Opinion split on petition to open charter high school in Richmond
on September 28, 2016
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.
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