Two OUSD schools will convert to charters after board vote
on March 8, 2012
Two Fruitvale area elementary schools denied permission to become charter schools earlier this year had that decision reversed by the Oakland Unified School District board at a special meeting Wednesday night.
In doing so, the board created a new kind of “partnership school” that board members, school employees and parents present Wednesday said will improve the quality of schools in the district.
The board voted to allow ASCEND and Learning Without Limits to convert from district public schools to charter schools this fall. Each was given a five-year agreement to function as a charter school, the board voted unanimously, though director Alice Spearman (District 7) was not present. The schools will be overseen by charter management company Education For Change.
But unlike the other 30 Oakland charter schools, both ASCEND and Learning Without Limits will retain a close relationship with district—the schools will pay for services from the district, like custodial, professional development and access to data systems and teacher support. The schools will also participate in the district’s enrollment process and receive students who were expelled from other schools. Both schools will also continue to chip in their share of the district’s $6 million annual payment to the state from its emergency loan.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with you in envisioning a new way we can work together to better meet the needs of Oakland’s children,” ASCEND principal Larissa Adam told the board.
The schools are being called “partnership” schools, and it’s a relatively new model in which a charter school and public school system share resources, and staff work closely. The two schools applied for charter status in October because, according to Adam, they wanted control over staffing, scheduling, curriculum and budgets. The OUSD board denied both applications in January on the recommendation of Superintendent Tony Smith, who said at the time that having two of the highest performing schools leave would hurt the district. The schools appealed this decision to the Alameda County Board of Education, but will now drop those appeals.
According to a report presented Wednesday by OUSD general counsel Jacqueline Minor, the agreements would bring in nearly $775,000 a year to the district from the schools.
Adam told the board on Wednesday night that similar initiatives have been working in Denver, Colorado, and school officials were eager to try it in Oakland. Adam said she hopes the charter approval “changes the conversation about education in Oakland, focusing us as adults more on the needs of kids, and pushes us to significantly change our broken system.”
School board member Christopher Dobbins [District 6] said Wednesday that he previously voted against the schools’ charter applications because he didn’t want to “subtract from existing schools.” However, Dobbins said, he believed the schools would be approved as charters by the county, so finding a way to keep them close to the district was important. “I still have those reservations,” Dobbins said, “but at the same time, I think we can work with this.”
Dobbins mentioned that the schools could return to the district in two years, if an agreement can be reached and school officials believe conditions have improved enough in the district to allow them to do so. Teachers at both schools also will receive a two-year leave of absence from the district, meaning if they want to teach at ASCEND or Learning Without Limits, they can do so for two years and then return to the district under the contract agreed to between the district and the Oakland Education Association. Once the conversion to charter schools is complete, teachers at the two schools will not be covered by the OEA agreement, but instead managed by Education For Change.
When the board’s unanimous decision was announced, the audience, mostly made up of parents and teachers from the schools, broke into applause. After the meeting, Leo Fuchs, principal of Learning Without Limits, said he was excited about the board’s decision, and eager to move forward with converting his school into a charter school. He said after the initial denial, he was pleased with how the process played out.
“The spirit of partnership that existed throughout and the recognition by everyone involved that here was an opportunity, really stands out,” he said.
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