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?