Antioch School Board votes to close RAAMP, Carmen Dragon teachers voice concerns
By John Crowder
The Trustees of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) voted 4-1 at their April 9th meeting to close the RAAMP Charter Academy of Math and Science (RAAMP) at the end of this school year. According to RAAMP Board Chair Cheryl Cooper, there are no plans to appeal the decision.
The mood at the meeting was more somber than on previous occasions, where teaching staff, supporters, and parents of students at RAAMP had made impassioned pleas to keep the school open.
Karla Branch, one of the founders and the Executive Director of the school, spoke briefly prior to the vote being taken. Seemingly resigned to their fate, she nonetheless extolled the virtues of the program that she had worked to develop.
“The disenfranchised student population needs something different,” she said. “That is what RAAMP has always been about. I am for disenfranchised students. I know what they need, and I know RAAMP gave it to them.”
Branch, expressed her appreciation for the AUSD Board, the administration and, in particular, Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Anello, for their support and the opportunity they had given her to begin the school five years ago.
“I will walk away knowing RAAMP did amazing things…for a lot of people,” she concluded.
Following public comments, each member of the board spoke briefly about the decision they were about to make. While most expressed appreciation for the work Branch had done and for her passionate advocacy of the RAAMP program, nonetheless had determined that the data, specifically low academic performance scores, supported its closure. Trustee Gary Hack, who ended up casting the lone vote not to close the school, expressed how conflicted he was over the issue.
Dr. Don Gill, AUSD Superintendent, promised to work to assist those students displaced by the move, and emphasized the district’s African American Male Initiative as an avenue to help in the transition.
In another matter, teachers continued to voice their concerns with the level of violence in the Antioch schools. The situation at Dallas Ranch Middle School was brought up, as it has been for the past few months. Specific incidents were referenced, including a student having her hair caught on fire and a student being kicked in the face during another incident at the school.
Adding to the complaints regarding Antioch middle schools, for the first time in recent months, teachers from an elementary school, Carmen Dragon, came forward as a group to voice similar concerns regarding unruly students.
Patti Baggett, a fourth grade teacher at the school, read a statement outlining the problems while backed up by several teachers standing at the podium with her, and about a half-dozen more in the audience.
“I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues at Carmen Dragon Elementary and throughout the entire district,” she stated. “We have become increasingly fearful for our students’ safety and our own ability to successfully provide for a positive learning environment…We are extremely concerned for our own personal safety…”
She went on to characterize a “lack of clearly defined district policies” as a major factor that “has led to many students becoming empowered with a rebellious attitude which endangers everyone in our district community.”
Baggett then referred to a specific incident in which she claimed that a student had “pushed a well-respected, experienced substitute teacher, then went straight to the office and reported that she had pushed him.”
“These bullies, whose actions remain unchecked by your ineffective behavior policy, are stealing the rights of the majority of our Antioch youth to learn and be safe in our classrooms,” she added.
In other education news, teachers and supporters of the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School independent charter petition attended the Contra Costa County Board of Education meeting where several spoke in support of the teachers’ petition. That board is expected to take up the matter in early May.
Future meetings of the AUSD Board are scheduled for May 14th and May 28th and are held at the AUSD office at 510 G Street.