Charter schools petition for renewals at year’s first school board meeting
on January 13, 2011
Four charter schools presented petitions to renew their charters at the Oakland Unified School District board meeting last night. Students, teachers and parents from the Oakland schools crowded the boardroom and took turns asking the board to let their schools continue to operate for five more years. They hailed from Education for Change-Achieve Academy and American Indian Model School, both in East Oakland, Lighthouse Community Charter, a K-12 school in West Oakland and Civicorps Academy, an elementary school in North Oakland.
Charter schools, which operate with public funding, serve public school students and have charters that allow for private leadership. The charters contain the schools’ mission statement and act as contracts with the district. Schools must renew those charters every five years. School board and district personnel review the lengthy documentation submitted by each school to determine whether the schools have met the terms of their charter, and must issue a decision within 60 days of submission.
Last night’s meeting was a chance for the schools’ supporters to speak about how the schools have benefitted the community and improved neighborhood education. Each school got 15 minutes to present its petition and then public comments were taken. As is typical at these public hearings, a few members of the community who are fundamentally opposed to charter schools spoke against what they consider the privatization of public education. But some attendees, like parent Charles Hopkins, said charter schools provide better education options in Oakland.
“Something had to happen for this route to have been taken,” said Hopkins, who grew up in Oakland. “For there to be a charter school, something had to be missing in what was already established.” Hopkins graduated from UC Berkeley around the same time as Oakland schools’ superintendant Tony Smith, with whom he played football, and said he was determined his children would attend Cal as well. Hopkins said he didn’t think any of the other neighborhood schools near his home could offer the education that his choice of charter school provides. “I don’t think there’s any other place that I would have my daughters go but Education for Change,” he said.
Though charter school performance varies, all four charter schools presenting petitions last night boast higher state standardized test scores for their students than the other schools in their neighborhoods. One, American Indian Model School, proclaims on its website that its average Academic Performance Index of 988 out of 1,000 is the highest of any middle school in California.
Edward Moreno, a 22-year-old graduate of Dartmouth College, took the stand to speak about growing up in East Oakland. “I survived gang violence, avoided dealers and pushers and helped family pick up pieces after our home was robbed and vandalized,” he said. “I quickly realized that the only escape was school.” But school, he said, was not the respite from the streets he needed until American Indian Model took over his middle school in 2000. The structure the new school’s leaders imposed, he said, meant he was finally able to concentrate on his studies. “There was a sense of relief that my education requirements were being met,” Moreno said. “They transformed me from pure potential to a high-achieving student.”
The OUSD school board has a history of approving charter renewals when the schools are doing at least as well or better than other neighborhood options. Last year, the board denied the renewal of one East Oakland elementary school. In that case, the board ruled that Cox Academy was not achieving high enough test score results to be considered a better alternative than nearby traditional public schools. The other charters that came before the board during 2010 were approved.
Board members were not given an opportunity to comment on the petitions last night, so students, parents and teachers will have to wait for 60 days to find out if the schools that applied for charter renewal in 2011 will be approved for continued operation next year.
Lead image: Moises Espinoza, 12, speaks to the school board in favor of his school, Lighthouse Community Charter. His father, Juan Espinoza, who has three sons at Lighthouse, looks on.
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