BREAKING NEWS: Community members seek answers during board meetings
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated on Dec. 13 to include a link to the livestream of the ESUHSD Board Meeting.
By Jacob Kahn-Samuelson, Judy Ly, and Maxwell Taniguchi-King
Numerous community members prepared to attend today’s Summit Public Schools board meeting to discuss the closure of Summit Rainier but faced a surprise. Upon entering Home Office, where the board was meeting, they found out they had limited access to speaking to the board in-person.
CEO Diane Tavenner informed the crowd a total of six people could enter the board meeting and the rest would have to watch from an overflow room at Summit Prep, a school building adjacent to the SPS Home Office.
Below is video of CEO Tavenner announcing the space limitations of the board room:
Below is video of community members discussing alternatives to view the meeting:
Rainier Spanish teacher and junior mentor Isela Mosqueira is frustrated about how Summit board meetings are typically scheduled mid-day, making them not accessible to the communities that Summit Public Schools serve.
With school scheduled until 3:20 p.m., students had to be signed out to attend today’s board meeting from 1-4 p.m.
“This board meeting, and board meetings in general, are so inaccessible that we have to take off work and school to be here,” Ms. Mosqueira said.
Math teacher and junior mentor Hannah Creutzfeldt said video chatting the board meeting is not the same as attending the meeting in person, especially since community members made the commute to Redwood City.
“This felt, again, like a way to discourage us from attending in person and exercising this right,” Ms. Creutzfeldt said. “You aren’t able to see people face-to-face and see the board members and communicate in that way.”
Below is a video of the board meeting room at the SPS Home Office:
Below is a video of the overflow room community members had to go to at Summit Prep:
While all California sites were provided a video chat option, community members from Summit Prep, Shasta, Denali, Tahoma, Rainier, Tamalpais and K2 video chatted in from their sites. Board members Steven Humphreys and Blake Warner also communicated through video chat.
One of the six community members who was let into the board meeting room at Home Office, before the closed session, was Rainier sophomore Karla ‘Vivis’ Andrade.
“Diane Tavenner said the other students being in the room — just on the side, just listening — created an inappropriate environment for them to work in,” Andrade said.
Originally there was no translator provided for parents who did not speak English. Ms. Mosqueira raised the concern about the lack of translation and was then allowed into the board room to provide Spanish translation for parents. Andrade added that CEO Tavenner at first said a translator was not necessary to the meeting.
The anticipated real estate transaction between SPS and the East Side Union High School District, which resulted in Rainer’s upcoming closure, was discussed in today’s closed session. Questions about transportation and concerns about students futures dominated the public comment sections, which occurred right before and after the closed session.
Atilana Pineda, a parent of two current Rainier students and an alumni student, said stability is being taken away from students.
“I was taught that to make sure my kids are successful is — you provide them stability; you provide them love and support, and this is what they’re given here at Rainier,” Ms. Pineda said
Ms. Mosqueira voiced how Summit did not follow its own procedure for closing a school site “before the official announcement was given again and again to our community.”
Rainier junior Alfredo ‘AJ’ Montalvo spoke about the concerns and requests for his displaced peers who want to attend Tahoma next year.
“Students who may be interested in attending Tahoma have expressed that this is not a possibility because their families cannot make this commute from the East Side of San Jose to across the town, in the morning,” Montalvo said.
He added that providing transportation would allow students who wish to attend Tahoma to continue at a Summit school, despite the closing of Rainier.
For Rainier junior Jonathan Lopez, the commute would be unmanageable due to his single parent’s work schedule.
“I’m just curious how do you expect my mother, a single mother, that has two jobs she has to maintain, to make it to Tahoma.” Lopez said. “Are you going to tell her that she has to lose an hour of sleep because she has to wake up earlier to make sure she takes me to Tahoma and arrive to her job on time?”
Beyond transportation, there are concerns related to Tahoma’s enrollment capacity.
Tahoma’s current charter states full enrollment is at 405 students but can be adjusted by the Summit Public Schools Board.
Summit Tahoma currently has 262 students not scheduled to graduate next year, leaving room for 143 additional students. In their charter, it also states that each grade aims to have approximately 100 students.
Although Rainier community members have asked for clarification, the Santa Clara County Office of Education hasn’t yet made a public statement on what changes are necessary.
“There is not an enrollment cap — that is a misreading of the charter petition,” CEO Tavenner said. “There is space for all of the Rainier students to enroll at Tahoma.”
The SPS Board did not take any official action on any of the concerns brought up today.
In addition to members of the Summit community, Santa Clara County Board of Education board member Peter Ortiz also made a public comment.
Santa Clara County is the authorizer for Tahoma’s current facilities. He clarified that his comments do not reflect his board and that he attended the meeting as a community member.
“I think everyone gets into the business of education to prioritize the needs of students first, and I know that a lot of conflicting and partisan opinions of charter schools is that they do not take students’ opinions as the No. 1 priority,” Mr. Ortiz said. “I am hoping that it is not the case for Summit Public Schools, but I want you to know that I am here and paying close attention to what is occurring and I am going to be active throughout this entire process.”
Following the initial public comment, Rainier sophomore Marley Custodio felt this meeting vocalized important perspectives.
“The points people have tried to come across, I think are very powerful and impactful, and I feel that it could at least push them to think about us,” Custodio said.
This evening, Rainier community members also attended the East Side Union High School District’s board meeting to share their wants for the Rainier community’s transition and stories. Starting at 1:37:07 in the livestream of the ESUHD’s board meeting, you can see the public comments related to Rainier.
Ms. Mosqueira spoke about how the trustees have the power to better the situation.
“Summit Public Schools wants to sign a 20-year lease with East Side District for their other San Jose school, Summit Tahoma. After hearing all of the things that is going wrong with this decision, all of the ways that we are negatively affected by this closure, please understand that it is in your power to tell Summit that you will not sign their lease until they do right by their students and their community and provide the things that we are asking for,” she said.
Shortly after, Expeditions teacher Keith Brown went to the podium and told the board members about the struggles that his students experienced, after the announcement of Rainier’s closure. He then spoke of his own struggles as a student and asked the trustees to help make the transition as smooth as possible for the students.
“I come to you not just as a teacher but also as a person on the autism spectrum, speaking on behalf of the students who live their lives the same way,” said Mr. Brown. “On behalf of my students who come to my office hours, crying their eyes out because they know that their school is closing, scared that they will never see their friends again, I ask for your help in keeping our Rainier community as together as possible and making it so that the enrollment at Tahoma is smooth and that our students are able to keep these friendships so that they can support each other in this massive change.”
Staff Editors Ben Alexander and Keith Dinh contributed to this report.