Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bullis Charter School: a "Post War" Vision

Post-war Bullis Charter School: The Value and Cost of Educational Choice and Experimentation in Our Community


I have said in the past that there are only two ways out of the Bullis Charter School mess:
  • BCS would have to be shut down (in an orderly fashion e.g. not taking in any new students and the school being slowly eliminated over the course of many years). 
  • BCS would have to be taken completely private
Today I will discuss a third way.

An Opening?

Recently I was struck by reports from a recent LASD community meeting: the tone was different than the past, and Ken Moore (the Chairman of BCS) afterwards went on record as saying exactly that. Maybe this community, I thought, could really heal after years of deep division--Ken's statements about the meeting are heartening and cannot (and should not) be ignored. Maybe this is an opening.

Below I’ll present a vision of “Post War Bullis Charter School”. It shows the way forward by crafting a vision of what “peace” could look like. We cannot know how we should get somewhere unless we know where we are going.

With that, for the first time I am putting forth an idea that actually includes having a “charter school” in our midst (although in a very different form than what we have today).

A Customer's Viewpoint

My own introduction to BCS was the same as many LASD parents: the BCS parent information night. At that event I learned a couple of things:
  • That BCS had interesting programs which might be appropriate for my child (great). 
  • That BCS would cost us at least $5000/year per child (for my family: okay, we can afford that). 
  • That they were on a campus that, while perfectly adequate, was somewhat more shabby looking than other campuses and was part of another school campus (for us: an advantage). 
  • That BCS really, really, really wanted us to like them (weird oversell). 
  • That teacher's unions and LASD were actually evil and bad and the cause of all the ills in our society (huh? what this got to do with anything?). 
  • That the Charter model was better and blablablablabla (huh? what this got to do with anything?). 
For us, the last thee factors outweighed the first three: the presentation left us with a very negative feeling for this school. For this and a few other factors we chose our neighborhood school, which has worked very well for us.

If I were to give BCS some "marketing advice", I'd tell them to not "oversell" and to drop the "cause" baloney from their pitch. Pretty straight-forward.

While this seems like an obvious and rational move, it turns out they can't change their anti-public school rhetoric. Not while they are at "war". Their “pitch” to us parents, however flawed and self-defeating, was exactly as it must be given the circumstances.

The Lies of War

Over 2500 years ago the Greek tragic dramatist Aeschylus told us, “In war, truth is the first casualty”.

Our own little "war" in this community has been no exception—it has thrown the Truth out the window and created an alternative reality that we all have to live in.

But let’s imagine for a minute there was no war. It was over. It was a distant memory and nobody cared about it anymore than they harbor animosity toward England over the Revolutionary war.

In this new world we would all “just know” the following simple truths: 
  • That BCS was started under specious circumstances and was driven by anti-District and anti-public schools sentiment, and should have never been started in the first place--but that doesn't matter now because it’s become something completely different
  • That it really costs parents $5000/child per year and it always will--but that’s fine since some parents can afford that and it provides an interesting new product. 
  • That its campus is not as lovely as other local public campuses (until we built the new one with the bond we passed for a 10th campus) and it’s farther away from its students than neighborhood schools (by definition)--but that's okay since it’s perfectly adequate and it’s actually an advantage since it weeds out parents who care about such things. (I know a lot of BCS parents think this but aren’t “allowed” to say it because of the War!). 
  • That the school really costs the District a little money even without sharing the parcel taxes--but that’s okay since it offers the "value of choice and experimentation" to our community. It’s an expensive indulgence but our community is wealthy and places a high value on education and we’re willing to take risks as long as they are paid for and don't detract from those in need. 
  • That its appeal will always be limited based on the cost ($5000), on its experimental and different programs, the fact that it is not inclusive for special-needs, and the fact that it’s not a neighborhood school—and that our normal public schools here offer excellent programs. But that's is okay: it’s a choice, not a “cause”. The Charter is part of the public school system, not a replacement for it. 
  • That the Charter model is not appropriate for our community in the way it purports to be for their original intent, which is low-scoring schools and disadvantaged kids. But that’s okay: with eyes wide open we can use the Charter laws “as a legal structure” and nothing more—and even being "anti-Charter" in the bigger picture could be compatible with supporting this school. (For instance we have no homeless shelters here in LA/LAH which is appropriate for us but we all agree that such things are appropriate elsewhere). 

A Clean Slate: No More Lies

With all of the “lies of war” put aside we can envision a new Charter School that actually fits into our community: 
  • One that does not sue our District ever again. One that is chartered by our District and in cooperation with it. 
  • One that understands its “place” in the community as being a luxurious indulgence in experimental education, not a “sanctified right”--and that our "default" free education here must come first in priority. 
  • One that is heavily funded by private donations for programs and facilities. A school that taps into the enormous pool of private wealth here to enhance our District’s offerings. 
  • One that has been given a mandate by the community in the form of a school facilities bond, funded partially out of private donations, specifically for the purpose of a Charter school. 
  • One that does not engender a massive "response" from the community in the form of heated online discussions, critical websites about Bullis Charter School, blogs, and so forth. All of this would be a distant memory--and even lamented as an artifact of war
  • One that could, perhaps, innovate and experiment in areas involving the more challenging areas of education such as special-needs; one that could formally include outreach (and combined integrated financial assistance) to less advantaged kids. (Imagine a “free-slot lottery pool” that includes a number of “free forever” slots for qualified families). 
  • One whose name is not a remnant of a war (“Bullis”) but perhaps is instead reflective of the great positives locked within our community (“the Gordon Moore Academy” ?). 

The Way Forward: Peace

So how will we achieve peace? I have said many times that this is the year that large numbers of parents are getting involved in deep and serious ways for the first time ever. In just three months, LASD volunteer parents have created a massive online presence and have drastically changed the conversation online. Offline efforts are just beginning.

Parents are the only thing that can really stop this war, and since only BCS can stop the war, it is up to BCS parents to act.

The current BCS leadership is characterized by long-hardened "warriors"--many of whom are professional attorneys and litigators. They have been "grinding an axe" over the District and public schools for the better part of a decade. Most BCS parents, on the other hand, want what we wanted when we looked at BCS: a great education for our children.

BCS parents must take up the cause to change the course of the leadership at BCS, or circumvent it, if necessary. Nothing less than a complete change in mentality is needed.

The war needs to stop--and so do the lies.

In peace we could create something truly amazing and worthy of our amazing community. We are world changers here--but only in peace can we so operate.


  1. Joan - this is by far your best contribution to the BCS-LASD topic so far. In this post war vision, you should probably also include your bullischarterscam website being a distant memory.
    Also, you really need to still soften on the $5000. Plenty of credible BCS parents deny the peer pressure and weeding out of non contributors.

    BTW - lest you accuse me of anything - I am a Gardner parent.

    1. Great point. Although it's somewhat "obvious" to me that all of this stuff would not be necessary in peace, it's worth pointing that out explicitly--so I've added a point above.

      The $5000 is a complicated point. It's not so much about the pressure as it is the absolute financial necessity of there being $5k extra per student to pay for these programs. The money needs to come from "somewhere"--and it's not just a matter of liberating it from the District as the Lies of War would have you believe.

  2. Joan, I have just been introduced to your blog and you have very important things to say- and they are well said. I would love if your words were heard by all. Have you written anything to the Town Crier?

  3. Thanks for the kind words.

    To answer your question, I have only written online thus far.

    We all have a role to play in this, and I've been focused on the ideas and the research. I know from watching the Facebook Group ( ) that there are a lot of people in our community who could do a great job at that, and I'm hoping to see that soon. I always tell people: steal these ideas! That's why they are here. I'm certainly not here to make a living as a writer! I very much welcome plagiarists in every form (and I would rather people *not* attribute them to me but instead make them their own).

  4. Joan
    Have you seen this post-war vision of BCS?