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Thursday, March 03, 2005 | As their final act of the evening on March 1, trustees for the San Diego Unified School District reviewed the charter application for Keiller Middle School. Coming up for discussion at the end of a four-hour board meeting, Keiller was almost lost in the shuffle. Trustees seemed tired, wary, and critical. It looked at the start like the measure would be rejected.

The board appeared subdued after just voting to approve the Gompers Middle School charter application. No one would second trustee Katherine Nakamura’s motion to approve the Keiller request. Without a second to the motion, board president Luis Acle allowed presenters and speakers to address the board on the subject.

Having to follow an emotional presentation from the Gompers community and a raucous, spontaneous celebration in the boardroom after the vote by more than 200 people, Keiller principal Patricia Ladd spoke to trustees on her charter proposal with barely 30 left in the audience.

“You’ve just made history tonight,” she said, about the Gompers decision. “You moved my heart.” Ladd asked the board to keep the momentum going and grant her school charter status as well.

University of San Diego Partnership

Cecil Steppe, San Diego Urban League president and CEO, praised the partnership between both middle schools and the two universities, and asked the board to approve the petition for Keiller just as they had for Gompers.

Nakamura Supportive

Nakamura’s comment was underscored by a Keiller teacher who spoke of her dedication and commitment to her students, saying, “I do not need tenure to protect my job. I need tenure to be gone so I can protect my students.”

Nakamura called it “unconscionable” not to approve Keiller’s petition “after asking them to do all the requirements.”

She alluded to the possibility of litigation against the district, should the board refuse to approve a charter application that meets all legal conditions. “Some have said we set history tonight,” she said. “I am concerned [with Keiller] that we may be setting precedent, in a court of law somewhere.”

Skeptics on the Board

The board meeting was into its fifth hour by the time Keiller, last on the agenda, came up for discussion. Ladd pointed this out, saying it was late and many people had to leave. She also said that Keiller was half the size of Gompers and so had less parents. “We do have community support,” she said. “And I’m excited about the partnership with USD.”

De Beck said he supported the competition between the two universities, to see how each would be able to help the middle schools. When board president Luis Acle asked de Beck if he meant that as a second to Nakamura’s motion to approve the charter, de Beck said, “Yeah, I’ve got to do it.”

Trustee Mitz Lee said she also approved of the competition between the universities, but pointed out how much work Keiller needed to do, particularly in raising math scores.

More Discussion

At the start of the meeting, Shelia Jackson, the trustee whose district includes both Gompers and Keiller, put forth an alternate plan, endorsed by San Diego Education Association president Terry Pesta, which proposed autonomy but stopped short of granting full charter status.

Calling her proposal a “win-win opportunity,” Jackson said at the start of the meeting, “It’s time for us to stop having outside people come in and run our schools.”

Speaking in favor of Jackson’s proposal, Pesta said, “There are successful models.” He cited La Jolla High School as an example.

The Vote

Finally, the board voted, and they were unanimous in favor of the charter proposal.

Even Jackson, who made no comments during board discussion of Keiller or mentioned her autonomy plan again, voted to support the school’s charter application.

After the meeting, Pesta dodged the question of whether he supported the board actions in favor of the charter schools, saying only that “we’re all in this business for the same reason.

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