Aspire Public Schools did not get the go-ahead tonight to open a seventh charter school in Oakland; it fell one vote short.
(Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, who is probably the biggest charter school supporter on the board, was out of town at a Great City Schools conference. David Kakishiba and Jody London voted against the Aspire petition, and Alice Spearman — who was out of the room during the vote — said she was against it, too. Gary Yee, Chris Dobbins and Noel Gallo voted `yes,’ but Yee was on the fence; he told me he tended to support staff recommendations, but that he might have voted `no’ if Hinton-Hodge were there.)
Gail Greely, who heads the charter office, recommended the board approve the East Oakland elementary school. She said Aspire’s application met the legal standard — “even though an additional k-5 school is not needed to serve students and families in Oakland.” She also said the office determined it wouldn’t provide a “unique” or “innovative” program, but that those concerns weren’t grounds for denial under current charter school law.
I wrote about Aspire several months ago in a story about the growing influence and prevalence of charter school chains, as opposed to standalone charters. (I found this copy online, though our link expired.) Aspire, which is headquartered in Oakland, has received national attention and millions of dollars in federal and philanthropic support for its expansion. Oprah awarded the network $1 million last fall during a promotion for the “Waiting for Superman” documentary.
The network received no such appreciation tonight at the board hearing. Some board members seemed to take the application as an affront to the district.
Jody London: “I’m really unhappy about this application. I’m really tired about being asked to approve more charter schools in Oakland … I think it’s time for you to find other districts to open your schools in.”
Alice Spearman: “Aspire is in competition with Oakland. They actually want to take over Oakland. … You’re not giving us nothing we don’t have … You can’t sue me for it … I’m going to say no.”
Noel Gallo had a different take: “We can be critical, but we’re in an environment where we’re going to have to compete. It’s not like the old days where kids came to you whether you were good, bad, or in between.”
Yee pressed Aspire’s Bay Area superintendent, Tatiana Epanchin, to say whether the organization might try to add more schools in Oakland. Epanchin said there were no plans to do so, but she didn’t say it was out of the question.
Tina Hernandez, who would be the principal of the new school, said afterward that she was stunned by the vote. “But that’s the political climate we’re in,” she said.
Oakland has about 30 charter schools, a number that has remained relatively flat in the last few years because of denials and closures. Rapid charter growth in the mid-2000s contributed to a sharp decline in district enrollment, which had a destabilizing effect on the district’s finances.
Epanchin said Aspire will appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education. I’d be surprised if the county board didn’t approve it.
In other charter school news, Rocketship Education, a charter chain with off-the-charts test scores that offers a “hybrid” online/classroom model, submitted its first Oakland charter petition at tonight’s meeting. Its co-founder, Preston Smith, says Rocketship is hoping to open a West Oakland elementary school in the fall of 2013.
Someone also a submitted a petition for a Montessori charter school.