly, and had the chance to observe her decision making and setting of organization priorities first hand. Setting my choice based upon my observations of her management, personal and organizational skills, I would NEVER recommend her for this very important post. On the otherhand, she does attend meetings and puts herself out there, into the public eye to face comments like these, which is more than I can say for most of the electorate out there.

Posted by Fred
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2009 at 6:34 pm

From what I can see, Alan Sarver seems like an excellent candidate. He has years of experience working with students and parents in the district on a voluntary basis and isn't looking to line his pockets at the taxpayer's expense. I doubt that he is hand picked by the "current regime" as some has asserted and he is surely not a professional candidate.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jun 5, 2017 at 7:55 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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