BCS Board Works on Permanent Facility Agreement with Los Altos School District

The BCS Board sent the Los Altos District Trustees a letter summarizing the progress both sides have made since signing the 5-year facilities agreement in 2014 and requested a seat at the table as the District begins to make decisions about Measure N funds. The letter reiterates BCS’s intent to be “full partners with LASD and the larger community to act in the best interests of all our collective public school students.”

View the full letter here.

BCS alumni advance to international competition with school project

Bullis Charter School alumni, from left, Ninnad Raman, Maddie Young and Sophia Lufkin received “Highest Excellence” on their SchoolsNEXT project, which was a design for a school of the future.

Bullis Charter School alumni, from left, Ninnad Raman, Maddie Young and Sophia Lufkin received “Highest Excellence” on their SchoolsNEXT project, which was a design for a school of the future.

Bullis Charter School alumni Sophia Lufkin, Ninnad Raman and Maddie Young recently competed in the final round of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International’s SchoolsNEXT project and received “Highest Excellence” on their project.

The Los Altos students designed a “school of the future” as part of Bullis Charter School’s spring eighth-grade Intersession, devoting three full weeks to an assigned study area. After winning the schoolwide, regional and national competitions, they competed in the international round in San Diego in October.

The SchoolsNEXT Design Competition highlights the importance of well-planned, healthy, safe, sustainable and resilient schools. It invites middle schoolers to design learning environments that “enhance learning, conserve resources, are environmentally responsive and engage the surrounding community.” Students engage in the planning process for designing their schools from conception to completion and document each step of their project along the way.

“The SchoolsNEXT Design Competition exemplifies the real-world learning opportunities that all of our middle-school students are provided,” said Bullis Charter School teacher Jessica Lura. “The competition embodies BCS’s unique approach to learning, where students are enabled, engaged and empowered through our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum to master the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in today’s global economy.”

The project offered students an opportunity to apply their design-thinking skills. When creating their design, Lufkin, Raman and Young considered the school’s impact on the local community and the type of skills and spaces students of the future might require. In addition, they spoke with local architects to learn about design and planning, visited a zero-waste residence in Palo Alto to investigate how to apply such technology in a school setting and read articles about different types of schools and schooling.

“Participating in the competition was an incredible experience,” Lufkin said. “Ninnad, Maddie and I had a lot of fun tackling these difficult questions and showcasing what we learned in the classroom at BCS on an international stage.”

For more information on the SchoolsNEXT Project, visit cefpi.org.

BCS uses digital portfolio technology to improve communication

Bullis Charter School fifth-grader Anna Morokutti takes a photo of a document to upload to her FreshGrade account.

Bullis Charter School fifth-grader Anna Morokutti takes a photo of a document to upload to her FreshGrade account.

Parents are not always in the classroom to see their children nail an oral presentation or smile in accomplishment after receiving a high mark on an assignment.

Thanks to a new digital tool implemented at Bullis Charter School, that experience gap is closing for parents.

Before winter break, Bullis Charter School introduced FreshGrade, a high-tech tool that enables students to document and upload their work and achievements to an online portfolio viewable by teachers and parents.

The ePortfolios serve as a window into the classroom and help create an open dialogue so that everyone knows how students’ work is developing. FreshGrade supports Bullis Charter School in tracking a student’s progress and measuring the elements of learning not normally accessible to those outside the classroom, especially parents, allowing focus on advancement and not just the final outcome.

“I feel more connected with what is going on inside the classroom,” said parent Evan Parker, whose children attend Bullis Charter School. “Due to a new job, I’m not able to volunteer in class as much this year as I would like. The photos the teachers post give me a visual into what is going on in the classroom.”

Tracking goals

FreshGrade tracks each student’s Focused Learning Goals (FLGs). Each year students set FLGs based on their unique needs, with goals ranging from academic achievements to developing social and organizational skills.

“At Bullis Charter School, parent engagement is a critical component of the school’s success and a fundamental part of our educational model,” said Wanny Hersey, founding superintendent and principal. “Implementing FreshGrade was the obvious next step for us as we continue to build upon our strong foundation of parent-teacher communication, and strengthen parent involvement to improve student achievement.”

Fifth-grade teacher Jessica Morgan said she uses the system to document students’ progress on their FLGs and provide feedback. According to Morgan, FreshGrade doesn’t replace any of the school’s other grading systems, but rather serves as a complement and provides a digital timeline of progress.

Once a week in Morgan’s class students select some of their work, usually connected to their goals, to upload to their digital accounts. Parents can then view the work and initiate a dialogue among student, parent and teacher.

“I open FreshGrade together with the girls to look through the photos of classroom activity along with the teachers’ comments,” Parker said. “They use the FreshGrade content as prompts to go into more detail on the things they’re working on in school.”

Instead of receiving the usual shrug when parents ask how a student’s day went or what they accomplished, parents now can view a visual database of accomplishments and progress toward specific goals. And students get to tailor what they upload to the account, encouraging them to be active participants in meeting their goals.

“FreshGrade is really easy to use and follow,” said Emily, a Bullis Charter School eighth-grader. “On FreshGrade, I upload information about my personal FLGs and then my parents are able to work with me on these goals, providing encouragement, making comments on my goals and getting me the materials I need to complete my projects.”

Parker said he likes that the teachers frequently update the portfolios and that the system facilitates students’ accomplishing their goals. He added that the system is “intuitive and purpose-built for the audience.” While the primary interface for the program is via Web browser, users can also access the accounts through phones and tablets.

For more information, visit FreshGrade.com.

BCS Wins Crayola Grant

Crayola and the National Association of Elementary School Principals recently selected Bullis Charter School as one of 20 elementary and middle schools to receive a Champion Creatively Alive Children grant.

The organizations also recognized Wanny Hersey, superintendent and founding principal of Bullis Charter School, for fostering critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills at the school.

Champion Creatively Alive Children grants are aimed at helping schools build creative capacity, nurture children’s creativity and inspire other schools to do the same. Bullis received a $2,500 grant and $1,000 worth of Crayola products to assist with the school’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program.

The charter school and the Santa Clara County Office of Education partner to offer a yearlong professional development experience highlighting the STEAM program, a collaboration that will also benefit from the grant.

“Art is infused in every aspect of our curriculum here at Bullis Charter School,” Hersey said. “We are excited to use this grant to further student learning and innovation.”

Hersey will share outcomes from the program via the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ website and a special Principal Magazine Supplement to help other principals develop practices related to arts education.

The Champion Creatively Alive Children grant program encourages principals to implement arts-based learning in schools and rely more on project-based assessment rather than standardized tests. The organizations judged grant entries on innovation, collaboration and sustainability.

“Crayola believes that for students to reach their full potential and grow into self-motivated learners, their creativity and critical-thinking skills must be nurtured,” said Smith Holland, Crayola president and CEO. “We believe children develop these 21st-century skills when educators ignite their imaginations through art-infused education.”

For more information on the grant, visit naesp.org/creativity.

BCS Shares Best Practices With Other Schools


Bullis Charter School has been recognized many times for its ingenuity and signature programs for students. Now school officials are using some of that creativity to design a yearlong program to share their best practices with other educators.

Superintendent Wanny Hersey said the school has attracted several visitors – educators from the area and around the world – to observe its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum at work, but they are usually only there for a day or less.

“These people come and we are happy to share, but I wonder if we have any impact,” Hersey said. “What happens when they see this idea? How are they able to replicate it? There is so much more to learn than one can see in a single activity.”

So Hersey joined forces with the Santa Clara County Office of Education to help share the school’s best practices in a more meaningful way – through the program dubbed STEAM: A Practicum on Integrated PBL (Project Based Learning).

Over the summer, Hersey said she charged her staff with creating the practicum to help transform local schools “holistically” through two cohorts – administrators and teachers.

“The best model is something that provides a program that sees (the best practice), tries it out and gets some more support,” she said. “It has to be more long term. It is important to help schools transform, and you need a team of people to do that.”

The goal was to pair an administrator with a teacher so that the two could take what they learned back to their school and district to promote both systematic and curricular change.

The program, which began last month, includes 27 teachers and 14 administrators from Santa Clara County public schools. Hersey said there are educators from the Union Elementary, Evergreen, Cambrian, Berryessa Union, Alum Rock and Santa Clara Unified school districts.

The program requires the two cohorts to visit with the Bullis Charter School team seven times throughout the year – separately and together. Last week, Hersey and her team hosted the administrators, discussing design thinking and viewing two complete STEAM units.

“We’ve been documenting our curriculum so that we can share it,” she said. “We don’t want to let schools think you have to do it all that way, but we want to provide entry points and options for integrating STEAM one step at a time.”

She added that the administrators have to look at things from a broader level. Topics include finances, how to secure funding for programs and lessons, and creating a culture that fosters innovation.

Project-based learning

A key element of the program, according to Hersey, is informing educators of resources they may not have considered using. She said Bullis Charter School and the county are introducing participants to “what is out there and what can be leveraged to improve student learning.”

The teachers will have an opportunity to view the charter school’s project-based learning and STEAM units but will be reviewing them from a different perspective than the administrators.

“We will be building a community with these teacher leaders,” said Jennifer Anderson-Rosse, director of curriculum and special projects at Bullis Charter School. “We will be asking them to try some of what they learned in their classrooms and we will give them access to real people in real time for troubleshooting.”

Teachers will also have the opportunity to interview charter school students and teachers to see what works, Anderson-Rosse said.

A culmination event is planned for May as the school year comes to a close, Hersey said.

For more information, visit bcssteam.weebly.com.

Bullis pulls ahead with top test scores

Average test scores put Los Altos charter school at No. 1 in the state

by Kevin Forestieri / Mountain View Voice

For many charter schools in Santa Clara County, the results of the first Common Core-aligned standardized tests were a wake-up call as many students fell behind their public school peers.

But Bullis Charter School in Los Altos appears to be bucking the trend in a big way. One analysis of the test scores indicates that the charter school is not only outperforming nearby schools it’s now the top school in the state.

The school ranking website Schooldigger looked at over 5,500 schools in California and ranked the schools based on average test scores, rather than the percentage of students proficient in English language arts and math. The results show Bullis Charter School had the top average score in the state, followed closely by William Faria Elementary in Cupertino. Almost all of the top 10 school were located in the Bay Area.

Wanny Hersey, principal of Bullis Charter School, said the school embraced a curriculum where students explain their answers and solve problems using different methodologies long before such practices became hallmarks of Common Core. In math, for example, Hersey said it’s not uncommon for students to solve problems without actually knowing how or why they ended up with the answer — something the school has worked hard to overcome

“Kids can get the average (number), but they don’t (normally) know what an average is,” she said.

Despite the top-tier performance, Hersey insisted that Bullis does not teach to the test. The school has spent years developing its “focused learning goals” program, a holistic approach to tracking student performance that has space for personal, or “passion” goals that the student hopes to achieve in a given school year.

Rather than lug around a filing cabinet of individual student goals to track progress year to year, teachers at the school adopted a new program this year called FreshGrade, which has digital profiles of all students and their grades on assignments and tests.

Charter schools performed slightly better overall compared to public schools in California, according to the California Charter School Association. Charter school students outperformed their public school peers by 4.4 percent in English language arts and 1.3 percent in math, according to the association’s website.

Emily Bertelli, a spokeswoman for the association, said charter schools have an edge in adopting the new Common Core curriculum because they have more freedom and flexibility than public schools to change academic standards on the fly.

“The added flexibility means charter schools are able to be more nimble in adopting new academic programs to meet the individualized needs of their students,” Bertelli told the VOice via email.

But other charter schools in Santa Clara County, for the most part, didn’t see the same level of success. A majority of the charter schools, many of them located in San Jose, saw student proficiency in both subjects fall short of the county-wide average, including many of the Rocketship Education charter schools that teach mostly low-income students. At Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep School in San Jose, for example, only 35 percent of students met the state standards for English language arts, compared to the county-wide average of 58 percent. For many of the Rocketship schools, those numbers remain below the average even when specifically looking at the scores of low-income and minority students.

The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and Summit charter schools performed slightly better, but many of the schools also had proficiency levels below the county-wide average.

Charter schools remains a hot issue in the Bay Area, as Rocketship Education and other organizations seek to expand the number of charter schools in Santa Clara County. Rocketship’s recent plans to open another 20 charter schools, which was approved by the Santa Clara County Board of Education, suffered setbacks this year when it had to pare back the list to just seven. The withdrawal came after four school districts in the South County filed lawsuits against the board of education for unilaterally accepting the proposed schools.

The U.S. Department of Education, under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has also been trying to expand the use of charter schools throughout the country, spending $3 billion over the last decade through its Charter Schools Program. On Monday, the department announced an additional $157 million to create and expand public charter schools across the nation.

Why Teachers Are Ditching Report Cards

Lane Merrifield vividly recalls the stress his young son felt when he got his first “C” on a report card.

What made it worse was learning later that the teacher had made a mistake.

“His teacher had accidentally switched his grade with another student’s. My son had one of the highest grades in his class,” he said.

This one incident drove Merrifield to launch FreshGrade with the goal of reinventing report cards.

“It’s an archaic system that no one has thought about changing for decades,” said Merrifield.

FreshGrade lets K-12 teachers upload audio files of students reading, video clips of presentations, student photos, test results, grades and comments.

It essentially creates a private virtual report card for each student, which teachers update throughout the year.

“We’ve made it as easy to use as Facebook (FB, Tech30) and Twitter (TWTR, Tech30),” said Merrifield.

It’s an immediate window into the classroom for parents, who are alerted when anything is added to their child’s digital portfolio and can directly communicate with teachers. It also allows students to view their portfolios and add comments and photos.

“This isn’t about posting random things but really documenting each student’s learning moments,” said Merrifield

The FreshGrade platform rolled into schools in 2014. It’s free for teachers, and there’s a paid version with additional data and analysis for school administrators.

Merrifield said FreshGrade already has half a million student portfolios and is being used by over 20,000 teachers around the world (20% of whom use the paid version).

Darren Massa, a middle school science teacher in Chico, California, started using FreshGrade this year.

He loves it.

“When parents ask us how their kids are doing in school, teachers are trained to answer using a letter or number grade,” said Massa. “But a child’s progress is a much more complicated narrative than a single grade on a report card.”

With the digital portfolio, he hopes to have more meaningful conversations with parents.

“At the end of the term, I can pull up each student’s portfolio and go through this body of evidence with the parents,” he said.

Massa acknowledged that it is more work for teachers to maintain digital portfolios versus report cards that are handed out just a few times a year.

“But it’s important work,” he said. “Teaching itself isn’t easy. There’s a growing realization among us that if we’re not fully dedicated to our students, then this isn’t the career path to follow.”

Merrifield’s own mother was a teacher and he recalls the significant amount of paperwork she had to deal with to prepare annual report cards.

“We weren’t allowed on the kitchen table because she would spread out all the paperwork on it,” he said. “[Teachers] shouldn’t be teaching by day and data entry monkeys by night.”

While many teachers are using FreshGrade to supplement traditional report cards, some schools are completely eliminating them.

The Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, California, is one of them. The school is in the process of rolling out FreshGrade portfolios for all of its 740 students in grades K-8, said Wanny Hersey, the superintendent.

To ease the transition, Hersey said teachers have been given laptops and classrooms are getting iPod touches so students can add photos and other elements throughout the year.

Hersey said parents are excited about the change.

“It’s an opportunity for parents to understand throughout the year how their kids are learning,” said Hersey. “We can capture and show them if their child is more confident, is developing leadership skills, or has overcome a specific challenge.”

bullis charter school

Students at Bullis Charter School using iPod Touches to capture their schoolwork for their digital portfolios.

BCS Archery Instruction Hits Target

When Athletic Director Joseph Stark introduced his love of archery to students at Bullis Charter School this year, he hit the bull’s-eye.

“It was a passion of mine,” said Stark, who joined the staff in the fall. “It is something I learned and love, and I know it is accessible to a lot of students, so I thought I should bring it to Bullis.”

Stark taught archery during regular physical education classes, then began to offer it as an afterschool sport.

“Our afterschool athletics program is built around the community interest at our school,” he said. “Archery has been at the top of that list for a long time.”

Participation has been solid, according to Stark, with approximately 60 students enrolled in the afterschool program and 20 regularly attending.

The charter school designed its archery program with National Archery in the Schools (NASP) standards in mind, emphasizing safety and proper technique.

“It’s the second-safest sport behind pingpong,” Stark said. “It may not seem like it, because you are using bows and arrows, but we emphasize safety and steps to succeed.”

Stark trained students to participate in the NASP California Archery Tournament, which requires them to shoot 15 arrows from a distance of 10 meters and 15 from 15 meters. More than 20 students competed in the tournament, individually and as a team. Bullis Charter School eighth-grader Skyler Rosenberg placed third overall with a score of 281.

Archery became one of Skyler’s passions after Stark launched the sport at school. Skyler enrolled in the afterschool program and pursues it outside of class as well.

“I think archery is special because it is one of the sports that is really accessible to everyone,” Stark said. “You are not really held back by any disability – you don’t have to be the most athletically gifted in the world. A lot of it is about patience, focus and concentration.”

Skills learned through archery can be used in everyday life, he added.

“You go out every day and try to better yourself,” Stark said. “There are a lot of kids who understand that. They set their own goals and you see the excitement when they actually reach one.”

Stark said he is fortunate to work at a school that allows him to share his interests with the students.

“You can really see how my passion is reflected in the students’ growth throughout the year – I am lucky to have that,” he said.

Bullis Charter School is First “Future Ready” Local Public School

Teachers Implement Digital Learning Plans Aligned with Best Practices

Members of the Bullis Charter School (BCS) leadership team recently attended the Future Ready Regional Summit in Mountain View, CA to learn how to improve teaching and learning through the effective use of technology. BCS is now certified as a “Future Ready” school – the first local public school to earn this designation.

“We’re so proud to be recognized as a Future Ready school. Technology is woven into every aspect of our curriculum here at BCS because we want our students to be prepared to live and work in a high tech world while also learning how to be safe and responsible digital citizens.”

BCS furthered its commitment to becoming future ready by engaging in a series of workshops that offered expert support to build upon their existing digital learning plan that aligns with instructional best practices. BCS shares the vision with Future Ready schools to prepare students for success in college, a career, and citizenship.

“The Future Ready Regional Summits is a forum where local leaders can share knowledge with their peers, engage leaders from outside their region and better equip themselves with skills and tools necessary to provide students with what they need to be successful in life,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The summits are an important step toward realizing the goals of President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, which is to connect 99 percent of students to high-speed Internet and empower teachers with the technology they need to transform teaching and learning.

“Future ready is about helping district leaders leverage technology to empower teachers, engage students, and close persistent equity gaps by creating a learning environment where all students have access to the tools and expertise they need to be prepared for the future,” said Richard Culatta, director of the Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology (OET).

Since its inception in 2004, BCS has utilized technology with both students and staff to help each individual reach his/her full potential. By partnering with Future Ready schools, BCS is taking the next step in ensuring that all students in grades K-8 benefit from digital learning as part of the core curriculum.

For more information about the OET, including resources for students, parents and educators, visit http://tech.ed.gov. #FutureReady

To download a PDF copy of this press release, click here.

Bullis Charter School Recognized for Digital Citizenship Program

One of Only Three Schools in the State to Meet Criteria for Certification

Common Sense, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of digital media and technology, has recognized Bullis Charter School (BCS) as a Common Sense Digital Citizenship: Certified School for educating its students to be safe, smart, and ethical digital citizens.

BCS has demonstrated its commitment to taking a whole-community approach to preparing its students to use the immense power of digital media to explore, create, connect, and learn, while limiting the perils that exist in the online realm, such as plagiarism, loss of privacy, and cyberbullying.

“We applaud the faculty and staff at BCS for embracing digital citizenship as an important part of their students’ education,” said Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs for Common Sense Education. “BCS deserves high praise for giving its students the foundational skills they need
to compete and succeed in the 21st-century workplace and participate ethically in society at large.”

BCS has been using Common Sense Education’s innovative and research-based digital-citizenship and literacy resources, which were created in collaboration with Dr. Howard Gardner of the GoodPlay Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in every class in grades K-8. The resources teach students, educators, and parents tangible skills related to Internet safety, protecting online reputations and personal privacy, managing online relationships, and respecting creative copyright.

“We’re honored to be recognized as a Common Sense Digital Citizenship: Certified School,” said Wanny Hersey, Superintendent/Principal at BCS. “By preparing our students to use technology safely and responsibly, we are providing them unlimited opportunities to maximize and personalize their learning.”

To learn more about the criteria Bullis Charter School met to become certified as a Common Sense Certified School, visit http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/certification.

To download a PDF copy of this press release, click here.