Charter facility backers appeal to state after rejection by San Francisco 

A well-regarded charter school chain has been denied permission to open a school for low-income students, clearing the way for appeal to a state board often more favorable to such institutions.

It’s a path charter school backers frequently travel to circumvent the objections of local education officials who oppose them.

Rocketship Education, a nonprofit backed by philanthropists including Netflix founder Reed Hastings, has five campuses in low-income San Jose neighborhoods and plans to open dozens more in the Bay Area. In June, it applied to the San Francisco Unified School District for permission to start an elementary school in the southeast city.

But although its San Jose schools have performed impressively on statewide tests, the district’s board unanimously rejected its application last week, relying on a staff report that described the group’s plan as “an unsound educational program,” partly because it relied too heavily on commercially available lessons.

Commissioners also were troubled by Rocketship leaders’ refusal to grant them extra time to review the petition. State law gave the board 60 days to make its decision, but petitioners can allow more time.

SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia accused Rocketship of “trying to ramrod this down our throats.”

Rocketship officials cited the narrow window for finding a site in time for the 2013-14 school year.

Under California law, the state Board of Education can authorize charter school applications rejected locally. Regional Policy Manager Evan Kohn said Rocketship will take that route.

Kohn complained that Rocketship invited SFUSD board members to tour its San Jose facilities, but only one commissioner, President Hydra Mendoza, spent any time with them.

“It takes two to tango,” he said.

Rocketship also was unsuccessful earlier this year in trying to open a charter school in the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto. Rocketship appealed that decision with the state after being rejected by the San Mateo County Board of Education.

Rocketship, which focuses on kindergarten through fifth grade, combines classroom learning with time in a computer lab, where game-like activities reinforce skills.

The approach seems to be working in San Jose, where its Si Se Puede Academy boasted an Academic Performance Index of 886 out of 1,000 last year. its Mateo Sheedy Elementary did even better, with a score of 925. At both schools, more than 90 percent of students came from low-income families.

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