Tonight, the Oakland school board voted 5-2 to deny the renewal of Cox Academy — an elementary school in East Oakland that underwent a controversial charter conversion in 2005 during the Randy Ward era — despite its 78-point jump on the 1,000-point Academic Performance Index last year and a room full of parents who spoke in its support.
Typically, charters are renewed for five years. But the district’s charter schools office director, David Montes de Oca, recommended the board grant just a two-year, conditional extension. He said the school was making progress and that he had confidence in its new leader and its teaching staff. Still, he said, he had numerous concerns, including the school’s history of “opaque” management and the fact that its African-American students’ test scores have lagged, falling short of federal test score goals.
“The school is largely an underdeveloped program,” Montes de Oca said. “I remain uneasy.”
Legally, Montes de Oca said, the board would be justified whether or not it approved the charter renewal. But, he said, narrowing the achievement gap at the school “is going to be an uphill battle,” regardless of whether it’s run by a charter group or the district. Given that challenge and the school’s progress, he said, stability could be crucial.
Jumoke Hinton Hodge and Noel Gallo agreed, but their colleagues took a harder line. David Kakishiba recalled the rhetoric at the time of the charter conversion; he said its founders promised huge academic gains and said the school district made too many excuses for failure. Five years later, he said, Cox has yet to meet NCLB targets.
Alice Spearman, who represents the neighborhood where Cox is located, told parents in the audience they had been “sold a bill of goods,” and that the dynamic new principal, Enikia Ford-Morthel — the third leader in five years — wasn’t enough to change her mind.
“The lady’s got energy, yes she do. Like her,” Spearman said. “But something is wrong with this kitchen.”
Karole Brown, whose son is a first-grader at Cox, said she knew the school needed to make some changes, but that she felt the decision was political — and that she felt confident the County Board of Education would approve their appeal.
“”You want your school back, that’s what you told us,” she told Spearman during the meeting.
Brown said parents in the low-income neighborhood have limited options. Reach, the district school that shares the campus with Cox, has an API of 596 out of 1,000, one of the lowest elementary school test scores in the city. (In 2008, Cox’s API was 587.)
Earlier in the evening, the board approved an extension of World Academy, which is also run by the small Education for Change charter management organization. The vote was six yes, one “um-hmm.” Spearman was asked to clarify her vote, and she did. (Yes.)