Charter schools score approvals in recent board decisions
Mike Szymanski | January 16, 2017
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Charter schools were mostly approved on consent agendas at the LA Unified school board over the past two meetings. Some charters that were rejected by LA Unified ended up being approved on appeal by the county.
In one case this month — as has happened in the past — a school recommended for denial by the district staff ended up being approved by the board, but the school was asked to meet specific benchmarks that will be set by Superintendent Michelle King.
Five charter schools were denied approval in emotional meetings last year at the district. Three of them, Magnolia Science Academy 1 in Reseda, Magnolia Science Academy 2 in Van Nuys and Magnolia Science Academy 3 in Carson, were approved by the Los Angeles County Office of Education in December after being turned down for renewal at LA Unified in October. That means the county will oversee the schools, and in five years, the schools must come back to LA Unified for approval.
Two other charters that were also turned down by LA Unified in that meeting are run by Celerity Schools. Celerity appealed to the county board of education, which did not act within 60 days, allowing the charter group to then bring their appeal to the state Board of Education for a final hearing in order to remain open. If approved, the schools would then be under state oversite.
On Tuesday night after an hour of appeal and testimony from teachers, parents and students, the school board decided to vote against the recommendation of their own staff to deny renewal of View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter Middle School.
The school is within walking distance of school board member George McKenna’s house in South Los Angeles, and he asked fellow board members to reject the staff recommendation.
“I have no disrespect for staff or what they found, but I am asking that the board consider approval with new benchmarks because they have new leadership, a new building and have overcome a lot of challenges,” McKenna said.
Fifth-grader Hannah Lopez-Spears gave a stirring speech as one of five children in her family who have attended View Park. She said she is “Chicana and African-American, I love science, I love math and I am highly competitive.” She said, “Look at me, I am View Park. Please grant us renewal so that the village of View Park will continue to polish me so I can forever sparkle.”
Parker Hudnut, the CEO of Inner City Educational Foundation Public Schools which oversees View Park, explained the 15-year history of the school which has 439 students, 96 percent who are African-American, and one was spread over five locations. He talked about how the school overcame financial problems and recently opened a new building on what used to be a car lot.
The reasons for denial from the school included persistent low test scores and no change in their English learner population, said Charter Division chief José Cole-Gutiérrez. He said that the district usually expects the charter schools to outperform neighborhood district schools by the time their renewal comes up.
One of the concerns that board member Mónica Ratliff had about Park View is that they lacked some special education facilities and availability. Board member Scott Schmerelson pointed out that all LA Unified schools have to be available for all students, and that other schools were sued because they lacked special education needs.
School board President Steve Zimmer said he appreciated that no one said the process wasn’t fair when analyzing View Park. “As a public school we serve every child that comes through the door,” Zimmer said. “That is our role as an authorizer and as uncomfortable as it is, we are in that role and we have to hold charter providers and CMOs (charter management organizations) accountable to that. If we don’t do that, then what is our role as an authorizer?”
Zimmer said the decision wasn’t easy for him. “I’ll end by saying we have listened to you and this process does work, and the dreams and hopes and aspirations shared so powerfully also have real evidence and outcomes.”
Ultimately, the board voted to reverse the recommendations of the staff and approve View Park with benchmarks. Mónica García, Richard Vladovic and Ref Rodriguez joined McKenna in a yes vote while Ratliff, Schmerelson and Zimmer voted no.
McKenna said, “I want to thank the whole school board for their honesty and candor whether you voted yes or no. I respect all of you.”
With all the charter schools being approved, Vladovic asked for a plan to specifically help re-categorize English learners and help them at a faster rate. He pointed out that some of the schools had no changes in their long-term English learner classifications.
“I know you are aware of the challenges, but we cannot leave the English learners behind,” Vladovic said. “I am voting only with the promise that you will provide these plans.”
Other items below were approved by the entire school board and adopted by consent vote on Tuesday. However, in an unusual move, Zimmer voted to abstain on the Stella Elementary Charter Academy approval.
Approved by consent were:
* Recommending approval of Ocean Charter School Panama Street K-8 School and allowing the school to proceed with construction of a permanent facility at 12870 and 12908 Panama Street in Los Angeles with an anticipated cost of $51.6 million.
* A revision for George Ellery Hale Charter Academy to implement the Hale Gifted/High Ability Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics Magnet.
* Renewal of Ivy Bound Academy of Math, Science and Technology Charter Middle School to serve 240 students in grades 5-8 at the school located in Sherman Oaks.
* Revisions of the charter for the six Camino Nuevo School to add Pueblo Nuevo Education and Development Group as its sole statutory member.
* Revision for Renaissance Arts Academy to merge with Renaissance Arts Academy K-12 and increase enrollment to 650 students.
* Approved Stella Elementary Charter Academy to serve up to 115 students in grades TK-K in the first year of their proposed TK-4 charter school to be located in downtown Los Angeles.
At next month’s meeting, there are renewal requests for Montague Charter Academy for 994 students, TK to 5th grades in Pacoima; Puente Charter School for 70 students in Boyle Heights, and Watts Learning Center for 400 students.