Board renews North Oakland Community, Lighthouse Community school charters
on February 25, 2010
At a quiet meeting on Wednesday night, Oakland’s school board renewed the charters for two local schools: North Oakland Community Charter School (NOCCS) and Lighthouse Community Charter. Though Jim Mordecai, a substitute teacher who frequently attends board meetings in opposition to charter schools, spoke out against both schools last night, their charters were renewed by a unanimous vote.
“This school [NOCCS] is not performing poorly,” Jody London, the board member from District 1 in North Oakland said of the K-7 school located on 42nd Street in North Oakland. “We should not eliminate a good option for education.”
Charter schools in Oakland receive five-year charters from the school board that provide them almost complete autonomy from district policies. They receive the same per-student funding as traditional public schools, but usually supplement their operating costs with additional fundraising or the support of philanthropic foundations. Charter schools are required to be open to any student wishing to attend, but critics point to the schools’ ability to expel students more easily than traditional schools as a reason charters should be eliminated.
Some charter schools have performance records that are no better than average Oakland public schools, but some, including the two approved last night, are at the top of the stack in terms of student scores on California standardized tests.
NOCCS director Carolyn Gramstorff said they were very happy with the rigorous charter renewal process the district’s charter school office had led them though. In addition to submitting test scores for their students, compiling a binder’s worth of information about their academic program, and appearing for a long session with the school board’s Teaching and Learning Committee, leaders from both schools appeared at a regular board meeting in January. Dozens of school community members appeared at the January meeting as well, supporting the schools’ bids for renewal by carrying signs, speaking before the board and wearing colorful t-shirts. Wednesday night was quieter; the charters were renewed with little fanfare.
“We are proud to be partnered with the district to provide another public school option,” Gramstorff said after the board’s decision last night. “Charter schools play an important role in serving as institutions with more autonomy and ability to innovate. We as educators need to continue to look at ways to create whole systems that are innovative and continue to serve diverse students and families.”
According to their school accountability report, the student body at NOCCS is about half white and a third African American. The rest is made up of Asian, Latino, or Filipino students. Twenty-two percent of students at NOCCS are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, meaning they are eligible to receive free school lunch.
School board president Noel Gallo opened his comments with a call to improve safety around Oakland’s schools and spoke of the board’s need to support successful charter schools. “Lighthouse Academy [sic] sets an example,” Gallo said of the K-12 school. “They’ve done well. They’re in East Oakland and kids and families want to go there.”
The majority (over 85 percent) of students who attend Lighthouse Community Charter are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged. The average standardized test score for their K-8 students is 763 and the average for their high school students is 726. Scores are on a 1,000 point scale. Though still below the score of 800 considered proficient by the California Department of Education, Lighthouse’s K-8 score is about 70 points above the district average and their 9-12 score places them in the top five Oakland High Schools.
In other news, Superintendent Tony Smith told the small crowd at Laurel Elementary School in central Oakland where last night’s board meeting was held that outside of the city, Oakland is looked to as a model. He said he had attended Governor Schwarzenegger’s health summit in Los Angeles that morning to hear former president Bill Clinton speak. Clinton, he said, commended Oakland on the early action the district took in the 1990s to ban soft drinks in schools. Oakland has since banned electrolyte drinks, like Gatorade, from schools as well.
The meeting ended shortly after 8pm—early for the school board—as the board members went into closed session to discuss the district’s policy for teacher requests to take personal days off on March 4, among other matters. March 4 has been designated a “Day of Action to Defend Public Education” to protest California state budget cuts to public education. Earlier this month, the Oakland school board voted to support that action by way of a resolution stating their support. It is now expected that some teachers will request a personal day off on March 4 in order to join a rally and march to Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland that is scheduled to run from noon to 4 pm. Betty Olson-Jones, president of Oakland’s teachers’ union, said it was impossible to estimate how many teachers would submit requests.
District spokesman Troy Flint said, “Our position is that we are treating it like a normal day. Principals should not prevent anyone from attending the event unless they reach a tipping point where so many teachers leave that the school can’t operate.”
Flint said the district will be providing curriculum templates focusing on the issues raised by funding cuts on its Web site for teachers to use in their classrooms on March 4. The materials were developed by the Oakland Education Association, Oakland’s teachers’ union, and Mary Buttler, the executive officer of Instructional Services at OUSD. Teachers are under no obligation to use the curriculum if they do not wish to.
Image: Noel Gallo, school board president, speaks about the need for increased safety near Oakland schools. Superintendet Tony Smith sits to his right and board member David Kakishiba to his left.
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