EL CERRITO -- Silicon Valley-based charter school operators who are petitioning the West Contra Costa schools for approval of a charter are simultaneously negotiating to lease an iconic El Cerrito landmark to house the new school.

Summit Public Schools is in talks with the Chamberlin Family Foundation to put the proposed charter in the building that formerly housed the Windrush School at 1800 Elm St.

The foundation funds projects that aim to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for students from low-income families and minority communities.

Steve and Susan Chamberlin, the foundation's principals, paid $6.9 million in December to purchase the historic building. Windrush, a private elementary and secondary school, was forced to close after it was unable to meet the payments on loans it took out to remodel and expand the campus in 2008.

Summit submitted a petition to run a charter secondary school under the auspices of the West Contra Costa district on June 14 and made a presentation to trustees at the July 10 board meeting.

The charter school operator will run six schools in San Jose, Redwood City, Daly City and Sunnyvale this fall, specializing in preparing "traditionally underserved," primarily minority students to attend college, said Diego Arambula, the schools' chief growth officer.

It wants to open a West Contra Costa campus in Richmond or El Cerrito beginning in fall 2014.


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"The Chamberlins have been in discussions with Summit Public Schools about the campus," foundation Executive Director Julie Wright said in a message to West Contra Costa trustees released Friday. "Before taking the next step, we wanted to see that Summit's charter was submitted and they presented themselves strongly to you, the district leadership, at their public hearing."

Arambula told trustees July 10 that Summit is committed to recruiting a student body that reflects the ethnic and economic makeup of the district.

"We share their unwavering commitment to serve a population that is absolutely representative of the district's population," Wright said.

The Chamberlins intend to include "performance metrics" in the lease that cover "exceptional student outcomes, ongoing development and support of excellent educators, and ensuring they are a good neighbor," Wright said.

"We want to be sure this site is home to a great public school."

Trustees will consider a staff analysis of the Summit petition at their Aug. 12 meeting.

The Chamberlins have also donated $200,000, with an ongoing pledge of $100,000 per year, to the Richmond campus of Leadership Public Schools, charter schools that have raised school test scores significantly for African-American and Latino students from low-income neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, Leadership held a lottery to fill about 150 spots in its freshman class and had to turn away about 100 applicants.

Arambula said Summit will also make use of a lottery if more students apply than can be admitted.

The school building is a landmark situated at the foot of the El Cerrito hills. It was constructed in 1935 in a distinctive, Asian-influenced style to house the Chung Mei Home for Chinese Boys. At that time, it was the only orphanage for Chinese boys in the United States.