By: Ella Rook
In December, HuffPost contributor, Alan Singer, wrote an article named “Design Tech High School – Another Exaggerated Charter School Success Story.” The article criticized d.tech for not being diverse and for not meeting the needs of low income students. While these are reasonable assessments, the article failed to report that these issues are about to change. The San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) Board recently voted to allow d.tech to alter the preference in the school’s admission lottery to favor students who qualify for Free and Reduced Price Meals (FRPM). Spearheaded by Robert Bolt and Dr. Ken Montgomery, the preference hopes to increase socioeconomic diversity at d.tech.
The change comes with recent data showing a decline in the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch at d.tech. When the school first opened its doors in 2014, 20% of the student body qualified for FRPM. Now, just four years later, only about 9% of the student body qualifies. Comparatively, the San Mateo district provides free or reduced lunch to about 25% of students. According to Executive Director Ken Montgomery, it is “important that d.tech is a place where everyone feels welcome regardless of their level of income.”
Two major factors encouraged the school to pursue the lottery change: staff buy-in and the multitude of scientific studies that illustrate that schools with a diverse student body have better educational environments. A 2017 study by UCLA found that “students feel safer in ethnically diverse classrooms and schools.” Aside from the educational benefits to current students, Director of Curriculum, Nicole Cerra, felt that as a pioneering school, d.tech has a duty to ensure the school’s opportunities are “available to everyone and that all kinds of students know the opportunities are for them.” However, teachers were concerned about the availability of resources to teach students that may have higher educational needs. According to Henry Lonneman, the schools is investing in “culturally responsive teaching, and joining a group of charter schools working to increase diversity, inclusivity and equity.” Bolt echoed Cerra’s notion saying that the staff wants “every student to have a fair chance.” Although it may seem counterintuitive to promote equality by increasing the chances of one group of students winning a spot in the lottery, Bolt explained that sometimes families that are socio-economically challenged need support when it comes to school choice. These parents may not be able to attend English-only informational meetings or do not have a laptop, barring access to online tools that are incompatible with smartphones. Consequently, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to choosing a school for their children. The lottery preference aims to increase the number of families at d.tech that use the FRPM program by giving the smaller number of applicants a higher likelihood of getting into the school.
Even with a lottery preference for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, d.tech’s statistics won’t change overnight. Julie Abraham, Enrollment Coordinator, is working diligently to “serve the local community” and help achieve d.tech’s goal of making the world a better place. To reach out to families that may qualify for free or reduced lunch, she is working to increase access to bilingual and Spanish speaking meetings, and holding informational meetings in underserved communities. She is also forming partnerships with local community centers like Boys and Girls Clubs and the St. James Community Foundation, and working on youth initiatives.
According to Cerra, the d.tech staff “never wanted d.tech to feel like only one type of student could go here”, they wanted to the school to feel “inclusive.” Only time will tell if the push for diversity will yield real results.