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.