UPDATE: Education leaders can’t stop Sunnyvale school closure
Summit Denali, which serves more than 600 students, is shutting down in June. Parents and community members hope the Santa Clara County Board of Education can help them keep it open. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Santa Clara County education leaders are questioning the probable closure of a charter school in June as parents scramble to find a new place for their children.

    The Santa Clara County Board of Education received a report Wednesday regarding Summit Denali, a charter middle and high school in Sunnyvale run by Summit Public Schools. Charter officials announced the closure in mid-January, citing financial troubles, but the Summit Public Schools board has yet to make a final decision to shutter the school, a charter spokesperson told San José Spotlight.

    The Santa Clara Office of Education oversees more than 30 school districts across the county. Responsibilities for the Board of Education include renewing and approving charter schools in the area.

    Board members asked for information on the financial details behind the closure. They called on Summit Public Schools leaders to attend future board meetings, and urged them to make a final decision regarding the closure.

    “We’re already in February in terms of the end of this school year, and from everything we’ve heard, Summit has not made a final decision or communicated,” Trustee Maimona Afzal Berta said.

    Mefula Fairley, executive director of the county’s charter school department, said while the county doesn’t have the final say on the closure, officials are working with Summit Public Schools to get more context for the decision.

    “(The Santa Clara County Office of Education) is neither involved in the day to day operations of Denali, nor responsible for its fiscal obligations or decisions,” Fairley said. “We can monitor the process Summit and Denali uses to help students find a school for next year. We can assist the community in addressing their concerns to the right entities.”

    In a Jan. 12 email sent to Summit Denali families, Summit Public Schools leaders emphasized several factors in the school’s closure, including a budget deficit since its 2013 opening and reductions in COVID-19 pandemic funding. Schools across the county are grappling with the loss of pandemic-era, federal stimulus funds.

    Summit officials pointed to the displacement of low-income families, which led to Summit Denali no longer qualifying for state funds targeted toward charters that serve high amounts of low-income students. The region’s high cost of living is closely tied with declining enrollment. Low-income students were disproportionately impacted by drops in test scores and chronic absenteeism during the pandemic, and educators pointed to housing and financial struggles which impacted student learning.

    State data reveals the school serves 644 students as of the 2020-21 school year.

    Uncertainty among parents

    Since the announcement, the community has struggled to get in touch with school administrators, parents said. More than a dozen parents, students and teachers called for transparency at the board meeting, with some asking the school to remain open for another school year to better prepare for any closures.

    “My daughter’s future is at risk,” said parent Eduardo Escuro. “Losing Denali will be life changing for my daughter, for my community. I ask you all, whoever has the power to save Denali, to please do so.”

    Kate Gottfredson, chief of public affairs for Summit Public Schools, told San José Spotlight the priority is to finish the school year strong as Summit Public Schools teams work to transition students and staff in the next several months.

    “A specific series of financial issues, when taken together, put Denali in an unfortunate situation,” Gottfredson said. “Denali is a wonderful school and while we don’t want to close Denali, we do not see a viable path forward to remain open.”

    Nancy Agaiby, parent of a sophomore student at Summit Denali, told San José Spotlight she was devastated to hear about the closure. She said her son has ADHD and was enrolled at multiple schools before finding the right fit at Summit Denali.

    Agaiby said officials have suggested that students apply to other Summit Public Schools locations, including ones in San Jose and Redwood City. But the locations are too far away, she said.

    “They said if you apply to the south San Jose (location)… or the two in Redwood City, they will try to make room,” Agaiby told San José Spotlight. “For me to travel… two hours in the evening (to pick him up), it’s not feasible.”

    Kim Nicholson, a Summit Denali teacher since 2016, said educators were also blindsided by the closure announcement. Teachers need clear communication and plans on how staff and students are expected to transition to new schools, she said.

    “A lot of the people speaking here are parents of children that I have taught,” Nicholson said at the meeting. “(Summit Denali) is more than just a school: it is a community, it’s a family.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at loa[email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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