The Franklin-McKinley School District

Often, among adults like me who’ve been educators for a long time, there is a bit of a Coke versus Pepsi syndrome—you are either for public charter schools or for traditional schools. Rarely are you agnostic.

But if you are a student or the parent of a student, what you want are schools that produce quality results. You don’t really care how the schools are labeled.

And after more than 40 years as a teacher and school administrator, I’ve found that when adults work together to focus on high levels of achievement, students succeed.

Nearly half of all students in Santa Clara County—40,000—are not proficient in reading and math. But the bar is set much higher in the Franklin-McKinley School District with a goal of reaching 70 percent proficiency by 2020 and this effort is already underway.  Today, 60 percent of the schools in the district are already reaching the state’s “high performance” classification.

Optimism emerges from the collaboration of strong educators in both the district’s charter schools and public schools. They are working together—learning from one another—to make each other better and produce results for the district’s more than 11,000 students.

A couple of years ago, Franklin-McKinley became one of 20 communities around the country that created a formal compact between the district, its charter schools and local community partners. The district has had strong leadership under Superintendent John Porter, and the charters have also had strong leaders. But that didn’t necessarily make for an easy marriage.

The players from both sectors realized they have the same goals, the same challenges and the same respect for the craft of teaching and the joy of learning. They have created common ground over excellent schools for students. Instead of choosing sides, they are choosing excellence. This editorial in the San Jose Mercury News called the district-charter agreement a model for the Silicon Valley and the nation.

Several years ago, I moved from being an education leader in California to working at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I’ve been able to help start the work of such compacts around the nation and I’ve been delighted to watch the progress in Franklin-McKinley. I was there for the ribbon cutting to open the Rocketship Spark Academy in 2013. And I believe the community will benefit from a third Rocketship school that the board is considering.

Recently we learned that Dr. Porter would retire at the end of the school year. Through his leadership, the entire educational eco-system has modeled a new approach to seek excellence.  I trust the community and his successor will continue on this path.

Unlike some communities where it feels like open warfare between traditional schools and charters, Franklin-McKinley has found that when educators embrace collaboration, they produce innovation and great results for students.