By Jeff Weber
Yesterday, [Wednesday, July 30, 2014] teachers from Antioch’s Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) filed an appeal to the California State Board of Education following the denial of their petition to convert their school to an independent public charter school last May by the Contra Costa County Board of Education. The 351-page appeal rebuts each point made in the county board’s report for denial, and highlights significant improvements that will be made possible for Dozier-Libbey students when the school is under independent community governance.
Although Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Superintendent Donald Gill publicly stated his desire to find “common ground” with the Dozier-Libbey community following the county decision, teachers involved in the discussions with AUSD leadership in June found his intentions to be insincere. Teachers cited several factors that doomed any meaningful agreement with AUSD that would benefit Dozier-Libbey students:
-Parents, community members, and many DLMHS faculty and staff were not invited to the negotiations;
-AUSD removed faculty and parents from the planning process for the 2014-15 school year, in violation of normal Ed Code practice;
-AUSD replaced the principal of DLMHS without justifiable cause or input from the school community;
-AUSD leadership stated their refusal to begin planning for the 2014-15 Dozier-Libbey school year until teachers signed an agreement to abandon their charter appeal (the teachers refused);
-AUSD consistently used existing successful student programs as bargaining chips to try to force teachers to abandon their charter appeal;
-Strong recommendations were provided by legal counsel to reject AUSD’s final “take-it-or-leave-it” offer.
In general, an overwhelming number of Dozier-Libbey teachers and parents expressed a lack of confidence in AUSD leadership, and fundamental disagreement with AUSD priorities.
The removal of Nancie Castro as an AUSD administrator provided the clearest indication of the district’s insincerity in promoting improved academic success in its schools. Ms. Castro has served as the principal of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School since its inception, and has earned the school numerous honors and national recognition. She has been arguably Antioch’s most successful administrator by any measure. Yet the AUSD school board opted to not only remove Ms. Castro from her Dozier-Libbey position, but bar her from holding any administrative position in the district.
Ms. Castro was also instructed by district leadership not to engage in any course planning for the 2014-15 year, with those responsibilities ostensibly relegated to newly assigned principal Scott Bergerhouse. However, many teachers are only now learning of their teaching assignments that will begin in less than two weeks. Certain critical courses such as the scaffolded “Medical Math” have been eliminated due to planning failures, leaving concerns that next year’s students will suffer from a loss of targeted interventions, particularly in math skills.
Many observers suspect that the Contra Costa County Board of Education was swayed by AUSD threats of litigation rather than any meaningful evidence that the charter would fail to provide a sound educational program for its students. The State Board of Education is expected to review the petition in line with California law, and therefore approve the charter based on its merits and proven potential for providing a successful alternative public educational program for Antioch students.
Public consideration of Dozier-Libbey’s future governance began last February when the vast majority of the school’s faculty signed a petition filed with AUSD, in accordance with the charter schools section of the California Education Code, to convert their school to a public charter. According to the petition, the school would be managed by its own governing board made up of parents and community members, independent of AUSD’s board of trustees. The teachers’ 121-page petition presented a strong case for significantly improving academic programs and fiscal management at this respected pathway school, however AUSD subsequently denied the petition and pressured the county board of education through threat of litigation to likewise deny the first appeal. AUSD leadership attempted to thwart the teachers’ petition early on by filing its own petition to convert DLMHS to a “dependent” charter school, however this effort has been twice blocked by the California Superior Court. Teachers are now exercising their right to appeal their own charter conversion to the state board. The appeal is expected to be reviewed in the late fall.
Weber is a teacher at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School.