The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education last night approved a new charter school that plans to apprentice novice teachers and feed them back into OUSD’s public schools.
In a 5 to 0 vote during the Board’s biweekly meeting, held last night at La Escuelita Education Center, the K-8 Roses In Concrete Community School was approved as the first “lab” charter school in Oakland, according to Jeff Duncan-Andrade, lead petitioner and 21-year veteran OUSD teacher.
“I feel vindicated,” Duncan-Andrade said. He also felt honored, he said, that students from his years of teaching across the district came to support him, each holding a single red rose.
Under the lab school model, Duncan-Andrade said in an interview before the board meeting, Roses In Concrete will provide a place for teachers in training to learn, experiment and apprentice, using research to understand what makes a teacher successful. Master teachers from districts across California, the United States and even New Zealand are to serve as the long-term classroom teachers, but will see new apprentices arriving regularly from partnering universities, he said.
Roses in Concrete has not yet settled on a location, Duncan-Andrade said, but he will be looking to move the school into East Oakland. He said the school has partnered with Stanford University, San Francisco State University, University of San Francisco and Mills College to apprentice teachers studying education in those programs. The teachers in training are to teach at Roses in Concrete under a master teacher. Duncan-Andrade said this is designed to produce, among other things, a training pipeline of educators of color to work in Oakland public schools.
Before voting, the Board heard several speakers opposed to the charter. Jim Mordecai, a regular attendee of Board meetings, said he predicted that Roses In Concrete, although proposed as a K-8 school, would eventually expand and would begin to receive money from Measure N, a $120 parcel tax lasting for 10 years that will be on the November ballot. The Measure N text states that money generated will be spent on grades nine through 12.
Earlier in the meeting, Mordecai had spoken in opposition to Measure N, saying that it would benefit not just students in conventional Oakland public schools but also charters, which Mordecai opposes. “In ten years, I’ll be in my eighties. If I can make it to the microphone, we’ll see if I was right,” Mordecai said as he left the speaker’s podium.
Mike Hutchinson, another regular Board meeting attendee, said he would love to see people who want to start charters adopt a public school instead. He also said new charter schools continue to take away from public schools, making the gap between high number of classrooms and not enough students in public schools wider.
“It is disgusting to drive through the flats these days and see charter schools,” Hutchinson said. “And to see how far you have to drive before you can find another public elementary school.”
Jody London, OUSD Board of Education director for District 1, previously said to the public that she will vote against any new charter school proposals. She is not against charter schools in principle, she has said, but believes there are too many in Oakland. London abstained in the vote Wednesday night on Roses in Concrete, even after being asked by Jumoke Hinton Hodge, school board member for District 3, to join them in voting “yes.”
“I am disturbed by the public comment,” London said after hearing opposing arguments from several speakers. “I think there is a lot of value to what the lead petitioner wants to do with this school.”
Duncan-Andrade said no other charter schools have the recruiting reach of Roses in Concrete. He has recruited many “accomplished” veteran teachers from around California, he said. They have also received many applications from out-of-state teachers, even some from New Zealand, according to Duncan-Andrade.
“Most charters in Oakland are taking and giving nothing back to the district,” Duncan-Andrade said in an interview before the meeting. He said Roses In Concrete would give back well-trained teachers who will have learned from innovation and be able to feed that back into public schools.
Charter schools are often “creaming,” he said, keeping students with a lot of social and economic capital and removing those without. This creates a “quasi apartheid state,” as he put it, and gives the illusion that the schools are obtaining great results. Roses In Concrete will serve neighborhood kids, “in all that that means,” he said.
After public comments were heard about the proposed charter, Hinton Hodge said Oakland needs to “get real and get up in its own face” about the rhetoric surrounding privatization.
“This school is called Roses In Concrete,” Hinton Hodge said. “But if you read further, it’s about busting up that concrete, and allowing there to be an opportunity for these children to actually be fully nurtured so that they don’t have to squeeze their way through the cracks in order to survive, but that there are going to be people to cultivate them. And if they use the dollars of corporations to do that, then I don’t have a problem with it,” the crowd holding roses erupting in applause.
In other matters, the Board approved regulations to help establish School Site Councils, made up of teachers, principals, parents and students, to oversee and address the specific needs of each individual school.
The Board also received a report that the district has enough textbooks and instructional materials. But while that’s good news, student director Katebah Al-Olef said, these materials are not always culturally relevant. She said other cultures are often not represented in the textbooks, and many teachers choose not to use them.