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Oakland Charter Academy principal named to state board of education

Jorge Lopez, a former school dropout who directs the high-performing Oakland Charter Academy (shown here at his middle school in Fruitvale), has been appointed to the California Board of Education.

Lopez is not your typical educrat, if there is such a thing. He’s all about the hard work and humilation approach to schooling, a la Ben Chavis – at least, when it comes to educating poor kids. He says this method would never fly in a more affluent community, nor would it be necessary; in fact, he went the Montessori route for his own preschool-age children.

When I visited the charter academy last fall, Lopez readily acknowledged that the school played mind games with its students in order to motivate them – and that he imposed a daily detention quota on at least one of his teachers (A former teacher had told me that he sometimes had to arbitrarily pick on kids to meet his quota. Lopez confirmed it was true).

The Oakland Charter Academy is not for everyone, but the kids there do seem to be learning. A lot. The instruction is very math-focused, and includes extra class time (after school, summer, some Saturdays) for kids who need to catch up. I wrote about the school and its skeptics after it won a National Blue Ribbon award last fall from the U.S. Department of Education for its huge test score gains. (See story here.)

This month, the Oakland Charter Academy was named one of two charter schools of the year by the California Charter Schools Association.

I should note, to all of you charter-phobes, that Lopez is not pro-charter school, even though he runs one. In fact, he likes to point out that there are too many bad ones in Oakland, in his opinion, and that they should close. At any rate, Jack O’Connell and the California Business for Education Excellence are happy about Lopez’s appointment. They have sent out releases applauding the new addition to the BOE.

In the mood for a good read? A couple of years ago, the East Bay Express ran a colorful cover story on Lopez, titled “The Method of King Jorge.”

photo by D. Ross Cameron/Tribune staff

Katy Murphy

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

  • Catherine

    This school works because of the hours devoted to education both during the school days and on Saturdays and especially over the summer.

    I agree that charter schools are out of hand and over the top, but longer hours and summers in session work for the students’ benefit. They work because some kids need more repetition.

    Our public Title 1 schools should look to charter school models that work and incorporate ideas that work for students.

  • Sophia

    Unfortunately, many public Title 1 schools, such as the East Oakland school where I teach, no longer have the money to pay for summer school and/or extra tutoring/student intervention prior to the regular school start time.

    For the past 4 years, we have always run out of student intervention funds prior to the end of the fiscal year; every year the money runs out earlier in the fiscal year–this year it was all spent by mid-Jan. vs. mid-Apr. in my first year of teaching in OUSD.

    We were not able to offer summer school to any of our students last summer, and it was quite obvious to many teachers in the fall, that many students were not nearly as prepared for the new school year as in the past.

  • Nextset

    An interesting profile of an interesting personality. The public schools such as OUSD don’t seem to have a bright future – people want to avoid them and their products – they are not considered desirable. And here we have a Charter Educrat becoming a political appointee. I’d say the Charters are looking up.

    I still believe the Internet High Schools will eventually undo both the Publics and the Charters. Internet schools will attack the existing market share for different classes of students at once. And they may appear as offshoots of a Charter or a for-profit College chain. We’ll see. Computing just becomes cheaper, more powerful and more common even reaching into the poorer population. If the USA does decend into a superinflation and the school district operations crash along with the rest of the government operations we may have to change things faster than we expect.

    Nobody worries what became of the typewriter factory workers… Or the Telegraph Operators, or the Telephone Company Operators either (and I knew phone company operators..).

  • Chauncey

    If it works in Oakland, it can work anywhere else. I think it’s good that a kid who grew up in the ghetto, escaped the ghetto, and has made a tremendous impact in inner city kid’s lives is now able to sit on a state board. First Obama, now Mr. Lopez at the state, things are really changing in the nation! Amen.

  • Nextset

    Chauncey: Are things really changing or is this history repeating?

  • chris g

    Nextset obviously aint a minority! All history repeats if you dig deep enough, but damn its been a long time since underdogs have gone to power in the U.S.

  • Steve Moyer

    This is how “Educational Reporter” Katy Murphy operates:

    “Jorge Lopez — a former school dropout.”

    Not mentioned is the fact he went on to achieve a Ph.D. in Education.

    Of course, this is the Oakland Tribune, which failed to cover the fact this same inner city Oakland middle school — made up almost exclusively of Hispanic students — achieved the highest national educational award (Blue Ribbon) as recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Murphy and a Trib photographer came to the school to cover the recognition of this great achievement, then promptly killed the story.

    Absolutely killed it. Never ran it.

    Cuz, you know, an Oakland “minority” middle school winning the highest national award in education isn’t much of a story. Happens all the time.

  • Nextset

    Steve Moyer; Thanks for this info.

    I believe Katy & her employer have an agenda or mindset about education. Nothing wrong with that – people are people. I also believe that in these interesting times we are moving into all of us are going to find out that things aren’t exactly what we had planned.

    Which is where we bloggers come in. When you open human communication and interaction up you just can’t control or see where things will go. I suspect that the Trib & it’s staff fundamentally want to see OUSD succeed in it’s current form, not be destroyed by the winds of change or something and have to reform. And now they have erected a huge weathervane in the form of this blog and are charting the winds.

    I follow the march of economic data and activity with a sense of awakening horror now. Kind of like seeing the very first hints of Cancer or dred disease (when you are a Cancer Specialist and know very well the signs). I don’t work as an economist but spent years on the subject of Econ and Econ History in college. I feel chilled to the bone with what is happening because I know what follows next.

    This all ties into the public schools in the end. But don’t give Katy a hard time. She is not running the entire Oakland Trib and related media. She’s doing her job I’m sure as it is set out for her by her publisher. And she does keep this blog going.

    It doesn’t matter so much about the coverage of Lopez. The big story is Charters up, Public Schools down. I suspect I know why the Charters are eating the publics. Maybe reading the blog entries I can get a better feel for what all this will mean to the families in Oakland (and by extension in CA).

    I value any slip of data or experience I can see here, especially from those who disagree with me like C. Katy and the Trib are terrific for running the Education Blog. You don’t see the SF Chron with anything like this. And if the Trib forgets background on Lopez & Co, we can see it here.

  • Nextset

    Chris G: I’m blacker than Obama. And if you think the underdogs are in power you don’t know your politicans. The Chicago Machine is in power. Right in time for Great Depression II (this time likely to be a Weimar Republic style superinflation) – with those more equal than others on an IV line from the treasury to thier swiss bank accounts.

  • Katy Murphy

    Here is a short announcement/bio I received on Jorge Lopez from an editor (still verifying the source who copied it from a governor’s office announcement of various appointments):

    Jorge Lopez, 38, of Moraga, has been appointed to the State Board of Education. Since 2004, he has served as the executive director for Oakland Charter Academy. Prior to that, Lopez was the program director for Sacramento Youth Project/MAAP 2004 and held the same position with Migrant Education Region XXVI (Area III) in 2003. He worked at Dolores Huerta Learning Academy where he served as the principal from 2000 to 2001 and teacher from 1999 to 2000. Lopez was a teacher for the Migrant Education Program/Gridley Unified School District in 1999 and worked for the Butte County Office of Education in 1998. He worked as a tutor for the Avid Tutoring Program in Sacramento area high schools in 1995. He is a member of the Oakland Charter School Consortium and serves as an advisory board member for Latino Families for School Reform. Lopez is also a member of the Friends of American Indian Education Board of Directors. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Lopez is a Democrat.

  • cranky teacher

    I thought the dropout reference was there as refreshing reminder that we get second chances in America and that we should never write anybody off.

    Funny that you see that as a slight against Lopez, Steve. Different perspective, I guess, based on prior encounter with Murphy/Trib.

    To me, a dropout who becomes a principal of a successful school is both more inspiring and newsworthy than getting a Ph.D.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: As usual I disagree.

    And as far as the second chances go: This is a great country. But public money for education should be focused on those with the greatest demonstrated talent and committment – as it was during the Sputnik Educational Uproar in the late 50′s when there was a national educational push.

    So I would not have an Asian Cap at UC Berkeley’s School of Engineering. Or a Lowell High School. Or at any public school, most of which should be using competitive admission.

    I would not have college scholarships using public funds calculated for racial redistribution, nor waste college admits on the top 10% of every school or some other such racial spoil system nonsense. While I don’t “write anybody off” I don’t pay off mediocrity with public funds or public treasure.

    Racial Quotas are for private schools and church schools, not public schools.

  • http://www,sfschools.org Caroline

    This guy is a barrel of laughs. It figures that he’s the new face of education in our state.

    Food is for pansies (East Bay Express):

    Even if the school had a cafeteria, Lopez says, he would not offer the free or reduced-price lunches for which 87 percent of his students qualify based on family income. “There’s a misperception that there isn’t enough food,” he says. “That’s bullshit. The biggest problem is obesity.”

    I blogged about this dude based on the East Bay Express article about his school back in 2006:

    http://www.sfschools.org/2006/12/oakland-charter-not-for-faint-of-heart.html

  • cranky teacher

    Nextset, you are off-topic.

    The topic here was about the principal’s bio material and what the Tribune highlighted, as per Steve Moyer’s complaint. Not quotas, or affirmative action.

  • chris g

    Blacker than Obama? Aint he half white from Kansas! Where’s Toto? Im browner than both of you then.

    Look, I like the fact that the go around is a come around on this one.You gotta love the story and bluntness of this guy. He does not seem as nuts as the Indian guy- but he looks like someone who can make people move right?

    Get down Nextset-I enjoy your comments because unlike most-yours have perspective.

  • Nextset

    Caroline: He may be a character but now he has a state commission appointment. We will probably be reading about his policy positions for some time.

    C: Blogs go off on tangents – and from that new threads appear sometime. Didn’t you know? I’ll try to narrow my posts though. But the topic is Lopez and his position in policy. I wonder if some of our points overlap – certainly the delivery might. He feels old school to me, not into kinder gentler education.

    And one thing about Lopez – he is on the ground working in Oakland public school education and I’m not. He may be right and he may be wrong on wise policy but at least he’s putting his everything into working everyday with students. Good for him. And good for the appointment. He should be at the table being heard.

  • http://www,sfschools.org Caroline

    I blogged about the appointment:

    http://tinyurl.com/d6n7fq

  • Philip Hawes

    I am the former teacher who told Katy Murphy that I had to give detentions arbitrarily. I still have the letter which set my quota at 8 detentions per day.
    Thankfully I am out of teaching and headed for law school; I start this fall.

    Philip Hawes philiphawes@yahoo.com

  • Laura

    This guy is terrible. He should be fired. Apparently in East Oakland you are rewarded with treating kids with extreme disrespect, and humiliation. I worked there for only a few weeks and then was fired, because I wouldn’t cook the books. I was the fifth teacher that particular class had in only a single year.

    Those scores he reports are faker than fake provided the district office cared enough to dig deeper.

  • Katy Murphy

    When did you work there, Laura?

  • A Bomb

    I work there too! It was not Laura who got let go it was a rich white guy who refused to give work and instruction to kids. Unless, he has his mommy writing this for him.

    Maybe you were fired because you cannot write? You were the 5th teacher i this grade? Damn, that is so outrageous that its comical! There is no class that has had that many in the history since I have been here.

    Why don’t you work in Marin where your from, maybe they will take an excuse monger such as yourself, and then one day, kids from the Fruitvale will take over your daddy’s neighborhood!

    There is no bigger disrespect than soft racists such as yourself making kids ignorant!

    Stop emailing me too!

  • Katy Murphy

    Let me remind everyone that this blog isn’t the place for name-calling or personal insults. It’s for discussing issues affecting Oakland schools.

  • Cris G.

    While you have held the line on this particular comment, Katy, you cant say you dont like the smut either right?

    In my opinion, this is what reporters focus on in regards to education, smut and gossip. Its part of the Oakland media problem, and media in general. American education has lost its way-its no longer respected and is all about griping and smut. Sad commentary about our nation.

    I recall the testy exchange that occurred on this blog when this same guy, or school recieved a state school award. Nowhere, according to a particular blogger, was this story written about. Why?

    So the fact , Katy, that you ask Laura, when she got fired just justifies that you indeed dig gossip and as such get ready and be proud to post all of the negative trash that you entice.

  • Laura

    Hi Katy,

    I worked there a little over a year ago. I was very sad in fact appalled to learn that he was appointed to the State Board of Education. However it’s not entirely surprising that he excelled in our standards based educational system. He jumped through those “accountability measure” hoops with no regard for honesty.

    During my time there a student was NOT considered absent as long as they came in to pick up their homework. Fifteen odd minutes of merely being on campus would constitute a present mark on their part. If you happen to look at Mr. Lopez’s attendance rate it supposedly jumped almost 90% once he took over. Viewing this purely from a statistical viewpoint, doesn’t this seem like an obvious error? Same kids, same area, same school, same parents, but a close to 90% increase in attendance? It occurred to me at the time that it was a great embezzlement scheme as every child in attendance equals more money for the school. If you doubt this statement I encourage you to visit the school and review the progress binders they keep in the front office.

    Honestly, it was how we were encouraged to treat our students that really bothered me down to the soul. I have a LONG list of terrible things that I witnessed there which is surprising since I was there less than a month. In fact, if you could get a hold of OCA’s teacher training manual you would find on the first page of the discipline section in big black bold font:

    “Public humiliation is a tactic”

    That quote really says it all as it’s his basis for dealing with students. I’m not surprised that those of you who may be reading this are skeptical about the validity of this response, but if you read up online about Mr. Lopez you’ll find sadly it is grounded in truth.

  • Laura

    btw- In response to Phillip’s comment above:

    They didn’t complain about my detention rate. However they did pull me into the office with the express concern and suggestion that I didn’t cuss at my students enough! That I needed to cuss more?!? Outrageous!

    Anyway, after my unfortunate experience with OCA and the lack of employment in our present economic state I figured I was better off going back to grad school as well. So it’s true there are silver linings to black clouds after all.

    Good luck in law school!

  • Bunny

    I am a former student of OCA–I do think Mr. Lopez did a lot to help the school, but stayed in the moral gray area to do it. He would curse at the kids, yell at them, and punish whole classrooms when only one kid misbehaved–one time my whole class got a week of detention (and long, drawn-out lectures that included cursing) when just one kid was caught cheating. Not that I’m playing down how bad cheating is–but the punishment shouldn’t have been extended to the whole class when most students didn’t even know about the incident until they received the detention slips. Mr. Lopez and a lot of other staff members often treated kids disrespectfully too.

    The part about good scores is also tweaked, I think. We were never timed during our standardized tests. (Was this normal?)

    I agree that a lot of my classmates really needed the tough approach to “straighten them out”, but Mr. Lopez went too far in a lot of cases.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    Concerns about the ethics of Jorge Lopez have likely led to the state’s refusal of his confirmation just now.

    http://californiawatch.org/watchblog/questions-sink-two-schwarzenegger-board-education-appointees of March 4, 2010:

    “Questions about the finances of an Oakland charter school and staunch opposition from education and minority groups may have derailed the confirmations of two State Board of Education members, according to interviews and public documents.

    Neither of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s board appointees – Jorge Lopez, executive director of the Oakland Charter Academy, and Rae Belisle, CEO of EdVoice, an education advocacy firm – will get approved to serve another term, despite working on the state board since last March.”

    The article offers more details about the shady dealings of Lopez and Ben Chavis:

    “Those economic documents, along with Secretary of State business filings and other charter school records, show an interlocking series of business arrangements involving Lopez, his schools and a close associate, Ben Chavis of Oakland.

    In 2007, for example, both Lopez’s school, Oakland Charter High, and Chavis’ school, American Indian Public Charter School II, were approved by the Oakland school district to operate at 3800 Mountain Blvd.

    But neither went to Mountain Boulevard. Instead, both schools moved to an office building at 171 12th St., which was recently purchased for $7.4 million by Lumbee Properties LLC, a company founded and managed by Chavis. Shortly thereafter, Lopez started a property management firm, called Sun Management Group.

    By 2009, Lopez would report personally collecting between $10,000 to $100,000 in rent annually for holding a 13-year lease on the 171 12th St. property. It’s unclear why Lopez reported collecting rent on property owned by Chavis. Sun Management received another $10,000 to $100,000 from American Indian Public Charter School II, Chavis’ school located at the 171 12th St. property.”

    Anyone doing more investigating? How about OUSD’s Office of Charter Schools?

    I for one would not be shocked to find that Mr.-Crazy-like-and-fox and friend Lopez figured a whole scheme out about property, rent, and test scores.

  • Lucia Moraes

    Well…I GO to that school (im in 6th grade right now) and he is really hard working. He makes us belive that we can do it even if we are mexicans,black,chinese, or anything, and its true! He also makes winter tutoring,p.e tutoring, and etc. He might tell us to work hard and punish us for something we didnt do, but we are a class like Ms.Almasy says ”we are one whole, if someone talks that distracts someone and makes they’re focus on something else”..And YES Mr.Lopez did humiliate kids, But NOT me because i put my focus on my teachers and ALMOST everyone comes to school thats why we have a 90% attendance rate.LAURA you must have been a pretty BAD teacher , because if you dont push your students , they will wander off.Laura i wish you woul go to that school and say it in my face, i would give you the FACTS straight .And who ever HATES Mr.Lopez say it in his face. I’ll be glad to watch you getting proved wrong.Wanna contact for more info email me at:lucia0423@myspace.com i’ll be glad to help!

  • Robert

    Sharon-
    here’s an article about Philly’s charter school problems…
    http://www.examiner.com/a-2568983~Report__Philly_charter_schools_risk_taxpayer_money.html
    excerpt is below… does this sound like it could be happening here? Should the Oakland Charter’s be looking out for this here?

    ….Investigators also found numerous charter schools with unusually high salaries for CEOs; “rubber stamp” trustee boards; failure to comply with the state’s right-to-know law; and shady leases with nonprofits tied to school executives.

    “These arrangements bring into question whether the leasing agreements were negotiated at arm’s length and how the leasing costs were determined,” the report says.

    The report’s recommendations include establishing an independent audit system; creating policies on conflict-of-interest, nepotism and fair-market value; and posting board minutes, contracts and annual financials on charter schools’ Web sites.

    Butkovitz has said the investigation was prompted in part by the recent probe of a city charter school by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. That case sent two school officials to prison last year, essentially for taking kickbacks; a third committed suicide during the investigation….

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    That’s right, Robert. The charter school movement has given birth to new forms of greed. It turns out that a free-market educational system means that more regulatory institutions and overseers, as well as more local, state, and federal investigators will be needed.

    In Minnesota:

    “The charter school movement in Minnesota is at least temporarily on the ropes, reeling from a series of recent revelations in the Star Tribune that focused on how some of the state’s approximately 150 charter schools have misused funds or failed to provide adequate oversight and accountability when it comes to leasing the buildings they occupy.

    “Over the course of its investigation, the paper revealed that the state’s lease-aid payments to charters-funds targeted to help charter schools buy or build facilities-has skyrocketed from $1.1 million to $42.4 million in the past decade. Some of these payments have been tainted by blatant conflicts of interest among charter school administrators and builders, and by other attempts to derive private profit from loopholes in a state law originally intended to give these experimental schools more freedom to pursue innovations in education.”

    http://politicsinminnesota.com/blog/2010/01/scandal-rocked-charter-movement-looks-to-future/

    This was interesting, too: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/13/AR2008121302079.html

    More and more charter schools is coming to mean the need for more and more charter school regulatory layers, as well as extra FBI and Justice Department folks, who are savvy to all the permutations of greed and can tease out all of the schemes. I wonder how much that monitoring and investigations is going to cost.

    Charter schools are innovative after all. Just google “charter school misuse of funds”

  • Sub Teacher

    The principal cheats the tests by hand picking the students, kicks out any kids that talk back, forces teachers to give faulty progress reports, and the protocol is to mark all students present (that would explain his bogus 87% attendance record improvement).

    Jorge Lopez is not only a liar, but he also runs an emotionally abusive punitive system.

  • Sub Teacher

    This message is to Lucia Moraes. Please look around there are like 5 blacks in the whole entire school. Now think about it – that school is located on International Blvd. Where there is a high amount of black folk. They are your neighbors, people walking on the street, employees who work behind the counters……but they certainly aren’t your peers at school are they? Now where could they be and who is responsible for not including them in your school?

  • teacher123

    The teachers were worse than the principal. It was a situation where ignorance bred a cycle of abuse. Teachers, parents, and the community – those charged with protecting and caring for their children willingly engaged in it. In fact they often boasted how proud they were of how “real” the school was and how their children were finally getting what they needed from a school…..authority. Yes I’m with you, “authority” was a thing disguise for emotional, and psychological abuse. There was a serious lack of personal responsibility among the staff – in fact they are still acting that way today. I came across one the other day. He now works at Santa Fe Elementary. Some how they find schools that function just like the one described above. He is still yelling, demeaning, and intimidating children. However this time they are even younger and it’s at a public school instead.

  • http://www.philiphawes.com Philip Ross Hawes

    I am on my cell so forgive my mistakes.
    I have forgiven the Lopezes because I think the evil that they do do is for a good cause. Whatever laws were broken were mostly silly ones. They are on a mission and they have made mistakes along the way, some in the pursuit of justice and some in the pursuit of money.
    As far as the accounting scandal, I can attest he has a sloppy accountant. My w-2s were riddled with errors, ss no., address, etc. Lopez might be an innocent in the whole thing. I do not know.

    Philiphawes@yahoo.com

  • J.R.

    I should mention that I am not pro-charter(nor pro-NCLB for that matter), but I am “Pro-what works”. For certain kids these schools are perfect, rigid discipline to combat disrespect(a little like the military break down and rebuild concept). Teach the whole person to be contributors to society(like bees and ants who are productive)and not like slugs who pretty much just exist and take up space.There are too many “bred to be takers” in our society, and not enough “bred to be productive givers”. Therein lies the real core reason for our collapse.

  • teacher123

    “laws were broken were mostly silly ones”……. I hate bureaucracy as well, but the laws they were breaking were the moral and ethical boundaries of a good person. If the boys talked to much in class they would say routinely “Oh if you like each other so much and need to flirt in class why don’t you stand up and hold hands in front of the class?!!? Now you’re going to stay like that until I say so”………mock homosexuality as a means to publicly humiliate adolescent boys???

    As for his financial woes I’m glad his scam has finally caught up with him. He was cooking the books and finally got caught. His sham of an attendance rate now reveals itself for what it was, a way to create the illusion of a higher number of children therefore justify the move to bigger location that was financially linked to his partner in crime and mentor, Ben Chavis.

  • http://www.tutoringhub.com Philip Hawes

    Yes sometimes they went overboard- by today’s standards. My parents went to one-room school houses in Missouri and got their knuckles beaten bloody by mean school marms with rulers. Things change. The Lopezes are not up with what is socially acceptable today because they grew up in the ghetto; I guess that is their fault and society’s fault.
    Anyway the kids at OCA learned a lot and were under a lot of stress, just as a lot of Asian kids are. I don’t think it’s healthy or good for society but neither is the crap that is going on at the public schools-kids getting a high school diploma but don’t know anything.
    Well I am NOT teaching ever again. I am promoting my new tutoring site (www.tutoringhub.com) though. It’s a simple way for people to get a deal/discount on tutoring from top companies. People need tutors because kids don’t learn much in most schools (public AND private) these days.