Rocketship Education has won approval to more than triple its charter network by opening 20 new schools in Santa Clara County (California), writes Sharon Noguchi at Mercury News.
In the largest single charter-school approval in the state, the Santa Clara County Board of Education voted to approve Rocketship's proposal to open more K-5 schools.
At the seven-hour school board meeting, parents were heard pleading for better schools and local school officials made their case for more time. In the end, the board was swung by a parade of high-profile Silicon Valley leaders, who joined purple-shirted Rocketship parents in asking the board to approve more charter schools.
"Rocketship has shown what works," San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed told the board.
"Let's take it, let's replicate it."
As the board voted 5-2, Rocketship's 20 new countywide charter schools — to be phased in from 2013 to 2016 — would be located within the Alum Rock, Franklin-McKinley, Evergreen, Campbell elementary, Oak Grove, Mount Pleasant, San Jose Unified and Santa Clara Unified school districts.
This comes after Rocketship Education, backed by tech heavyweights such as Netflix and Facebook, announced plans to open eight new elementary schools in Louisiana over the next seven years, starting with a campus in New Orleans.
This approval in Santa Clara means that there will now be more than 14,000 students in Rocketship Education institutions, equaling the size of some of the largest school districts in the county.
Rocketship maintains that it is responding to tremendous demand from parents currently poorly served by local school districts. It backs this claim up by bussing in parents and children to attend these meeting, with many waving signs of support.
"Thousands are depending on your courageous vote," one parent said.
"Their future depends on it."
However, not everyone was taken in. Leslie Reynolds, a San Jose Unified trustee, said:
"We are not clear what the big rush is."
She and other trustees of local school districts were vehemently opposed to the proposal petitions, and have criticized Rocketship officials for bypassing their boards and going directly to the county board. But Rocketship has argued that running schools under the jurisdiction of local districts rather than by the County Office of Education could shut out low-income, low-performing students throughout the county.
"We are at a crossroads here, and we have a chance to take the road that will change everything," said trustee Julia Hover-Smoot.
"I cannot in good conscience ask parents to wait."