By Charly SHELTON
For almost two months, a group of parents and community members has been working together to try and get a new foreign language immersion charter school off the ground. An application was submitted to the Glendale Unified School District for the International Studies Language Academy (ISLA) charter school on Oct. 20 backed by signatures from families both within GUSD and from other districts. On Nov. 17, a public hearing was held at the monthly GUSD Board of Education meeting where over several hours proponents and detractors were able to share their opinions. After a thorough investigation, the district’s staff posted its report and recommendation of denial to the board on Dec. 11, citing issues of ISLA’s board of education establishment, discipline style, location of board meetings, scoliosis screening, teacher recruitment and financial sustainability, among many other issues in the 15-page report. The final decision came down to last week, at the Dec. 15 GUSD Board of Education meeting, where the board voted on the issue.
Before the board voted, members of the public, both in favor and in opposition of ISLA, had one last chance to speak their minds in praise of the pending denial or to try and change the minds of the board members. Many who spoke in continued support of ISLA cited inaccuracies, contradictions and a misunderstanding of California education standards in the findings of the report.
“I think what is disappointing about [the staff findings] report is that it is the sole information presented to the school board and it is full of incorrect assumptions, distortions and a tremendous amount of intellectual dishonesty,” said Gillian Bonacci, one of the petitioners for ISLA. “We’ve offered many, many times to collaborate with the staff and the school board but our attempts have been rebuffed. I don’t know how you take a vote on something this important to the district, absent discussions with the petitioners and say, with any confidence, that you did your due diligence.”
Other voices were heard in strong opposition of ISLA and in support of the report’s findings.
“After the November meeting, my sons went to their school, Edison Elementary, and gathered signatures from their schoolmates, completely on their own [in opposition of the ISLA charter school]. I guess that’s from being raised in a house of activism,” said Ingrid Gunnell, parent of two GUSD students. “I come here tonight as I came here in November. This is a civil rights issue. I really hope that this board stands with integrity and votes against this charter school petition. Charter schools are destroying public education. Not singly, not one by one, but the whole movement is destroying public education. The whole movement is privatizing public education. They are taking our tax dollars and hedge fund managers are making billions off of our students in this country.”
The board was given a presentation hitting the highlights of the staff findings report, which all board members said they read, as well as the full petition application. One specific point of conflict with the application has been an issue since the signatures were first introduced. The target population of students for the school is largely outside the district, with only 26% of the total petition having signatures from families within GUSD. And 87% of the Foreign Language Academies of Glendale (FLAG), the existing language immersion program at district schools, has a waitlist composed of 87% out-of-district families.
“So the question is,” said Dr. Kelly King, assistant superintendent of GUSD, “is this target population truly for GUSD families or are the current programs meeting the needs of GUSD families and this target population is more suited for out of district?”
The board voted unanimously to support the findings of the staff report and deny the ISLA charter school petition application. All board members had a few moments to share their personal thoughts on the matter and they all had roughly the same message.
“We really do appreciate the experts, who are our staff, who went through this and helped evaluate it. It’s important for us to use your expertise in our decision-making process and not just our own ideas and impressions. We understand the governance of schools but we are not the experts in the day-to-day nuts and bolts. So certainly we want a great education for our children but our responsibility is, as trustees, to make sure that any program we have has the wherewithal to be successful on every level,” said GUSD Board President Christine Walters. “Because, as we know, it’s not just good ideas that make for successful schools.”
The ISLA petition and the staff findings report can both be found on the GUSD website at gusd.net.