We are writing to express our support for the students of Cesar Ch¡vez Charter School and the unrecognized value of what they stand to lose, should their charter not be renewed. Our superintendent has informed us that low standardized test scores and subsequent state rankings may make it difficult to renew the charter that grants our school legal permission to exist. In response, we would like to focus on the value that our unique school provides to the community, worth that can not be measured by numeric data.
Our school principal, Eva Neuer, has clearly presented data and the rationale by which each school board member could vote to support us. Our purpose is not to reiterate that data in this letter, but to articulate the undeniable testimony of our love for the students of our school. We hope that you will carefully consider all we have written, as it is only possible to convey a small part of our community’s unified passion and educational efficacy.
We must seek a meaningful definition of performance with regard to education. The assertion that Cesar Ch¡vez Charter School is a low-performing school is simply inaccurate, and a poor foundation from which to begin an inquiry into the effectiveness of the education that these students are receiving.
Performance in the broader sense cannot be narrowed down to the students’ aggregated test scores. Performance could be defined as the academic success and the personal well-being of the students. The standardized tests alone are clearly an insufficient indicator of academic achievement, and as research has shown, they do not accurately measure student achievement at a dual-immersion school. Still, we are not writing to devalue the test data, but to share a more complete perspective on what makes our school outstanding, high-performing, and an incomparable asset to the Santa Barbara community. Indeed, we believe that the test is important, and each of us is striving individually, collaborating within and across grade-levels, and engaging in frequent professional development to improve our students’ scores.
But the best picture of the school’s excellence starts at 8:00 am every day in the classrooms. Please come visit our school. Nothing will give you a better understanding of what is really happening here than being present. As we do every day with the students, we would like you to look for the good in us-not because the program is essentially flawed, and needs a second chance, but rather because this school is truly an academically rigorous and educationally thriving environment, and must be experienced to be appreciated. For the same reason that we spend a long time writing our students’ report card comments, we believe that by offering you a more subjective, affective analysis of our program, you will gain much deeper insight into the true nature of our educational activity. This insight develops from the experience of visiting or participating in the program, far better than any numeric data ever could.
Our school is a catalyst toward a natural desegregation of our community, and a future with less animosity, prejudice, and violence. Anglo families are actively seeking out our school because of what we are achieving, and far from being daunted by the publicity around test scores, are working together with us every day to improve the academic performance of all of our students. So called “white flight” is not an issue at Cesar Ch¡vez Charter School, and in fact, our classes in K-2 are closer to a true 50-50 Latino-Anglo demographic makeup than ever before. This also raises the average of our families’ education level, which will bring an inevitable rise in test scores within the next several years as the students reap the benefits of all of the work that has brought our school to its maturity.
Our school is one of the best paths for empowering students to turn away from gangs. With an anti-bias, culturally affirmative curriculum we are nourishing the identity, respect, and dignity of our youth who in turn will be far less likely to choose the deceptive protection of gang-life than students who have been educated in traditional schools. Research evidence links violence to environments in a child’s life that are not truly respectful and nurturing. The degree to which our teachers make themselves available to the students and their families is one clear sign of our commitment to nurturance and respect.
The dream of true equality, and the practice of fostering equality day-by-day, drives us. Santa Barbara’s Glendon Association, a non-profit that specializes in preventing suicide and violence, asserts on its website that a “greater level of equality is essential in order to curb both interpersonal violence and collective political violence.” Our partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, and their recognition of our school as a “No Place for Hate” school is further evidence of this commitment.
Our dual-immersion program is in itself a solid ground that intrinsically cultivates equality. All students, regardless of language, have full access to the curriculum, and are mentored closely throughout their growth in our school. Students’ home language and culture are seen as assets rather than liabilities, and are built upon as a strong foundation. Spanish-speaking students are not (explicitly or implicitly) taught to think of themselves as less-than, and they play an active role in teaching the English-dominant students, who in turn get to experience looking up to the expertise and fluency of their Spanish-speaking peers. Our focus on personal well-being, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution skills, and peacemaking tools are paramount to each child’s life-long happiness and personal success, regardless of the path in life they choose.
Cesar Ch¡vez Charter School has a high degree of family involvement, with a universal open-door policy, and all teachers are actively engaged in recruiting parents to volunteer where they can have the most impact. The level of trust that parents and teachers report, on surveys and in meetings, is both the fruit of years of community building, and the ground for future growth and collaboration. Nearly half of our families have already been visited at home by teachers volunteering their own time to increase these connections. Our teacher-family model bridges class lines and values all parents as allies in the education of their children.
Cesar Ch¡vez Charter School is a fast-paced enrichment program, where high-achievers also are constantly challenged by extra vocabulary, high expectations, and development that is interwoven with the rigorous demands of learning in two languages. The students’ high-level cognitive skills are continually practiced, which is superb preparation for the rest of their academic careers. Enrichment in the core academic areas is complemented by progressive and flagship programs in art, physical education, and music. Anonymous donors from the community have demonstrated their faith in our program by generously contributing to the enhancement of our art program, which has in turn been expanded to other schools due to our school’s success and leadership.
Why don’t all of the standardized test score indicators reflect this excellence? No one is in a place to draw definitive conclusions on that question. Ultimately, it remains somewhat of a mystery, yet we assert that when you live with the potential and incredible commitment and capability that exists throughout our school, you cannot help but believe that it is truly only a matter of time before this growth manifests in the numbers, even if the way the tests measure achievement is inadequate. Given a rich understanding of what is really happening on the ground every day at Cesar Ch¡vez Charter School, it becomes obvious that our progress is inevitable.
We ask the Santa Barbara School Board members to very carefully consider the impact of their decision to support our students, or to vote against them. Although it seems easier and perhaps gentler to look at the choice to terminate Cesar Ch¡vez Charter School as a passive act of simply not renewing the charter, because certain numbers do not add up, it would actually be actively destructive to crush a dream that has taken a decade to mature to the point of incredible promise and potential that it now holds.
It is rare that so many variables come together to create something as precious as this school. Two-hundred forty children are living this dream every day. One principal, 18 teachers, and 11 support staff members are giving their hearts, minds, and souls to these children every day. We are not a grouchy or jaded team of educators, but rather an inspired, committed, dedicated, and effective professional team. You cannot measure love, which is evident as the wish for our students to be happy and successful, but you can experience it when you visit. The children whose lives we touch will always be richer for having integrated two languages and two cultures, and by having been in contact with so many committed mentors.
Please, don’t just vote to renew our charter. Seek out the whole truth of what our school embodies, and become our allies and our staunchest advocates. It is a real joy to serve these children, and we can think of no better place, no better staff, and no better time for our school to fulfill that purpose.