San Jose: A hundred families scramble after charter school opening stalls
Photo courtesy of Innovate Public Schools.

    Parents of would-be students at Promise Academy — a charter school first expected to open at Allen at Steinbeck in the San Jose Unified School District last year — say they are devastated again after the district pulled the plug on their agreement just before school started last week.

    That left nearly 100 families scrambling to enroll their elementary school students with less than a week before the first bell rang.

    “We were fully funded, fully staffed, fully equipped — all we needed was the facility space,” said Adelita Gomez Alvarez, the mother of a sixth-grade son and a first-grade daughter she was hoping to send to Promise Academy. “The district made it impossible for that to happen.

    “It was going to be our perfect school,” the 37-year-old mother added. “It was going to allow us to keep our kids together for another three years and they did everything in their power to make it impossible for us to have that.”

    Gomez Alvarez says she was able to enroll her son at Perseverance Prep, another charter school in San Jose, and her daughter was able to return to the school where she attended kindergarten last year.

    Promise Academy’s opening has been delayed twice since last year — both times because of low enrollment numbers, though two sides are squabbling over how the student count was conducted. The charter school filed two lawsuits accusing the public school district of blocking the school’s opening.

    School officials told San José Spotlight they had 96 students enrolled for 2019-20 and were confident — with five classrooms at Allen at Steinbeck and additional space for staff and faculty to work — the school would achieve its projected 125 student goal shortly after the school year began.

    A district spokesman says the charter school was offered space at Allen at Steinbeck before the start of the 2018 school year, but Promise Academy declined.”

    After a lengthy legal battle last year, SJUSD offered to rent space to the school again this year, only to withdraw that offer again because of low enrollment — this time to the chagrin of school officials and with very little time for parents to react.

    “I find it outrageous and unacceptable that San Jose Unified would leave 100 kids scrambling to find a school only days before their first classes,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement. “Rather than continuing to seek every possible roadblock, San Jose Unified officials should recognize that Promise Academy can become both a great asset to our City and a pathway to opportunity for San Jose’s children.”

    Councilmember Johnny Khamis, who represents District 10 where Allen at Steinbeck is located, sounded off on the subject as well.

    “Promise Academy was going to be an opportunity for our students, particularly those who are under-served in San Jose Unified’s schools, to have a world-class STEM education that would prepare them to be successful in the economy of the future,” Khamis said. “It was an opportunity to help close the persistent achievement gap.”

    A San Jose Unified spokesman told San José Spotlight that city officials are misrepresenting the issue. Public Engagement Officer Ben Spielberg said that contrary to what parents say, the district did everything in its power to allow Promise Academy to open, but ultimately it was doomed by its own uncertain enrollment numbers.

    “I would encourage Sam and Johnny to give us a call if they want accurate information about school-related issues,” Spielberg said. “Our door is always open. We’re confident that anyone who takes the time to learn the facts and familiarize themselves with the education landscape in the city will recognize San José Unified’s continued dedication to serving the interests of the tens of thousands of students in San Jose.”

    Spielberg said the district has been locked in a legal fight with the school since it rejected Promise Academy’s petition for a K-12 school in 2017 for reasons including unanswered questions about its proposed curriculum and the qualifications of its employees.

    Yolanda Bernal-Samano, 36, was born and raised in Downtown San Jose and went to Olinder Elementary School, Castillero Middle School and graduated from Lincoln High School — all SJUSD schools.

    Times have changed since she was a student — parents have access to more information about how public schools are performing. And now that she’s a parent, Bernal-Samano says she wants more for her son than what the district provides at its traditional downtown schools.

    “We knew we had to find something different,” said the mother of a first grade son. “My husband and I are first-generation college graduates and we want more for our son. But that should be the norm in our community.”

    Samantha Hanlon, 37, says she was “devastated” when she found out she wouldn’t be able to send her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter to Promise Academy. She didn’t have a backup plan. Hanlon burst into tears as she described why her daughter didn’t get to start her first year of school on time. She knew the school had trouble opening the year before, but she was sure it would happen this year.

    Hanlon was so certain because in addition to being a parent, she’s Promise Academy’s Head of School — its top academic administrator.

    Hanlon said many parents of would-be Promise Academy students  — like Gomez Alvarez and Bernal-Samano — are from the city’s Latino communities and understand the potential of education to uplift those groups as a whole.

    “If I had any inclination that this was going to happen, I would have had a backup school for my own child,” she said through tears. “I’m personally devastated and it has had an impact on my family. But that’s nothing compared to what other families are going through.”

    Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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