February 11, 2011 This was not an ordinary board meeting. A gospel choir greeted members of the public as they pulled into the parking lot of the Sacramento County Office of Education. Supporters were handed t-shirts, buttons, instructions on decorum, and a ticket for a hot dog and water as they lined up to pack the hearing room and two overflow rooms. And after a marathon eight-hour deliberation, at 2:00 in the morning, the Board of Education voted to approve the region's very first countywide benefit charter.
The charter petition, brought by the Fortune School of Education, was for a system of 10 charter schools focused on dramatically reducing the African American achievement gap in Sacramento County. The proposal would scale up the educational program used by PS7, a wildly successful charter school located in one of Sacramento's most challenged historically black neighborhoods.
The board action culminates a year of work within the Sacramento community to engage the public and build support for the ambitious proposal. The lead petitioner, Margaret Fortune, is the founding Superintendent of St. Hope Public Schools and current CEO of the Fortune School, a teacher credentialing program that prepares teachers to work with students with great academic, social, and behavioral challenges.
Fortune worked closely with the County Superintendent, Dr. David Gordon, and Sacramento County Office of Education staff throughout the process. Together, they examined the data for African American students countywide, informed the superintendents of the proposal, and rolled out a series of public meetings in each of the communities where they intended to locate the charter schools. Fortune reached out to African American parents and families by partnering with a local newspaper, the Sacramento Observer, and canvassing churches and beauty salons.
Opposition to the proposal came late in the process. Local California Teachers Association (CTA) chapters, the Democratic Central Committee, and local school district superintendents and trustees voiced their opposition. One district, Sacramento City Unified, unanimously approved a resolution in opposition to a countywide benefit charter. They cited the district's recently adopted strategic plan which aims to improve low performing schools, the need for local control, and financial impacts on the district as rationale for their opposition.
CTA General Counsel sent a letter the day before the hearing to threaten legal action if the board approved the rare countywide benefit charter. The board of education carefully approved findings of fact to support the granting of the countywide benefit charter, in light of the recent court case related to the Aspire Statewide Benefit Charter. In the end, four trustees voted for the petition, two abstained, and one voted no.
To view the charter petition and the SCOE staff findings of fact click here.