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Montessori charter school to open in Oakland

By Katy Murphy
Thursday, October 13th, 2011 at 12:30 am in charter schools.

Although its petition was rejected by the Oakland school board, a charter school named Urban Montessori will open in Oakland next year, after all.

The Alameda County Board of Education approved the group’s appeal this week, according to the group’s blog.

Urban Montessori will begin its first year with grades k-2 and grow into a k-8. It doesn’t have a location yet, but its founders are looking for a place in downtown Oakland, close to public transit, said Hae-Sin Kim Thomas, a member of the founding team — and a former OUSD teacher, principal and administrator.

Some Oakland school board members, including Jody London, had hoped to convince Urban Montessori to open as a district school, rather than as an independently-run charter.

Thomas, who oversaw the creation of some of the district’s small schools when she worked for OUSD, said she approached district staff about that very idea– first, a year ago, and again after submitting the petition. She said she was told the district administration didn’t have the capacity to take on such a project, a position stated publicly at the board meeting by David Montes de Oca, who heads the school district’s Quality Community Schools Development department.

“We heard that message over and over, that they can’t do it right now,” Thomas said.

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  • Hae-Sin

    Just to clarify, when I say “capacity”, I mean the capacity to provide the conditions within the district that such a unique model would require.

  • Kaiser Parent

    Why would Jody London say she hoped they would open as a district school when the district is trying to close schools and she is very, very supportive of school closures? Is it only to save another site from going charter?

    Since the district seems to have it’s hands tied when it comes to charter (the county and the state over ride their denials to charter applications pretty much every single time), the district should put all the energy its spending on closing schools into fighting the state on it’s approval of more and more charters. Perhaps it should even consider a lawsuit against the state for allowing such a drain on the district limited resources.

    It should NOT be closing schools in this climate. It’s like a circling of Charter buzzards right now over the potential sites on the closure list. So many educators, parents and students alike are hungry for any affordable alternative to OUSD!

    What sense does it make to close schools only to have them re-open as charter? We have to get this under control first and then explore consolidation NOT CLOSURE.

  • Katy Murphy

    Hae-Sin: I’m sure you mentioned this to me earlier, but for the sake of discussion (and hearing the info directly from the source): Can you give an example of a condition the school would need that the district couldn’t necessarily provide?

  • Katy Murphy

    Maybe that’s one of the reasons district staff said they couldn’t open Urban Montessori next year within the district. The school board would have an even harder time justifying school closures if it was simultaneously opening a new school.

  • Tom Celini

    First time on this blog but I must make a statement here. So much talk in Oakland against charters taking X,Y<and Z resources from the district. Has anyone ever thought that OUSD has lost the public itself?Buzzards hover road kill as well Kaiser Parent.

    In a business model, it is acceptable for parents to choose whats best for their families, but in the public sector its not? This perhaps accounts for the biggest reason public education in this country is in the state its in!

    I would send my kids, whom are now in college, to charter schools in a heartbeat.

    I would rather OUSD close schools and sell property to ANYONE-charters included , becuase its the smart business move.

    I actually applaud OUSD Administration – not pseudo politicians on board- for recognizing downsize as an option. I have had to do it for my business, and am much better for it.

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    Parents are speaking out against closures, parents have opted to send their children to schools like Lakeview, and they are not being heard. By closing schools they are taking options away from the children who currently are enrolled.Your “business model, public sector logic is flawed.
    Talk has it that this was all planned. The Urban Montessori had their eyes on Lakeview. I would like to know from Hae-Sin if this is true.
    Many charters are not doing as well as their OUSD counterparts. Many have closed as new ones open. It is just ignorant to say you would send your child to a school over another, based upon whether it is OUSD Public or a charter. There is a great deal more to a school than that.

  • Catherine

    Lisa: While I feel for the parents and students at Lakeview and Lazear society as a whole will pay in medical costs as a result of the students continual exposure to the toxic exhaust of the freeways. Oakland has not considered these costs – parents do not seem concerned for NOW. However, we know the chemicals cause cancer and early death. I, for one, think the best defense would be for the families to ask for a safety study. If the schools are safe (I do not believe that is the case) then they would have a stronger argument, if not the district would have a stronger argument.

  • AH

    Since we’re now talking about schools next to freeways again, what about Chabot and Claremont? They are both immediately adjacent to Hwy 24, yet no one seems concerned about air quality for students at these sites. Why not?

  • Alice Spearman

    The Urban Montessori has REQUIREMENTS placed on them by the county board. They must have 50% of their enrollment of students who LIVE OUTSIDE OF OAKLAND. Katy did not mention this.

  • Katy Murphy

    Interesting — I didn’t know that. Thanks!

  • Super

    Very happy to see this happen. Very happy to see Lakeview on the list for school closures. Fixing OUSD will be painful. Face it. If UM moves into Lakeview and thrives, we will consider it for our children. If Lakeview remains as is, not a chance in hell.

  • Shimmy

    This blog is bunk! All ou talking bout kids yet no one is connected to them. What is monterssori anyway? bet you my folks will not be accepted!

  • Angela Couch

    everyone knows why Chabot isn’t on the list they are considered a high performing school. Those other two schools are low performing overall. Schools, and communities mirror one another, problem areas have low performing schools, areas with greater parent support, community support excel, makes it hard for the district because schools such as Chabot and Montclair could be self sufficient. But the bottom line all this does is hurt the kids that have to change schools or teachers in the middle of the year. People making these decisions are doing so in the best interest of the district. If a charter school wants to take over for a school that closes good still will keep over crowding down at the other schools. Next we need to figure out how to change the Parcel tax if there isn’t that many public schools.

  • http://urbanmontessori.org/ Lisa T. @UrbanMontessori parent

    @Katy thank you for reporting on our school. On behalf of the Urban Montessori team, I would like clarify a few points.

    First, many of us on the team have friends and neighbors who will be affected by the school closures. As fellow Oakland parents, we have the utmost empathy to all families who are affected by these recent decisions.

    Second, Urban Montessori has nothing to do with OUSD’s decision to close Lakeview, or any other district school. As a matter of public record, while the OUSD Office of Charter schools recommended Urban Montessori for approval, the OUSD school board turned down our charter petition this past summer.

    Our school is open to ALL children. Our growing community is comprised of families of all backgrounds, who have told us they desire a public Montessori option in Oakland. Additionally, our admissions will be conducted by lottery with a preference for children coming from schools in Program Improvement.

    @Shimmy, creating a vibrant and inclusive school community, where ALL children are truly empowered to thrive and learn is our ultimate goal. I invite you to learn more about Urban Montessori, our growing team, and the community we are working to build. Montessori is primarily available to families who can afford private school. We are working to truly change that.

    Discover Urban Montessori sessions: http://urbanmontessori.org/come-discover-montessori

  • J.R.

    Lisa,
    We’ve had four decades of doing things the traditional way in public schools (and it hasn’t worked so well in this district particularly). For one reason or another people don’t want to keep an open mind about alternatives, people are fearful of loss(financial or otherwise). We have already witnessed how the district could not keep it’s financial house in order, and the children and their taxpaying parents were the only people penalized and or sanctioned for it. The people who contributed to this financial collapse just walked away enriched(some are still here hiding in the background) . This has happened in various places in this country.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Lisa T.

  • J.R.

    Lisa,
    I forgot to say thank you for all your efforts as well, good luck!

  • Parent stuck in OUSD

    Lisa T. In the minutes when you went for approval before the board and on your facebook page prior to approval from the county, UM stated it was hoping for a site around the lake—the southeast side of the lake. Now, after your approval, your FB page says “Grand-Lake” area.

    Ms. Spearman I see nothing in the minutes regarding this requirement of 50% from outside Oakland. Even if it’s there, I have a hard time not envisioning UM will appeal it and win.

    But I applaud you: you are the only board member that consistently votes against Charter applications. Please stick to your guns. The board can say it hasn’t approved that many applicants, but as you know, many board members vote “Aye” and vote so often. While I believe there should be some charter options, it’s a “kick ‘em when they’re down” situation with OUSD losing so many students.

    The fact is Oakland public schools are getting better. They need support to continue the climb. Closing ANY OUSD school right now is a treacherous plan with the proliferation of charters.

    How will the Lakeview kids feel about their school being handed to a Charter? What good does it do to close a school because it’s 1) too small (?) 2) not enough neighborhood kids (?) if it becomes an even smaller charter school run on public money, with no neighborhood requirement and no public oversight? Someone explain?

  • http://www.urbanmontessori.org/ Lisa T. @UrbanMontessori parent

    Thanks for your comment “@Parent Stuck In OUSD.”

    We respectfully disagree with your assumption that we have anything to do with Lakeview closing. While our primary focus on facilities has been in the Grand Lake area, and we have been completely transparent about this intention since when we first submitted our petition, we have absolutely *nothing* to do with Lakeview being closed. Our Facebook page information has not changed since after our approval.

  • Parent stuck in OUSD

    @ Lisa T.

    Of course not.

    But if Lakeview is closed and the site is offered to your group, would you turn it down?

    My point is that in this climate it is inevitable that some of the closed school sites will become charter schools and that not only does not work to achieve any of the goals of the Strategic Plan, it completely conflicts with it.

  • Trish Gorham

    Lisa T.

    I’d be interested in knowing which facilities, other than Lakeview, in the Grand Lake area you have considered for UM.

  • Alice Spearman

    @Lisa T,
    You know as I know your charter is banking on getting facilities from OUSD. That way you do not have to pay the going rate rent only 1/4 of what your rent would be. I would be surprised if you rented a facility not owned by OUSD. Remember your charter must have 50% of your enrollment from students outside the Oakland Community to open. Good Luck

  • Marieta

    Ms. Spearmen- The fact is the OUSD administration and board has done a fabulous job at losing its credibility and families.

    Because families are choosing to leave OUSD schools we should blame charter and private schools? Only in the social sector is where choice is bad according to educrats such as you.

    The way I see it, its not you- its us (including charter and private school parents) who have paid the taxes and bonds for the upkeep of Lakeview and other OUSD school sites. ITS TAXPAYING DOLLARS that pay your benefits as well Ms. Spearman.

    So if another school will pay the rent or purchase the building, go in , and provide a much better option for taxpaying families…..I will support it!

    You and that board act as if you pay for the education, for lack of a better term, in Oakland. Less school district schools, mean less need for you board members- thats the truth behind your fear isin’t it? How many of your collegaues have left or plan to leave for higher offices???

    Katy- why dont you do a story about the OUSD Board and their benefits and post board practices? It would be very illuminating!

  • Nextset

    I’m afraid that if the collapse continues the urban school districts will become the de facto continuation schools and the real students will all be going to “real” charter schools.

    This will give us public education with a twist – and promote the Brave New World where you take your place in society by the caste you are born into. Like being born into Catholic Grade School.

    Feels like History repeating…cue the Shirley Bassey song…

  • J.R.

    Marieta has made some valid points, OUSD is supposed to manage money and facilities that are taxpayer funded(owned). As far as blaming charters goes, the district was underperforming before there were charters. The numbers speak for themselves, OUSD is losing the majority of it’s students by:
    1. Relocation
    2. private schools
    3. Home schooling

    http://www.abetteroakland.com/how-should-ousd-respond-to-declining-enrollment/2011-03-02

    People love to blame charters, but people are just availing themselves of the right to choose what is best for their child. No one should be blamed for that.

  • Parent

    When you look and see such trailblazing names at the back of the charter movement, maybe you the tax payers of Oakland will take pause about funding what becomes a quasi-private education funded by tax payers with little oversight (and often For Profit). How about these names? Jeb Bush, Rupert Murdoch, the George W. Bush Institute…just for starters.

    Really Oakland? Wake up! Do not privatize public education.

  • Jim Mordecai

    In light of Katy’s report that two Oakland elementary school faculties have voted to convert to charter schools for the school board to vote to close schools will not make any sense.

    The idea that parent triggers and teachers of a school can convert to charter school under current law is destablizing to a district as how can a district school board know how many schools it will have in the future?

    But, what conversion makes clear is that under present state law Oakland has lost control of its schools and the future is unclear.

    In this situation maybe the Oakland School Board should take a page out of Nancy Reagan’s book and seek a special consultant: an astrologer.

    Jim Mordecai

  • J.R.

    Parent,
    It might be better for you to focus on the actual historical record(results), taxpayers have been literally dumping money over the past three decades into various districts and collective results have not been appreciably better, and the graduation rates are far worse. A lot of taxpayers have never realized the fact that the actual expenditures per child are far,far more than 10K per child per year. Oversight in many cases means bureaucrats that are supposed to look after the best interest of the child and their taxpaying parents(those that are), but in reality are a whole system of paper pushers, that may or may not affect the learning of children(these people sit in down town offices and many times never set foot on a school campus). In many instances they are nothing more than self perpetuating multiple layered money absorbing fiefdoms that have been created. These people are masters at feigning oversight, and they know how to cook the books. The taxpayers have taken the bait and swallowed the hooks.

    http://www.fulldisclosure.net/Blogs/59.php

    I wouldn’t worry about who’s making the money so much, as long as the results are there. Taxpayers have been taken to the cleaners for decades, and that does not seem to bother you.

  • http://www.urbanmontessori.org/ Lisa T. @UrbanMontessori parent

    @Trish Gorham Thanks for your question. For over a year, we have been evaluating locations around Lake Merritt, including pulling structural plans from the city to determine the necessary required work before opening a school. In the absence of an approved charter, we have not been able to move negotiations forward with a specific site, but we can begin to do so now. We look forward to identifying a site and will keep everyone posted.

  • Another Observer

    Parent – I am no friend of the right-wingers you mention, and I believe in a strong system of public education. But the Oakland school system – particularly the administration – has been losing students in large numbers in recent years.

    In my opinion, there are two separate things going on here – a movement by charter advocates (a number of whom are right-wing) to privatize schools and a mismanaged school system that is driving parents away from it. OUSD needs to fix itself, or more and more children will leave.

    In my opinion, parents are not obligated to send their children to a school system that is not meeting their needs. I do not believe in avoiding a type of school, just because some conservatives believe in them. I suggest judging schools individually.

    JR – I’m not buying the argument that the schools are full of bureaucrats that just take money and don’t care about students. The vast majority of school people I know (teachers and site administrators) care about their students and work hard to help them succeed. I think schools have a lot of regulations to comply with (which costs money) and district management could definitely be leaner.

  • J.R

    Another observer,
    Let me clarify, as I have said many times before I never have said all of the education system was corrupt or mismanaged, there are many if not mostly exceptions to that charge. I have also said the majority of admin and teachers care about their students, but the bureaucratic(among others) part of the system is an antiquated and well paid bloated jobs program. How good has this public education system oversight been when no one has been able to question the manner in which things are done and be taken seriously until now. The system is no longer run with one purpose in mind, to educate children and has devolved into a self perpetuating wealth building enterprise(jobs bank).

  • Harold

    The School Board meeting tomorrow should be very interesting. With the conversion of these two schools and the unpredictable nature of Charter Schools opening; the board is going to get a ton of pressure (rightly so), to table the closing of five schools.

  • Parent

    JR: What makes you think I haven’t? I just disagree that the move to privatize “public” education with 1) very little public oversight (bloated bureaucrats or not, they’re ours and must answer to us) is a trainwreck in the making as it is unfolding now.

    AO: I agree and I think Charters fulfill a void and a need. However, we have at least three new Charters on the table and there are probably more applicants this year. The Rand report that came out recently found that Charters are not doing a better job on average than the public school system. Taken apart, in some areas they do a little better and in some places a lot worse.

    In fact, I’m willing to wager there will be more than 5 new Charter applicants before the year is up.

    Close 5 schools to save 2 million (more likely less) and open a handful of charters and lose about 8 million.

    Privatization of public education? If it is about choice, then I guess sending your kid to a Charter or a Private school is still a choice. I guess. Unless your child is special needs or simply troubled in some way. Those children will still be left to the limping public school systems or what is left of it. Kind of like the private industry of health insurance and their track record of dealing treating people with pre-existing conditions.

  • A A A

    All of this talk frustrates me to the fullest. As an Oakland parent & teacher I am so annoyed that our district is not acknowledging that the systems in place are NOT working! Now we have 2 of our higher performing schools wanting to leave the district…something is truly wrong with this picture?

    Forget about closing schools, forget about opening more charters…FIX the darn failing systems already in place. OUSD Administration is NOT supporting their principals or their teachers. The Regional Officers have too many schools to manage, thus not supporting them in an equitable fashion. Let’s also stop throwing Teach For America in every low-performing school, they are NOT the answer! Why don’t you invest in us folks that actually want to be here and remain here through thick and then…until OUSD finally pushes us out.

    If you’re not TFA it could be difficult to get hired as a teacher in OUSD and if you’re not New Leaders for New Schools it is difficult to get hired as a principal in OUSD. We should all sign charter petitions and leave OUSD…no one here support me.

  • J.R.

    A A A,
    This is an excerpt from a Huffpo article:

    “But even among those districts with more expenses, disparities exist.

    Disparities in targeted funds

    Oakland and Moreno Valley have a similar number of students, and both have diverse student bodies. In each district, nearly three-fourths of the students are poor enough to qualify for a free or reduced-cost lunch. The districts’ test scores are similar.

    Yet last year, Oakland spent about $3,000 more per student. It gets nearly twice as much as Moreno Valley in targeted funds for dropout prevention, school safety and other special programs. It also gets nearly twice as much in federal funds intended for poor children, and it received more stimulus funds. On top of that, Oakland receives about $20 million each year from a parcel tax approved by local voters”.

    They entire article is here:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/03/california-school-distric_n_870921.html

    The system of management and oversight doesn’t work all that well in some places, does it? When it comes to leadership and intelligence, some people have just bitten off more than they can chew. No more excuses because we aren’t even putting the required percentage of money in the classrooms:

    http://www.baycitizen.org/education/story/shrinking-share-money-going-students/

    The money is being badly misspent, almost as bad as the world famous money wasting LAUSD(except they have exorbitant Taj Mahal schools to show for it).