WCCUSD confirms decision not to renew Manzanita Middle’s 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)

By Don Gosney

When the WCCUSD Board of Education met on for a Special Called meeting on Tuesday, April 28, there was a misunderstanding by almost all of the 60 public speakers and even some members of the Board.

This meeting was not to revisit the issue of Manzanita Charter School’s petition to renew their charter for five more years. That decision and vote was made at their meeting of April 22.

Tuesday’s meeting was to accept or reject the Adoption of Findings of Fact Regarding the Renewal—a legal prerequisite before the vote met the standard requirement. The Board voted 4-1 to accept, with Trustees Tom Panas, Stephanie Hernandez-Jarvis, and Valerie Cuevas voting yay, and Consuelo Lara voting nay. The vote confirms the decision to not renew the school’s charter.

Trustee Consuelo Lara and Student Trustee Dawit Vasquez-Suomala both argued to keep Manzanita Charter open. They spoke at length about the future of the students and wanted special considerations given to them based on the fact that they are predominantly Latino/Hispanic and close to 75 percent of the students being on the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. [Manzanita Charter’s student demographics are 88.2 percent Hispanic/Latino compared to 52 percent for the WCCUSD.]

The issue under consideration, though, was whether the information included in the Findings of Fact were accurate and true.

According to the Findings as prepared by District Staff, “The Education Code provides that, when considering a petition for renewal, the authority that granted the charter “shall consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups of pupils served by the charter school as the most important factor in determining whether to grant a charter renewal.” (Ed. Code, § 47607(a)(3)(A).) In addition, as a prerequisite to the renewal process, a charter school must satisfy at least one of the academic performance criteria set forth in Education Code 47607, subdivision (b) or 52052, subdivision (f).

Based on evaluation of data provided in the Renewal Petition and the Staff Report, as well as review of the Charter School’s performance on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (“CAASPP”), the Board has concluded that the Charter School has not met at least one of the minimum academic performance criteria set forth in Education Code sections 47607(b)(4) and 52052(f), which by itself, is sufficient basis for denial of the Renewal Petition. In addition, review of increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups of pupils served by the Charter School, when weighed against all other factors, merits denial of Manzanita’s charter renewal. Finally, the Charter School is demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the Renewal Petition. (Ed. Code, § 47605(b)(2).)”

As with any school, academic standards must be met and the Board determined that Manzanita Charter failed to meet the standards of the District—in particular, that when compared to the six other middle schools in the WCCUSD the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) their results were subpar.

Trustee Lara argued that standardized tests should not be used to determine a student’s performance and further argued that the student as a whole must be evaluated.

A more detailed explanation of the issue can be found in the supporting documents of Item E.4 of the April 22nd WCCUSD Agenda Packet (Staff Report). The Statement of Facts can be found here.

Manzanita Charter has the option to appeal this decision to the Contra Costa Board of Education and, if that fails, they can appeal to the State Board of Education.  With both of these appeals, the process is slow.  At the County Board, they most likely would not be able to address the appeal until the middle of June.  If they then appealed it to the State Board of Education, it most likely would not be heard until October or November.

Standard Reporter Mike Kinney contributed the following:

Post-decision comments by the WCCUSD board members:

Phillips: “Although closing a school is never easy, I think it was the right decision. Manzanita has consistently performed below the district average in English Language Arts and Mathematics.”

Panas: “In my role as a school district trustee I need to be weighing educational outcomes, student experiences, and parental input as I work to make the most informed and balanced decision that I can. We are all in a period of great uncertainty and I didn’t go into this with the desire of adding to anyone’s burden with my decision on the Manzanita renewal. The staff at the school is working very hard and I am acutely aware of the feelings of all the people who spoke, but my expectation is that we have a great educational outcome for every student and every subgroup that we review. When I look at pages four, five, and six of the staff report I don’t see the numbers I hoped to see or even numbers that support renewal of the charter.”

Lara: “I am just heartbroken four school board members voted to close this school. This was all so unfair to the students. As I stated, this little school has the most children from families that are economically suffering as any in the district, many are English Learners, and some have special needs. This is a nurturing environment where students feel safe because it has a governing board of parents elected by parents. They have created a family. I saw each board member take a number from a chart or a graph and compare the school to the most-high performing schools in the district, then say this school is failing. But when compared to their surrounding schools which where the students live, they score pretty much the same as Dejean and Helms. It was a false and manipulated comparison. I am so confused as to the real motivation for their votes. It is so hypocritical to say you want parent engagement and close a school governed by parents. It is hypocritical to say you understand poverty because you experienced it and then close a school with the most children of poverty. But really, our children are not numbers, or data, they are little human beings that need our help to grow into fine, healthy, educated adults who are all unique individuals. I think what those board members did was just heartless and cruel. I only hope the students have the support they need to deal with this added trauma. I am very worried about how they will handle this.”