• You’re probably aware that the State of California recently released a list of what it calls “Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools.”  This list included four OUSD middle schools which will be open for the 2010-11 year: Alliance, Elmhurst, Roots and for United for Success.

    We were surprised and disappointed to learn that the schools were on this list and we disagree with the state’s assessment. Alliance, Elmhurst, Roots and United for Success are not “persistently low-achieving schools.” They haven’t been around long enough to be persistently anything, but they have shown significant promise in their few, short years of existence. Unlike most other schools named to the so-called “persistently lowest-achieving schools list,” these four schools are new schools which were completely reorganized in 2006. Since that time, the schools have demonstrated impressive growth. API is the primary tool the state uses to measure student achievement. All the OUSD schools on the list have demonstrated at least 50 points of API growth over the past five years. In the case of Alliance and Elmhurst, both schools have topped 100 points in API growth over the past five years. These figures are well above the state average and a dramatic improvement from the schools which existed on these same sites before these new, small schools were opened.

    It’s clear that the students at Alliance, at Elmhurst, at Roots and at United for Success are making progress both academically and socially. It’s also clear that we have much work to do. No one realizes this more than the staff who is driven to produce better results for students.  To do this, the government has declared that we will need to make significant changes at all these schools. We may not agree with the schools the government has targeted for change, but we need to put that behind us and focus on what we can control now.

    Our current reality is that we have four schools on this list. These schools have to make major changes and we need to work as a community to determine what changes are best and how we implement them. Specifically, we must consider:

    • The merits of the different reform methods the state and federal government has prescribed.
    • Whether we will apply for School Improvement Grant (SIG) money to fund reform.
    • What reforms we will list in the application and then pursue at each school site.

    The Process
    At each of the schools in question, the principal, with support from central office, will lead a community engagement process where families and staff evaluate the various reform options and submit a report to the Superintendent.  The report will assess the needs of the school community and weigh each of the reform strategies, stating the pros and cons of the four possible models:

    • Turnaround Model: Replace Principal and at least 50% of the staff and adopt new governance and revised instructional program
    • Restart Model: Close the school and restart under a charter school operator
    • Close/Consolidate Model: Closing the school and enrolling students in other, higher performing school
    • Transformation Model:
                    Develop teacher and leader effectiveness
                    Instructional programs using student data
                    Extend learning time and create community-oriented schools
                    Provide intensive support and operating flexibility
                    Replace principal (if in position for two years or more)

    The report listing the benefits and disadvantages of each model must be delivered to the Superintendent’s Office by 5:00 PM on Wednesday, April 14.  The Superintendent will take the next two weeks to review the reports with staff while continuing the engagement process with each school.  Staff recommendations will be presented to the Oakland Board of Education at the end of April and the Board will hold three public hearings on the reform measures—one at the Calvin Simmons campus (United for Success), another at the Elmhurst campus (Alliance and Elmhurst) and one at the Havenscourt campus (Roots).

    The Board of Directors will make the final decision about whether OUSD is applying for School Improvement Grants and what reform model will be included in the application. The application must be submitted by the June 10 deadline. The Board will only arrive at its decision after significant engagement with the community.

    This is a process that will be heavily informed by parents and we are counting on your input to guide us in doing what’s best for your children.  We know this is a difficult experience, but we ask that you view this moment as not strictly a time of crisis, but one of opportunity as well.  The chance is there to get more support and more funding to extend and improve upon the reforms that have already produced substantial progress at these schools. We would be remiss if we let this opportunity pass because of bitterness over the process. Our primary focus should be on using the tools presented to us to achieve better result for our students.  With your help, we can turn this trying time to our advantage and move closer to a district which provides a high-quality education for every student and equitable outcomes for all.
Last Modified on March 24, 2010