Without clear community support, Rocketship San Pablo’s charter petition should not lift off

At Wednesday’s WCCUSD School Board meeting, Rocketship Public Schools, a not-for-profit charter school management organization, publicly presented its proposal to open a new elementary school in San Pablo, eponymously named Rocketship San Pablo.

While Rocketship appears to have an impressive track record of helping students achieve high academic results, its lack of local community engagement is troubling. As a result, Education Matters cannot support Rocketship San Pablo’s petition at this time.

Education Matters advocates for high quality public schools for every single child in West Contra Costa County. To be clear, we are indifferent as to what form those schools take – traditional district or public charter – so long as it ensures an excellent education for its students.

We also believe that no parent, caregiver or child should be forced to attend a chronically low-performing school simply because of their zip code. When concerned and dissatisfied families seek an alternative school option, and rally together in significant numbers to demand it, they should be provided such opportunities. It is unacceptable to ignore their urgency and concern and ask them to wait for change that will likely come too late for their own child.

Based on what we observed during the November 13th school board meeting, Rocketship San Pablo does not yet appear to have this community support. Beyond the collection of signatures, Rocketship provided no evidence of engaging local students and families to understand their needs and measure interest in the possibility of a Rocketship school. In fact, not a single San Pablo resident expressed public support during the meeting.

In contrast, charters recently approved by the District and the County shared one powerful distinction: they demonstrated significant public support from local families who believe in the school’s vision and want the choice to attend the school.

Approving a charter school is never a simple decision, as there are real implications that can affect our district, schools, and teachers. Enrollments can fluctuate. Teacher placements might shift. Districts can face complex budget decisions. It is unacceptable for Rocketship to ask the District to face these risks without providing, in human terms, a real demand from local families for a high quality public school alternative.

Organizations who wish to start a school in our community have a responsibility to build authentic relationships with the educators, families, and students who call it their home. This is the hard work of earning community trust, and it is necessary to ensuring that public education is a partnership.

By law, the School Board cannot block Rocketship’s charter petition solely on the grounds that not enough people showed up to voice support. Rocketship met the requirements to collect signatures of interested families. If denied, they can appeal to the County Office of Education and then to the State. It is within their legal right to open a school and never bring a single parent to prove support in a public hearing.

We encourage Rocketship to come back in January and demonstrate that their core strengths extend beyond academic achievement to include building community trust that inspires interested families to stand in significant numbers on their behalf.

Until families stand beside them publicly advocating for the choice to attend Rocketship San Pablo, we cannot stand in support of its charter petition.