WCCUSD to hold meeting on fate of Manzanita Middle School Charter

WCCUSD confirms decision not to renew Manzanita Middle's charter
Manzanita Charter School is located at St. Luke's Methodist Church 461 33rd St. (Photo credit: Mike Kinney)

The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) is set to hold a special hearing tonight on the fate of Manzanita Middle School in Richmond.

On Wednesday, April 22, the WCCUSD Board of Education voted 4-1 to deny renewal of the charter petition for the 20-year-old school leasing space at St. Luke’s Methodist Church at 461 33rd St. The school serves 125 students from largely socio-economically disadvantaged families.

The Board’s decision to deny Manzanita’s renewal threatens to halt district funding to the school and result in its closure. It was made despite the recommendation by WCCUSD staff to renew the petition for a fourth time since the school opened in 2000.

But members of the District Board said the school isn’t performing well enough academically to justify a renewal.

“What I’ve been told in renewals is that we are supposed to look at academics, and you guys appear to be trailing the district in English language arts and mathematics,” Board member Mister Phillips said during the April 1 meeting on the issue.

In both English language arts and math scores, Manzanita ranks behind four non-charter middle schools in the district, but performs better than nearby DeJean Middle and Helms Middle.

The academic results don’t tell the whole story, according to WCCUSD staff and Manzanita Principal Chantel Caldwell. The data showed improvement in student scores from sixth through eighth grades, they said.

“My current group of sixth graders, over 50 percent of them didn’t even qualify to be at third grade level for math,” Caldwell said. “We have to start from where they are.”

Caldwell described the school as family-centered with a safe, secure and inclusive environment. Parents are elected by parents to serve on the school’s board, and the school’s admissions process was described as open and welcoming.

Consuela Lara, the only WCCUSD Board member to vote in favor of renewing Manzanita’s charter, lauded the school’s family-centered strategy.

“They have a strong commitment to provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment,” Lara said, noting in an Op-Ed in the Standard that the school became a California Distinguished School in 2005, a California Certified Charter School in 2007, and was voted Best Public Charter School in Contra Costa County in 2012.

Board Member Val Cuevas, who voted against renewal, said she’s “come to the point” that she doesn’t want any more charter schools in the district, noting that 75 percent of Manzanita’s students would otherwise be attending DeJean. Phillips added that Manzanita’s students could also attend the higher-performing Crespi.

At tonight’s meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m., the WCCUSD Board will have another public hearing on the matter. The District is set to adopt a legally required “findings of facts” behind the decision to deny Manzanita’s renewal.

Lara is calling upon families and supporters of the school to call or email the district with their concerns.