Charter school proponents speak out at ‘Waiting for Superman’ screening


The documentary film explores the overstressed public school system and how it fails its students, and promotes the charter system.

By Meg Boberg / Special to The Malibu Times

Education reform was the topic of the evening at Sunday’s screening of “Waiting for Superman” hosted by the Malibu Film Society. A crowd of supporters comprised of parents of Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School (PDMSS) students filled the room, along with other filmgoers, to catch the award-winning documentary that was followed by a screening of Oscar-nominated “The Fighter.”

Last month, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education rejected the Point Dume charter petition, citing its unsound financial plan and unsatisfactory curriculum outline, among other reasons. The petition has been appealed to the Los Angeles County Office Board of Education, which will meet at its headquarters in Downey Feb. 1 to discuss it before voting a week later whether to grant the school charter status.

Before lights went down to start the film on Sunday, Robyn Ross, the lead co-petitioner for the charter proposal along with Ali Thonson, discussed the benefits of PDMSS becoming Malibu’s first charter school. Ross explained that by transforming the school to a charter, a number of concerns such as potential closure of the school are addressed.

“This will provide autonomy to be innovative, ability to attract and maintain the best teachers, local control to make quick and efficient changes that benefit your unique school and lower overhead to make the most of budget constraints,” Ross said. “Local control has made charters a very desirable option.”

The film, “Waiting for Superman,” addresses the shortcomings of the public school system and the benefits of charter schools, such as providing support for the low-achieving students who often slip through the cracks of an overstressed public school. However, charter critics say that PDMSS cannot be compared to the schools depicted in the film.

Audience members discussed the charter school after the film, with most in favor of the charter school petition.

Jessica Newman, a mother of three children attending PDMSS, is in support of the transformation to a charter school and said she is even more enthusiastic after seeing the film.

“It made me want to go home and drill math and reading with my kids,” Newman said. “All the parents support the charter, it’s all community driven.”

Noticeably absent from the film screening were opponents of the charter proposal. While the supporters of the petition say the charter school is in the best interest of the school and community at large, other community members disagree, including SMMUSD Superintendent Tim Cuneo.

“The legislation is very clear that the idea of charters is to provide support for those schools that are failing, not for those schools that are successful like Point Dume,” Cuneo said in an interview Monday. “If we have failing schools in this district we would be addressing those and make sure those students have the support they needed.”

Although PDMSS was closed from 1980 through 1996 because of decreased enrollment, Cuneo said the fears of closure are premature, adding that neither the SMMUSD or the board have taken steps to initiate a closure of the school site.

Other reasons provided by opponents to block the formation of the charter include the effects it may have on the other schools in Malibu.

Scott Jacobson, a parent of two children who attend Juan Cabrillo Elementary School and one at Malibu High School, is involved in addressing the drawbacks of the charter petition to the community. A concern of his is the potential recruitment of students from neighboring elementary schools to satisfy enrollment, which could lead to staff layoffs.

“I am part of a group of parents, teachers and students that want the charter proponents to work with the school district and the local schools to get it right, rather than rush to push through a flawed application that cannot be amended for several years and may impact all the schools in Malibu,” Jacobson said. “This is, after all, about the children, not about winning or losing or getting something passed.”