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SF school board shoots down charter school application backed by Silicon Valley education reform group

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Mission District organizer Nancy Hernandez speaks at a public hearing for Mary L. Booker Leadership Academy on Tuesday night. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

A bid to create a new charter school serving middle and high school students in the Bayview District was denied by a unanimous vote from the San Francisco Board of Education on Tuesday.

Dozens of people attended the public hearing to speak both for and against the creation of the Mary L. Booker Leadership Academy. Plans for the school included serving 420 students in grades 6 through 12 over the next five years, starting in 2019.

The petition came before the board with a negative recommendation from district staff, citing issues with its education plan.

“The petitions are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the programs set forth in the petition,” said Mike Davis, the San Francisco Unified School District’s director of policy and planning of charter schools, reading the district’s review to the board.

A number of parents, some of whom identified themselves as Bayview natives, said they had come in support of the new school because their children aren’t getting the aid they needed at the neighborhood’s public schools; some expressed frustration with a perceived lack of progress in closing a systemic achievement gap affecting African American students at district public schools.

“I want to be able to have an option for my last kid to be able to attend Mary L. Booker, which has a lot of promises,” said a woman who gave her name as Erica. “I’m tired of blaming the teachers — they just don’t have the support. I’d like for you guys to consider that there is a huge achievement gap and nobody is listening.”

Another speaker who said she was the mother of two charter school students, criticized a lack of bilingual tutoring offered at San Francisco’s public schools.

“This school is being put here at this moment because we need it for our children,” the woman said. “There is no tutoring in English for English learning students. But in charter schools, I see the support. My children both have been able to be reclassified while they were in the charter schools.”

But Lita Blanc, President of United Educators of San Francisco, spoke for the need of public control of public schools, and pointed out that the number of students in charter schools has tripled since 2008, representing a loss to funding for public schools.

While some speakers pointed out that there are “good” charter schools, the petition for the Academy came under fire by public school advocates over the proposed school’s ties to the controversial Silicon Valley education reform group, Innovate Public Schools.

With significant funding from a list of donors that includes Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton, who since 1997 have invested more than $407 million in efforts to grow charter schools through the Walton Family Foundation, Innovate has faced criticism for allegedly pushing for new charter schools with corporate funding at the expense of public school resources.

“What im here to say is that charter schools are not the way for us to improve the conditons of young people in our communties,” said Mission District community organizer Nancy Hernandez. “If the improvement comes at detriment of San Francico Unified, we cannot stand for that. I want improvements for all kids that grew up in Frisco — giving our control to a private organization is not going to do that.”

Rev. Amos Brown, who leads the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Innovate representatives had previously misrepresented the group’s support for charter schools.

“Some of the representatives of that group said the NAACP was supporting charter schools [when] our national office of the NAACP last year called for a moratorium on all charter schools,” Brown said. “We will not be seduced to give up our right to public education for all — and all means all.”

“Imagine what we could do together if we didn’t have the division that exists [from having] two public education systems,” said School Board Commissioner Shamann Walton, who has strongly opposed the creation of charter schools in the past.

“We will not let anyone define our narrative — No outsiders from other communities, and not people that don’t live or participate in this village,” he said.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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