A little after 7:30 on Wednesday night, right as the Warriors were embarking on what would be their 73rd win, Superintendent Antwan Wilson was wearing a Warriors jersey as the Oakland school board called a special meeting, voting to approve charter renewals for Vincent Academy and American Indian Charter Schools.
Silke Bradford, director of charter schools and diverse providers for the school district, recommended the approval of Vincent Academy’s charter renewal. According to Bradford, the school “outperformed every elementary school within a one-mile radius.” Board members posed no questions regarding the recommendation. Vincent Academy, located in West Oakland, moved into a new campus at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year and currently serves kindergarten through fifth grade.
Two members of the public, Mike Hutchinson and Jim Mordecai, spoke against the charter renewal. Mordecai objected to the charter renewal on the basis of separation of church and state.
The board voted 6-0 in favor of the school’s charter renewal.
Bradford also recommended the approval of American Indian Public Charter School (AIPCS), which serves grades 6 to 8, and American Indian Public High School (AIPHS) currently serving grades 9 to 12. This time, board directors pushed back on Bradford’s recommendation, posing questions about the school’s disciplinary practices, school culture, and whether the student body accurately reflects the greater student population in the city of Oakland.
AIMS was previously embroiled in controversy and the school board voted to revoke its charter in 2013 following allegations of financial mismanagement against the school’s founder. A Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team audit alleged that the founder and his wife had made “approximately $3.9 million in financial benefit through contracts and other financial arrangements” regarding school business, and the district issued the schools a 1,080-page notice of violations based on that report and other public records and correspondence. But AIMS staffers filed an appeal against the Alameda County Board of Education. In 2014, an Alameda County superior court judge ruled that local officials could only use academic achievement to determine if a charter school should remain open. School district officials signed a settlement agreement with AIMS allowing the schools to continue operating.
“This is an incredibly difficult vote for me,” said Director James Harris (District 7). “Recognizing it as one of the top ten schools in the country, it is hard to look at families and say ‘I’m going to take that away from you.’” Harris brought up the previous allegations saying, “Money was embezzled from students. There is no higher wrong in the system of education.”
Harris said he believes AIPCS is under new leadership that will improve the school’s quality, and that he was casting his vote in favor of charter renewal. “So my vote tonight is really a leap of faith, because that’s all we have here is faith that we’re going to do what we say we’re going to do,” he said.
The board voted 5-2 in favor of the middle school’s charter renewal with District 6 Director Shanthi Gonzales and District 5 Director Roseann Torres voting against. The board then voted 6-1 in favor of the high school’s charter renewal, with Gonzales voting against.
The board also voted 7-0 to adopt a resolution on housing policies, projects and programs. Authored by District 1 Director Jody London, the resolution is meant as a first step in a collaboration with the city of Oakland to explore how the district can help provide affordable housing for teachers and other public education employees.
“OEA has come out against this plan,” said Mike Hutchinson during the public comment session, referring to the Oakland Education Association, the union that represents Oakland teachers. Hutchinson said that the language in the current version of the plan would include charter school employees, so the plan would provide housing subsidies for teachers who are not employees of district schools. “Changing the language from ‘educators’ to ‘public education employees’ actually does nothing for me,” he said, referring to the recent language update in the plan, which would cover all school staff, including office staff and janitors, in addition to teachers.
“I know, and believe in my heart, that we are doing the right thing,” said Director Hinton-Hodge (District 3), supporting the plan. “This is an important piece of our work to be in collaboration with city officials.”
Allen Smith, chief of schools, and David Montes de Oca, deputy chief, presented an update on the district’s quality school development policy, in which $3.5 million in funds will be allocated for school improvement. They discussed the district’s methods to evaluate how schools are meeting quality standards, and the process they will use to decide which schools will receive the funds.
Dr. Devin Dillon, the district’s chief academic officer, and Sheilagh Andujar, the deputy chief of programs for exceptional children, presented the superintendent’s 3-year plan for implementing the district’s special education programs. The district plans to develop models for 10 schools that will pilot the district’s new inclusion model next fall, which will put some students with special needs in mainstream classrooms.