Teachers at Grossmont High School have voted “nearly unanimously” to look into becoming a charter school, a teacher involved with the study said Thursday.
“On Wednesday, the staff of Grossmont High School … voted nearly unanimously to explore the option of becoming a charter school,” said the teacher, who declined to be named because “at this point we do not want a single person associated with the charter discussion to be identified.”
The move comes in the wake of parent outcry over new attendance boundaries adopted by the Grossmont Union High School District board that would lower the student population at Grossmont, the district’s oldest campus, and shift students to other schools from traditional Grossmont neighborhoods.
“The teachers feel strongly that we are here to serve our students and our community,” the teacher said in an email exchange. “The staff at GHS has expressed [concern] about our community divided and being able to make decisions about … best practices at Grossmont.”
The teacher said Grossmont staff—which numbers about 175—has also “expressed concern over the school calendar, large class sizes, the need for more support for our [English learner] students, possible budget cuts and the ability to offer appropriate interventions for our students.”
If Grossmont High School became a charter school, it would have its own school board and control its own budget—as Helix and Steele Canyon Charter high schools do now.
The charter-exploring group on Wednesday also launched a website to discuss the issue at ghsfoothillers.org. On Jan. 26, an associated Twitter account tweeted to a handful of followers: “The Staff at GHS is ready to vote on exploring a charter on 2/1.”
The first of seven items that the group wants states: “RESTORE our community and return to our traditional [attendance] boundaries.”
A message board on the site included a posting by Foothiller: “We pay a premium to have the ‘district’ make decisions for us and manage our schools. Maybe it is time we manage our own funds and our OWN school since we know it the best!”
Another posting cited the distance some Fletcher Hills students would have to travel if they attend West Hills High School in Santee instead of Grossmont:
“As educators, we should have the best interest of the students always at the forefront. Dividing our community and forcing our students on a 7-mile journey to school is not what is best.”
The teacher who disclosed the charter interest to La Mesa Patch said the website “was created by a member of our community. … We want to stay united as a staff—as this movement is not about one person but the students, staff and community of GHS.”
According to domain-name registration records, ghsfoothillers.org was created on Jan. 10. The site says it went online Feb. 1. The registrant listed their address as 1100 Murray Drive, El Cajon—the school’s address—and also gave the school’s phone number.
But the registrant’s fax number and email address are that of Nth Degree Systems LLC , a computer consulting firm at 9340 Fuerte Dr. in La Mesa.
The CEO of Nth Degree Systems is Jesse Dye, according to its website. Dye is technology specialist for the Grossmont Union High School District, according to his LinkedIn profile. He works at Grossmont High School, says another site.
The teacher involved in the study group said: “We are still tallying the final count [on whether to explore the charter option] as a handful of teachers have been out for a variety of reasons. So far, the results have VERY STRONGLY favored exploring the charter option.”
The group has no timeline to make the move to charter status, the teacher said.
“We will be conducting extensive research on what it will take to become a charter school,” the teacher said. “We plan to contact existing charter schools around the state of California to explore the pros and cons of a charter school.”
Each step in the process will be brought to Grossmont staff for approval, the teacher said.
“Currently, we are compiling a list of instructional goals we want to focus on through out the process.”
In 1998, Helix became the first charter high school in California. Steele Canyon, in Rancho San Diego, followed nine years later, and recently began using a billboard campaign to attract students.
“Steele Canyon High is one of the largest charter schools in California with 2,200 students,” according to a U-T San Diego report. “It opened in 2000 as the 11th comprehensive high school in the Grossmont Union High School District.
“Teachers successfully petitioned the Grossmont board for the change to charter school in 2006, largely to protect its university-style schedule. It reopened as a charter in 2007.”
Helix’s website says:
“While we retained the identity of Helix through our rich tradition of academic excellence, our mascot and other makings of a high school, we did make a commitment to do things differently in regards to instruction when becoming a charter high school.”
But in exchange for the ability to innovate and get more control over its money, Helix says, “we must meet more rigorous accountability measures that must be a part of our charter.”
If Grossmont joined Helix as a charter high school, it would be free to accept students from anywhere in California. But families who live outside the natural Helix boundary area must apply through a lottery system.
Among other differences with a traditional high school, Helix has an executive director, who oversees and administration that includes four grade-level principals.
The state Department of Education website contains information on how to become a charter school, including a sample “memo of understanding” (attached) between the state and charter school.
“We understand that becoming a charter school does not magically solve all of the problems facing GHS,” the teacher said. “We are committed to taking our time to extensively research becoming a charter before we have a final vote.”