Rainier community left unsettled after announcement of closure
By Keith Dinh, Judy Ly, Karla Tran and Van Tran
The news of Rainier’s upcoming closure has left many unanswered questions for community members. Concerns around the enrollment capacity at Tahoma; the availability of transportation; and the decision-making process remain unresolved. As a ripple effect, students’ plans are blurry.
“For me, it’s student futures that they’re playing with,” Ms. Mosqueira said.
On Nov. 14, Summit Public Schools leadership announced to the Rainier community their school site will be closing at the end of the school year. The school site’s facilities use agreement was scheduled to expire in 2021. Excluding seniors, 244 out of the 313 Rainier students will be displaced due to the facility changes.
On the following day, Summit Public Schools Superintendent Anson Jackson hosted an all-school assembly where he promised Rainier students a spot at Tahoma if they wish to transfer there next year.
“We’ll be committed to 20 years in San Jose to support you, your families, community, but there is going to be a trade-off and that trade-off next year will not be at Rainier’s campus,” he said.
Below is a video of the whole announcement Superintendent Jackson gave at the Nov. 15 assembly:
“This is not a merger, and it is not a consolidation of the two schools,” Ms. Mosqueira said. “Rainier is closing. Summit is closing Rainier, and they’ve invited students from Rainier to attend Tahoma, their South San Jose school, but it is not a merger in any way.”
Questions remain about Tahoma’s capacity to enroll Rainier transfers
Ms. Mosqueira also added all faculty at Rainier do not have a guaranteed position at Tahoma or any other Summit site.
“If we want a job next year, we have to re-apply,” she said.
Tahoma’s charter states their plan to hold 405 students at full capacity. The school site currently has 346 students enrolled; 262 of those students are not scheduled to graduate this school year.
Due to the possible capacity issue, Tahoma math teacher Doug Wills said his biggest concern is adjusting the charter to be able to hold more students. With the potential of a high volume of students, he hopes that mentor groups can stay together.
“If there are enough students, that would mean we need to hire more teachers,” Mr. Wills said.
In an interview with Superintendent Jackson, he rephrased the term “enrollment cap” to an “enrollment plan.” He acknowledged that, to expand the enrollment plan, SPS would need to inform their authorizer.
“There is plenty of space for Rainier and Tahoma to be together. We want to know who wants to go, specifically, to think about what’s our plans moving forward,” Superintendent Jackson said.
Tahoma’s charter states that students must apply to be put in a lottery system. If chosen at random, the student will be admitted.
Rainier Dean of Operations Lupe Trujillo confirmed there has been no official petition to change Tahoma’s lottery system.
In an email, Tahoma Executive Director Jonathan Stewart claimed all Rainier students will have the opportunity to enroll.
“We’ll have sufficient staffing and classrooms – and a welcoming community,” Mr. Stewart said. “Originally we had planned to offer spaces for next year on March 6, but we are finding out if we can move that date sooner.”
Concerns related to transportation are affecting students’ plans
In addition to the enrollment capacity concerns, transportation could become an inhibitor for Rainier students looking to remain at a Summit school. Tahoma’s campus resides in South Side San Jose while Rainier is in East Side. Click on the story map below to see campus locations:
81.8 percent of Rainier’s student body, excluding seniors, responded to a survey sent out by Rainier’s faculty. Of those respondents, 46.7 percent stated that Tahoma is their top choice of schools to attend next school year (that percentage represents 92 students).
Additionally, 72.1 percent of those respondents stated that Tahoma would be their top choice if transportation were provided (that percentage represents 142 students).
Rainier families and faculty have asked SPS leadership about providing transportation for the displaced students using Rainier’s remaining budget. The school site has saved up between $500,000 and $550,000 over the years, according to Rainier Dean of Operations Lupe Trujillo.
During a parent meeting, SPS Chief of Staff Kelly Garcia said the money will be used for capital improvements at Tahoma’s campus. Rainier administration has confirmed that SPS leadership have stated that the money will be used for that purpose.
Rainier Executive Director Edwin Avarca sees how a long-term facility in San Jose can be beneficial, but he is concerned what that means for the established Rainier community in East Side.
“In terms of the now, how accessible Tahoma becomes for East Side San Jose, which I think is a different community from South San Jose,” Mr. Avarca said. “I don’t think they really benefit anymore because I think the accessibility becomes more difficult now.”
The decision-making process has raised transparency concerns
East Side Union High School District Superintendent Chris Funk said the abrupt news of the closure is a result of how Summit communicates with their community.
“That is a Summit leadership issue. That is not an East Side issue. Because East Side is not closing or did not recommend to close Rainier. We talked about combining the two schools,” he said.
In an interview, Superintendent Jackson said CEO Tavenner and Chief of Operations Josh Lotstein were involved in the negotiation process with East Side Union.
Superintendent Funk said the initial proposal was for the two charter schools to switch facilities.
“The CEO of Summit schools and the CEO of KIPP came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re interested in switching campuses. KIPP moving from Oak Grove to Mount Pleasant, and Summit Rainier moving from Mount Pleasant to Oak Grove,'” he said.
Superintendent Funk elaborated that he was against having two charter schools remain on the Oak Grove campus because each school’s athletic teams would compete for sports facilities usage.
He added that, as a superintendent of the East Side Union High School District, the real estate agreement would be beneficial to the district.
“I’m the one that said I would be open to this if you combine the two schools so that there’s only one school with one set of athletic programs, and Summit agreed to that concept,” Superintendent Funk said.
When Rainier closes, KIPP Navigate College Prep will move into Rainier’s current space.
This will allow their school to expand beyond their current grades of 9th and 10th. KIPP is currently co-located with Tahoma and Oak Grove High School.
“The decision was finally made to agree on the lease agreement was done by the East Side board,” Superintendent Jackson said.
Similar to Superintendent Funk, East Side Union Board President Pattie Cortese originally thought the Summit sites were being combined.
“This is unfortunate for the students. I wished they were doing this differently,” Ms. Cortese said. “Originally, this was seen as a consolidation and now it’s a closure.”
Click on the timeline to see the decision-making process:
Faculty express surprise at the lack of communication
As an advocate for the teachers union, science teacher Shaila Ramachandran feels like the limited transparency to Rainier teachers was a result of teachers unionizing, which happened last January.
“Since then, this fall, we were made aware that our mindsets — of the staff at Rainier’s mindsets — was potentially going to be a reason for why our school may be in trouble as well as other data points such as enrollment,” she said.
Ms. Ramachandran added that CEO Tavenner denied the claim of faculty mindsets being a factor for the closure, during a teachers’ meeting the morning of the assembly, when asked by a teacher.
Superintendent Jackson said it is not standard to inform teachers of lease agreements until they are approved.
“It just so happens that this lease agreement involves us not renewing the lease at Mount Pleasant, but this is the standard practice when you do have these agreements,” he said.
Superintendent Jackson has been the main spokesperson on this issue, acting as the sole speaker during the school assembly, the main speaker at the parent meetings, and the only member of SPS leadership who scheduled an interview with student journalists.
“I have a relationship with you guys, and we want to have a unified voice,” Superintendent Jackson said.
He also said CEO Tavenner did not speak about the matters because, “Diane would say the same thing.”
Action is expected soon to finalize the closure of Rainier
In Rainier’s charter, the procedure to close a school is to have the Summit Board of Directors officially document the reason for the school’s closure. The SPS Board of Directors have not yet voted to close the school.
“I would say this conversation was really around, like, real estate. I think the Board will follow their policy, but, right now, this is just on real estate,” Superintendent Jackson said.
The SPS Board of Directors are scheduled to have their next public meeting on Dec. 12 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The East Side Union High School District is scheduled to have their board meeting on Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. The Santa Clara County Office of Education is having their next board meeting on Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. The agendas have not yet been posted.