Creative charter school wins renewal | October 21, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - October 21, 2011

Creative charter school wins renewal

Even after it won a 5-2 vote last week from the county Board of Education to renew its charter for five years, Bullis Charter School is still trying to overcome the elitist image stuck on the school when it opened for business about five years ago after a messy divorce from the Los Altos School District.

But after a slow start, the 465-student K-8 school has been able to outperform every other charter school in the state despite receiving $4,000 less per student in public funding than its compatriots in the Los Altos Elementary School District. Parents and the school foundation make up the difference so Bullis ends up with just over $11,000 per student, slightly less that the Los Altos district.

(We should also note that Bullis and the Los Altos district are involved in a lawsuit over whether the buildings provided to Bullis are adequate. An appeals court decision should be made public in about two months.)

Two of the seven county Board of Education members voted against renewing the Bullis charter, citing concerns about the school not working hard enough to recruit students of color from Los Altos and Mountain View, while filling most of its seats from the wealthy Los Altos Hills area. The charges are strongly disputed by Bullis officials, who provided numerous statistics to the contrary in their application for county approval.

For starters, charter schools are expected to reflect the community they serve, said the county board member Anna Song and Los Altos School District board member Tammy Logan. On that score, we believe Bullis hits a home run, with a far lower percentage of white students than the Los Altos district (67.7 to 51.6 percent for Bullis) and equal numbers for African American, Asian, and Native Hawaiians. Students of two or more races attend Bullis in much higher numbers than the district as a whole, (20.6 to 4.4 percent). A slightly lower percentage of Hispanic students were counted than attend district schools (5.2 to 5.6 percent), but that is hardly worth quibbling about.

We also disagree with the charge that recruiters at Bullis do not actively recruit in Mountain View and Los Altos. For the current school year, the school received 680 applications from students at 98 preschools and 133 elementary schools, with six students applying for every available seat. The school hosts a public lottery and randomly selects the incoming students. And in the current year, 30 special education students (6.5 percent) attended Bullis, more than twice the number from two years ago.

Charter schools like Bullis are succeeding in other districts on the Peninsula. Summit Prep, a high school located in Redwood City, faced similar critics when it was launched by a handful of parents from the affluent community of Portola Valley. And after enduring criticism that it was designed as a private "public" school for elite students, Summit's lottery has muffled that charge and is proud that 100 percent of their graduating seniors are admitted to four-year colleges.

Small charter schools like Bullis can be laboratories of innovation, as well as home to students who might not fit in at more traditional schools. As a charter school, Bullis is able to create a unique and challenging educational experience for its students that could be a model for the Los Altos district to emulate. The county Board of Education made the right decision to give Bullis another five years.


Posted by cccorrigan, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Great editorial! Charter Schools like Bullis are trying hard to really introduce a new way of doing things and with that comes a threat to the status quo. Your support means the world to us and a big thanks for doing your homework about the true funding numbers and demographics. Parents at the only independent public school in the District are so proud of what the school delivers. We long for the day when we are a jewel in the crown of the Los Altos School District rather than always being painted as a thorn in their side.

Posted by MichelleB, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I couldn't agree more! Bullis Charter School is proving that an independent school in the Los Altos School District can be innovative, think and teach 'outside the box' and truly use best-practices when engaging and educating its students. No one ever said that start-ups were easy, but Bullis Charter School is showing that it has what it takes to provide something great for our children and the community at large. Successful schools benefit all of us.

Posted by Barbara Goodrich, a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2011 at 1:18 pm

This is the first balanced report I've read about Bullis Charter School. BCS is a great asset to the community, so I was greatly disappointed that members of the elected school board (particularly Anna Song) used bad data to discredit a high-achieving school. Our school kids are not well-served by a school board so deeply entrenched in holding to an old educational model...

Posted by concerned MV resident, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Who was this opinion piece written by? I would be curious if it was written by a BCS parent or by the newspaper staff.
Please let me know.

Posted by Andrea Gemmet, Mountain View Voice Editor
on Oct 23, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

Editorials are written by Voice publisher Tom Gibboney.

Posted by Questioning?, a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2011 at 8:47 pm

I am curious who wrote this article, as well.
It seems strange not to gave the author listed.

Could the Mountain View Voice identify the author?


Posted by Teacher, a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Thank you for your well researched editorial. I have noticed that the MV Voice does a terrific job of covering education issues in our community. I also enjoy the free flow of ideas on Town Square.

Posted by Eric, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2011 at 9:33 am

Great article

Who doesn't want their kid to attend a 'laboratory of innovation' Particularly in Silicon valley, the world's 'laboratory of innovation'?

The after shocks of the 'messy divorce" are obvious when you write a factual article, (one that isn't overtly 'anti-BCS' (as the Los Altos Town Crier is)) and people make accusations that a BCS parent wrote this. I'd say most BCS parents just want their kids to get a good education and there are different styles for different people.

I'm looking forward to reading the Mountain View Voice in the future-a nice replacement for the Los Altos Town Crier.

Posted by vs, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2011 at 9:49 am

What I don't understand is why people are complaining about Bullis charter school. If the school wasn't there, all the 700 kids who are attending that school would have to be attending the remaining los altos and moutnainv iew schools, which is going to overcrowd other school. The other schools in Los Altos/Mountain view already has a high student to teacher ratio. This one reason alone is enough to keep Bullis up and running, leave alone the other credentials the school has and laurels and innovation it brings to the kids.

Education is the key to any society. Education is expensive. I am damned that people in this country would rather pay for lame politicians than support for a just cause.

If you go to east coast, you can get decent education and still end up in Ivy league school. Out in CA, we have the most wealthiest people, we have the most technological innovation - but yet we as a state are always running low on budgets and don't have good education system. If the political system is not able to provide a solution for that, why not charter schools like bullis, who takes ownness and pride in creating a school system ?

Posted by member, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2011 at 12:08 pm

How convenient of the Mountain View Voice to publish this anonymous "opinion" piece. It was undoubtedly written by someone deeply connected with Bullis Charter School. So much for journalistic integrity! [The editorial, which is clearly labeled as such along with the disclaimer that it is "The opinion of the Voice" was written by Voice Publisher Tom Gibboney, who has no connection with Bullis Charter School.]

Posted by member, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Mr. Gibboney, please cite the source of your data.

Posted by Get Real Facts, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 24, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Anna Song, on the Santa Clara County Board, did not believe that Bullis' demographics reflected the demographics of the Los Altos Elementary District (which includes portions of MV). Now, Bullis is presenting data (or merely stating?) that they do have representative demographics.

Who's right? I agree with "member". Someone at the Voice should get the real numbers and present them, rather than relying on either of the 2 sides of this dispute.

Posted by Parent, a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Anna Song based her demographic analysis on numbers from State standardized tests. The test results exclude younger grades, and therefore the demographics are not complete.

Anna was just "grand standing" to stay in favor with the teachers' union. She is up for re-election soon.

Posted by JessB, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Thank you Mr. Gibboney for taking the time to research and share this! With so much hyperpole and misinformation out there, this sort of balanced, independent reporting can be extremely helpful!

Posted by member, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Will the esteemed Mr. Gibboney please reveal the source of his data points? Failure to reveal the source of the data will lead the community to question its validity.

Posted by BCS Parent, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Hi -
I think that the source of data is very important. I know that BCS used the 2010 United States Census as well as California Department of Education and LASD data for the reports presented to the Santa Clara County Department of Education. If you would like hear the BCS report to the Santa Clara County Board of education you can listen to it here:
Web Link

I hope we can all work together to create the best schools for all students in Mountain View and Los Altos. I grew up in both communities and I am happy that I won the lottery and was able to have a public school choice for my children. The choice was there because parents created a charter school and didn't give up, even when LASD tried to everything to stop them( and continues as evidenced in some of the comments above)
Mountain View/ Whisman has created some great choices, LASD has yet to do so. I know there has been quite a bit of interest in community for choice schools including:
Mandarin Immersion
Science and Technology
Maybe these should be started as Charter Schools

Posted by LASDParentCharterSchoolFan, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm

@Parent... grand standing or not, if Anna Song based her numbers on the state-reported numbers over a period of years, they demonstrate the performance of BCS compared to LASD in being representative of the community demographics. I'm actually all for charter schools, but BCS has consistently failed to draw a representative student population if the LASD population is taken as representative. For the years 2006-2011, the API demographics show the following:

DisabledStudents SocioEconomicallyDisadvantaged EnglishLearners
LASD 10.1% 2.5% 9.3%
BCS 6.6% 0.0% 1.8%

Maybe BCS has done a better job the last year or two in the younger grades, but the facts are they've not succeeded in representing the demographics of the community over the past 6 yrs. I mean, seriously... not ONE socioeconomically disadvantaged student took the standardized tests over the past 6 years??? And one-fifth the number of English learners as LASD? BCS can do better. BCS SHOULD do better. Having said that, I'm glad BCS exists, as I think the status quo needs the pressure to evolve.

Posted by Parent for School Choice, a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm

BCS has done admirably well and continues to offer reasoned and solid evidence for their positions. I found a link to a very well researched and fully documented letter which addresses all of the concerns raised above and beyond. I put my trust in in those who speak their truth quietly and firmly, not the shrill driven by emotion and reflex. Here is the link:
Web Link

One begins to wonder what the motives of those throwing stones might be. Public Education in the US is in serious trouble. Why not support the hard working innvators and begin to question the status quo and its practice of tenure after 2 years, annual pink slips for the brightest and most passionate, and ever shorter days and school years. Research clearly shows that these 18th century practices are major contributors to the decline of public education in this county and this country. We must change or perish!

BCS is proving that the charter law can be a huge part of the solution.

Posted by BCS parent, a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm

@ LASDParentCharterSchoolFan:

The "Socio-economically Disadvantaged" data in API is gathered by counting how many students are participating in the "Free or Reduced National Lunch Program" and how many students have both parents without high school diploma. BCS does not participate in the FRNLP, but rather, provides free lunches directly to the very small amount of students in need. Therefore the API number for SocioEconomic is zero. As an aside, according to the US Census data, 0.4% of LASD area children aged 5 to 17 are below the poverty level, and 98% of the people over 25 living in the area have at least the high school diploma.

Hope that provides some clarity.

Posted by Castro Parent, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 4:50 pm

This discussion has been educational for me -- it seems to me that BCS is very similar to LASD in diversity, cost per student, and achievement. It's not clear to me what the controversy is about renewing the charter -- it seems to be doing just fine.

However, it's also not clear to me why BCS is put forward as a solution to a problem -- for that status shouldn't it show that it can better serve a disadvantaged population, have a lower cost per student, or achieve greater results? If people want to go to the trouble to have a charter school, ok. But API and STAR scores do not appear to be significantly better than LASD generally.

I sent my kids to the Dual Immersion program at Castro Elementary in Mountain View Whisman school district. It was interesting to me to compare the Castro demographics and scores to those of LASD and BCS. LASD and BCS serve about 1-2% economically disadvantaged kids and about 5% English language learners. Castro serves over 60% economically disadvantaged kids and over 50% English language learners.

Castro's API is 809 in 2011, much lower than BCS at 984, LASD Covington at 983, or Almond at 966. But Castro's performance is not bad considering half the kids are just learning English and their parents don't have the education and resources to provide them with enrichment activities outside of school.

And if you look a little deeper at the STAR test scores, you can see that Castro may equal achievement for equally advantaged students. There is a category called Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) which students test into. I know from experience at Castro that the kids who get into this program are those who are mostly the ones with educated and relatively wealthy parents. If you compare the 5th grade GATE kids at Castro to the 5th grade GATE kids in LASD, you see this:

School - English - Math - Science
Castro - 466 - 549 - 486
Covington - 481 - 562 - 491
Almond - 463 - 537 - 502
BCS - 445 - 468 - 471 (all students, no GATE program)

Castro's GATE scores are very similar and sometimes superior to the GATE scores at LASD and better than the average scores at BCS.

My conclusion from this data is that Castro's lower overall API is not a result of worse teachers or a bad program or school district bureaucracy, but more a product of demographics. And the challenge that California schools have is not a fundamental failure of the education system -- it is the fact that the schools are being asked to do so much more.

I would be much more impressed with BCS if it was achieving an API of 984 with over 60% English language learners and over 50% economically disadvantaged students.

Posted by BCS parent, a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2011 at 7:26 pm

@ Castro Parent above:

Yes, all research point to the parental education level correlating to the API, above anything else. The STAR test does not accurately reflect the kinds of education the students are receiving. This is why BCS does not "teach to the test" like a lot of the district schools do. Instead, it offers project-based learning and enriched curriculum, and gives each student their individual learning goals. As to "why BCS is put forward as a solution to a problem", it did not start because LASD was an academically failing district, but rather because LASD closed the last remaining public school in Los Altos Hills in 2003. Initially, the school population was mostly from Los Altos Hills. Fast forward 8 years, it is now an excellent school of choice serving 10% of LASD students, from all neighborhoods.

Posted by MV Native, a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2011 at 9:12 pm

BCS won their appeal today. The decision may help all charter schools in California. Here is a link:
Web Link

Below is a section of the ruling.


The District, in its facilities offer here, excluded from consideration over one million square feet of collective non-classroom space of the comparison group schools. Its past practice notwithstanding, the District failed even to consider total site size; had it done so, using its own methodology, its offer would have contained some 35 percent greater acreage. It overstated the facilities offered to Bullis by considering (1) a soccer field on a 100 percent basis even though its shared use made it available to the charter school for only 40 percent of the time, and (2) a multi-purpose room as being District- supplied, even though it was built, owned, and operated by Bullis. And the District used an arbitrary ―standard‖ size figure for certain facilities (e.g., libraries), thereby understating the appropriate size of such facility to be offered to Bullis. Based upon these deficiencies in the aggregate, we hold that the facilities offer was inconsistent with the mandate of Proposition 39 that a school district conduct a fair assessment of the facilities needed by the in-district charter school students so that those facilities offered meet the reasonable equivalence standard. The court should have granted mandamus and declaratory relief making an affirmative finding that the District acted arbitrarily by failing to apply the proper legal standards in its facilities offer to Bullis, in violation of Proposition 39. Accordingly, we will reverse the judgment.

Posted by Jim Thurber, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 28, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I'm amazed. Not at the court's ruling but that they reached it in under 10 working days. I don't smell a rat and curiosity killed the cat but still . . . . .

Posted by BCS parent, a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

@ Jim Thurber: The appeal was filed in June of 2010. Judging by the questions asked at the oral argument hearing 10 days ago, the clerks and the justices had a thorough examination of every single evidence/counter evidence filed in the briefs. They probably needed the 10 days to reach a conclusion and write the opinion.

Posted by Christopher Chiang, a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 28, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Lost in the debate are the good ideas from BCS. They deserve discussion:
1) Individualized education plan for each student
2) Project based learning
3) Intersession in middle school that makes time for non-conventional classes
4) Even the $4,500 parent donation, if the LASD parents that can afford such a donation gave to LASD (perhaps through LAEF, or even through some new parent funding instrument that could push greater innovation)

These things would help all kids far more than what we currently focus on. My hope is for a more constructive and innovative future on this issue.

Posted by Charter Fan, a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Mr. Chang -
I think that BCS parents would be happy to work with LASD parents to create the best education for all the kids in our area. I don't think that you would need to collect $4,500/student. When the LAEF donations are added in BCS and LASD spend about the same per student. LASD spends quite a bit more on benefits than BCS does. If LASD turned it's schools into Charters, free from the teacher's union and the LASD trustees, more funds would be directed towards the classrooms.

Posted by David, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 31, 2011 at 7:34 pm

BCS IS a thorn and furthermore they only teach to the "elite" and do not always do a good job.

LASD takes back many of their former students each year who went to BCS and did not like it. We know for a fact that last year, they asked a fourth grade teacher to leave because he wasn't a good teacher.

It often seems at though BCS PARENTS are the problem, they find so many faults with LASD and dwell on that. Why do you think BCS has such a bad reputation and is looked upon as a THORN? Because it (BCS and parents) are one.

Posted by BCS Parent, a resident of another community
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:05 pm

David --
Please stop flinging the mud. BCS overs a choice, that's great for everyone. It doesn't teach to the "elite" . Name's are drawn in a lottery-from applications from all over the district. Over 30% of incoming LASD kindergarten parents apply for a spot. The enrollment of BCS is very similar to the enrollment of every other school in LASD.

A fourth grade teacher did leave last year because they needed to live closer to an ailing family member. However, it should be noted that unlike in LASD and MVWSD, BCS teachers have a one year contract -- there isn't a job for life, which seems to be your main problem with BCS.

I suspect that you either a CTA, CSEA or School Board member. I can think of no other reason for the tone of your comments. One of the benefits of charter schools is that decreases union control. Charter School Teachers are not members of the CTA.

I hope that everyone in our community can work together to provide an excellent education for all public education students. Having a choice, and the competition it creates improves all schools.

Posted by No BCS fan here, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Maybe LASD could spend more on their students if BCS would stop the lawsuits.

Why can't the über-rich BCS parents buy land in the Hills for their own private (oops, public) school, as they know that LASD cannot afford something like that. It's pretty obvious they still want the Gardner-Bullis campus.

Posted by Ron Haley, a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2011 at 1:53 pm

There have been three lawsuits, two filed by BCS, one by LASD (against the county). BCS and LASD have each lost one. BCS just won (subject to potential appeal to the CA supreme court) the facilities lawsuit.

Score so far;
BCS 1 from 2
LASD 0 from 1

Posted by Steve, a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm


I have not seen anything here about special Ed students at BCS. Why is that? Special Education one of the biggest funding drivers of any California school district because everyone else tells you what to do, but neither the state or the US sends a district enough money to do it.

BCS is run by a volunteer board. Why is that better than an elected board for the spending of taxpayer money? Does anyone complaining about teachers' unions know why they were created in the first place?

For reference, before teachers' unions, when you got a new school board in a small rural school district, you usually got all new teachers because the board could fire the faculty and hire their friends, qualified or not. In large school districts, just like in other large public organizations, unions make negotiating less complicated (notice I did not say cheaper).

Without unions, both public and private, none of us would have vacations, Saturdays would still be required work days, and health insurance would not exist, so be careful what you wish for. Please feel free however to help me remind my teaching friends, regardless of school, who complain about salaries that they still have the three best things about teaching (June, July, and August)...Although around here they seem to be losing August quickly.

Posted by LASDParentCharterSchoolFan, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 1, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Thanks @ParentforSchoolChoice, @BCSParent... thanks for the link and explanation of the lunch program derivation of socioeconomic status... very informative. I still think BCS should do better for learning disabled and ESL students, but I think LASD could be more creative in teaching methodologies, so its a wash for me! I'd also be interested in stats for % of BCS applicants that enroll in private schools rather than LASD, as this would provide more of a picture regarding cost/savings for LASD. I was sad, however, to see assertions in the BCS report that LASD was playing with the numbers regarding demographics... mudslinging is ugly in either direction. As I said before, I'm glad BCS exists, as it serves as somewhat of a testbed for educational approaches and keeps the pressure on LASD :)

Posted by Special Ed Info, a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2011 at 9:10 am

In response to Steve, BCS does have special ed kids--everything from speech, ADD, autism, learning disabilities, etc. Special ed services are provided by the Santa Clara County Office of Education. It's true that the most severely disabled kids are not at BCS--but with good reason. BCS is given no facilities for these children, and because the services are provided by the County, they would likely be serviced at locations other than BCS. Not hard to understand why parents don't choose BCS as an option for these kids. Ms. Logan, an LASD trustee, admitted this herself at the renewal hearing.

Posted by Former Teacher, a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2011 at 1:16 am

I taught for over 10 years at a public high school. We won numerous national awards. We were more innovative than most, but really couldn't do much to help struggling students. The main problem was the teacher's union. The CTA exists to make sure that teacher's get the most pay and benefits for as little work as possible. My union boss was always making sure that no one stepped out of line and did any extra work. Although some of did anyway. When contract talks were not going our way, they strongly suggested that we work to the clock; arrive at school on time, leave on time. Have a students that needs extra help after school? Sorry, you shouldn't stay and help. A senior needs a rec's for college applications? Just say no, it's not in your job description.

LASD teachers play this game all the time. We all know they do. How many teacher's at your school attend extra events? Try something new or extra? Only a few rebels.

Charter Schools will make unions obsolete. Good teachers now have a choice.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 4, 2011 at 9:40 am

Former Teacher,

And the next time there are not enough above average teachers to go around, standards will be relaxed, then later, those on the edge can be discarded. Darwinian employment to be sure. Perhaps not a problem, unless it is your kid's favorite teacher whose contract is not renewed (without teachers unions, layoff notices would be in May like for classified). Also, without unions, maybe English and Many studies of charters indicate that the average faculty tenure is five years because teachers burn-out.

Charters were always intended as incubators of innovation. State-wide, many have just turned into the same kind of arguments as those between BCS and LASD.

Posted by Honest Abe, a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm

The data Mr. Tom Gibboney quotes are biased and suspect and elude the truly disadvanataged. The question is not how many children of college eduacted Asians attend Bullis Charter the question is how it compares in numbers of the actually disadvanataged (non english speakers, socially economically disadvantaged etc). I would encourage Mr. Gibboney to do primary research himself in the future, not simply parrot his rich friends.

Correct Data from the State API website contrasts the 281 students at BCS whose test scores were used to calculate its 2010 API score of 984 to that of the 366 students at Santa Rita (API score of 957) . The demographics of these two “Public Schools” separated by a couple thousand feet are dramatically different. At BCS Zero of the 281 of the students (0%) were Socioeconomically Disadvantaged compared to 26 of 366 (7.1%) at nearby Santa Rita Elementary, at BCS 5 of 281 (1.8%) were English Learners compared to 91 of 366 (24.8%) at Santa Rita Elementary, at BCS 18 of 288 (6.4%) were Students with Disabilities compared to 44 of 366 (12%) at Santa Rita Elementary School.

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