Thursday, February 26, 2015

Oakland Invites Parents, Charters, Educators to Redesign Five Failing Schools

By Doug Oakley
Published January 2015
OAKLAND -- Schools Superintendent Antwan Wilson is shaking up the city's worst performing schools by inviting charters and other groups to redesign and restart five of them by the fall of 2016. 

Parent meetings are happening this week and next at Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds high schools and at Frick Middle School and Brookfield Elementary School, where officials will explain the new Intensive Support Schools Initiative. 

Last year the school board identified the five for an overhaul based on test scores and enrollment trends, according to a letter to parents before the Christmas break. 

"These are not necessarily the worst schools, but there's a combination of long-term academic underperformance and declining enrollment," said schools spokesman Troy Flint. 

The 18-month transformation plan at the five schools involves community engagement this month followed by a Call for Quality Schools in April, when charter organizations or other academic groups can submit proposals to redesign and restart new schools. The district will review and approve proposals in May and June. An "incubation period" for the approved schools will start in July with new schools opening in 2016. 

Since he started in July, Wilson has been clear that he's open to any kind of solution that would better educational outcomes for Oakland students, including adding to the 38 charter schools already within the district boundaries. 

Flint reiterated that stance Tuesday. 

"Anything that involves charters will be controversial to a degree," Flint said. "But we want the widest possibility of proposals regardless of who is responsible for the ideas." 

The Oakland teachers union, which would lose members, power and influence if more charter schools are approved, doesn't like the idea. The process for opening up the five schools to academic redesign has been rushed, said Oakland Education Association President Trish Gorham. 

"We are very concerned that this will be open to anyone who fills out the paperwork," Gorham said. "I certainly don't understand inviting charter schools to fill out plans for the school district. We absolutely do not approve of that." 

Gorham said the three high schools have been through several redesigns in the last 10 years. 

"First they broke them up into small schools, then they brought them back together ,which has made them all weaker and weaker," Gorham said. "You weaken them, put them out to bid. It's not feeling good." 

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