(A Guest post from David Castillo-Executive Director at Oakland Charters. Oakland Charters provides support and advocacy for Oakland’s dynamic public charter school sector.)
After a long deliberation at last Tuesday’s monthly meeting, the Alameda County Board of Education voted 1-5 to deny the appeal of Latitude High.
Amber Childress (Area 2 Trustee – Oakland) was the sole supporting vote. The proposed Latitude High charter had previously been denied by the Oakland Unified School District despite a strong internal staff recommendation to approve. The Latitude High petitioners may go to the state for consideration, or they may put the petition on hold. What won’t change is the sense of urgency to meet the Oakland community’s request for new school models.
During both district and county efforts for charter approval, we heard strong community voices in support of the new charter.
“Sending them to a school in a system that has not worked is not an option, and the reason I am a founding family of Latitude is to fight for a better option. One in 3 kids entering OUSD high schools will not graduate, and we as parents cannot live with those odds.” – A parent supporter from the Latitude High founding team
“I do not believe my other high school options allow me to become engaged as much as Latitude will. Latitude’s hands-on projects really fit how I learn and what I want from high school.” – A student supporter from the Latitude High founding team
The Alameda County Board of Education decision is troubling, as both Oakland Unified School District and Alameda County Office of Education staff had weighed in with OUSD recommending approval of the charter petition after thorough and exhaustive reviews and ACOE identifying several strong elements while not making a formal recommendation (which is their policy). The experts had weighed in, communicated the viability of this model, and largely urged approval. The foundation is sound, the team tested and experienced, and backed by a strong local charter management organization. We believe that this is a first and hopefully not a precedent for what is to come. The district and county experts had both completed their due diligence when reviewing the charter and team, then “politics” and “heart strings” overruled sound judgment.
Latitude High proposes to offer a fundamentally innovative school model for Oakland students, families, and educators. The proposed program was designed in collaboration with the community and local educators, all with the strong backing of a proven leader, Lillian Hsu. Lillian was a founding teacher at Oakland Unity High School,then went on to lead High Tech High in Chula Vista, CA. She is currently supporting several Oakland Unified district schools as they implement project-based learning (PBL) at their sites. Given the uncertainty of Latitude’s future, I am sure that Lillian will remain committed to working with Oakland students and teachers across charter and district programs. That’s what great leaders do. They teach. They lead.
Full disclosure: I worked alongside Lillian at Oakland Unity High School. When I speak on her qualifications, it’s based on our first-hand collaboration.
Regarding the denial of Latitude High at both Oakland Unified and Alameda County boards, consider the following:
Oakland is not ready – An objective look at Latitude High’s approach and proposal reveals, unparalleled innovation. There is nothing like it in Oakland, or nationally. It’s a breakthrough model that requires careful contemplation and analysis. Instead, many chose to compare it to the closest existing model – when there is no comparable school – and rejected Latitude on the premise that there be no replication of school types. This argument lacks depth and fairness to new charter petitioners and Oakland Unified.
During both district and county proceedings, OUSD’s Linked Learning work was presented as an alternative to what Latitude High offers. I fully support OUSD’s development of Linked Learning Pathways, and I encourage all Oaklanders to do the same.. But the jury’s still out on the impact of these programs, and even the best pathway programs offer limited choice for students. Latitude High would allow each student to design and pursue their own pathway. That is next level. That is groundbreaking. It is not Fremont or even MetWest. If you disagree, read the Latitude High charter. Then ask yourself the same question.
Heart strings – At last Tuesday’s Alameda County Board of Education hearing, a large contingent from Fremont High spoke against Latitude High. I don’t blame them for defending their school. I would have hoped for a more balanced discussion the inclusion of academic indicators. Fremont has a 50% graduation rate and is drastically under-enrolled. These facts existed before charters entered the landscape. In addition, several county trustees met Fremont High community members prior to the Latitude vote. Their votes against Latitude High were an attempt to protect Fremont High, not votes based on the merit of Latitude’s petition.
Where is the accountability in support of Fremont High? They have an ongoing facilities debacle and an unacceptable graduation rate. For Oakland Unified and Alameda County trustees that voted against Latitude High, I hope they will work to address and improve school conditions and academics at Fremont High. In our most recent round of Smarter Balanced Assessments, 15% of Fremont High’s students scored proficient in English Language Arts and 3% of of those same students scored proficient in Math.. How does denying Latitude High help Fremont High students? Denying Latitude High decreases academic choice for students and families seeking a quality public high school in Oakland. It’s a net loss for our community.
To the Alameda County Board of Education trustees that feel empathy for the Fremont High community, please expand your “no vote” and advocate for Oakland Unified to focus on the school’s improvement efforts. Otherwise, your rejection of Latitude High does nothing positive for Oakland. Instead, we lose an opportunity for creative programming and the high quality education that Latitude High would bring. Again, a net loss for Oakland.
Sense of urgency – Regardless of the outcome with Latitude High’s petition, most fail to recognize is that as long as we have substandard schools in Oakland, the community will demand change. Much of this change comes in the form of public charter schools. Many district change efforts have been successful, and we are at our best when we work together – charters and the district – to replicate and grow what works and what the community demands. We are at our worst when we act based on fear, and emotions, resulting in divisions and decreased opportunity.
By denying Latitude High, the district and county must demonstrate that they will take swift and decisive action to improve options and outcomes for all students in Oakland – applying the same standards, criticism and demand for accountability to all existing schools. In the absence of that, we are stuck in a system that continues to kick the proverbial can down the road.
David Castillo is Executive Director at Oakland Charters. Oakland Charters provides support and advocacy for Oakland’s dynamic public charter school sector. Prior to Oakland Charters,David was the head of school at Urban Montessori Charter School, a nationally-recognized breakthrough school model in Oakland, CA. Prior to Urban Montessori, David was the Oakland Regional Director with the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) for two years. At CCSA, David spearheaded citywide advocacy for Oakland’s growing and controversial charter sector. From 2002-2012 David served as founding teacher then principal at Oakland Unity High School, a high-performing charter school transforming lives for first-generation college students.