Overview

Rocketship Education is a private corporation that receives government money to provide a free public education to elementary school children through the state’s charter school program.  Rocketship, and it’s land holder, Launchpad LLC, have aggressive growth plans to open thousands of schools serving a million students in the next 10 years.

The community contributing to StopRocketship.com has not always had an adversarial relationship with Rocketship Education.  When Rocketship Mateo Sheedy moved into our neighborhood, we welcomed it and were excited about the new educational opportunities and healthy competition.

Then a few things happened.

  1. First, our neighbors began complaining about aggressive Rocketship parents and teachers trying to recruit their kids, sometimes on a daily basis.  They said there was a Rocketship recruitment table across the street from the local district school (Washington Elementary), and they said people insulted them if they refused to sign their kids up.  One mom even said her kids had been signed up without her knowledge, and she only found out about it when she received a phone call telling her that they had been enrolled at Rocketship.
  2. Second, Alma Academy was built.  Those two schools combined to offer up to 1,400 new elementary school seats.  We realized that our community was not growing; in fact, census data show the population trending toward a slow decline.  We realized that this was not healthy competition for the district school, but unhealthy, divisive competition which could lead to the destruction of the district schools. With time, we realized that if the higher performing students were removed from district schools and lower performing students remained, a two-tiered system would be created, and we would have an educationally segregated environment.  This would, ironically, limit school choice in our neighborhood.
  3. We also became concerned about some of the educational methods used by Rocketship.  Students were spending hours being taught by computer programs during the school day.  A large percentage of the teachers were not credentialed, as Rocketship relies heavily on Teach for America teachers.  There was a high turnover of teachers as they moved onto bigger and better things after one or two years.  Many principals had only about 3 years of experience.  Parents were describing difficulties getting their kids to complete the 4 hours of homework every night.  There was no education happening in the kids’ native language (Spanish).  There were even some anecdotal reports from two different middle school principals that the Rocketship students appeared to be well prepared for standardized tests but they lacked many necessary skills for secondary education, including creativity, self-starting, delivering oral reports, and completing complex projects.
  4. Strange political things began happening.  Our city councilman was engaged to Rocketship’s Director of Community Relations. Massive PAC donations started swinging school board races in favor of Rocketship-friendly candidates.
  5. Soon, Rocketship lobbyists started coming into our neighborhood and telling us that we were going to get yet another Rocketship school.

Timeline:

  • 12/14/11 – Santa Clara County Board of Education approves 20 new Rocketship schools
  • 4/2012 – District 3 City Councilman Sam Liccardo becomes engaged to Rocketship’s Director of Community Relations, Jessica Garcia-Kohl
  • 8/14/12 – Santa Clara County Board of Education attempts to vote on a Tamien Rocketship school zoning exemption without sufficient time for public comment.
  • 1/8/2013 – City Council approves sale of Tamien land to Rocketship’s land holding entity, Launchpad LLC.
  • 1/23/13 – Santa Clara County Board of Education approves a zoning exemption for Rocketship, despite 500 signatures from community members opposing the project.
  • 8/7/13 – San Jose Unified School District sued the Santa Clara County Board of Education over the legality of this zoning exemption.
  • 10/22/13 – Rocketship will go to San Jose City Council to attempt to amend the Envision 2040 plan to remove the Tamien park lands from the General Plan and replace it with a Rocketship school.

The Voice of the community has been clear.

  1. The unanimous top priority of the community is a park.  We don’t want a promise of a park, or the hope for the park, but we want an actual park.  It should precede the use of the Tamien land for any other purpose.  We would love to have a park with a full size soccer field, not the mini-field currently planned.
  2. If we must have a school on the Tamien site, it must be a school that primarily meets our communities needs.  Our community has clearly articulated the needs for secondary schools.  A school on this site should be a middle or high school (preferably high school), with a local charter that serves our immediate neighborhood.