Bullis Charter School officials announced on Tuesday a proposal to open a new charter school in the Mountain View Whisman School District, aimed specifically at serving children of low-income families.
Charter school staffers said in a statement that they plan to submit a charter application to the school district to create a small school, with 320 students from kindergarten through fifth grade, set to open next fall for students up to second grade. Enrollment would be tuition-free and open to the public, with a preference given to children in the district who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
The plan is to submit the application this fall, which should be enough of a time window for the school to open its doors for the 2019-20 school year, according to Jennifer Anderson-Rosse, a Bullis administrator leading the charter's new school proposal.
"We really feel confident that we can get it approved and then open a school in fall 2019," she said.
The announcement caps off three years of planning among Bullis parents and staffers weighing what it would take to expand the charter school into a new community. The team ultimately landed on Mountain View, Anderson-Rosse said, for a host of reasons including the city's diverse demographics, growing enrollment and funding model.
She said the demand certainly seems to be there, given that 200 Mountain View families seeking a spot in the charter school were wait-listed last year, and both of Mountain View's choice programs -- Dual Immersion at Mistral Elementary and Stevenson PACT -- are both popular alternative choices to traditional public schools.
Bullis parent Grace Yang, a long-time member of the team planning for the new school, said Bullis Charter School's expansion mindset has been baked into the school's strategic plan since 2012, with the bulk of the planning occurring over the last three years. She said it's arguably been a long-time coming, and that Bullis is kind of an anomaly for sticking to just one campus for well over a decade. The short list of partner agencies included school districts in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, she said.
Where exactly the school would be located remains unclear. Anderson-Rosse said the first step is to put together the application and receive approval from the school district before deciding on its facilities.
Plans for the new Mountain View school are entirely separate from the ongoing debate over where the existing Bullis Charter School will be housed within the Los Altos School District and the effort to secure for it "permanent" facilities. Bullis is currently located in portables and split between two Los Altos public school campuses.
Outreach to Mountain View residents on the proposal has mostly been isolated to one-on-one conversations with interested families up until last week, when the district held a parent night at the Mountain View Senior Center on Aug. 30. The meeting, which was posted on a Bullis Mountain View Facebook page, was not meant to be widely publicized, and drew about 20 predominantly Spanish-speaking families.
The Mountain View Whisman School District confirmed it has not received a formal application from Bullis Charter School as of Tuesday, Sept. 4, and had no prior warning about the announcement. Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said Bullis officials had met with him twice over the past year and a half to discuss their expansion goals and spoke broadly about their desire for a "partner district," but did not talk about a direct partnership with Mountain View Whisman.
"Their announcement to you, and the subsequent Voice article, come as a complete surprise to me," Rudolph said in an email.
For the charter school to open in fall 2019, the district would need to receive the application and provide a response by Feb. 1, Rudolph said.
The plan is to draw heavily on the curriculum at Bullis' existing charter school in Los Altos, with a heavy emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), project-based learning and personalized education plans for students.
One of the big differences proposed in the application is that incoming students will have transitional kindergarten and full-day kindergarten to ensure students without access to high-quality preschool don't enter the public school system behind their peers.
Yang said lower-income families often struggle to pay the high cost of preschool and have difficulty working around a half-day kindergarten schedule. Offering both of these at the new charter school would be a game-changer, Yang said.
"What we're really offering is a solid path for their kids," she said.
Bullis is among the highest-performing schools in the state and popular among families in the county, with close to 1,000 families seeking to enroll children in kindergarten each year. Of those families who apply, only one in ten are admitted through a lottery process. Bullis board members have expressed interest in accommodating more of the demand through a new school as well as increasing enrollment at its existing school.
The strategy for financing the school's operations will likely differ significantly from the existing charter school, where close to one-third of Bullis' annual budget comes from parents and community members. Bullis parents are encouraged -- though not required -- to consider donating $5,000 per student per year. By drawing from lower-income families in the community, the funding may need to instead come from state, federal and private grants, and would be eligible for more state funding to support "target" students who are either English learners or come from low-income famlies.
Anderson-Rosse said the new school will seek to benefit from grant funding made available to charter schools, but would be able to survive solely on public dollars provided by state and local funding.
Upcoming information sessions on the charter school proposal include a Saturday, Sept. 8, meeting at 9 a.m. at 102 W. Portola Avenue in Los Altos, followed by a Tuesday, Sept. 11, meeting at 7 p.m. at 1124 Covington Rd. in Los Altos.