Nov. 15, 2012
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
At least for now, it does not appear as though new charter schools will be coming to Ojai.
Tuesday night, the Ojai Unified School District Board voted unanimously to deny petitions to add two new charter schools to its public school offerings.
The board and district administrators ultimately found that the two schools — dubbed SelfDesign Youth Entrepreneurs Soar Learning Community (Y.E.S.) and SelfDesign Learning Community at Central California (LCCC) — presented an unsound educational program for District students.
“We are saddened that children in Ojai and the surrounding communities might be denied the opportunity to succeed in the innovative SelfDesign model of learning,” explained Ojai parent and SelfDesign charter school petitioner Caprice Pitcher.
“’Unsound’ — it’s shocking to say that about this program,” said Susanne Coie, development service manager with the Charts Schools Development Center. Coie has advised Pitcher through the petition process. “SelfDesign obtains its impressive academic results through a process rather than a set curriculum,” Coie continued, “and that proved to be too wide a gap for those whose knowledge centers on traditional classroom methods.”
The Ojai model of SelfDesign is based on an established program in British Columbia, Canada, which, according to Pitcher and Coie, has a solid track record of success. “Yes, SelfDesign is outside of the box of traditional schooling,” Pitcher noted, “yet our stellar results in other locations and 30-year track record demonstrate the validity of the SelfDesign model of learning. ”
That model aims to motivate children to become life-long learners through student-motivated and project-based learning, rather than a set curriculum — “leading with interests,” as SelfDesign documents phrase it.
But a lack of distinct curriculum was worrisome to the OUSD Board and administrators. Despite inches-thick binders of documents, dozens of emails and phone conversations and multiple public meetings, the Board still felt uncertain that the SelfDesign programs were sound.
“There are some elements of the programs that are very exciting,” acknowledged OUSD Superintendent Hank Bangser. However, because charter schools are funded by tax dollars, they must be able to prove that they have systems through which all children have the opportunity to succeed — including such subgroups as special education students and English language learners.
“If someone said to me, ‘Well OUSD doesn’t work for every student,’ I would say ‘You’re absolutely correct!’ And even if your school has API (standardized test) scores of 940, that is still not working for every student,” Bangser said. “But the fact remains that (in the OUSD) there are systems in place to provide opportunity for every student to succeed — it doesn’t mean they will, it just means the system’s in place … they (the SelfDesign petitioners) believe they have those systems. We just do not.”
There were many other board concerns, as well.
“I think a project-based program could be great,” said Board member Linda Taylor, “but I don’t think this is it. I don’t think they (the SelfDesign petitioners) realize just how much work this really is … (To have) one teacher with 25 kids doing project-based learning, I don’t think that’s realistic.” Later, Taylor added, “I felt strongly that the amount of work each teacher would be asked to do was not possible, considering the nature of project-based learning.”
Board member Kathi Smith said Tuesday she felt frustrated with the programs. “I feel that my questions are answerable,” she stated. “I asked, ‘How do they learn to read?’ I’ve never gotten an answer to that … I’ve heard ‘Trust me,’ and ‘We have a proven track record,’ but I’m looking for pedagogy (the science of education) … at this time it sounds like chaos to me, and chaos is unsound.”
Board member Rikki Horne reminded those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting for whom the Board is working. “We’re accountable to the community, to students, to parents.”
Board member Thayne Whipple echoed Horne’s concerns. “As trustees of public education in the Ojai Valley we have a responsibility to do what we feel is in the best interest of our schools, our community, and is consistent with the legal requirements of the State of California.”
Pauline Mercado, current board president, added, “I was really optimistic when I first read the petition … but there’s certain standards that we have to follow … I welcome innovation but I didn’t see the level of soundness that needs to be present in this.”
While the Board was unanimous in its doubt, several locals spoke Tuesday in support of the SelfDesign method.
“We’re not advocating for a change, we’re advocating for choice,” said Matt Pitcher, a parent and Caprice’s husband.
Shane Rilling, a father and tutor, said, “A lot of the reason why I have a job is that students aren’t interested, or (the system) doesn’t work for them. But we’re always able to make progress really quickly when you start looking at the whole student.”
Pitcher and Coie said they would be moving forward and plan to file an appeal of the OUSD’s decision with the Ventura County Board of Education (VCBE). Should VCBE overturn the decision, it would become the governing body of the SelfDesign programs, not OUSD. However, if VCBE denies the appeal, Pitcher could take the petition to the California State Board of Education; if the state approves it, then OUSD would be the oversight agency, Coie said.
Nov. 15, 2012