Charter school renewed — with conditions

NEWS-LEDGER — FEB 29, 2012 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

West Sacramento’s school board on Thursday gave a temporary reprieve to the Early College Prep Charter School (WSECP) on Fallbrook Street.

A state association of charter schools had recommended it be closed for poor student testing performance. But the board – in front of a packed crowd at city hall – voted 3-1 to give the school a bit more time to bring up test scores to avoid closure.

The school of education at UC Davis and the Los Rios Community College system are partners in managing the school.

  “Our key goals in this partnership are to help keep kids in school while engaged in learning,” commented Harold Levine, Dean of the UCD School of Education, at the board meeting.

He admitted that results showing up on the API test scores “have not been satisfactory” overall – but pointed to the students’ 83-point improvement in the most recent round of testing.

While “one year or two years do not confirm a trend,” argued Levine, the campus deserves more time to see if it’s on the right path.

Others – including WSECP students, backed up by dozens of other students sitting and standing in the crowded board chamber wearing school colors – joined Levine in asking for a renewal of the school’s charter.

Student Monica Perez said she and her fellows want to keep the school open, telling the board “we refuse to be mere observers.”

Mary Briggs, a Ph.D. student at UC Davis, pointed to the school’s “essentially nonexistent dropout rate” as another way of measuring its success.

The district had proposed a deal for extending the school’s charter.

Under this draft memorandum of understanding, or “MOU,” the charter school would get its charter renewed. But it would also have to improve its API test scores by an average of 20 points per year for the next two years, or it would be obliged to “amicably” close itself down. Under this MOU, the campus would only be open for certain for the rest of this school year and two more.

Superintendent Dayton Gilleland told the board that WSECP had made a counterproposal that was slightly more lenient: the WSECP plan promised to improve API test results this year by 12 points, and then by 20 points per year for the next two years. Under the campus’s proposal, failure to meet these three-year goals wouldn’t cause an automatic shutdown, but a “full review.”

SANDRA VARGAS, member of the WUSD board of trustees (News-Ledger file photo)

Washington Unified School District board member Sandra Vargas led off comments from the board, supporting Superintendent Dayton Gilleland’s “compromise” proposal.

The school was formed “to provide options for the community,” she said, adding that “I believed in it (when the school was created), I believe in it now, and I think this is a great compromise.”

Board member Dave Westin followed, arguing against WSECP’s more lenient version of the MOU and test score requirements.

“As far as I’m concerned, you could have a thousand people in this room, and I’m still going to vote my conscience,” he said. “When this (school) was approved, the district was completely in a different state – we were underperforming, with turnover. That has turned around and if this school is closed, I’m perfectly comfortable that your kids are going to get a good education (elsewhere) in the district.”

DAVE WESTIN, school board member (News-Ledger file photo)

He said the charter school should meet the same test standards as the rest of the district, and said he would only vote in favor of the original, stricter MOU.

Fellow trustee Adam Menke took issue with the campus’s homework policy.

“One thing that concerns me,” said Menke, “is that people talked about the lack of homework, and that was a positive. That was one of the reasons they liked the school.”


“Homework will give you the basis to do well in class, but also to get ready to go to college. Kids need to do some homework,” said Menke.

Board president Teresa Blackmer joined Westin in supporting a tight leash:

“I would tend to agree with Mr. Westin’s comments,” said Blackmer. “I feel very strongly we’ve held all our schools responsible for meeting our standards. . . Whatever we expect from our schools would be the same thing we expect from any charter school.”

Trustee ADAM MENKE voted against the charter renewal (file photo/courtesy of Adam Menke)

The board ended up approving the charter renewal, using the stricter agreement requiring the school two hit two-year API goals or else “amicably” shut down. Blackmer, Westin and Vargas voted in favor of this renewal; Menke voted against, and trustee Mary Leland was not present.

The approved MOU is set to go back to the charter school’s governing board for consideration in about two weeks.

WSECP targets lower-income students who may come from non-English speaking families and who plan to be the first in their families to attend college. It has about 175 students, currently serving grades 6-11, but expanding to include 12th grade next year.

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