After months of contention and countless hours of back and forth, Oakland has a new school. The State Board of Education approved Latitude Charter High School on 7/12, which will open this Fall in the Fruitvale. While Oakland has a too many schools problem it also has an even bigger problem of not having enough high quality seats, particularly at the high school level. And this decision will hopefully help with that, but it was not without costs.
While I am relieved for the children and families who want Latitude, the process itself was so bruising and time consuming (for those for and against the school) that one has to wonder whether all that energy could have been spent more productively by all involved.
Public School Wars with Families in the Crossfire
It took more than a year for Latitude to get approved, even though OUSD staff recommended the school for approval, the politics of OUSD doomed it at the Board. Similarly at the County level, a largely favorable staff report was met with a room packed with supporters and opponents and the school was rejected by Board vote. The State Board staff also recommended approval, but in this case the State board followed staff recommendations. Latitude was overwhelmingly approved, and it will open this Fall to roughly 50 9th graders.
The chartering process in California is multi layered for good reason, with multiple appeals. This prevents poorly performing districts from being the judge and jury on what might be deemed their competition, letting AC transit decide whether Uber can operate in Oakland. But experiencing a year of the process—there has to be a better way. Thousands of hours were expended in the fight over latitude—hours that did not go towards educating children, but fighting adult battles. And now the school will be forced to open just before the school year—something it is prepared for, but that is less than ideal.
Parents Need Access to High Quality Schools
One of the latitude parents described to me his options of attending a high school where less than 6% of Black students were college ready. Or other smaller schools, where they were waitlisted. He wanted Latitude, not because it was a charter school, but because it had the possibility of being a good school where his child was likely to prosper.
So even if there are too many schools, if you can’t get a seat at what you consider a quality school, there aren’t enough schools in Oakland, just ask all those affluent families in District 1 who go private at middle and high school. Which is why I did support Latitude and I do support (in theory) the expansion or growth of a new MetWest type school.
OUSD is home to the largest percentage of very low achieving schools in the state, and it’s not even close. That is not the fault of parents and they should not be asked to sacrifice their children on the altar of financial solvency—especially when the Board itself won’t take the type of actions that are need to really fix the crisis.
So despite the financial crisis, the district and the charters can’t stand still on quality, or neglect the needs of students and families while OUSD tries to nickel and dime its way to solvency (which won’t work and will create bloody battles with every small decision, while we never get to the big decisions).
A Possible Sign of Hope
The OUSD Board did finally do something at its last meeting of the year (besides haranguing and micromanaging staff) that was a ray of hope, and that may have helped with the Latitude battles—the Community of Schools Policy, which seeks to better coordinate between public school sectors. And similarly the district is finally doing some real planning around its portfolio of schools— it’s definitely too little and it may be too late, but it’s a start.