Teachers, parents plead with Sunnyvale school to keep doors open – The Mercury News

Teachers, parents plead with Sunnyvale school to keep doors open – The Mercury News

In the wake of Summit Denali’s startling announcement last month that the Sunnyvale charter school could close its doors permanently in June, teachers and students rallied outside the campus Tuesday, pleading with administrators to keep it open to avoid displacing students.

Summit Denali has cited financial issues — particularly, a $4.5 million funding gap — as the reason why the school is struggling to keep operating.

School officials blame that gap on under-enrollment, ineligibility for SB 740 grants that offset facility costs for schools serving a high number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and other costly expenses.

“Denali has operated at a deficit since it opened, and while we have worked diligently to close the fiscal gap, there is not a sustainable financial path for Denali to continue operation after the 22-23 school year,” the school said on a website created for Summit Denali parents and students, adding that the school has not been able to “identify a pathway to securing enough money” to keep the school operating into the future.

Summit Denali did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Since then, the Summit Denali community has been scrambling to figure out what to do next, with parents and students looking for other schooling alternatives and teachers suddenly on the job hunt.

On Tuesday morning, teachers at Summit campuses all over the Bay Area hosted demonstrations outside before classes began, showing solidarity with Summit Denali teachers and sharing their concerns for the well-being of their students.

Outside the Sunnyvale school, the demonstration was hopeful and passionate, with passing cars honking in support as members of the Summit community waved their signs in the air. Cheerful pop music played from a speaker, and demonstrators sipped coffee from paper cups and snacked on donuts while toting signs emblazoned with phrases like “our kids deserve better,” “save Denali,” and “we are more than a number.”

But along with that feeling of hope was an undercurrent of anxiety, with many wondering if Summit officials were taking their demands seriously.

“I really have no idea of what’s going to happen next year —  for myself and for the kids,” said Kim Nicholson, who teaches sixth grade history at the school.

Summit Denali is one of several Summit charter schools around the Bay Area and in the state of Washington that prides itself on offering students a unique educational model tailored to their individual strengths and weaknesses, and serving students in ways that other schools typically can’t. For example, the school offers smaller class sizes and focuses on project-based learning that allows students to develop hands-on skills and move through lessons at a pace that works for them.

But Summit Denali isn’t the first Summit school to experience tough times — Summit Rainier in East San Jose shut down in 2019 after administrators were unable to secure a private facility for the school. After operating as its own school for nearly a decade, Summit Rainier consolidated with its sister campus, Summit Tahoma, about ten miles away.

Since learning of the school’s pending closure, parents of students attending Sunnyvale’s Summit Denali have been calling for more transparency and accountability, pressing Summit for answers as to what caused such a significant deficit, or why the announcement about the school’s potential closure was made just a few months before the end of the school year.

Many Summit teachers feel like they’ve been left out of the decision making process, including teachers at other Summit campuses, said Justin Kim, the president of the teacher’s union, Unite Summit.

“The fact that Summit just announced this without coming forward to the families, the teacher’s union, and to the public about the financial troubles they’re having before they actually made that decision feels really irresponsible,” said Kim, who teaches eighth grade history at Summit K2 in El Cerrito. “The fact that none of that had happened…it feels like they’re not going to take care of the students or teachers, and they might just make these decisions unilaterally without even consulting us.”

Allison Lee, an eighth grade science teacher at Summit Denali, said it was “shocking” to hear the news of the potential closure. She’s taught at Summit Denali for the past five years and said she’s grown immensely as a teacher and found a sense of community with other educators during that time.

“It felt like it wasn’t real to me,” Lee said as nearby drivers on their morning commutes honked their horns in solidarity with her and other teachers. “[Summit Denali] has felt like a home to me — I really love the community here.”

“I think I was the most sad and grieving for my students and for my families — that’s who I feel the most for,” Lee continued. “At the end of the day, we’ll always find another job, but there’s no school our students can go to that’s quite like our school, or quite like this environment.”

According to Lee, Summit Denali stands out from other schools because of the focus it directs to each individual student — teachers “try to personalize the approach for every student,” as well as offer mentorship and guidance to groups of students throughout their time at the school.

“We kind of check up with them, and I think that really builds a family and a community aspect, where you can really support the socio-emotional growth of the student and not just the academic growth,” Lee said. “We’re also really welcoming of students from all different backgrounds — different races, religions, sexualities…we’re extra welcoming, and it’s very inclusive.”

That concern for students’ well-being has always been a part of the Summit Denali experience, and it evolved to meet students’ needs following the news of the school’s closure, Nicholson said.

“Our focus was all on the kids, and on making sure the kids felt they still had our support,” she said. “We were really conscientious about planning a very deliberate and very specific rollout of the information — we included some ‘safe rooms’ for the kids so they could step out of the academics and have one-on-one conversations with a teacher and voice their feelings…they’re teenagers, the uncertainty they have is very overwhelming.”

On top of those concerns for their students, teachers are also worried about the transfer of Summit Denali teachers to other Summit schools, Nicholson said.

“Currently, teachers are not being guaranteed a position if they apply at another school,” Nicholson said.

And the sense of limbo about the future is shared by students, who were told by Summit administrators that they could potentially attend one of Summit’s other Bay Area schools — if they can find a way to get there in the morning and return to Sunnyvale in the afternoon. The closest locations are in Redwood City and San Jose, making them a far trek for many Denali students and parents.

“The alternatives are pretty far, and that’s something for us that’s not on the table,” said Elad Wind, the parent of a sixth grader at Summit Denali. “We are really dead in the water.”

Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/02/14/our-kids-deserve-better-teachers-parents-plead-with-sunnyvale-school-to-keep-doors-open/

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