After listening to an hour of public comment, the board of directors of the High Tech High Foundation unanimously voted to close the financially troubled charter school after this school year. Even as the board tried to vote, audience members continued to yell, some begging them to give parents time to raise money and recruit students, while others just expressed their anger.
Students, parents and teachers were told last week by the school's leaders that it would likely have to close because its enrollment is not bringing in enough money to keep the school running and to purchase its building at 890 Broadway in Redwood City.
This news all came as a huge shock to parents and students, who had no idea the school, which opened in September 2005, was having these problems. Many of the parents asked the foundation board to give them three months to raise money and recruit students so they could keep the school open.
"We have tremendous untapped resources in this community, in this room, that have not been used," said Joan Tabb Waisbein, who has a son in the ninth grade. "Share the target you want us to reach, and we will reach it."
Before High Tech High Bayshore's closure was even final, the Sequoia Union High School District board Wednesday agreed to purchase
High Tech High board member Michael McCraw told the audience Friday that voting to close the school was not an easy decision, but the sale of the building gave them no choice.
"This was a business decision that was out of our control," he said.
When officials from the charter school organization realized High Tech High Bayshore was having financial problems in January, the owner of the building approached Sequoia leaders about buying the property, worth $8.6 million.
The philanthropist purchased the building for High Tech High Bayshore with an agreement that the school would buy the property from him after the school was up and running.
For this to happen, the school would need a student body of at least 420 to raise enough money to purchase the building and keep the school running, according to High Tech High leaders. Currently, the school has only about 240 students. High Tech High's leaders have said the school is losing more than $500,000 per year.
Jed Wallace, CEO of High Tech High Bayshore, said the school has had problems with its finances and enrollment since it opened as San Carlos High School at a location in San Carlos. During that time, he said they tried public relations campaigns and other efforts to bring in more students, but nothing worked. In 2005, the High Tech High corporation agreed to take over the school, saving it from having to shut down, he said.
Several parents asked the board why High Tech High never asked Sequoia Union High School District to provide the school with facilities as the district is required to do under state law.
Proposition 39 says districts that pass school bonds must fulfill requests from charter schools to provide classrooms. But the school would have had to have put in a request to the district by last October for this to have happened.
"If anything would have been offered to the school, it would have been inadequate," Wallace said in regard to going to Sequoia.
Many parents said when they enrolled their kids into High Tech High Bayshore, they were promised it would stay open for at least five years and that the building had already been purchased by the High Tech High company.
A large group of parents have obtained an attorney and may file suit against High Tech High on the grounds that the organization allegedly broke this promise.
Larry Rosenstock, CEO of the High Tech High corporation, has denied that any of these things were promised.
He believes the school had problems enrolling students because it's located in an industrial area, with no green space for athletic activities.
High Tech High's project-based learning model has been hugely successful at its other schools, most of which are in San Diego. The school's supporters say its students perform much better than they would in a traditional school.
Many have said High Tech High's style of teaching is beneficial for students with learning disabilities.
Beth Snell said the school has done wonders for her son, who has attention-deficit disorder and dygraphia.
"This was my salvation," she said. "This was his opportunity to be all he could be."
Staff writer T.S. Mills-Faraudo covers education. She can be reached at (650)348-4338 or email@example.com.