May 4, 2012: By Corri Ravare, Managing Regional Director, Los Angeles
We all talk about the importance of accountability - those of us at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board meeting on May 1 had the opportunity to see local charters truly live those principles.
Santa Monica Community Charter was a former LAUSD school that converted into a charter school in 2002. Since then, the school performed exceptionally on the operational side, but not well enough on the academic side. The school was up for renewal this year, but since LAUSD identified it as a "focus school" in the bottom of the district's new five-tier evaluation system, staff would have recommended non-renewal.
Instead of making excuses for past performance or simply closing down, Santa Monica joined with Fenton Avenue Charter School, a successful conversion charter in the San Fernando Valley to make a new and innovative proposal to the LAUSD board. They presented a partnership through which Fenton Avenue will take over governance of Santa Monica and apply its success serving a similar student population to turn around the school. This approach is unprecedented.
The LAUSD board voted unanimously to support the two schools. At a time when the district is anxious to increase ADA and could have easily voted to return the school to a traditional model, their decision to approve the transition to Fenton and herald the innovative turnaround approach is unprecedented.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy told boardmembers that this is an innovative way to deal with a school that is struggling and that he was pleased to work with partners in charter community in such a way that everyone shares responsibility.
"It is the lessons I have learned over the past 19 years that I will bring to Santa Monica," said Dr. Irene Sumida, CEO of Fenton Avenue Charter. "We have done this before with a failing school in the San Fernando Valley and we have a plan we are ready to execute."
Santa Monica teacher Roxanne Shelby commented that this is "a ground-breaking venture, setting a precedent for other charter schools in this situation."
Fifty Santa Monica parents attended the meeting to support the proposal and 320 parents have signed a petition in support of Santa Monica becoming part of the Fenton Avenue family.
A key point was Fenton's long history of success educating a similar population of students. Fenton's student body is 100 percent eligible for free and reduced lunch. The school's API increased 42 points over the last year.
"I rarely approve renewals of charters that are struggling or in PI status," said LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan. "This school has come with something that is totally innovative. This is the kind of creative thinking that I hope to see from our charter partners."
Alliance College-Ready Public Schools also showed the depth of their commitment to accountability yesterday by electing to close their "focus" high school, the Alliance for College-Ready High School #7. Alliance will strive to provide the students at the closed site a new high-performing option through the opening of the Alliance for College Ready High School #17.
"This is the model of what public accountability should look like," said Superintendent Deasy.
We still have a lot to learn about how to successfully turn around a low-performing school, but we know one thing - it takes a tremendous amount of work. Thank you to Fenton Avenue and Santa Monica for your tremendous work to think creatively about holding ourselves accountable for high academic performance and for setting a shining example of how creative partnerships can make a difference for students in LA.