Oakland considers a different kind of charter school

Two Oakland elementary schools whose attempted breakaway from the district was recently denied (by the district) are taking a different approach in their quest for independence. Tonight, the principals of ASCEND and Learning Without Limits turned in revised charter conversion applications — this time, for “partnership charters,” which would work closely with OUSD and its five-year strategic plan.

The faculties at both schools voted last fall to separate from the district in order to have more control over staffing, finances, curriculum and scheduling — conditions they said they felt all public schools should have. It was a blow to the district, and it came out as the board was holding its contentious school closure hearings.

But in recent weeks, district staff and the leaders of the two would-be charters — brought together by OUSD’s general counsel, Jackie Minor — have been negotiating a compromise.

Unlike other charter schools in OUSD, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits would chip in to pay down the district’s enormous debt from its 2003 meltdown and state bailout loan, a bill that comes to $6 million a year. They would also buy services from the district, including professional development and school meals, and its teachers and administrators would participate in some trainings and collaborative workshops with their district counterparts.

Students would enroll exclusively through the district’s student assignment process (though that doesn’t mean they’ll have more room for students displaced from closed schools), and the schools would be part of the same disciplinary system as they are now. In other words, they’d still receive children who are expelled from other schools, and their students would participate in the same disciplinary procedures as kids from district schools.

Larissa Adam, the principal of ASCEND, a small K-8 near the Fruitvale BART station, said the schools would be a “space for innovation.” That was actually one of the main reasons charter schools were created — to try out new ideas so that traditional public schools could incorporate the ones that worked. In practice, district and charter schools haven’t worked together as closely as hoped; initiatives have sprung up to encourage collaboration.

The staff members at ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, by contrast, already have relationships with colleagues elsewhere in OUSD.

“It seems like the best of all worlds to continue to be collaborating with the folks that we’ve been collaborating with for years,” said Leo Fuchs, the principal of Learning Without Limits, one of two small schools on the Jefferson campus in East Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.

This doesn’t mean the schools’ leaders have halted their appeal process on the original charter school application; the Alameda County Board of Education is scheduled to hear that appeal on March 13, the two principals said. But if the Oakland school board approves the partnership charter request first, at a special meeting on March 7, they plan to drop the appeal.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether at least four members of the OUSD board will feel the same way. I guess we’ll find out on March 7.

What do you think about this proposal?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Josh

    Oh Yeah…this will work! Ha Ha- its been tried. In other words, the OUSD board is your board!

    I got another option OUSD….get rid of their principals and keep the schools cause they will try it again…remember KIPP.

    I love history!Desperate backroom dealing….board now realizes your bent over the barrell!

  • Jim Mordecai

    There can’t be “a different kind of charter school”. A charter school has a charter approved by one of three authorizers: local school board, county school board, or State school board.

    Whatever OUSD calls it, without a charter, the school is still governed by OUSD and the state number associated with the school doesn’t change from public school to charter school.

    One test it will not pass is getting the half million for becoming a charter school that the Obama charter school development dollars funds.

    Will this new type of school not get March 15th letters? Living as a privileged OUSD school may have interesting impact on teachers and principals at other OUSD schools.

    Will this creative initiative backfire and motivate faculties all over OUSD to vote to become charters?

    Maybe only school improvement schools will not receive this special OUSD status, become charters and solve the messy process of closure for the OUSD School Board?

    Does anyone besides me feel the 50% faculty vote to take over the school teachers work in is a bad idea? And, don’t forget the parent trigger is waiting to be pulled. Seems State legislature has legally empowered all kinds of folks to take a shot at the District.

    Jim Mordecai

  • lizajolyons@yahoo.com

    How do the OEA teachers at these two schools work this out? Are they leaving their union or maintaining membership within a pseudo charter?

  • Jim Mordecai

    Whatever the District wants to call its relations with these two schools, they are governed by the District. Collective bargaining is State law and the District does not have authority to negotiate away collective bargaining.

    This question shows why inaccurately referring to these schools as being a kind of charter school causes confusion as charter school is a legal concept defined by law and not just a concept.

    Jim Mordecai

  • wiley

    What would they “not have to do” that other OUSD schools “have to do”?

  • Jackson Mee

    What needs to be investigated is why Superintendent Smith said he was against the schools joining Education for Change is now making deals with them? Isn’t this a conflict of interest? Union members are going to lose their positions because charter schools will not allow teachers or staff to unionize, and the employees of these two schools will be Education for Change employees.

  • Rodney Brown

    This is the snake oil salesman peddling schools the anecdote (“mutual matching”, “partnership charters”, “accelerated TSA”…) to the district’s own poison. Any noncompliance with school site councils, stifling of academic freedom and lack of transparent scheduling and staffing decisions comes from administration, who are the very ones leading schools hand-in-hand into charter conversion. OUSD is now trying to ASCEND and Learning Without Limit us all with the unilateral eradication of the high school teaching position at Castlemont, Fremont, and likely McClymonds High Schools, to be replaced by “Accelerated TSAs.” Once again students are the guinea pigs and the teacher sacrificial lamb.

  • J.R.

    And lest we forget………

    The children have been sacrificial lambs to a system that has rewarded longevity(and the resultant mediocrity) for four decades now. Is that truth or fiction? The record says its truth.

  • Jim Mordecai


    You define longevity as rewarding mediocrity. I don’t. I define longevity as an important component of a profession. Professions, such as teaching, thrives on a commitment to a profession. Teaching and medicine benefit from a long term commitment and both require post-Bachelor’s education as a gateway to the profession. Even Teach-for-America types must get teaching credential training to stay in the profession.

    And, from a District’s stand point why would they not want a stable workforce with little turnover? The District’s professional development dollars are wasted on a workforce with constant turnover. Teachers establish relationships with a community and with other members of a school that help teachers under- stand and work better with their students.

    What proof is there that fear of job loss increases a teacher’s job performance?

    And, when does inexperience become mediocrity?

    But, the record will also show that employees in fear will not try to be creative or take chances.

    My understanding is that many Asian countries are taking to heart the importance of structuring their education systems to promote creativity and risk taking. Meanwhile America moves in the opposite direction toward education standardization.

    Seems you want a system that better evaluates teachers so all students have above average teachers. Like giving 100 and 10 percent the word average has no meaning in such a context.

    Or at the lease, you want a system that catches the “bad teachers”. Maybe you support the Greek system that allowed the parents to brand Socrates as a “bad teacher” for not sticking to the core curriculum.

    Or, maybe you prefer to let principals hire and fire at will.

    I believe the record will show that none of these systems eliminated mediocrity and in the case of Socrates the ancient Greek education system eliminated a superior teacher. And, until 1905 Albert Einstein was a failure with an out-of-wedlock daughter given up for adoption and not worthy of being promoted from clerk 1 to clerk 2.

    While no system is perfect and therefore can be criticized, some education systems leave more room for non-standard students. I think the system you want would be less friendly to Socrates or Einstein.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Rodney Brown

    I hear what you’re saying. It is a systemic social problem not merely isolated to education. I understand that opinions do vary.

    This “reform” does not resolve the issues of East Oakland. It’s a bandaid, ignoring and sweeping it under the rug. So in essence, yes children will continue to be sacrificed if the district continues to violate students’ Edcode rights and circumvent the learning conditions afforded students in the protections of the OEA/OUSD Agreement. You and I must demand the district to follow the law, be compliant with SSCs and English Language Advisory Councils, protect academic freedom in the classroom. These are the autonomies that this district would just as soon have schools forget that they have. There are students who only know deprival from these rights. At Castlemont, a School of the Arts with no FTE art teacher, a Business and Tech school with no FTE Business teacher, and where is the technology? Abolish teaching positions and create an 11-month “Accelerated TSA” does not create electives for students, does not improve the learning and teaching conditions of schools. It merely lengthens the time of the unsupported and under resourced. Otherwise this would not have been a secret hidden from Castlemont for over one year.

  • MissMatched

    Can someone explain what an “Accelerated TSA” is? And what is happening at McClymonds, Castlemont and Fremont?

  • Rodney Brown


    At the two high school campuses (Castlemont and Fremont, specifically) with small schools that are collapsing back into one, mutual matching is being imposed by making Castlemont and Fremont teachers “reapply” for their jobs by eliminating the 9-12 Teacher position and replacing it with 11-month “Accelerated TSAs”.

  • Peach

    The latest fiasco the district plans for Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds is not new. As soon as the Gates money dried up, the “rigorous” small schools that were characterized by closed libraries, no specialized staff or equipment for their so-called specialties, few electives, and revolving door administrators were to be closed.

    The goal of OUSD is to move students who fled these institutions to attend Oakland Tech and Skyline back to these flatlands schools. The plan is to convert Castlemont, Fremont, and McClymonds into credit recovery factories with few real high school resources that would pique the intellectual interest of young people. Students will be expected to spend most of their school day in front of the screens of old, decrepit machines with unreliable internet access.

    Expect to see something rolled out that reeks of intervention, rather than the standards-based core curriculum, and waivers for all of the A-G requirements for the vast majority of the students. The moves being made are to codify a situation in which students are not being taught by experienced teachers who are credentialed in the hgih school subjects needed for college; this will be even less rigorous than what is expected by Ed code for continuation schools.

    What about equity? What happened to addressing the progress of African American and Latino males? Is this the path to preparing our students for college and career?

    P.S. Follow the money and watch the private vendors who benefit from these new moves. Just might be that the contracts have already been signed and approved by the Board.

  • Peach

    Returning to the subject of the charter proposal, both Learning Without Limits and Ascend were established nearly ten years ago. During that time, those schools have thrived and their principals have had numerous opportunities, as they met with their principal colleagues and district curriculum staff, to share their strategies for success. It is not necessary for these schools to be charter partners for mutual collaboration to occur.

    The last time Education for Change tried this, they were able to keep newly renovated school buildings, Hawthorne and Cox, for their use. This time they are trying a different tack to keep real estate that has been built by bonds approved by Oakland voters for the use of public school students while they get to operate as private entities.

  • Harold

    Only TSA’s at three comprehensive High Schools? before I get too worked up … is this going to lead to no union representation at these sites? If so, i’m going to start making my picket sign!

  • Jim Mordecai


    The reason Education for Change (EFC) kept Hawthorne and Cox sites is EFC asked “mother may I” and mother said “yes.” By the way the mother that said yes was Randy Ward State Administrator.

    If on appeal the County Board of Education grants the two schools petition to become a conversion charter Mother (now Oakland School Board) will have no legal say on the property of Learning Without Limits and Ascend as all the property and the contents become property managed by EFC until such time as these two schools stop being charter schools and then the property reverts back to OUSD.

    The agreements called “partnership” were made between Education for Change and OUSD before either of the two schools has been converted. And, this raises the question of whether these agreements undermines and weakens the School Board’s rejecting the two charter petitions when the County Board looks at the Oakland School Board saying no and then negotiating. Was there a deal whereby the Oakland Board representative will testify in support of the appeal? Partnership certainly doesn’t mean EFC is withdrawing its appeal.

    I also believe the partnership policy will add encouragement for other small schools to go the charter route and get their “partnerships”. Maybe, the Obama charter school conversion dollars will pay down the debt and leave Oakland Unified (?) with a lesser debt but only low performing schools.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Peach

    Thanks for info, though I’m stunned.

    The CEO of Education for Change was the founding principal of Ascend, so EFC will probably keep their finger in the pie. Also EFC is looking to expand and establish more schools and needs space (although they prefer these to be in the hills, hmm Marshall? Kaiser? Lakeview? even Maxwell Park?) so they may have plans for the Ascend building and the part of the building that is LWL.

    These are portends of things to come; it’s just another example of public debt supporting private profit.

  • Jim Mordecai


    Not only was the CEO of Education for Change the founding principal of Ascend, but she was promoted to the Assistant Superintendent in charge of starting up around 20 Oakland small schools. Its the government to private dance step employed so often in Washington. My guess is that other successful small schools with principals that worked with Hae-Sin will take their schools charter before the schools you listed. Lazear principal didn’t play the game of taking his school to charter like the two other principals that had a relationship with Hae-Sin.

    However, Lazear, the only school scheduled to close, it was its parents that sought out Education for Change for help in being a charter and has submitted its petition to the School Board. And, their petition reflected that lack of a close connection to Hae-Sin.

    And, the Lazear petition demonstrated that Education for Change is about taking on anybody that wants to become a charter under their management.

    The half-million Obama dollars for converting is incentive for all Oakland principals to encourage their faculty to sign up to become a charter.

    Conversion will let the School Board side-step the difficult process of school closure as they will vote against conversion and then create “partnerships” that the County Board of Education approves.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Peach


    This is the time to get the official information about the plans for offerings at these high schools next year. One can request written answers to the following questions – meaning Board documents and other planning papers, not Power Point presentations.

    1. What will be the 9-12 course offerings at each school?
    2. What textbooks, laboratory experiments, and practicums will be offered for each course?
    3. What are the projected class sizes for each course?
    4. Which courses will be in conjunction with local community colleges or industries?
    5. What are the details of the school calendar and the school hours for students?
    6. What after school tutoring and help will be offered?
    7. What are the expected extracurricular programs? For example, will the previously strong media program exist at Fremont? or the strong entrepreneural and music programs at Castlemont return? or will McClymonds once again win mock trial competitions? Band? Boys and girls sports?

    As parents get these documents, they might also try to gather information from OUSD administrators and Board members in person.

    The next step is to take these plans to admissions officers at UC Berkeley, CSU East Bay, San Francisco State, Santa Clara, St. Mary’s, Mills, Cal Poly, ITT and DeVry. Ask these respected degree conferring institutions if what is planned for our high schools meets their requirements.

    Finally, parents can send and discuss these plans with officials in the California Department of Education to see if they meet state requirements and if they are considered the proper use of state and federal funds.

    Armed with real facts, parents and community can dialogue with the district on moving forward in students’ best interests.

  • Katy Murphy

    Peach – I’ve just posted an entry about the high school TSA announcement. You’re welcome to re-post the above comment on that thread.

  • Annoyed

    Why would elected board members–who were voted on by their constituents, and who voted against ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, be working behind the scenes for them to become charter schools? If there were fewer charter schools then the schools that are closing would have more students. Perhaps it’s time to recall the OUSD board–who seem to be part of the Education for Change board.

  • J.R.

    Many times the charters are rejected by the OUSD school board, only to be green-lighted by the county school board on appeal. This redundant kind of bureaucracy must be cut from California’s budget, if we want local control then by all means lets have it. This “right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing” type of multi-layered bureaucracy is wasteful, especially with the limited funding that the state has.

  • Crystal/Toby

    Superintendent Smith and the Board should be partnering with the OEA, SEIU, UAOS and not with charter organizations. Employees of charter schools have no rights. If the schools who are so anxious to leave checked, they would find that employees have been released, after the school year has begun, for no apparent reason.