Answers about AIMS summer school

As you probably already know, AIMS got a reprieve yesterday that will at least keep the schools operating during the summer session while the controversial board fights OUSD’s decision to yank its charter. Jim Mordecai, who many followers know from OUSD board of education meetings, noted:

The FCMAT audit found problems with the summer program called SAIL. SAIL was a private summer school offered by Dr. Chavis’ company and a conflict of interest according to the audit report. For new students it was mandatory and thus violation of the California Constitution. Instructors were not paid a salary but paid with scholarships.

Will the SAIL program be part of the summer school? Is there a new summer school or has there been both public and private summer school in the past?

Good questions. Here are the answers from AIMS staff.

1. SAIL program is not being offered this year during the summer session. Instructors who work during the summer session are being paid at their regular pay rate.

2. In the past, there has/have been both public and private summer school. 

The Alameda County Board of Education is set to decide whether to uphold the revocation on June 25. That should be a lively meeting.



Update: Tony Smith and AIMS

At 6 p.m. tonight, the OUSD board is expected to speak publicly for the first time about the resignation of schools superintendent Tony Smith last week. There is nothing on the agenda but the board will say a few words and maybe we should expect some public comment.

In the meantime, at 5 p.m., AIPCS teachers will be “laying all details on the table” about efforts to oust AIMS board members Jean Martinez and Nedir Bey.  The teachers have invited parents and the public tonight (at the AIPCS II campus, 171 12th St.) to hear why the two should leave the board — as of tomorrow, Thursday. I can’t get to the rally tonight because of a breaking story and the OUSD board meeting at 6 p.m.

“Our goal is to inform the public, and put pressure on Dr. Jean Martinez and Nedir Bey to resign,” an AIMS teacher wrote in an email about their efforts.

Bey and Martinez are allies of former AIMS Director Ben Chavis, accused of fraud by state auditors. The OUSD board yanked the schools’ charter on March 20.

As long as Martinez and Bey are on the board, the thinking goes, Chavis is not far behind pulling the puppet strings. And as long as that’s the case, AIMS doesn’t stand a chance of keeping its charter. The teachers and other board members blame Bey and Martinez for standing in the way of hiring an outside consultant to get the AIMS finances in order. It was one of the key requirements of the OUSD board and may have cost them the charter.

“In order to bring Chavis down and hold him accountable for his actions we need to remove these two members from our school board,” the teacher wrote.

If the Alameda County Board of Education declines to overturn the OUSD revocation, AIMS can go to the state. That will be playing out in the coming months. But about a 1,000 pupils, their parents and teachers might not know the fate of the charter until summer break.

Bey is the “spiritually adopted” son of Your Black Muslim Baker founder Yusuf Bey. In 1994 Bey (Nedir) was charged with abducting and torturing a man who ran afoul of the bakery. He pleaded no contest to a felony charge of false imprisonment. He launched a failed health care company with more than $1 million in city money he never repaid. He also received public financing for a 2002 run for City Council. He was once a school site council leader at Fruitvale Elementary School. He used his birth name Victor Foster in documents filed to open a public charter school in West Oakland that he later withdrew. BART awarded him a contract for lighting work but had to reverse the decision because Bey had none of the required licensing and bonding.

But I am curious about business and other ties he and Martinez have to Chavis and I’m betting there are some of you who know a bit more.




Despite hopes to the contrary, OUSD rejects Lazear charter

Tonight, the Oakland school board voted to block Lazear Elementary School from becoming a charter school (with Spearman and Gallo dissenting).

Lazear is one of five elementary schools slated to close in June as part of a school district downsizing plan. To keep it open, parents submitted an application to become an independently run charter school at the same location.

Most of the students at Lazear walk to school, and there weren’t enough spaces in nearby schools in the Fruitvale area to accommodate the children. Less than half got their first-choice alternative, and only about two-thirds got their top two choices.

In late March, Oakland school district’s charter schools office recommended the school board reject the petition, saying it failed to meet its quality standards. The school board tabled the decision, though, and directed staff to negotiate a partnership charter agreement, a la ASCEND and Learning Without Limits. Until this week, it appeared the board was ready to go for it.

Then came the numbers. Continue Reading


Tony Smith, on OUSD schools turning into charters

Staff Photojournalist
2011 file photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

At a meeting with principals and other administrators before spring break, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith apparently said he didn’t care how many of the city’s schools became independently run charters.

After reading the comments a couple of you posted about those remarks, I asked OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint if Smith did, indeed, say something to that effect. He did.

“Basically, the point of those comments was to emphasize that we need to create more good options for children, and that needs to be the focus of our efforts,” Flint said.

He added: “He was just emphasizing that these are Oakland’s kids, and we’re responsible for their success. Our job is to promote the best possible outcomes for kids, and we have to put that ahead of ideology.”

Flint stressed that Smith did not mean that he was giving up on its district schools, or that he preferred one option over another.

I didn’t hear the statement, or its context. I don’t know, for instance, whether the subject came up in response to another question or as part of his prepared remarks. Unless the meeting was recorded, which I doubt, I can’t even provide you with an exact quote of what he said.

Continue Reading


Live blog: American Indian charter hearing

Tonight, the Oakland school board went against its staff’s recommendation and renewed the charter for American Indian Public Charter School II. There was an overflow crowd at the meeting. Its director, Ben Chavis, entered the board room to applause.

10:00: The vote on Alice Spearman’s motion to approve the charter, with conditions, just passed, 4-3. Spearman, Noel Gallo, Chris Dobbins and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge approved it; David Kakishiba, Jody London and Gary Yee voted against it.

9:50: Board member David Kakishiba said the American Indian board members’ statements didn’t inspire confidence in him. Sounds like he’s going to vote to deny the charter, according to the staff recommendation.

“The academic program and the outcomes are fantastic, and I really feel angry that you are in this position and that I’m in this position, because it’s not your fault, and it’s sure as heck not my fault,” Kakishiba said.

“Here’s what I think should be done. I’m going to vote for the original motion. The school has an opportunity to appeal to the county. It gives you time to address, in a very honest way, about whether there is anything to address. If there’s nothing wrong … you’ll be able to convince the county board, which has a strong record of overturning our denials.”

Jumoke Hinton Hodge said she agreed with much of what Kakishiba said.

9:40: Board member Jody London said she felt the school’s governing board and administration had violated the public’s trust. “That’s why this is so difficult, because the students are doing very well, and the organization is not following the law. …

London added, “I found the response from the (American Indian) board to be not serious enough. … I’m very interested in finding a way to let the academic program continue.”

Still, she said, she had serious concerns about the schools management, and she is in favor of denying the charter and allowing AIM to appeal to the county. By that time, the full FCMAT report is expected to come out.

9:20: Alice Spearman makes a motion to deny the staff’s recommendation and grant renewal of the school, with conditions: 1) “that the governance team seeks professional development and growth” and 2) that the administration works on creating “acceptable accounting principles.”

Gallo seconded it. Jumoke Hinton Hodge wants to see the renewal be for two years, instead of five. Spearman said she had no problem with that. “I feel the school will rise up to it.”

General counsel Jacqueline Minor says the board can only renew the school for five years, not less than that. But that the board can impose conditions on charter.

9:17: Board member Chris Dobbins is speaking in favor of keeping the school open. “Frankly, I think (parents) don’t care what’s going on with the leadership of the board. Their school’s giving them a safe environment and a safe education. … if there’s malfeasance going on, present it to the district attorney.”

Dobbins added, “I think we need to allow them some time to remedy some of these issues without closing the school down.”

9:15: The last speaker (I think.) The board will then start to deliberate.

8:30: There’s still a long line of speakers. Just about everyone is speaking in support of the school, talking about its safe environment and strong academics. Judi Marquardt-Norris, who’s listed on the charter petition as a board member but told me she was on the board only until the beginning of this year, said publicly that she would take the blame if there was wrongdoing. But in her remarks, she was a bit vague about her tenure on the school’s governing board, saying: “Was it 6 months? Was it a year and a half? Was it all my life? I don’t know.”

8:05: Eighth-grader Arlette Hernandez starts to cry as she reaches the podium, temporarily unable to give her remarks. Chavis comes up and comforts her, telling her to keep going. She says: “I could be at home, hanging out with my friends, maybe going on Facebook. But I’m here for my little sisters … for them to get the same education I got, or even better.”

8:05: An AIPHS high school senior talks about how his mom was right to send him to American Indian. After extolling its virtues, he announces, “Now I have to leave, because I have to study for a statistics test tomorrow. Goodbye.”

7:55: Carl Chan, of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce: “Closure? Are you kidding me? It’s quite shocking.”

7:45: A former teacher, Lorissa Zavala Singleton, says Chavis and his wife committed fraud: “Chavis will try to hide fraud behind these great kids,” she said. “… It is the teachers and students who make American Indian successful. … I’m for the school. I’m not for Chavis.”

7:40: Ben Chavis, on the FCMAT report: “Nowhere do they say they discovered any fraud. The key word when you read the report is `concerns.’ I heard on the news, they said `He got $3 million.’ Ahh, I’d like to see it.”

On the rate he charges the schools per square foot: “I want to charge what you guys charge, if I can…. My building’s 40,000 square feet. … No mathematics was involved in anything, just allegations. … You can take numbers and do anything you want with them, and there’s been a lot of number twisting.”

On allegations of wrongdoing: “If Ben Chavis has done anything wrong, if Ben Chavis has stolen money, if Ben Chavis has committed a crime, you get Ben Chavis. That’s what people want, is to get Ben Chavis, but they’re using Ben Chavis to get the kids.”

7:33: Gallo calls Chavis up to the mic.

7:30: School auditor says he has issued “a clean opinion” for four years.

7:20: Kakishiba to Michael Stember, president of the American Indian board: “Are you categorically denying each and every one of these concerns?”
Stember: “Yes”
Spearman: “Each and every one of them?”
Stember: “Yes”

7:15: Spearman notes that Chavis is the founder, the owner of the building, and the owner of a construction company with which it entered into a contract. “Is it an illegal practice for a charter school to enter into an agreement with a personal business?”

Jacqueline Minor, OUSD’s legal counsel, says it depends on the governing board’s minutes, and whether the board knew that the company was owned by the founder.

7:05: Kakishiba says the school’s performance isn’t in question, “but the issues of the caps of your gov board to provide the necessary oversight for your particular school, and the management.” He asks Michael Stember, president of the American Indian governing board, to speak.

STEMBER:  “The board is relatively new. It was a very accusatory report, but Gail Greely is paid to do that, and we commend her because what she put together, and the pressure from FCMAT to the community is only making us stronger. … We’ve addressed every single one of the weaknesses. … ”

“This happened before I was board president and I was on the board. … I think the report was so preliminary, their findings weren’t in conclusion.” (Has been on board for 1.5 years.)

Stember says he isn’t prepared to respond to the allegations, saying that it was intended to be a group presentation. He taps a woman to speak who identified herself as the financial administrator. (I believe the founder’s wife was, until recently, the financial administrator.)

7:00: Public comment has begun. A sixth-grade teacher urges the board to put the students first.

6:55: Jumoke Hinton Hodge says she is concerned about the school’s sustainability. “I’m concerned about a foundation not necessarily being there. … I do know what can be our process to ensure or demand, quite frankly, administration and operational corrections are made.”

6:45: Spearman continues her speech in support of American Indian, saying the process “looks like a witch-hunt”: “We’re in the business of providing the best education possible to children. … When you do not allow an entity due process, it’s very problematic to me as a black woman, period. … In the United States, as far as Chinese people go, due process wasn’t given to them, either.”

6:40: Alice Spearman is now starting in on Greely, questioning the validity of the concerns: “… was the school given the chance to remedy some of the fiscal improprieties that you found?”

Greely: “We did not go to the school with a list of improprieties and provide an opportunity to cure. …”

Spearman: Before I make a decision I would like to have some of these concerns answered by the school. … This is the United States of America. In the United States of America … everyone has due process. You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty.”

…”The fact that they have an API of over 900 is extraordinary.”

It sort of feels like a play. The audience is quiet, listening intently, and then breaking in with cheers (or boos).

6:35: Noel Gallo is questioning Gail Greely, director of OUSD, about the timing of the report. Greely: “Our procedure is we make the reports available to the school at the same time we make the report available to the public.”

6:30 Noel Gallo: “In terms of the allegations, accusations, whatever it may be, it hasn’t been proven.”

6:28 Board member Noel Gallo: “For a student body that has an API score of 990 – outstanding.” (cheers) “I wish I could say it in Mandarin or Cantonese, but your community is an example I’d like my community to follow.”

6:20: Gail Greely, director of OUSD’s Office of Charter Schools, gives her report, outlining the preliminary FCMAT findings.


Will Oakland’s top-scoring school be closed?

BEN CHAVISDuring a 6 5:30 p.m. special meeting Wednesday night, the Oakland school board considers the fate of American Indian Public Charter School II, a middle school in downtown Oakland with a near-perfect Academic Performance Index of 990.

American Indian Public Charter School II, one of three schools run by American Indian Model Schools, is up for its 5-year charter renewal. At the same time, state auditors are investigating allegations of financial fraud in the school’s charter management organization. The Oakland school district’s charter schools office has recommended that the board reject the American Indian renewal application.

You can find our story here, and the district’s report here, along with a progress report from the auditors from the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team.

The staff report cites numerous reasons for its conclusion, from compliance issues (teacher certification and occupancy permits) to a pending investigation into allegations of fraud, conflicts of interest and deliberate misappropriation of funds.

Continue Reading


Students to debate charters, criminal justice

Bay Area Urban Debate League
High school debater Kwodwo Moore (center). Photo by Ray Chavez/Staff

On Thursday, after you come to the Tribune’s public forum on high school reform and teaching in Oakland, you’ll still have plenty of time to head across town to a different — and decidedly younger — discussion about education and teenagers.

Charter schools and criminal justice are the subjects of debate at the 6-7:30 p.m. Bay Area Urban Debate League event at the St. Augustine Episcopal Church (not to be confused with the Catholic church on Alcatraz) on 29th Street and Telegraph.

Dmitri Seals, the league’s director, says his hard-working orators have been practicing three times a week for this moment, and that “they are ready to electrify the crowd.”

Admission to the debate, titled “Waiting for Superman,” is free. You can RSVP on Facebook or to dseals@baudl.org.

Here are the big questions the debaters will tackle: Continue Reading


On this week’s OUSD board agenda: school facilities, police review, charters and grading policy

I’m gearing up for a long night on Wednesday. Among many other agenda items, the Oakland school board will hear a report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Services (it hasn’t been posted as of this afternoon); a discussion about possible revisions to the district’s student grading policies and regulations; an update on the expansions of Burckhalter and Kaiser elementary schools; and lots of decisions about the use of district property.

The board will also vote on the Lazear Elementary School charter conversion petition. Staff has recommended denial, saying it presents an unsound program that is unlikely to be successful. Lazear is one of the five elementary schools the board voted last fall to close at the end of the school year.

FACILITIES DEALS: Proposition 39 is a California constitutional amendment passed in 2000 that, among other provisions, gave charter schools the right to available space in public school buildings. If the board adopts the below proposals, some of the city’s existing and new charters might open at schools that the district has shut down or planned to close.

There are so many of these facilities proposals on Wednesday’s agenda, they almost call for some sort of diagram. For now, I’ll try my best to sketch it out in words. Continue Reading


OUSD board considers charter school conversions tonight

UPDATE: The OUSD board voted 6-0 (board member Alice Spearman wasn’t present) to approve the charter conversions of both ASCEND and Learning Without Limits. You can find the full story here.

As a result of the higher-than-normal facilities rate the schools will pay OUSD to remain in their buildings ($2.50 per square foot, compared to $1.35 per square foot), their per-student contributions to the state debt, and the services the schools plan to buy from the district as part of a services agreement, OUSD expects to lose about $48,000 after it’s all said and done, down from the original $826,350 projected just a few weeks ago. (Note: OUSD will lose $4.5 million in state revenue from the conversion, but $3.67 million in costs will be eliminated, bringing the difference to $826,350.)


In January, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith recommended that the school board reject efforts by ASCEND and Learning Without Limits elementary schools to secede from the district and operate as independent charter schools. The board did just that.

Then, last month, the two schools submitted revised applications — and the district administration is asking the board to approve them this evening.

Why the reversal? Last month, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits principals said the district was interested in what they called a “partnership charter.” We should learn more tonight at a special meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. You can find the petitions and the recommendations for ASCEND here and Learning Without Limits here.

If the Oakland school board approves the charter petitions, the schools’ leaders say they will stop their appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education, which is scheduled to hold a hearing next week. If the county approved the charter school petitions, the county — not the Oakland school district — would oversee the schools.

What should the OUSD board do?


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),  Continue Reading