If Alex Fine ever takes a company public, I'd advise jumping on the bandwagon. The eighth-grader at San Carlos Learning Center was the star of Tuesday's kick-off to the 20th anniversary celebration of the Charter Schools Act.
He had a pretty good supporting cast too.
Fine was the first of several speakers to take the podium in front of the shared library of Tierra Linda Middle School and the San Carlos Learning Center.
"Personally I learn better when I can have individual attention from my teachers," said Fine, who is entering his second year at SCLC. "At my old school I was not able to get that attention. I felt like the other schools were good but I wouldn't have to work hard and I wasn't challenged."
Fine worked out his own outline for the speech, though he acknowledged that mom (Leah) helped correct the grammar and wording.
Fine articulated the overall view of the charter school, emphasizing its project-based curriculum, teacher commitment and teamwork.
He's an example of what a little extra attention can yield. At Camp BizSmart over the summer, his team won the business plan competition for a business idea sourced through the camp itself. He was named Entrepreneur of the Year.
He and friends from Charter, through the Personal Learning Projects, started their own company, Harvix, which he developed and presented to venture capitalists.
"Harvix is a search engine for students grades 5-12 who need information," Fine said. "There are videos, articles and additional information. There will be social features to discuss the projects students are doing."
Other speakers included California Charter School Association President and CEO Jed Wallace, Former California Assemblyman Ted Lempert, a San Carlos resident, CCSA Board Member Dr. Don Shalvey, Summit Public School CEO and founder Diane Tavenner, San Carlos School Board member Beth Hunkapiller and SCLC School Director Chris Mahoney.
Wallace pointed out that 982 charter schools exist in California, serving 413,000 students.
There are 2.2 million students in charter schools in the United States and another 1.6 million home-schooled. There are 55 million students in public and private schools.
"Are charter schools the solution?" Shalvey asked. "No, but they are a small, significant part of the sweep of opportunities for youth."
In San Carlos, the charter school system works in large part to the teamwork between the school and the district.
"Even in San Carlos if you're not showing responsibility, you won't get the money," Mahoney said. "We've been able to do a lot with a little and that makes a difference. This is a tight campus but PE teachers from both schools work together, we share the new gym, the old gym and the library and we coordinate recesses."
Mahoney explained that it's a truly open process. There is a period of enrollment during which time anyone may apply. If more people apply than space is available, a lottery is held.
The first priority is to in-district students. If there's still room, then out-of-district students are admitted.
"Technically charters are open to the state, so we do have 25-30 percent non-district students," Mahoney said. "The majority are families who moved from San Carlos and wanted their kids to stay in school here."
Mahoney says the school has a waiting list of up to 700. There are 300 kids currently enrolled, between 12-14 percent with special needs.
In some areas, there's a great divide between school district and charter schools. That's not true of San Carlos. There might be some disagreements but Mahoney says the idea is to reach out to everybody.
As Lempert said, "There are 6 1/2 million children in California and we need every single one of them. We need to make sure every single child reaches their full potential."