Sorry for the delay in posting. This week buzzed with activity in preparation for school. Below is a summary of our board meeting on 8/12/13.
F1. Summit/K2 Charter
Summit schools submitted a charter to open a 7-12 grade school on the former Windrush campus beginning in the 2014-15 school year. The Board voted 4-1 Monday night to deny the charter, with me being the minority. This was a difficult vote. I don’t think this school is a good idea. The risks posed by creating it are higher than the potential benefit. Unfortunately, the law does not allow us to consider systemic effects when voting.
Few people like to have their hands forced. Listening to the community on whole, this application had narrow support and strong opposition. I voted to approve for the simple reason that our denial will be undone at the next level. Staff recognized that Summit had a strong application when they recommended approval. By voting no, we simply forestalled the inevitable, and at some price.
By denying this charter, WCCUSD can no longer work with Summit to mitigate harmful effects on neighboring schools. They will not have to respond to us in any way. Contra Costa County School Board members spoke to this issue when they approved the Caliber School charter denied by WCCUSD. Board members, especially Pam Mirabella, made it clear they would like to remand the charter back to WCCUSD. No matter where people stand on charters, they are here and operating. WCCUSD benefits from working relationships with all schools in its footprint, be they charter, parochial or private.
When I first heard about this proposed use of the Windrush site, I was hurt. The new school poses a challenge to years of personal effort to improve educational outcomes at Portola and ECHS. The extraordinary teams of community members supporting Portola, ECHS and Kennedy feel undermined. We are working very hard to see all kids succeed. While I know it wasn’t the intent, I hope that advocates for Summit appreciate the upset created. I hear terms like “kicked in the teeth,” and “punched in the gut.”
At a broader level, parent choice is leading to something that might be described as “tracking by school.” Well-resourced families trend toward higher performing schools, creating a cycle of success in some schools and loss in others. I have concerns about charter schools contributing to this trend. Their selection practices can miss hard-to-serve students. We have strong students in every school and in every demographic category. I fear they will be the ones that leave, concentrating the hardest-to-serve in our district schools.
Charters were created to “compete” with district schools under a neo-liberal assumption that competition raises quality among all. WCCUSD is surrounded by competition in public, charter and private schools. My children started WCCUSD 18 years ago. Over that time, competition fueled an exodus from WCCUSD that decreased educational opportunity within the system. This market ideology has not worked.
WCCUSD educational quality needs improvement. Parents are anxious to see schools’ test scores rise as indication of growth. WCCUSD secondary schools have decidedly low test scores and state rankings. This data reflects serious educational problems that must be addressed. Parents are not willing to wait. Until recently, they went to other districts and private schools. Now some people are asking for charter options.
I understand why people want options. Too many students are falling through the cracks, which can turn into chasms in districts like ours. Rigid policy and personnel practices feel Kafkaesque when students are being under-served. Through the strategic planning process, the community voiced its adamant view that WCCUSD lacks urgency in improving student outcomes. Many feel that we in leadership lack a vision for real change.
I won’t ask folks to be patient. I am still learning this job, but hope to improve quickly. We need to do better by kids, yet we also must acknowledge our strengths. We have a community that wants great things for our children. Time and again, people ask me for volunteer opportunities to support students. This is an incredible resource for harnessing. Our facilities are amazing, and so are our students. Change is always happening. The challenge is turning it into growth.