Should Oakland Unified apply for a federal grant — money with strings attached — for its schools that made the state’s lowest-performing list? At 6 p.m. tonight, the school board is holding the first of two hearings on the subject. It’ll be held at United For Success Academy on the Calvin Simmons campus, 2101 35th Ave.
Explore Middle School, United for Success, ROOTS International, Alliance Academy and Elmhurst Community Prep are the five Oakland schools eligible for the money (an amount still undetermined). To get it, they have to do one of four things: shut down and send their students to other schools; close and reopen as a charter school; fire the principal and half the teaching staff; or fire the principal, extend the school day and make other changes. Principals who have been in place for less than two years are allowed to stay.
Explore is closing at the end of the year — a decision the school board made before the list came out. The parents and staff at ROOTS and Alliance don’t want the district to apply for the grant at all, since their principals have been at the school for more than two years and they want to keep them. Elmhurst and United for Success have new principals who are protected from the firing requirement, so they want the superintendent to go for the “transformational” model, which would not require staffing changes.
The deliberation process at each school must have put some people in an awkward position, as the decision has a direct bearing on the teachers’ and principals’ jobs. It’s also worth noting that the changes would have to take place in a very short period of time — by the start of the fall semester — making careful implementation difficult, if not impossible.
The school board can apply for a different option for each school. There are no sanctions in place for schools that opt out of the funding.
SOME BACKGROUND ON THE LIST: As I’ve noted before, four of the Oakland schools on the list are middle schools that have opened since 2006 — products of a similar approach to school improvement that the feds are now encouraging.
It’s not a coincidence. The state department of education removed very small schools from the list — including a number of Oakland’s struggling high schools with low enrollment — as well as those that had moved up a total of 50 points on the 1,000-point API in the last five years. Since these four middle schools were so new, they only had two chances to move up 50 points (2007 to 2008 and 2008 to 2009), while other schools had five.
In other words, these new schools needed to make a 25-point jump each year, on average, while other California schools had to improve just 10 points annually. Elmhurst’s scores rose an average of 20 points a year (+47 and -8), but that wasn’t enough.
Superintendent Tony Smith makes a recommendation to the school board in early June. What do you think should happen?