Charter High School May Come to Redwood City

A group of parents and community members hope to open the Sequoia Big Picture School in the fall of 2013.

A group of parents and community members are hoping to launch another charter school in the using the nationally established “Big Picture” curriculum. They hope the Sequoia Big Picture School will provide another education alternative to students in the area if approved.

As pressure increases for students to remain competitive in the college application process, parents have explored other education models to ensure students are receiving the most appropriately challenging curriculum possible. Communities have looked outside traditional schools and enthusiastically embraced alternative schools like , a charter school in Redwood City.

“I think about my grandkids who are bored in school,” said the leader of the Sequoia Big Picture School movement, Sally Stewart and emeritus board member who served for 24 years before retiring in 2009. “We all learn differently and we have to take care of those differences.

She and several community members are submitting the charter application in the summer for a fall 2013 opening pending board approval. The school will likely be based in Redwood City, near East Menlo Park along public transit lines.  

After Stewart retired from the board in 2009, she began examining various charter school curricula to find the best suited one for the district. Because of Big Picture’s proven success at over 100 schools nationally, Stewart decided to adopt its curriculum, she said.

Compared to comprehensive public high schools, the 200-student Sequoia Big Picture School would emphasize educating the whole child, Stewart said. Just as kindergarteners receive tailored attention, high schoolers should continue to receive the same one-on-one development.

Students have a mentor that they meet with for four years to cultivate their passions and learn to develop relationships with adults who care about their well-being. The curriculum is “project learning” heavy so students can learn in a different way.

Two times a week, students dive into the community by interning with various businesses and organizations from the local veterinarian to the California Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“Students feel invested in the community and the community feels invested in them,” said Charlene Margot, a member of the steering committee and former parent and teacher in the district.


Charter Schools “vs.” Public Schools

Though charter schools and public school districts traditionally have had the public perception of being in competition with each other, the Sequoia Union High School District has accepted four charter schools into its boundaries, a high number compared to other high school districts in the Bay Area.  

“We’re a welcoming, supportive environment for charter schools,” said Alan Sarver, the Sequoia Union High School District board president. “Our primary mission is to provide great and varied education models.

However, the state’s and federal government’s limited education funding has often put schools at odds with each other trying to scrape for every dollar they can.

“The state is desperately short on funding and the situation is not getting better,” Sarver said. “So there’s always going to be financial tension.”

Once a charter school is established, there is a funneling of students away from traditional schools, which means less money for the public high schools that receive money per pupil, Stewart added.

But Sarver and Stewart both said that any tension between charter schools and public schools has slowly dissipated thanks to board members who recognize the merits of charter schools and the growing relationship between the leadership of both parties.

“Comprehensive schools do a good job,” said Margot, whose two children went through the district. “This is just another kind of successful school.”

The district bases its approval of charter schools not on specific criteria but a number of factors, Sarver said.

The group plans to present its application to the board during the summer, at which time the board will decide if the charter school has community support and a clear vision and plan. There are other nuances such as curriculum choices, union relations and financial considerations that the board also scrutinizes.

Stewart said the district has not meddled in the application process nor presented any obstacles. It’s merely waiting for a formal application and has not taken a stance on the issue.   

The Big Picture charter school is currently in the fundraising process and hopes to further publicize the school for a Fall 2013 opening.

The school needs $250,000 to $500,000, Stewart said, but has raised “very little” of this amount.

“But all we need is one great break,” Margot said.

She added that President Barack Obama’s endorsement in March of the Big Picture charter schools as a “model for student success in the 21st century” and again last week by Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan should be a big plug for the charter school.

Currently the school is in the outreach process as well, speaking to groups like the , Rotary Clubs, the San Carlos charter school and any group who is interested. The Big Picture School presented at Redwood City City Hall to several dozen curious parents.

There is no application process to attend the school, and if filled to capacity, acceptance will be based on a lottery system.

“There is no particular demographic we’re targeting,” Margot said. “We’ll take everyone and anyone with learning challenges.”


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Jack Hickey May 30, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Sally Stewart, leader of the Sequoia Big Picture School movement said “I think about my grandkids who are bored in school” That is a major problem with the Compulsory government schooling system. Choice of alternative education venues is the answer. ___But, that choice should not cost taxpayers more. A considerable reduction in the cost of education to taxpayers should result from a system of choice not limited to government schools. ___I have a great respect for Sally Stewart. I will support her effort if significant savings to taxpayers can be demonstrated. ___My preference is for financial empowerment of families via property tax credits or education vouchers. Education dollars so allocated would fuel the creation of alternative education venues from which to choose.
ray morley May 31, 2012 at 07:53 PM
I am very interested in supporting this cause. Please help me get in touch with Sally Stewart or someone else who is pushing this effort. An email address or phone number would be most helpful. Ray Morley, at raygmorley@yahoo.com or 801.836.9711
Cheri Hahne June 04, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Charter schools drain the rest of the district of dollars and the best students/most involved parents--They always have, and they always will. However, they are also the quickest way to get increased chairs for bodies into an impacted district; and reduce the financial strain on families paying for private high school educations. Other ideas, anyone?


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