Every five years, Oakland charters come before the school board to defend their record and ask for board approval to continue operating. This week one of the four up for renewal, Epic Middle School located in the city's Fruitvale neighborhood, received a rare "no" vote, in what may signal a tougher approach to charters as the district responds to state pressures to close and consolidate district schools to economize.
Parents, teachers and students who came to support their charter renewal Wednesday night heard the Board of Education of the Oakland Unified School District drill down on how well their schools are doing with issues such as chronic absenteeism, teacher turnover and the number of special education students served, among other data points. Grounds to deny a charter include determining it is underperforming comparison schools serving a similar student body.
Education for Change CEO Hae-Sin Kim Thomas said Epic will appeal the board's non-renewal decision to officials at the Alameda County Board of Education. Should it be denied there, it can appeal to the state board.
"We had some stumbles with the school, but in the last year and half we have outperformed comparison schools," said Thomas, who oversees a seven-school charter network. "We have chosen not to renew a charter when we recognize it's not working. This is not the case with Epic. We are making progress. We just need more time."
Many believe the state's 26-year-old charter law is out of date. Outgoing state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson has appointed an action committee to recommend updates to the newly elected state superintendent. As of Friday, Marshall Tuck, backed by charter supporters, had a slim lead over Tony Thurmond, backed by teachers unions, with ballots still being counted. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, also elected with the support of teachers unions, may bring a different approach toward charters.