As school board considers two new charter schools, inconsistent results sound note of caution
on October 12, 2014
An uneasy tension hung in the air at Dejean Middle School Wednesday as West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) board members discussed Aspire Public Schools’ petition to add two new charter schools to the district.
As Aspire parents, teachers, administration, and students vouched for approval, WCCUSD board members and teachers questioned if adding schools would benefit all district students.
“Though it seems like a good idea for the students that are in them (charter schools),” said WCCUSD board member, Todd Groves; “I believe it will come at a cost to the district as a whole.”
If approved, Aspire hopes to build one or possibly two facilities in Richmond to house two new charters that would enroll 312 students in grades K-5 and 420 students in grades 6-12. The two schools would be named Richmond Technology Academy and Richmond California College Preparatory Academy.
Aspire Public schools first opened in 1998 when Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reed Hastings teamed with educator Don Shalvey in a mission to grow the charter school movement in low-income neighborhoods.
Aspire currently serves 14,000 students in 38 schools across California and Tennessee. In the Bay Area it serves Oakland, Berkeley and East Palo Alto school districts in 10 separate schools.
Aspire says it differs from existing WCCUSD public schools through smaller classes, more technology-based education, and better pathways to college. Partnering with UC Berkeley, Aspire links students to mentors, college graduates, and classes at Berkeley.
The school hopes to facilitate an alternative option for Richmond families.
“Over half of our families already commute to Oakland and Berkeley from West Contra” said Kimi Kean, Bay Area Superintendent for Aspire Public Schools. “And we’d love to serve them here and expand the opportunity for a college-going K-12 education.”
At the board meeting, as Kean stood in front of WCCUSD’s board president Charles Ramsey, Ramsey asked if they would later ask for parcel tax funding which passed in 2012 to maintain the quality of education.
Kean responded with a quiet, “No.”
Other WCCUSD charter schools filed a lawsuit in May for parcel tax funding that is still pending.
As a direct state funded charter school, Aspire schools are funded through base and sub funding per student from the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). They also have access to gaining grants and loans.
After Aspire is established for a full fiscal year they have the choice to become locally funded, which allows them to receive funds from WCCUSD.
Aspire’s board of directors, listed as private and venture capitalists, are involved in companies such as TPG Capital, State Farm Insurance and the Wellington Financial Group.
Though West Contra Costa Unified School district failed to meet all 44 of the 2013 Adequate Yearly Progress requirements-including graduation rates for student groups and above 80 percent proficiency in math and English- Aspire charter schools perform at the same standard or just above WCCUSD. Though Aspire Golden State College Preparatory Oakland and Aspire Cal Prep Berkeley had AYP problems in 2012, Cal Prep met the 2013 AYP requirements while Aspire Golden State missed the mark due to a 25-point drop in Academic Performance Index (API).
In 2013 the African American male graduation rate at Aspire Golden State Oakland was at 66 percent. WCCUSD at large had an African American male graduate rate of 70 percent while Aspire Cal Prep had 85 percent graduate. Statewide the graduation rate for African American males is 63 percent.
If WCCUSD approves Aspire’s petition, Cal Prep Berkeley will close and their student population of 244 students will move to Cal Prep Richmond. Aspire said they plan to use a lottery for choosing Richmond applicants. Though there is not currently a waiting list for the two proposed Aspire Richmond charter schools, many Aspire public schools fill up quickly.
Some teachers and district members fear that a new charter school will cause competition for students and funding, widening a social divide in Richmond.
“Because of the lottery system only the very engaged parents will go and apply for those schools to get in the lottery,” said De Jean middle school counselor and project manager, JP de Oliveira, “so automatically it eliminates kids who have a parent who is disengaged, or a parent who is too busy.”
Many teachers have cited the inconsistent performance of the eight WCCUSD-approved charters as the source of opposition to more charter schools.
Middle College High School had an average Academic Performance Index (API) of 864 for 2010-2013 rising above Richmond’s Leadership Public School. Chartered in 2002, Leadership had an average API of 786. Though Middle College passed the 2013 AYP requirements, Leadership failed to pass as it goes into its fourth year of program improvement status.
While three of the eight WCCUSD approved charter schools have not reported AYP data, all five of the remaining charters failed to meet AYP requirements in 2013.
A recommendation will be made at the Nov. 12th board meeting. If approved, Aspire plans to open the doors at a new school at the end of August 2015.
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