A San Jose charter school accused of not catering to Latinos and disabled students will remain open after the Santa Clara County Board of Education voted to overturn a district ruling rejecting the school’s charter renewal.
The board’s decision — a 5-2 vote — Wednesday came roughly three months after the Franklin-McKinley School District rejected Cornerstone Academy’s charter renewal. The denial in October shocked many school employees and parents, who lauded the school’s academics and vowed to appeal the decision. The State Board of Education has twice named Cornerstone a California Distinguished School.
Board Members Peter Ortiz and Claudia Rossi dissented, unsuccessfully voting to uphold the decision not to renew the school’s charter. Ortiz said he believes “mismanagement” by Cornerstone officials is what led to the school ending up on the chopping block. He would’ve prefered Cornerstone remain part of the Franklin-McKinley School District.
Still, more than 150 people crowded into the meeting Wednesday night to hear about the school’s fate, including parents who pleaded with the board to reconsider the decision.
“They teach him to be responsible,” said Sha Tao, whose son is in second grade at Cornerstone. She said the school “strikes the right balance,” and she plans to send her 4-year-old there. The school doesn’t just bolster her son’s academic prowess, Tao added, it also helps teach him important life skills — the other day, for example, he offered to do the dishes.
Cornerstone, located at 1598 Lucretia Ave., is part of East San Jose charter network Alpha Public Schools. It opened in 2010 and serves kindergarten through eighth grades.
The Franklin-McKinley School board on Oct. 22 denied the 5-year renewal by a 3-2 vote, contrary to the recommendation from school employees. Board Member George Sanchez, now president of the board, and Thanh Tran cast the two votes to save the school.
The denial came in large part because of accusations that the school is not inclusive enough.
Maimona Afzal Berta, now vice president of the Franklin-McKinley board, previously said Cornerstone does not enroll enough children with disabilities, specifically “moderate to severe” disabilities.
However, Cornerstone leaders rebuke this claim. In the 2018-19 school year, 40 of the 550 students enrolled at Cornerstone were disabled, and 13% of those are autistic, which, according to State of California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, is a “moderate to severe” disability.
Others have also been critical of Cornerstone’s low Latino population, which hovers around 30% — only half, in terms of percent, the county average of 60%.
Leaders say although Cornerstone doesn’t enroll a similar percent of Latino students as other schools, those students outperform Latino students in other schools in standardized testing. Further, Cornerstone’s lottery system for acceptance does not require students to disclose their race or disability.
Randrea Acda, a first-grade teacher for six years at Cornerstone, said the school is important to the Latino community, adding that she was “blindsided” by the denial.
“I have to look (my Latino students) in the eye and tell them ‘just because there are less of you, doesn’t mean you are less,” she said.
Cornerstone is a “tight-knit” community, Acda added, one that has made her feel welcome without all the politics that often accommodate education, one that holds her accountable and is committed to academic rigor. “I truly felt like I found a family,” she said. “This is the best place for students.”
Despite the school’s Latino students outperforming Latino students in other schools, Shara Hegde, chief schools officer at Alpha Public Schools, said the school is working to improve outreach to Latino students. Wednesday’s approval also required Cornerstone to put three parents on its board within the year and a fourth at a later date.
The county board has voted to overturn a charter renewal denial only once in its history — when it reversed a San Jose Unified decision in 2014 to reject the renewal of Sunrise Middle School’s charter. However, the county has upheld half of the 37 new-charter rejections by districts.
“This is educational justice,” said Board Member Joseph Di Silvo. “This is democracy in action.”
A review by county employees showed that Cornerstone meets all the requirement for renewal and they recommended renewal. According to board documents, “Cornerstone students perform above the schools they otherwise would have attended, there are still slight declines in performance for numerically significant student groups – students with disabilities and English Learners.”
The contract runs through June 2025.
Contact David Alexander at [email protected]
FMSD Letter to SCCOE Board Re Alpha Cornerstone Appeal
SCCOE Staff Analysis for CAPS Renewal