Opinion split on petition to open charter high school in Richmond

Parents and Children with placards at the Richmond School Board meeting when Caliber Schools Presented a petition for a high school. Photo by Marian Davidson

Parents and Children with placards at the Richmond School Board meeting when Caliber Schools Presented a petition for a high school. Photo by Marian Davidson

Barely two weeks after the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCSUD) Board of Education voted not to sell Adams Middle School to Caliber Schools, the charter school organization petitioned the Board to open a high school in the district.

Parents, staff and students of the Caliber: Beta Academy charter school came to the school board meeting held at Lovonya DeJean Middle School last Wednesday in blue “Caliber” t-shirts, carrying placards proclaiming “Yes to Caliber High” and “I support Caliber High.”

Because of the public interest it attracted, the petition was moved up the meeting’s agenda to follow the board’s vote to accept the forensic financial audit report on the district’s bond program.

Back in August, Caliber Schools submitted a charter petition to WCCUSD to open a high school in the 2017 to 2018 academic year. The school would serve 90 students its first year and reach full enrollment, 360 students, by the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

The purpose of the public hearing on the petition at last week’s board meeting was to gauge the level of public and teacher support for the petition.

During the public comment period, Caliber parent Robin Degracia, who described her six-and-a-half-year-old son as “really intelligent but immature,” said Caliber: Beta Academy provided the ideal learning environment for her child.

“I want him to continue to thrive, I want to be sure there is a high school that can handle him,” she said.

Caliber: Beta Academy third-grade teacher and Richmond resident Molly Moloney, who has two children in second grade at the school, also urged the board to approve the petition. “I need a school for my kids for when they are ready for high school,” she said.

School board candidate Carlos Taboada weighed in from the other side of the issue. “Not one more dollar should be given to private managers of charter schools,” he said. Instead, he called on all concerned to work together to improve public schools. “It will be financially irresponsible and morally unwise to throw away the resources of our district,” Taboada said.

Reverend Brown Adkins of the Open Door Methodist Church, which is located across the street from Adams Middle School, said that when the district funds charter schools, it jeopardizes existing public schools.

“The district cannot continue to lose more money, students and facilities to unregulated, unaccounted and unproven charter operations,” Adkins said.

In a presentation that followed the public comment session, Ernest Peterson, former principal of Gates Foundation-funded Aspire River Oaks charter school in Stockton and founding school leader of the proposed Caliber high school, said that charter schools are often misunderstood.

Charter schools, said Peterson, don’t engage in “cherry-picking” students. “It’s not my interest to sort students, but to unlock [their] potential,” he said.

The schools offer “complete open enrollment” based on a lottery that is available to all district students, he said.

Board members followed up with questions about Peterson’s track record as a school administrator, how Caliber will collaborate with the community, and what its presence would mean for district schools.

“Why should I vote for Caliber to have a school?” asked board member Valerie Cuevas.

In response, Peterson said that charter schools are “not bad actors” and are still accountable to district rules and regulations. He described suffering communities and “troubled” schools in the existing system; “we offer some hope and alternatives to that,” he said.

After the presentation, Cuevas thanked the Caliber students who spoke during the public comment session in a voice laden with emotion.

“Whatever we decide, I don’t want you to internalize what that means for you. I love you and I care about you,” she said to the students.

To the parents, Cuevas said, “Whether your kids go to a neighborhood or Caliber school, we are working hard to give you what you deserve.”

The WCCUSD board is expected to vote on the petition at the board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, October 19. If approved, Peterson said that Caliber will offer a continuing Caliber education to students who are in eighth grade this year.

3 Comments

  1. ritchie cook

    Thank you Carlos Taboada!!! If the oligarchs like the one behindCaliber were subject to anything like the bond expenditures he would that can’t have been run out of town long ago. These corporate charters whether “non profit” or not have a track record now. Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, New Orleans and others. Complete failures all. Destroyed the districts took the money and ran. They are unsustainable schemes as was testified to in August in Sacramento

  2. Thomas Silva

    I have nothing against charter schools, if they are opened for the right reason. What this charter school reminds me of is of the old opportunistic con artists who enter a community and strip it.The fact that this school is trying to open a HS, with very little track record, mind you, is a direct reflection of 2 major things;

    1. Parents are no longer trusting WCCUSD in the cities of Richmond and San Pablo. This is the doing of long time do nothings at the school district who fail to see that low performing violent schools will eventually lead to change…….and well its here.

    2. School district officials and local politicians who spread venomous attacks against charter school in West County will soon become irrelevant if they are not so already. The hatred and anti charter propaganda will not work for politicians in the future, and instead will hurt them and allow for these scalawags such as these hedgefunders to start a school.

    Bottom line are that results and safety matter period. If the school district was smart, they would pull their collective heads from the sand, and work with school organizations who are solid performers and have local connections. Let them open, and operate and bridge the situation. This will decrease the push and demand by families and scare off the opportunists due to a lack of enrollment pools.

    I am not educator or politician, nor am I a fool either. Unlike the fools who are running for the district now!

    • ritchie cook

      As one who works in 4 schools in the Iron Triangle I can say that things have gotten better. First , compare the physical plants .Belding was torn down and Chavez although too small is a cheery place. Ford , is a new modern school with a pleasant light filled library and computer lab. Wilson and Grant , however , do need to be fixed up. Why don’t these billionaires donate the money to do so? Chater schools are either another way to enrich themselves or another example of the rich with more dollars than sense. As I have stated before , check out Milwaukee , Detroit , etc…. to see the destruction brought by them. The Charter school association as not one ,but two full time propagandists…I mean representatives being paid $50,000 a year a piece. Without anyone going to jail, brought to trial, heck even accused pro charter interests talk about mispent money without specifically stating who or where this occured. The parents at Madera and Kennsington would be suprised to learn that “fools” are running the district

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