Charter Schools Play Pivotal Role in Town

 

In his recent commentary (“Corrections to Myths about Charter Schools,” March 24) Mark Irons completely missed the point of Patti Wilczek’s original commentary, (“Dispelling Charter School Myths,” March 17) in which she extolled the virtues of Alameda’s wide range of public school choices. 

The more successful charter schools become, the more school districts (and their surrogates) seek to disparage them and shut them down. In Alameda, this mindset denies the pivotal role charter schools have played in our community’s educational landscape. As parents, we should all advocate for and support the highest quality public education for our children, both at public charters and district schools.

My family moved here in 2010 from a traditional school district in Southern California. We expected to enroll our children in Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) schools and visited every potential option. But after experiencing Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) and Nea, our whole family was inspired by the innovation and creativity exuded by the learners and staff, and our kids happily found their new educational home. This doesn’t mean these schools are the right choice for every child, but the more choice the better!

Community Learning Center Schools (CLC Schools) have been the leaders in educational innovation and efficiency in Alameda for the past 20 years. ACLC and its sister school, Nea, are key reasons that AUSD has started offering the art integration, STEM/STEAM programs and project-based learning that Irons touts in his conclusion. It’s ironic for him to claim “these choices exist within the AUSD schools without any need for charters at all” when the innovations he cites are flattering imitations of the educational approach CLC Schools have implemented for two decades. Clearly, competition is good in education because it raises the bar for all — and Alameda’s kids are the beneficiaries.

I should also set the record straight on some of the other claims. Irons states that twice-yearly audits of public charters by AUSD are not enough oversight of taxpayer dollars, while AUSD is only audited once annually. 

Perhaps that’s why many in the community were shocked in 2013 when AUSD signed a six-year lease for spacious new offices at a cost of $552,000 per year, $83,000 in moving expenses, and another $170,000 for data and power improvements. This occurred at a time when there was a desperate need for improved facilities to house students and teachers. 

Regarding management efficiencies, AUSD employs 85 district administrators. With a student population of about 10,000, that’s one administrator per 118 students. CLC Schools serve about 900 students with an administrative staff of just 4.5. That’s one administrator per 200 students — almost double the efficiency. 

Irons argues that charters “chase after certain students,” which is patently false. As public charters, ACLC and Nea welcome all applicants. Located on the West side of Alameda (adjacent to the Boys & Girls Club), these schools serve a high proportion of west-siders. Recruitment postcards are mailed to ALL Alameda households in zip codes 94501 and 94502. Family Information Sessions and School Tours are open with no reservations required. The admissions lottery for limited seats is run “blind” by computer and overseen by the AUSD Student Services Supervisor. The schools advertise in both local papers, and online promotions are done in English, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic. There’s no cherry-picking, period.

The differences in the socio-economic profile of students at AUSD schools and CLC Schools is the result of who chooses to take advantage of attending them. ACLC and Nea are often examples of increased educational bang for the buck, even when demographics are considered. In the recent round of Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) state testing, ACLC’s high school test results in English Language Arts topped Alameda High by 15 points, and also exceeded it in math. In middle school test results, ACLC was neck-and-neck with Lincoln Middle School, AUSD’s top performer. And these schools have virtually identical demographics.

The only reason to denigrate charter schools is if you feel threatened by them. And there’s simply no reason to be threatened when variety, innovation and educational excellence benefit every student. Personally, I am thrilled with the way my own children have thrived in Alameda charter schools, but I’m also pleased to see AUSD evolving, thanks to charter competition. 

 

Robert Cassard served three years as a board member of Community Learning Center Schools. His son is an ACLC graduate, now a junior at Cal Poly SLO, and his daughter is a junior at ACLC.