American Indian charter school parents speak out

Staff Photojournalist
American Indian Model Schools supporters, seen here at an April Oakland school board meeting, before the final state report on the charter organization was published. Photo by D. Ross Cameron.

The fate of the American Indian Model Schools won’t be on Wednesday’s regular Oakland school board meeting agenda, but we can expect a large group of parents and students from the three schools at the meeting.

Bernadette Coleman, president of the schools’ new Family Advisory Committee, told me today she believes the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team’s scathing report about the AIMS governance, operations and suspected financial fraud — which came out this summer, prompting OUSD to issue a “notice of violation” in September — was full of errors.

If and when the OUSD board holds a hearing on the subject, Coleman said, “it’ll be public knowledge what is true and what is not.”

Families and staff members worked around the clock to respond to each of the school district’s concerns, Coleman said, and will tell the Oakland school board so on Wednesday night after they march to the school district headquarters from the campus in Chinatown.

The charter school organization recently submitted a 13-binder response to Oakland Unified’s “notice of violation.” Staff are reviewing the response and are expected to come forth with a recommendation in January, according to OUSD.

I did notice vastly new and improved AIM Schools website, complete with the names of the governing board members and copies of the agendas and minutes. (It does, however, seem to lack some of the in-your-face attitude I enjoyed on the previous site.)

Here’s a letter the parents from American Indian’s advisory council sent out today (originally titled in red font):

Why does OUSD want to close one of the HIGHEST PERFORMING K- 12 Schools in California?

Since 2000, American Indian Public Charter School went from a failing school on the brink of closing to one of the Nation’s top performing schools in the country.

In 2006, American Indian Public Charter School became the first public school in Oakland to win the National Blue Ribbon Award!
Today, AIM Schools are among the highest performing K-12 public school system in the State of California.

American Indian Public High School (AIPHS) pushes an academically rigorous program to prepare all students for college. One hundred percent of the high AIPHS students are enrolled in Advance Placement courses including World History, U.S. History, Physics, Calculus, Statistics, English Language Arts, English Literature, Government, Economics, and Mandarin. In 2011 AP test passing rates were as high as 86% for Calculus and 76% for Stats. A recent US News and World Report article named AIPHS the number 1 public high school in Oakland, number 14 in California, and number 71 in United States. Out of the 15,000 high schools across America, Newsweek named AIPHS the 4th ranked public high school in California and 32nd in the nation.

During the summer, AIM Schools’ students participate in a variety of summer programs including U.C. Berkeley’s Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP), Google’s CAPE Program, and UCSF’s Biomedical Internship. Most popular among AIM Schools’ students, however, is the competitive John’s Hopkins CTY summer program where students get to attend a 3 week program designed specifically for advanced learners. The brightest students across America compete to qualify for this program through scores on tests like the SATs. Last year alone, 80% of 6th grade AIM Schools’ students who were tested obtained qualifying scores.

You can’t argue the facts; the American Indian Model Schools are helping students succeed. When families choose to send their kids to an American Indian Model Schools, they are not just choosing a school; parents are choosing a promising future for their kids. We Are A School At Work!

So why does OUSD and Tony Smith want to close AIM Schools?

American Indian Model Schools has scheduled a march on the Oakland Unified School District on December 12, 2012 leaving from American Indian Public Charter School II campus located at 171 12th Street. Oakland, CA 94607 promptly at 4:45 P.M. and will end in front of the OUSD Administration Office on 1025 2nd Avenue Oakland, CA 94606-2212.
We hope to see you there!

Family Advisory Executive Committee


Katy Murphy

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

  • oaklandedlandscape

    @Lenny S – This is the same Armstrong. Very bold move to add her. They have other connections. I’ll say this again – Not about the kids or teachers. This is an adult issue at the school. The organization has demonstrated that it is not willing to move in a new direction.

  • Arthur Miler

    Armstrong served as an advisor to the board sometime between 2001 – 2003.

    June 2011 – Dr. Chavis is elected by the board to an executive position. At the time, paperwork stated he was the new COO to replace the outgoing COO. The board at that time had Stember and Marquardt as members.

    Summer 2011 – Several veteran teachers, staff, and leaders resign.

    Fall 2011 – AIPCS attempts to open an elementary school under the guise of an EOLA expansion. Laura Armstrong helped Chavis initiate the school. Her school would benefit from growth and attendance ( I assume…why else would she help start a “rogue” charter…) and Chavis would benefit from additional rent income.


    For various legal reasons, the school needed to open under “Little Hands” w/out Armstrong’s name attached. After OUSD approved the new charter, AIPCS was able to open a legit school since the paperwork allowed for a K-8. Sigh.

    The FCMAT report listed at least one board member receiving checks from Chavis. Now this is before Armstrong’s time on the board, but who is investigating her?

    It’s also interesting to note that the 150K after school grant needed to be shared with EOLA, AIPCS, and another school. A huge chunk of that money was siphoned into one of Chavis’s companies instead of EOLA. There was also no memo of understanding b/w his company and AIPCS. I’m just wondering if Armstrong benefitted from this in any way…

  • A Supporter

    District politics, animosity toward Ben Chavis, help for Lincoln and Cleveland Elementary Schools, opposition to charter schools etc. aren’t reasons to close schools that are doing an excellent job of educating the children in our Oakland Community…..the school’s records speak for themselves. Did any Oakland school recieve a National Blue Ribbon Award before American Indian Public Charter School? Has Newsweek magazine ever ranked any Oakland school in it’s top 100 list before American Indian Public High School came along? Has any public school in Oakland had 93% of Hispanics, 100% of AfricanAmericans, 100% of Asians and 100% of American Indian/Alaskan Native 6th to 8th graders test at proficient or advanced levels in math/alegebra (per STARS 2010 – 2011 test results) ?

    Parents who chose to send their children to the schools, are supporters of the institution’s
    back to basics approach and are fully aware of the strict policies. It is their preference to
    have their children educated in this environment and for whatever reason, have opted out of Oakland’s public school system. That is their right and they exercised it. These children weren’t taken from OUSD, from Lincoln Elementary or from Cleveland because none of these institutions had any proprietary rights to these children.

    The Education Code of California governs the process of revoking a schools charter. Supporters are thankful for the existence and requirement of “Due Process” . OUSD must examine AIM School’s response to the Notice of Violation (NOV) and evaluate it to determine if the school has been success in remedying the allegations. “Me” makes it very clear that the AIM School’s response is extensive, thorough and refutes many of the allegations, and in addition, implements necessary changes to bring the school in compliance. Those of us who support the school agree and are awaiting the Districts decision. We don’t want to be a part of the mudslinging emotional and often personal display that has become part of the decision about our school.

    OUSD is required by law to accompany any Notice of Intent to Violate AIM School’s
    Charter with a notice of facts in support of the revocation and subsequently hold a hearing on whether evidence exist to revoke the charter. The school may then appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education and subsequently to the State Board of Education. This is the process that AIM Schools is entitled to. I include this to educate those of you who would love to have the District close a school because of a hate campaign against the school and against Ben Chavis totally obliterating the concept of due process.

    Parents of AIM School’s attended the September 28, 2012 OUSD Board meeting and participated in the process. We heard mention among Board members that the OUSD Board had already had discussions about who would take over our school. Discussions that were obviously premature because the Board had not even voted to approve the NOV. Does this cause us concern as to whether we will be afforded due process? Absolutely. We acknowledge in our school motto “A School at Work” that we are a work in progress. Work with us. Why? Because AIM Schools is doing an excellent job of educating our communities children……and isn’t that what all of this is about?
    Let’s focus on the real objective here, educating the children of Oakland.

  • 1day at a time

    A friend in college drove me crazy talking about “plantation politics”. I HATED it and thought he was a sensationalist clown. Decades later, for the first time, I realize he may have been right:

    #27 said “They have been taking kids from Cleveland and Lincoln Elementary long enough and we have had enough.”

    I’m thankful that the writer was honest enough to write this. It is sobering. There are groups who feel our children are there’s to control within a system we fund and they run.

    My goodness…

  • Jamie

    Stop all this bickering

    the real truth will eventually come out.

  • Lenny S.

    In regards to Armstrong….is she crazy? I saw the video from last nights meeting and she is going through a charter submission to OUSD and then joins this board?

    She and her board members obviously do no understand the concept of Risk Management!

    I’m sure that the ousd staff will now dig deeper into her school’s process and business considering that she is a had picked person for Chavez. Wouldn’t doubt if she’s leasing from him.

  • Ann

    Board Member Gary Yee said Chavis was counter-litigating against the OUSD School Board and Tony Smith for trying to force him to transfer the school to one of their friends for “management and oversight.”

    Did Super Tony Smith try do a Bain Capital, Mitt Romney move on old Chavis?

  • Oakland Pride


    Translation: Chavis and his wife defrauded taxpayers out of millions of dollars. They care so little about the students served by Aims that even when they get caught, they refuse to cut ties, which is the only way the school would have the chance to stay open.

    Assuming your comments are true, good for Tony. It sounds like he’s trying to find a way to save a decent school, despite the actions of a liar and a thief who continues to put his own financial interests above the educational futures of the kids. I hear Old Chavis is even paying for Alice Spearman’s lawyer, as she fights to retain a seat she lost, fairly, in the last election. All this to protect his “investment.”

    Could it be that Chavis’s chickens are finally coming home to roost? The school probably paid for those chickens too!!!

  • A Supporter

    @ Oakland Pride

    Let’s not ignore the key phrase in Ann’s comment………”transfer the school to one of their friends”…….. and you are proud of these actions?

  • 1day at a time

    Question, is it true that Chavis was charging them lower rent (per square ft) than the normal commercial rate.

    If so, they would have accrued substantial savings.

    Question: Did Chavis’ dealings help or hurt the school’s bottom line. Giants tickets? Reduced rate on a rent? What are we talking.

    I have concerns about removing Chavis altogether from the school. Sounds like it’s his school. Can they maintain excellence without him? Don’t take the chance unless it’s absolutely necessary.

    Question: In this scenario, what’s best for Oakland’s kids. More specifically, what’s best for the kids who have chosen that school?

  • Oakland Pride

    @ A Supporter

    You don’t have to be a genius to realize that whomever the District suggested help Aims avoid closure by cleaning up the financial mess would be categorized as “Tony’s friend” by Chavis. Chavis is very good at re-writing history to suit his purposes and at making meaningless, inflammatory arguments to distract people from that which actually matters (that he defrauded Aims and the taxpaying public out of millions of dollars and is now lying about it). I don’t even know for certain that Chavis is suing or that Gary Yee actually said what is being attributed to him. I do know that Chavis likes playing these games and thinks he’ll never lose. He thinks people are stupid and that he can get away with murder using a strategy that is equal parts bullying and PT Barnum.


    Get your facts straight. Start by reading the FCMAT report. Whether or not Chavis charged below market rate is meaningless. 1) It doesn’t matter what the market rate is if there is a conflict of interest. 2) It doesn’t matter what the market rate is if he was charging the school for more space than it actually used. 3) It doesn’t matter what the market rate is if Chavis was taking money out of the school (above and beyond rent) to pay for massive construction projects that benefited him (as the building owner) and that were partially completed by a construction company that he owned. 4) It doesn’t matter what market rate is if he was leasing the space through a church and then sub-letting it to the school at a massive markup. 5) It doesn’t matter what the market rate is if Chavis controls the board and instructs them never to look for a better deal than he is offering because it would be bad for his bottom line.

    I don’t mind the school hiding behind its API scores. The students are doing well and Chavis hasn’t had anything to do with the instructional program in years, anyway. The problem is the financial management and governance of the school, which he has always controlled. Clearly, he is unwilling to walk away from this moneymaker. He is banking on the community supporting Aims high-performing schools despite his rampant theft. If the District buckles, they will be reinforcing his belief that he can steal from the public for as long as the test scores are good. If that happens, you will see his behavior get worse, not better.

  • Concerned

    This is all so frivolous!

    Bottom line: Get rid of him, replace board, and get out of his building or close. This is very easy.

    Its that simple OUSD- you set the terms.

    Counter litigate based on what? Who will pay attorney fees….c’mon people!!

  • 1day at a time

    OaklandPride: Three simple questions were asked. After the outrage subsides, please feel free to answer any or all of these:

    Question 1, is it true that Chavis was charging them lower rent (per square ft) than the normal commercial rate?

    Question 2: Did Chavis’ dealings help or hurt the school’s bottom line?

    Question 3: In this scenario, what’s best for Oakland’s kids. More specifically, what’s best for the kids who have chosen that school?

    You don’t have to answer the question, but telling me “it doesn’t matter” doesn’t get it done. Some people like to start with fundamental questions being asked. Asking “What’s best for the kids”, for example, should be the guiding principal.

  • A Supporter

    @ Oakland Pride
    True, we don’t know what Gary Yee actually said in back door discussions about taking over the school prior to the approval vote on the NOV. But I was present at the Sept 28, 2012 OUSD meeting and saw him go ” ballistic” at the very mention of that earlier discussion on the take over. Gary Yee, Lincoln School, AIMS taking their kids……hmmmmm.

    Don’t get conflict of interest per the Education Code and criminal fraud/embezzlement per Penal Code confused. A conflict of interest per the Education Code does not translate into criminal theft of millions of dollars. Remember, those alleged conflict of interest $$ have been spent operating AIM Schools at lower cost than OUSD charges it’s schools.

    We have read FCMAT. The question is whether you have read AIMS response to the NOV? There are always two sides to every story.



    any news from the board on their response to the NOV?

  • Katy Murphy

    I don’t expect a response until after the break.

  • Larry Routine

    The Chinese have figured out how to avoid paying private school money. Chinese Christian in Alameda hates this school for that I bet.

    This is system is a complete fraud, finances and all.

  • Non-Supporter

    I’m interested in the districts response. Some of the discussions on here are comical and blatantly false. I taught an elementary grade there and saw and heard first hand all the crap that goes around. The elementary school opened this school year (2012/2013). They tried to open it a year ago but OUSD pulled it the day before opening. Chaviz (and this is out of the the teachers mouth) kept her around and she taught a group of children from random grades. Let it also be known that this teacher STILL does not have her credentials and has had an emergency permit numerous times. (If you understand Ed Code and emergency permits, then you’ll know she has been teaching illegally for the past 2 years. Look up Shymala Hoffman and you’ll find the necessary information.)

    I also read somewhere about the summer programs. Lets not forget that one of these programs was created by Chaviz and still runs at the schools. If any thinks he isn’t receiving any money is clearly naive. The district needs to do their homework more often too, as both schools are still consistently in search of new teachers. Such high turnover rate should alert any parent to not send their child(ren) to these schools.

    Lastly, yes the elementary school did pull from surrounding, well performing OUSD schools. Over half of the kids I taught were together at other schools. The board and school isn’t any different than before.

  • Oakland Pride


    Has the OUSD Board made a decision about AIMS? Is that why the AIMS director, Jason Choo, quit last week? If they haven’t made a decision, such a big leadership change in the middle of the year can’t help AIMS case. Do you have any news to report?

  • Parent

    I know firsthand that Dr. Tony Smith has enough votes on the OUSD Board to revoke AIM Schools during the upcoming board meeting. Both new Board members are going to support Dr. Smith because he’s the Superintendent and runs the District!

    Can anyone name one Native American who actually attends AIM Schools?

  • Oakland Pride


    You must be a parent at AIMS because you seem to think that school boards always do whatever the ED/Superintendent tells them to do. At OUSD, they have an elected and independent governing board that makes its own decisions. At AIMS, the board members all have personal and financial ties to Chavis, are hand picked by Chavis, and are obligated to approve or deny whatever he tells them to (or be kicked off the board).

    So you see the OUSD board will do what it thinks is right no matter what Smith believes.

  • Parent

    Oakland Pride,

    I am a proud Cleveland Elementary parent. AIPCS II has been taking our students for the past 5 years.

    When the OUSD Board agenda is posted tomorrow, Dr. Smith has recommended to revoke AIM School. I agree 100%!

  • Oakland Pride


    It looks like you won’t need to wait until tomorrow. The decision is posted on OUSD’s website. It looks like AIMS is being shown the door. Chavis is an angry dog and now he has been cornered. No doubt this will get interesting.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Oakland Pride:

    The staff’s recommendation is posted on the OUSD website. Each Board member will have the opportunity to support, reject, amend or postpone the charter school staff, and Superintendent Smith’s, recommendation to close AIMS.

    It take at least four Board Member votes to pass the staff’s and Superintendent Smith’s recommendation to revoke AIMS charter and close the school.

    But, the process is not ended if there is an appeal of the decision to close AIMS to the County Board of Education.

    And, such an appeal might be strengthened by SB 1290 that when into effect January 1, 2013, amended Education Code 47607 to add the following provision:

    “The authority that granted the charter shall consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups served by the charter school as the most important factor in determing whether to revoke the charter.”

    Irony is that AIMS’s scores are so high that increases are not meaningful. But, the language is protective of charter schools as an authority considering revoking a charter must make increases in pupil academic achievement for “all groups served by the charter school as the most important factor in determing whether to revoke the charter.”

    The power of the charter lobby to advance its special interest in the State Legislature is impressive. Although SB 1290 may help AIMS by making test scores the “most import factor” in revoking a charter, SB 1290 makes revoking charters of charter schools that may doing poorly in raising test scores but improve test scores of one subgroup difficult to close. The bar for revoking charters has been raised which is a contradicktion to the charter school rationale of test score metric closing the poor performing schools.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Jim Mordecai

    I just reviewed an analysis of SB 1290 and my interpretation that it protects low performing charter schools was completely wrong as the intent is to close low performing charter schools and not protect them.

    The bill was motivated by Feds telling State DOE they put at risk loss of Federal charter school funding if the state didn’t change and do more to close low performing charter schools.

    The was an analysis of the bill:

    1) Requires a charter petition, in specifying measurable pupil outcomes, to include outcomes that address increases in pupil academic achievement both school-wide and for all groups of pupils served by the charter school, as specified.

    2) Requires a chartering authority to consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups of pupils served by a charter school as the most important factor in determining whether to grant a charter renewal or revoke a charter.

    It was fear of loss of Federal charter school funding rather than power of the charter school lobby that brought about this amendment to charter law.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Parent

    Most people realize the kids who go to AIMS are Chinese, not Native American, and they did well before they got there.

    They will do well anywhere.

  • OUSD Parent

    Where will OUSD place these high-performing kids? If a school like Cleveland can absorb the younger AIM kids, that’s great. But what about the rest. Parents chose that school because the OUSD public schools were not able to deliver the rigor that AIM provided. Don’t hate on these kids. They are the biggest losers while us adults gloat over our perceived victory is shutting Chavis down.

  • Yazstremski

    Wouldn’t they be allowed to finish out the year? It is already the second semester in most OUSD school and charters.
    In his letter, Sup. Smith says he’ll work with the families to ensure they get the same level of education…so do they all get into the “exclusive” programs at Oakland Tech (probably the only comparable program in a public OUSD school)?
    Really…what’s the plan here? Or is the Alameda County Board of Ed. going to turn over this decision too?

  • D Train

    What was the process for other closed schools? What happened to Lakeview Elementary families?

    Considering under-enrollment of many campuses, couldn’t these students find adequate space in existing district and charter schools?

    That will not be easy, but it appears to be necessary.

  • Yazstremski

    D Train…totally different…Lakeview was closed at the end of the year and it is an OUSD school, AIM is a charter school.
    They aren’t closing the school, they are pulling their charter, in the middle of the year.
    Quite honestly, whether there is space or not, the OUSD middle and high schools are nowhere near the academic level of AIM…not even close.

  • D Train

    I get it and agree that A mid year closure would be terrible as oppossed to the end of the year

    Good luck to the families- this guy just made it impossible from a authority standpoint, to keep open. They cannot ignore the facts.

    Families and communities should be angry as hell at him.

  • John Ramos

    Voters need to remember the Oakland school Boards members who supported the chartered school and the Board members who voted against the Chartered school. Depending upon your position, school board members can be voted out or recalled. Since the public schools in Oakland aren’t doing very well, I would think they would want to duplicate the Chartered School. If voters in Oakland want to take a different path, they can recall Board Members.