School Board approves charter renewal, discusses district test scores
on November 8, 2019
After months of debate and community campaigning, the West Contra Costa Unified School District board members voted 4 to 1 in favor of renewing the charter of Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory Academy (Cal Prep) before a large and passionate crowd.
The board was also presented with data from the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) on test score performance within the district. Nearly 35% of WCCUSD students overall met or exceeded standards for English Language Arts (ELA), and nearly 24% met or exceeded standards for math for the 2018-2019 school year. Scores were much lower for students of color as compared to their white counterparts.
For Hispanic/Latino students, only 26% met or exceeded the standard for ELA, while only 15% did for math. The numbers for Black students were also low, with 20% meeting or exceeding the ELA standard, and 10% for math.
“Now we have to build into our systems anti-racists frameworks of learning because I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that our students of color are constantly not doing as well as their white students,” said board member Stephanie Hernández-Jarvis with regard to the data.
The Wednesday evening meeting brought together Richmond parents, students and residents at Lovonya DeJean Middle School, many of whom gathered for the high-stakes vote on the fate of Cal Prep, which meant a two-year renewal or closure at the end of this year.
Those pressing for a “no” vote cited the cost of charter schools like Cal Prep, which often come at the expense of district schools. Detractors frequently have argued that charters draw students from regular district schools, eroding enrollment and funding based on average daily attendance. Richmond currently has 14 charter schools within its city limits, and some board members feel that the numbers aren’t sustainable.
In defense of renewal, the council heard from a handful of concerned parents, faculty, and students who pointed out the potential consequences of closing Cal Prep.
Greg Schultz, the father of a 6th grader at Cal Prep, said, “If you take away this choice, this school, you will hurt the population of students in this district.” Another parent warned: “When you take away options, you damage the next generation.”
The board ultimately voted in favor of renewing Cal Prep’s charter with four “yes” and one official “no” votes. The decision was met with an enthusiastic crowd-wide roar, followed by Cal Prep’s school cheer.
For board member Mister Phillips, the decision to vote “yes”came down to numbers. “[At] the last board meeting . . . I remember talking about how folks didn’t need to be afraid to go to our schools because Aspire’s numbers [are] very close to what some of our middle school numbers were, specifically Crespi and Pinole Middle,” he told Richmond Confidential. “I have staff telling me that the law is, if the [test scores] are equal or better, that you’re supposed to pass it . . . So I did what I thought was the right thing.”
Linda Delgado, director of charter oversight, agreed with the renewal decision. “[The board] followed staff recommendations and they followed, I think, the dictates of their own thinking, which is what a board is supposed to do,” she said. “I think it was the right outcome.”
Board member Consuelo Lara, who voted “no” on the renewal, expressed her disapproval.
“I get emails from parents who are not happy at charter schools, who are scared, afraid of retaliation. They don’t know what to do or where to go and complain. So everything is not all wonderful about these charter schools at all,” Lara told Richmond Confidential. “There’s big money being made. It’s really about making money. It’s a business plan . . . So that’s . . . kind of where I’m coming from. And I will continue to vote that way because that’s the way I feel.”
When asked if she would ever change her stance on charter school renewal, Lara looked to Manzanita Middle School as an example. “Manzanita is run by parents. It’s not run by a corporation,” she said. “That one I would vote to stay here. To stay in.”
Some attendees expressed concerns that charter schools are not sufficiently inclusive of new students.
“You know what, when you have small schools, and small class sizes . . . you’re of course going to be successful . . .” said Tammy Campbell who attended the board meeting. “Ask how many of those schools have newcomers? Right? I mean, you think about it. The hardest students to bring in and educate are the newcomers.”
Madeline Kronenberg, another attendee at the meeting, was concerned about students with learning disabilities. “Special Ed . . . they need serious support. They’re not in those [charter] schools at all . . . So the fact that they don’t take those children, means that the percentages and the district tests [go] way up, and that also creates a disproportionality in terms of the funding,” she said.
Most attendees in the crowded room quickly dispersed after the renewal decision, as the board proceeded to consider the challenge of improving the academic performance of all students in Richmond. Discussion of standardized tests and closing the gap in scores is expected to be a continued focus for the board in coming meetings.
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