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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 inappropriate and offensive,” Kirsten Vital, chief of community accountability, wrote in a letter dated July 9.

It will be interesting to see how the school changes without its controversial founder. His colleague, Jorge Lopez, said he expects it will be as successful, if not as colorful, as before. “(Isaac)’s not going around calling people crazy-ass liberals or bull—- darkies, but the fundamental program isn’t going to fall,” he said.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Turner Dodge

    Good riddance!

  • Jim Mordecai

    jim2812 wrote:
    What was it about the structure of charter schools that made it so difficult to deal with Ben Chavez’s inappropriate behavior? What kind of changes in charter school law might make such treatment of students less likely to occur?

    I would suggest that California’s legislators should re-writing charter school law so that charter school governing boards are elected by the citizens in the school district the school is located. Membership on a charter school governing board should have a residence requirement.

    No structure is perfect but certainly charter schools scandals as in Oakland’s examples of Uprep test score scandal, and the Ben Chavis over the top treatment of students for seven years without public accountability, should motivate the legislature to reaccess how California’s charter laws might be improved.

    Posted 7/27/2007 7:47:08 AM

  • Matt

    The school is the best. OUSD has had many scandals of their own dont you agree? Bad schools(public and charter ) schould be closed. Monopolies in any segment of society, are bad. So I say let the schools get competitve like in many other countries and watch the losers fail.

  • sharon

    In 2001 when Dr. Chavis started at AIPCS, the percentage of African American, American Indian and Latino students was 100%. By 2003, that percentage had dropped to 74%. By 2004 it had dropped to 55%. In the 2006-2007 school year, the percentage of African American, American Indian and Latino students was 50%. (This information is based on California Department of Education website figures.)

    If you look at average test scores, either district-wide or nationally, Asian and White students score higher. Change the demographics at any school, and you will see a change in the test scores. If all schools could select only the kids who would perform well, then every school’s test scores would rise. The kids who are most needy and most difficult to educate would still be “left behind.”

    Also, it is well known in the AIPCS neighborhood (where I’ve lived for 19 years) that Dr. Chavis visited the local elementary schools and actively sought out high-testing students. Also, the local public middle school (Bret Harte) regularly received students to enroll who had been kicked out of AIPCS just before testing in the spring.

    I will admit that I did like the general sense of order and cleanliness at the school. But of course, that type of environment is much easier to create when your students have been well-trained at home by parents who are proactive and engaged, no matter what income level they have.

    Because I know what I know, I will never give Chavis credit for accomplishing much of anything and I am glad he is gone. The real test would have been if he had taken on the most challenging students in Oakland and had been able to work miracles with them.

  • proud parent

    I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to Dr. Chavis. He took a failing school and brought it to blue ribbon level. He made it so that
    ALL students could acheive and succeed.
    There is definently a culture of low expectations about children of color perpetuated by many educators. I applaud Dr. Chavis for attempting to prepare students for what will be said or thought about them. He was
    preparing them to stand strong no mattter the cultural perceptions.
    My own child and the children of many of my friends are better because
    of their experiences at AIPC.
    Dr. Chavis did not have to take the time to help these children, but he
    did. He is a true change agent and I applaud him.
    Revolutionary work is seldom PC and seldom appreciated.

    Well done Dr. Chavis you have made a difference to the children of
    Oakland.

  • Jose, Former Student

    Dr. Chavis is the best Principal in America. He made sure I got a great education at AIPCS. He was always there for me. There were times when I did not like the man; however, he always made sure I did my best. He paid for my books and fees to attend college. Why? I am not a citizen and could not get financial aide. I know several of my classmates that he has given money to attend school. I understand there are many who do not understand him. How mandy of you have paid for your students to attend college?

    There are some adults who hate Dr. Chavis. Do you think he cares? His number one concern is for his students. We love him because he is real and always there for us. Not just talk like many educators. I will get my college degree and hope I can do as much for others as Dr. Chavis did for me.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Certainly understandable that when Ben Chavis provides money for you and your classmates to attend college you, your classmates and your parents would think he is “the best principal in America”.

    But, it is not so much that many don’t understand Dr. Chavis’ goal or agree with his goal, it is the means he employs that put many people off. There are just many people that don’t feel bad language and humiliation of students is acceptable or should be allowed in a school that is called a public school. And, there are many people that think such behavior is justifiable because it is only the end that counts and not the means.

    Last year the new high school started by Dr. Chavis received $180,000 grant for its start up. Now it would be easy for Dr. Chavis to receive part or all of that money in consultant fees. And, such an action would be perfectly legal. It would take an extraordinary person not to take part or all of that money for all the hard work he did to get such extraordinary scores.

    I am betting that you would bet Dr. Chavis is a Saint and never took a dime. You may be right. But, people that don’t trust someone that acts so different from the norm will wonder how that $180,000 was spent and whether any of it left town with Dr. Chavis.

  • Letitia

    It is amazing how much energy has been spent on attacking Dr. Chavis and trying to take down his school and how little energy has been spent on finding out why AIPC became the highest testing middle school, not in Oakland, but in CA.

    Sharon, please note that the test scores were published by race for AIPC and African American, Latino and Asian students were performing equally well, with Asians a bit stronger in math and Af/Americans stronger in language. The change in the ethnic make up of the school was because Asians living in the neighborhood sought it out once they realized what the results were. Having more Asians go to the school did not raise the test scores because African/Americans and Latinos continued to perform off the charts.

    In addition, Chavis did work with surrounding elementary schools, but was specifically asking for mid performing students, not high performing students. He told the counselor at Laurel Elementary that he was looking for C students, not A students so that he could improve their performance.

    Again, it is amazing to me how offended teachers and administrators at other schools (who have not been able to do this) are at Chavis and how much energy they have spent to try to discredit his amazing results. Meanwhile, mediocre testing kids that go to Bret Harte continue to get all brand new teachers and fail to graduate or improve.

    Rather than try to attack the school, why not adopt practices which were obviously working? It is unfortunate that many so called “involved” parents, some teachers and some administrators want to continually express their lengthy laundry list of why kids are failing, rather than finding out what works and implementing it. It is apparently easier to make 50 million excuses as to why Af/Am males can’t make it through OUSD than it is to apply techniques that are working elsewhere.

    I’m sick and tired of the bleeding heart liberals telling me why nothing can be done. Step aside and let people who can take care of business run our schools!!!!!

  • Susan

    It sounds like to me that the man was a genius! STOP already with the political correctness, and get on with the education of the students!

  • lortag

    I worked as a temp in the charter school’s office for two days. On the first day, Dr. Chavis screamed profanity at me for accepting a child’s lunch bag from a parent, because the child forgot it at home!

    He also screamed profanity at the children and myself. During school hours spent most of his time in his office on the phone working on his real estate portfolio. The first day I could tell that he had many homes both in both oakland and arizona.

    When I appeared at a board meeting to discuss his behavior, he followed me down the street screaming profanity at me. He lied at the board meeting about his behavior. He had also sexually propositioned me the day that he hired me, although he was newly married. He may have a doctorate degree, but that is no excuse for his immoral behavior.

  • lortag

    In addition to the above message, …when the parent brought the child’s lunch and dropped it off at the front office, Dr. Chavez screamed at me to throw it away. He stomped over to my desk and dropped it in the trash.

    He also looked at me during the first morning that I worked in the office and said, “This is boring, isn’t it?”

    As a new UCB graduate, I was looking for a mentor and learned instead that this school was could have been run by a marine drill sergeant instead of a vile, demoralizing little man with a doctorate who was influencing the next generation of adults to become like himself.

  • Jim

    I have ead Dr. Chavis’s book, “Crazy Like A Fox”, and find his analysis of how to bridge the gap between needing to change an environment and actually making it happen are insightful. If there were more people, teachers, administrator, willing to challenge the students who know they can beat the system by just playing dumb and smiling, we would see future success in most cases. The students that opt out of traditional learning methods do so willingly and most understand the tactics they use as a group. When the administration of education (which includes the staff as well as teachers, and parents) are not strong enough to force the group towards the higher standard, we all lose. Especially the at risk kids taht we are trying to reach.

    You can’t be politically correct with kids. You have to be real. They know the difference, and will work you and the system. Count on it. You can be consistent. You can be direct. You can be patient, and above all, you must be honest. And you have to demonstrate to them that you care. Dr. Chavis did all these things and that’s why he was successful.