An Open Letter from a Former OUSD Leader Supporting Latitude Charter High School

Here Aaron Townsend, a successful former OUSD school and district leader, shares his support for the Latitude 37.8 Charter High School petition that is up for vote this week before OUSD and has received a staff recommendation for approval.  He argues both for the merits of the school and also for local authorization identifying how the school, district and families of Oakland would benefit.

Greetings:

I am writing to urge the approval of the new school charter petition for Latitude 37.8 High School. While I recognize there are a number of challenging financial and achievement issues facing the district, it is in the best interests of Oakland students and families to approve Latitude and maintain local authorization control of the school.

I led the transformation of the Havenscourt campus which has grown into one of the highest performing high schools in Oakland, Coliseum College Prep Academy.”

I am confident in Latitude’s potential to be an asset for the city because of my experiences working for 15 years in OUSD as a teacher, principal, and most recently, Deputy Chief of Talent. As a school leader in Oakland, I led the transformation of the Havenscourt campus which has grown into one of the highest performing high schools in Oakland, Coliseum College Prep Academy. As a district leader, I continued to be involved in working to transform our most underperforming schools through various turnaround efforts and building effective pipelines of talent.

I remain committed to the success of all Oakland students, teachers, and schools, and I have deep regard for the leadership that has been appointed to manage OUSD out of its current challenges. These experiences have also demonstrated to me the challenges inherent in building and maintaining successful schools within the district.

Retaining the local authorization control of Latitude best positions the district to manage the collaboration and sharing of practices and resources in service of all Oakland students.”

To accelerate the achievement of Oakland students, we need more local models of innovative practices that have a responsibility to collaborate with the OUSD high school portfolio. As district staff have concluded, the Latitude proposal demonstrates a sound educational program and the capacity to implement it; thus, we are confident in the ultimate approval of Latitude at the county or state level. Retaining the local authorization control of Latitude best positions the district to manage the collaboration and sharing of practices and resources in service of all Oakland students.

As the leader of the design team for Latitude, we have incorporated the lessons learned at CCPA and other innovative and successful schools around the country with current understandings of best practices in adolescent development to push the envelope further in developing a school model to prepare Oakland youth for productive and meaningful lives. Latitude is positioned with the talent, resources, and conditions to become the next great school in Oakland and to be a leader for all high schools in the city.

Why Latitude? Why now?

Latitude is the kind of school the blueprint process will recommend creating.

The existing high school quality and enrollment data demonstrates the types of schools Oakland should be investing in to meet the needs of Oakland students and families. The Latitude proposal is aligned with schools that are currently providing quality seats and have significant enrollment demand (Met West, CCPA, and Life Academy). Approving Latitude would expand the number of choices that are contributing quality seats in the city while drawing from a student population currently outside of the district as indicated by the district’s own analysis. Given the need for more quality options for families, there is no need to delay a decision until the ‘end’ of the blueprint process to provide another quality option for Oakland students. As a locally approved charter, the school’s authorization would remain under your authority and ability to manage as part of the portfolio of school options in the city.

The Latitude team has the talent and conditions to succeed now

 In my numerous years of leading leadership selection for OUSD, the Latitude team is the strongest group of educators I have seen to take on a school start up or redesign. Lillian Hsu, the founding principal, comes to Latitude with national experience and local bonafides. She has proved her mettle here in Oakland at Unity High, and she has expanded her toolkit at the national level with High Tech High. The founding team has proven experience together executing a progressive educational program that achieved strong college outcomes for all students. Collectively, this is the most experienced and cohesive team I have seen take on school leadership in the city. Additionally, given Latitude’s relationship with Education for Change, we have the fiscal and operational capacities to be successful. Our team has already established quality working relationships with district educators and with community partners. This set of conditions reflects the careful work that has Latitude positioned to be successful now.

Latitude is a unique offering for Oakland

 There are no current district or charter schools that provide the kind of learning experiences that Latitude will provide. While the instructional program does share some qualities with various programs in the city (i.e. Linked Learning, SEL, project-based learning), it is the integrated and place-based nature of the program that separates it from any other school. The core instructional experiences at Latitude combine subject areas and require experiences outside of school with professionals in authentic settings. For example, students will build competency in reading, writing, analysis, history, and science through their Oakland and Me studio as they partner with journalists from KQED to develop and document their stories of Oakland. Students will learn civics at City Hall, California History in partnership with the Oakland Museum, and science through projects with the Port of Oakland. This model builds on successes at schools across the city and goes multiple steps further in increasing the quality and depth of students’ learning experiences.

“As a diverse by design school, Latitude will represent the racial, cultural, socioeconomic diversity of the city as a whole unlike any other program.”

Additionally, there are no charter or district high schools in the city that serve the student body that Latitude will serve. Oakland Tech is the only high school in the city that approximates the level of racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity that mirrors the city as a whole. The rest of the portfolio of high schools reflects a segregation of race, culture, and class that concerns many of us. As a diverse by design school, Latitude will represent the racial, cultural, socioeconomic diversity of the city as a whole unlike any other program. Latitude will push the envelope for the high school community of Oakland and support the collaboration to allow all schools to improve.

Why charter? Why not OUSD?

OUSD does not provide the conditions necessary to support the school’s launch.

 Latitude has been able to raise a significant amount of dollars in startup funding for Oakland students and families because of its innovative school model and high caliber founding team. Our collective experience has demonstrated that innovative school startups require significant investment to allow them to grow slowly and build capacity in order to ensure quality. These are dollars OUSD does not have available to invest in an innovative startup and otherwise would be lost to Oakland families. Because it is a charter school, and whether that is fair or not fair, these are resources our city should leverage to develop high quality options for Oakland students and families.

Additionally, OUSD cannot provide the human capital flexibility necessary in an innovative school model. While there have been gains on this front with OEA, a small, innovative start up requires the ability to craft flexible job descriptions, leverage credential flexibility, and to have hiring autonomy across bargaining units. Finally, the Latitude model would require additional facilities, budgetary, scheduling, operational and instructional program flexibilities that continue to be a constraint for school leaders within the district system.

Latitude can be a better partner to OUSD High Schools as a charter.

 The charter environment provides the conditions for Latitude to establish itself and collaborate with the broader high school eco-system more rapidly. In the model of prior early literacy partnerships between Aspire schools and OUSD schools, Latitude intends to partner with OUSD schools to share practices and resources. We have already embarked on efforts to improve the quality and engagement level of project based learning within OUSD alternative schools. Latitude recently secured funding to bring a cohort of OUSD teachers to San Diego to visit model juvenile court schools that are implementing project based learning as a part of this partnership. There are a number of potential additional areas for collaboration to pursue in the future such as Special Education, competency based assessment, and acceleration for under credited, over age students.  Latitude is best positioned to develop and test these practices because of the conditions afforded in the charter context, and we are best positioned to partner with the district as a locally approved school.

“As a leader in Oakland for the past fifteen years, I have been committed to providing quality school options and developing the talent necessary to execute them.”

As a leader in the small autonomous schools movement, as a district systems leader, I, like many, believe in a system that supports innovation, iteration, flexibility and autonomy.  I know these are values many in OUSD share, and I know that we will get to a place where those flexibilities are afforded to school leaders inside the district who can truly take it to the next level. I also know that we don’t have those conditions today.

As a leader in Oakland for the past fifteen years, I have been committed to providing quality school options and developing the talent necessary to execute them. These experiences inform my advocacy for Latitude 37.8 High School as a school that represents an incredible instructional program and possesses the capacity to implement it on behalf of Oakland students and families.  Denying this petition and not having it serve as an anchor of the Oakland high school and innovation portfolio would be a tremendous lost opportunity for this city.

Thus, I urge the approval of the new school petition for Latitude and the retention of authorization control for the school as part of OUSD’s overall blueprint and portfolio management strategy.

 

Full disclosure, I, Dirk Tillotson, sit on the board of Education for Change and Latitude High is one of our schools