The El Cerrito Planning Commission approved the permit for Summit K2 Public School, clearing the final hurdle for opening the new charter middle school.
The vote drew a broad smile from Kelly Garcia, the designated principal of Summit K2, which will occupy the site of the closed Windrush School, two blocks north of the Del Norte BART station in El Cerrito. The school is open to all students in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Most of the students are expected to be from Richmond, Garcia said.
Not everyone cheered the move, however. The district’s school board was opposed to Summit K2, saying it would leave schools like John F. Kennedy High School worse off than they already are. Some neighbors also spoke out against the school, citing traffic and noise concerns. One teacher spoke against Summit K2, saying it would compromise attendance and quality at other schools in the area.
This fall, Garcia, a graduate of Stanford and Harvard universities, will admit her inaugural class of 120 seventh graders.
Many students from Richmond College Prep came to the meeting to show their support, saying they want to continue from their charter elementary school to Summit K2.
Monserrat Perez, 12, hugged Garcia in celebration. She hopes to attend Summit K2 in the fall. “It could give us a lot more opportunity to go to college,” said Perez, who wants to be a doctor.
Summit K2 is now accepting applications for its seventh grade class, and will hold a lottery if there are more applicants than spaces. The school will eventually serve students in grades seven through 12. The location for the high school is undetermined. Garcia said she hopes to bring a new school option to the district that gives students consistent support. Each student will be assigned a teacher who will mentor them through middle and high school, “so that a parent has some continuity in knowing who is [their] child’s advocate,” she said.
Many Richmond parents spoke at the meeting about the need for more school options for their kids. “Kennedy and Richmond High are good schools,” said Evelyn Granera, a Richmond resident. But after having two sons go through the traditional public schools in West Contra Costa Unified School District, she is looking for other options for her daughter.
Granera was hoping to send her daughter to a private school with smaller classes, but she couldn’t afford it. She thinks public charter schools like Summit can give her daughter the quality education of a private school, free of cost. “I feel like it’s a good option for my 11-year-old,” she said.
When philanthropist Steve Chamberlin purchased the Windrush School property at 1800 Elm St., he didn’t know who he would invite to occupy the space. He reached out to a number of high performing charter schools including Aspire, KIPP and Summit. When he told people about the possibility of Summit coming to the area, they reacted with amazement. “They said, ‘Wow, here?’” he said. The high demand for schools in places like Albany shows that there is high demand for great schools to come to the area, Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin said Summit would be responsible neighbor in the community. He’s hoping that leasing the property to Summit will contribute another valued option to local students.
Many of them are looking for better teaching quality, smaller class sizes, and safe environments for their kids, said Scottie Smith, an educational advocate for families in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. “I get calls from parents trying to figure out where to send their kids,” she said. “Parents in this district are looking for alternatives to what they have.”
Smith is pleased with Summit’s track record, including with kids with special needs.
Summit operates six schools on the peninsula, from Daly City to San Jose.
Garcia was previously Dean of Students at Summit’s Everest Public High School in Redwood City. Summit’s schools boast a 100 percent graduation rate, with each student meeting the minimum requirements to attend a California public four-year university, according to Heather Vega, Summit spokesperson.
Many of the students who would attend Summit K2 through high school would otherwise go to Kennedy. Forty percent of students did not graduate in the school year 2011 to 2012, according to the California Department of Education.
Smith said the public charter could become an asset for the rest of the public schools. “The district can learn from people who are getting it right,” she said.
All Our Kids, a charter school advocacy group, is hosting an education fair this Saturday, February 1, that will feature charter schools, including Summit K2. The event will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Richmond Public Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza.