The Silicon Valley Voice

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OpEd: Save Denali School

On Jan. 12,  Summit Schools management announced that Summit Denali will be closing its operations after the current academic year ends in June 2023. The news ripped apart the schools’ close-knit communities and left 5% of Santa Clara County’s charter school students scrambling to find new schools.

Without the immediate strategic intervention of the Summit Board, which is chaired by leading private venture investor Robert Oster, over 650 families are stranded with their immediate academic future and will lose their most loved school.

This impacts our Denali community of 677 students of which 25.6% are Socioeconomically disadvantaged, 14.6% of special needs students and 33.4% of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity out in the cold.


Summit’s approach, with its mentorship, self-directed pacing, and project-based learning, has been life-changing for many of our students. We strongly support Summit’s instructional design for our kids’ future as it has been widely praised including by thought leaders such as Bill Gates and the Progressive Policy Institute.

Although Summit says that all options have been exhausted, an ad-hoc team of parents has formed to fight for the school under Denali Parents Organization.

Parents were told that the closure was primarily due to insufficient funding from LCFF and SB740, the parent community analyzed all the documents presented to Summit Board through both Finance, Audit committees and Board meetings in Dec 2022. But we are unable to verify the financial deficit of millions of dollars, or the claim of LCFF and SB740 financial impact clearly. We are still seeking additional information in order to comprehend the underlying issue. Summit management reached out to us for clarifying the queries as a first step, we have requested for a deep financial analysis with Summit CFO.

Even if the deficit due to LCFF and SB740 is true, we further observed that a couple of Lines of Credit options were available for the entire Summit group from Umpqua Bank. We are requesting the Summit Board to secure bridge funding for Denali to buy us time.  If we can keep the school open,  we will use the next several months to identify long-term funding strategies and grant opportunities that can be used to sustain Denali’s operations for the foreseeable future.

The parent community is doing all we can to find a way to save Summit Denali including contacting supporters throughout educational, political, equity, media, and philanthropy who believe and support Summit’s mission. We are also initiating a donation drive at the grassroots and organizational level.

Both on January 18th and February 1st, many of us joined the Santa Clara County Office of Education Board Meeting, sharing our positive experiences with Summit and how it has become an integral part of our loved ones’ lives, much more than just an academic partnership. We are requesting the financial support and supervisory attention needed to keep Denali open.

We are also in the process of appraising Santa Clara County Office of Education board Trustees Joseph Di Salvo, Tara Sreekrishnan, Maimano Afzal Berta and Grace Mah, other local, state, and federal politicians. We know this is not likely to deliver immediate results, but it will hopefully help rectify the inequity gap in funding for charter schools, especially schools like Summit, that are dedicated to a truly diverse and inclusive student population. This funding gap is not unique to Summit Denali, but all Summit and charter schools. We need legislation to close that gap, but we need immediate help and support from the Summit Board.

While we have seen great success within the Denali classroom and within our inclusive community, we have faced logistical challenges. We did not always know where those classrooms would be. However, school is more than a building and over the decade our students have resiliently learned in many different locations. In 2022, the Summit Denali Family inaugurated our state of the art high school. Generations of Summit Denali families worked to build our high school campus, even when their own students would graduate before seeing the benefit.

We thought the “fight” was over when we proudly opened the high school and when a long term lease for Weddell Campus was secured. We know others in our Summit family were not as fortunate and were saddened at the loss of Rainier. The parents were forewarned in November 2019 of the decision to close its campus, a decision that was finalized in January 2020 by a unanimous vote…Although our facilities were secured, an even larger challenge loomed.

Structural inequities in California’s funding laws reduced Summit Denali’s per-pupil funding compared with neighboring schools.  These inequities have been compounded by recent demographic changes that reduce Denali’s revenue while the school has to shoulder significant new expenses. We estimate that this inequity in funding at the local level costs Summit Denali High School approximately $1.6 million dollars a year. This will not be changed in the short term, but we must challenge it in the long term. Our current Denali families may never see this change, Summit Denali has never been about short-term individual gain, but about community support and social action. We see it every day in the passion of our students. Our future leaders.

But today, we are coming together again to ask the Summit Board, the current leaders of Summit Public Schools, not to give up, join our fight for the children we have bound to protect and educate. To collaborate with us and find a solution for our children and their future. Because the same fiduciary responsibility of all Summit Schools is also owed to Summit Denali.

Denali Parent Organization(DPO) is looking at:

  • Transparency and collaboration to understand Denali’s financial, enrollment, and entity structure
  • Corrective Action to resolve the gaps reported by DPO to Summit
  • Alternatives to closure, including home office support, access to a line of credit for a special endowment fundraised for Denali with parents and community support

Furthermore, the Summit Board of Directors Meeting is currently scheduled at 1-3 pm, making it extremely difficult to attend for working parents. Given the huge community interest, we ask the Summit Board to reschedule it for the after work hours (5 pm and later), or schedule an additional meeting that working parents can attend. Teachers and Students who are other important stakeholders are unable to attend this important listening.

We are asking our fellow Summit Champions, The Summit Board, to join us Summit Denali parents in this and help us realize our mission Saving Summit Denali from closure.

Wanting to join hands in the mission #SaveDenali,

Denali Parents Organization


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