December 8, 2011
November 21, 2011, was a big day in Oakland for charter schools. The agenda of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education's meeting was entirely dedicated to charters: three new and four renewing petitions were up for public hearings. Of the new, two were conversion schools that CCSA has heavily supported with local advocacy and school development assistance. The other petition was submitted by 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, which also looked to CCSA for expertise. The renewing schools, three of which were members of the Association, are among the more than 30 charter schools serving nearly 21% of OUSD's enrollment
The meeting was a success on many fronts, in part because the efforts from each of the schools were tightly coordinated. The seven petitioning schools agreed on a collaborative strategy to ensure that the atmosphere in the board room was conducive to a fair and respectful hearing process. In addition to the presenting group, each school drummed up 10-15 supporters who were willing to come early to the Board room and sit through the entirety of the meeting, which went until 11 p.m. This worked well to pack the room with supporters. By the time Oakland Education Association representatives showed up, the room was packed to the gills with charter supporters and the negative voices had to remain upstairs in the overflow room for the duration of the meeting. Many in the charter community also wore ribbons to show solidarity for one another in the face of what can be quite hostile behavior at/from the OUSD Board.
The presentations from each of the new and renewing charter schools were of "exceptional quality,' according to Kate Nicol, director, Oakland Charter School Collaborative. "The Board was visibly moved in many cases and was attempting to negotiate with the new petitioners to work with OUSD to find a way to stay in the District. Each of the petitioners kept coming back to autonomy, suggesting that they would happily be a part of the district if they could have the autonomies that would be afforded to them as a charter school. The renewing schools were all able to compellingly demonstrate their value-add to the Oakland educational community."
CCSA's support went beyond providing guidance and coordination. At the board meeting, Nicol spoke out to combat misinformation spread by those opposed to the charters' approval or renewal. When one speaker suggested that new charter schools should be denied because they would not have to shoulder the District's debt, Nicol countered publicly that all other students who have left the District to attend private schools or schools of other Districts also do not shoulder the District's debt. "Debt does not follow the student, but stays with the District," she explained. She also presented facts about the percentage of permanent teachers and attendance boundaries for conversion charters, addressing two areas raised by opponents as reasons for denial of the petitions.
In the end, the collaborative work of the charter community was very successful in positively shaping the dynamics of the public hearings that are the lead up to the decision hearings that will take place in a few weeks.
"This was a great first step in the process," concluded Nicol. "Now, we must make sure the momentum built from the meeting is not lost."