School leaders, teachers, and parents attended the meeting to support the petition for Lodestar Academy. Photo by Erika Alvero Koski

Oakland school board hears petition for new charter school

on September 25, 2015

During Thursday night’s school board meeting, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education heard a report from the superintendent, the bi-annual report from the district’s police department, and a petition for a partnership with a new school to be called Lodestar Charter School. Superintendent Antwan Wilson also acknowledged statements made by some members of the public regarding the district’s new inclusion policy, being implemented this year, which increases the amount of time some students in special education may spend in general education classrooms.

The meeting began with public comments on non-agenda items, many of which echoed concerns voiced at the last school board meeting about the inclusion policy. District officials say the plan will primarily affect students with mild to moderate disabilities, and that special education classrooms and services will remain available for students with the greatest needs. They say the services received and degree to which a student is included in general education classrooms will depend largely on the stipulations in the student’s individual education plan (IEP).

At the school board meeting on September 9, members of Equal Opportunities Now/By Any Means Necessary (EON/BAMN) criticized the policy, saying it would force the majority of special education students into general education classrooms. And at Thursday night’s meeting, the group continued to criticize the idea, with BAMN leader Yvette Felarca likening the policy to “the new Jim Crow.” At one point, school board members took a fifteen-minute recess after demonstrators refused to keep comments under one minute per speaker, as requested by the board. Felarca attempted to speak from the steps of the stage until Oakland School Police Department (OSPD) Chief Jeff Godown informed her that she and the other demonstrators were not allowed beyond the podium.

Superintendent Antwan Wilson responded to the criticisms, saying the idea that OUSD intends to remove special education is “ridiculous.” Wilson said only 5.8 percent of special education students are currently enrolled in inclusion classes. “It doesn’t make any difference how many times you yell and scream inappropriate information. It’s still wrong,” Wilson told the demonstrators. “Disagree with the things that we’re really doing.” Wilson encouraged attendees to view the OUSD website to access information and clarity regarding special education policies.

Wilson also cited recent results from Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), an online assessment required by the state. SBAC, which took the place of the California Standardized Test (CST), tracks student performance in both English Language Arts (ELA) and math. It is administered to the majority of students in grades 3-8 and 11. According to Wilson, the most recent SBAC data shows that 84 percent of students with Individualized Education Plans who took the exam were below standard in math and 83.3 percent scored below standard in reading. Based on the data, Wilson said, the prior model of pulling kids out of classrooms and not exposing them to rigorous courses was not working, and the district believes that increased general education classrooms will benefit many students.

Following the public comment session, the board listened to a presentation from Lighthouse Charter Schools regarding a petition and proposed charter for a new facility, Lodestar Charter School. Though a site has not been chosen, the proposed school would be located in East Oakland, where Lighthouse currently operates a K-8 public school and a second school serving grades 9-12. The new school would serve grades K-12, and would attempt to serve a more diverse community of students, said proponents of the school.

Founder Jenna Stauffer and Lighthouse 2 head of school Yanira Canizales led the presentation, after which educators and some parents accompanied by their children approached the podium to discuss how they had benefitted from the existing school. “Lighthouse has grown from serving 90 kids to serving 750 kids across two charters,” said Stauffer. “Every year about 500 students show up for whom we cannot serve and they stay on our waiting list … some of them for years.” Stauffer said they are currently fundraising and plan to rely on outside funding for their programming, but are hoping to find a facility with help from OUSD.

Board Vice President Jody London (District 1) said she wished Lodestar had partnered with an existing school instead of presenting the board with the idea for a new school. “We have too many schools as it is in this district,” said London. Although she cited the impressiveness of Lodestar’s application, she continued, “I can’t in good conscience as a financial manager in this district authorize any more schools.”

Following the presentation from Lodestar, district COO Hitesh Haria presented the first section of the superintendent’s report. Data from the 20 day enrollment count, the number of students who enrolled in OUSD schools during the first 20 days of the current school year showed that overall enrollment exceeded projections. The district has a total enrollment of 36,981 students, although 12th grade student enrollment was short of district projections by 166 students.

“Do we think those are kids going to other schools or are they kids who are just dropping out?” London asked. Wilson responded that the drop is being investigated.

The superintendent’s report also acknowledged a teacher shortage. On the first day of school, there were 15 classroom teacher vacancies. According to Brigitte Marshall, chief talent officer for OUSD, that shortage has now been reduced to five.

Data from last year’s SBAC assessments was also presented by Dr. Devin Dillon, the district’s chief academic officer. According to overall data on the annual assessment, 48.1 percent of students did not meet English Language Arts (ELA) standards on the SBAC and 51.6 percent of students did not meet math standards, compared to 31.6 percent of California students who did not meet ELA standards and 38 percent who did not meet math standards. Dillon said it was important to think of the assessment results as a baseline, not only because it was the first time students were tested using the new standards, but also because “It’s the first time our students have taken an assessment on a computer in this way.”

For the remainder of the meeting, the board heard from Chief Godown, who presented the bi-annual complaint report for the school district’s police department. According to the presentation, four allegations against OSPD police officers have been sustained, and one allegation was not sustained. Ten complaints have been filed against school security officers. Of those complaints, five allegations were sustained, one allegation was not sustained, and four complaints were dropped. One sustained allegation against an OSPD police officer involved sexual harassment, but according to Godown, it warranted only a “memo of concern” for the officer involved. Another sustained complaint against a school security officer involved gambling and conduct towards others, and was addressed with a two-day suspension according to the report.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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