Meg Whitman funds chartersUp to $5 million for 10 more Summits
GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman vowed to promote the growth of charter schools. Private citizen Whitman made good on the promise Tuesday, donating $2.5 million to Summit Public Schools to start 10 more high-performing charter high schools in low-achieving areas in Silicon Valley, with a promise to double that amount if other tech titans match her $2.5 million.
For Whitman, who spent $144 million of her own money in losing to Jerry Brown in 2010, the donation marks the first sizable gift from The Whitman-Harsh Family Foundation, which she established five years ago with her husband, physician Griffith Harsh. Last week, she also donated $500,000 to Los Angeles Unified to extend web-based math instruction software created by Mind Institute, a nonprofit in Southern California, to 10 additional schools.
Summit currently operates four high schools, two in Redwood City and two in East San Jose, which opened last month. The potential $7.5 million in donations would fund strictly start-up costs for the new schools, not operating costs. Summit schools are budgeted to run on state funding, said Diane Tavenner, Summit’s founder and CEO.
With 10 more schools, Summit would serve 6,000 students in what Whitman is calling the Silicon Valley College Ready Corridor, a 50-mile stretch from South San Francisco to San Jose; 53 percent of students in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties graduate from high school unqualified for a four-year college, and many of those live east of Highway 101.
Speaking to 200 ninth graders of Summit’s new San Jose schools, Rainier and Tahoma, on the lawn at their interim home, National Hispanic University, Whitman said, “I am proud to be an advocate and an investor in great futures for each and every one of you.”
Whitman’s investment comes nine months after she met Tavenner and, at the suggestion of one of Summit’s board members, invited her to lunch. (Whitman joined the Summit board in April.) Whitman, the former CEO of eBay during its boom years, became Tavenner’s personal coach, helping her with the challenges of doubling the size of the faculty, introducing technology to the organization, and creating an investment campaign. “I wanted advice from someone who had grown an organization,” Tavenner said. (Update: On Sept. 22, two days after she announced her gift in San Jose, Whitman was named CEO of HP, the world’s largest computer company.)
Since it opened its first high school in 2003, nearly all of Summit’s graduates have been accepted to a four-year college or university. All students take a college prep curriculum, including six AP classes, and a two-month exploration of college and career goals though a program known as intersession.
The student demographics are representative of the surrounding districts: Sequoia Union High School District in Redwood City and East Side Union High School District in San Jose, which is heavily low-income Hispanic and Vietnamese.
Whitman was also attracted to Summit’s increasing use of technology. Online learning will be integrated, particularly in the new schools in San Jose. For math, Summit’s Rainier and Tahoma are pilot schools for Khan Academy, a free online instructional video library and management system that lets students master skills at their own pace and allows teachers to track the progress in real time.
Largely antagonistic to charter schools for years, San Jose has become a hub of charter school activity, led by a charter-friendly Santa Clara County School Board. Palo Alto-based Rocketship Education has a countywide charter for nine elementary schools and is seeking approval for 20 more. KIPP opened a high school in East San Jose last year, and Downtown College Prep, the region’s first charter, opened a grades 6-12 school in East San Jose last month. This month, the board of the Alum Rock Union School District approved Alpha Middle School, whose founder was an administrator at the American Indian Public Charter in Oakland, against the district staff’s recommendation.