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Oakland defends schools on low-achieving list

March 24, 2010 1:06:39 PM PDT
Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith today harshly criticized the way the California Department of Education compiled its list of "persistently lowest-achieving" schools.

Speaking to about 150 community members at a town hall meeting at Elmhurst Community Prep, a middle school in East Oakland that was included on the list, Smith said, "I do not like the way this formula was established."

"We have to stand together and say this is unacceptable and unjust," he said.

State and federal laws associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the School Improvement Grant program require the state to identify the its low-achieving schools and for the bottom 5 percent to implement one of four intervention models.

The options are closing the school; transforming it through dramatic changes such as replacing the principal and increasing instructional time; replacing the principal and at least half of the staff; or reorganizing the campus as a charter school.

According to the California Department of Education, schools wind up on the list if they have posted low scores on reading and math tests in the past three years and have shown little improvement.

Oakland has five schools on the list, all middle schools. In addition to Elmhurst, they are the Alliance Academy, Explore Middle School, ROOTS International and United for Success Academy.

Smith said "not one of these five schools has lost ground" and that they don't deserve to be on the list.

He recommended late last year that Explore be closed at the end of the current school year because of a combination of low enrollment and poor test scores, but he said he will fight to keep the other four schools open.

Teachers, parents and community members who came to the town hall meeting said they're also upset with the state's process for determining which schools were placed on the low achievement list.

Smith said that at each of the four schools he wants to save, the principal, with support from the school district, will facilitate a community engagement process where families and staff evaluate the options. The principals will submit reports back to him by April 14.

He said he will review the reports and then the school board will hold public hearings on the proposed reforms.

Smith said the school board will decide in June whether to apply for School Improvement Grants and which reform model is best for each school.

He said that if the school board decides not to apply for School Improvement Grants, the district would have the option of applying for other federal funds.


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