Uprep board calls last-minute meeting, votes to close school

boardresize.jpgUprep is closed.

The University Preparatory Charter Academy board held a special meeting today, giving little notice to families who might have wanted to attend.

They voted 3-1 to shut the high school in Eastmont Mall immediately. A number of teachers came, but no parents or students. It’s not clear whether the previously scheduled Saturday meeting will still happen.

Harold Pendergrass (far left) was the only board member who wanted to keep the school open, despite the Oakland school district’s charter revocation notice. He said the school needed a more transparent governing board and a full investigation into the allegations of fraud that have surfaced this month.

“There is considerable interest in trying to preserve the school,” Pendergrass said. “People aren’t running away from the school — maybe everyone except the board.”

But soon the discussion — about a decision that would deeply affect some 400 teenagers — devolved into a back-and-forth between Pendergrass and board president Prentice Deadrick about blame, ego and responsibility.

It went something like this: Continue Reading


Study: Students showed more improvement before NCLB

A report published today in the scholarly journal of the American Educational Research Association found that kids generally made larger academic gains in the years leading up to No Child Left Behind’s enactment in 2002 than they did afterward.

After analyzing the federal test scores in 12 states, researchers found that the reading scores of elementary school children declined since 2002 after rising during the 1990s — improvements they attributed to “state-led accountability efforts.” Fourth-grade math was the only area that picked up since 2002.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, was the lead author in a report. In AERA’s synopsis, he says:

“The slowing of achievement gains, even declines in reading, since 2002 suggests that state-led accountability efforts—well underway by the mid-1990s—packed more of a punch in raising student performance, compared with the flattening-out of scores during the ‘No Child’ era,” he observed.

“We are not suggesting that ‘No Child’ has dampened the earlier progress made by the states,” Fuller said. “But we find no consistent evidence that federal reforms have rekindled the states’ earlier gains.”


A new blog for Uprep

There has been much media attention paid to the alleged fraud and possible closure of Oakland’s University Preparatory Charter Academy, but very little direct communication to families. As a result, many have learned of recent developments in a haphazard way.

To make it easier to stay informed on the fate of the school, a group of people have created an online forum to share news articles, blog postings and other information. It’s called In the Mall because the high school is located in Eastmont Mall.

The site might come in handy to share information about a recently scheduled special board meeting at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, in which the board will discuss the “Potential Dissolution of University Preparatory Charter School.”

Here is the agenda.  It was e-mailed to me last night.


Pro-charter group takes stand against Uprep

You know you’re in trouble when your advocacy group turns its back on you. 

Before today, the only charter organization that the California Charter Schools Association wanted to see closed was the California Charter Academy, a statewide operation accused of misusing $25 million of state funds on personal luxuries such as boats and spa visits.

Now it has company:  Oakland’s University Preparatory Charter Academy, a high school located in Eastmont Mall, which opened in 2001.

Gary Larson, a spokesman for the charter schools association, told me today that the latest letter from the Oakland school district — containing yet more allegations of fraud — left his organization little choice. He said the school was undermining “the integrity of the charter school movement.”

Earlier this month, they kicked the school out of the association.

The school district letter, sent yesterday to Uprep’s governing board, documented evidence of changed grades on students’ report cards and inflated enrollment projections. Already, the district had documented evidence of cheating on state tests and a lax governing structure.

If the school closes, Continue Reading


Oakland’s infamously anti-PC charter principal leaves town

ochavis2.jpgThe American Indian Public Charter School should be a lot quieter from here on out. Ben Chavis, its controversial principal, has retired and moved to Arizona to spend more time with his grandkids — a move he says he’s been planning for more than a year (Board minutes from March say Chavis planned to work only part-time at the school).

I asked him why he didn’t mention this in May, when I shadowed him for a profile and multimedia piece for the Tribune. He said it was a business decision; he didn’t want to scare off any prospective families, so he waited until after the summer session was well underway to tell people. “I didn’t go around advertising,” he said.

He picked Isaac Berniker, a Dartmouth-educated teacher, to take over.

Meanwhile, the Oakland school district — which began to investigate complaints about Chavis’s explosive behavior earlier this year — apparently was not satisfied with the response from the charter school’s board.  During a visit in June, Chavis swore in front of two district administrators (which he admits) and referred to students as “darkies” and “whities,” as he often does.

“We consider the behavior observed during our visit to be Continue Reading


Report: Math and reading pushing out other subjects

The Center on Education Policy issued another report today about the effects of the No Child Left Behind accountability law. In the 350 school districts surveyed, it found that the amount of time spent on subjects other than reading and math has dropped by almost one-third since the law was enacted in 2002.

The change has been more profound at school districts like Oakland that have at least one school in need of improvement, the researchers found.

The bright spot: Jack Jennings, the organization’s CEO and president, told me that more and more teachers are finding ways to incorporate reading into other subjects. The key, he said, is for teachers — especially, newer ones — to have the support they need to pull it off.

Some say this trend is undermining public education. Others argue that if kids can’t read well, they won’t be able to learn other subjects. What do you think? Any stories on how the focus on reading and math is working in the Oakland schools?

If you don’t have time to look through the whole report, here are the CEP recommendations (copied directly from the news release): Continue Reading


Shhh, listen… Is that the sound of optimism?

Debora Rinehart was sure she’d hear a pack of lies about parent involvement when she showed up to last night’s Joaquin Miller/Montera principal selection meeting.


But she left so optimistic about the interview process — which includes a panel of parents from each school who roughly reflect its demographics — she was inspired to write a letter to the Tribune. (“I could be wrong,” she stipulated to me over the phone.)


I’m very interested in leadership issues as well as parent involvement. So, being the nosy reporter I am, I’m angling to sit in on the upcoming audition at one of the schools. We’ll see how that goes over.


If you attended last night’s meeting — or another one elsewhere in the district — please share your experiences and your hopes for a new principal.


Here is Debora’s letter, which will probably appear in the paper in the near future: Continue Reading


Dobbins won’t face criminal charges


 8/2/07 update: The Oakland police say they interviewed the people who made the allegations to the school district, and that Dobbins won’t face charges — for real, this time. The district is still conducting its own inquiry.

Last month, the authorities released the following statement, before they retracted it hours later:

On 23 Jul 07, the Special Victims Unit received a mandatory cross report from the Oakland Unified School District of possible sexual improprieties on the part of a School Board Director and a 17 year old female student. The student was contacted in person by investigators and made no disclosure of any crime; she denied the reported allegations. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has been consulted, and they are not pursuing criminal charges due to no evidence of corpus.

The question now is what the district will do, especially since some were calling for Dobbins’ resignation. I’ll be posting updates.


Uprep parents and students pack meeting, leave without answers

University Preparatory Charter Academy students and parents met face-to-face with the school’s previously absentee governing board tonight to discuss the possibility that the Oakland school district might shut it down.

Some said they came looking for answers about the allegations made publicly by a group of teachers about grade-changing and cheating. Others wanted to share the many successes inspired by the school — stories, they argued, that have been overshadowed by the recent controversy.

Overwhelmingly, the crowd urged the board to do what it could to keep the school open. They left without even that assurance. One board member said he would consider giving the charter back Continue Reading


School board member under investigation

cdobbins.jpgOakland school district officials and the authorities are looking into a relationship between Chris Dobbins, a board member and former middle school teacher, and a 17-year-old girl who served as a student trustee on the school board.

Dobbins, 35, says nothing inappropriate happened between him and the young woman. He said he saw himself as her mentor. They occasionally went out to eat after board functions, he said, and he would take her home.

After realizing the student had feelings for him, he said, he began to distance himself.

“Nothing happened, nothing happened, nothing happened,” Dobbins said. “It was definitely innocent. I didn’t realize how this would appear.”

The investigation apparently began after some e-mails Continue Reading