Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Antioch School Board gives Rocketship charter school countdown to blast off

Friday, December 9th, 2016
Supporters of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch line up to speak at Wednesday night's special school board meeting, as other supporters in purple shirts and opponents in yellow shirts listen.

Supporters of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch line up to speak at Wednesday night’s special school board meeting, as other supporters in purple shirts and opponents in yellow shirts listen. Photos by Allen Payton

By Dave Roberts

The Antioch School Board narrowly approved the Rocketship Education charter school petition Wednesday night, eliciting cheers from hundreds of Rocketship supporters packed into the Lone Tree Elementary School multipurpose room who say it will provide a better education for their children than the academically underperforming AUSD-administered schools.

The board’s 3-2 decision approving Rocketship went against the recommendation of district staff to reject the charter school on the grounds that it’s likely to fail and its petition request doesn’t meet the numerous requirements specified in the state education code.

A Rocketship student  named Beto, known as a "Rocketeer", speaks in support of the Antioch charter school.

A Rocketship student named Beto, known as a “Rocketeer”, speaks in support of the Antioch charter school.

Rocketship plans to open in 2018 with an enrollment of 386 students. That could cost AUSD’s budget at least $3.7 million based on $9,670 in lost average daily attendance revenue the district receives from the state, according to California Department of Education data. That lost revenue and the resulting teacher layoffs and/or program cuts prompted nearly half of the attendees at the meeting to oppose the charter school application.

But ultimately it was the pleas from dozens of predominantly Hispanic and African-American parents seeking a better education and future for their children that won the day.

“Tonight our community needs a school model that demonstrates cultural responsiveness and authentic community engagement,” said Dr. Lamont Francies, a former counselor in the district and pastor of Delta Bay Church of Christ where Rocketship held a community outreach meeting, last month. “Have we tonight become more interested in saving schools than the students that actually occupy them? This is not about improving teachers but about improving students. We are not questioning effort, but we are assessing outcomes. In my years of education, I’ve encountered many teachers who could not teach, but I’ve never met a student who could not learn.

“So now is the time and the place to change the narrative of the past, and put people over politics and people over paychecks. Our children are more than just ADA. Do you tonight see their future or do you see their finances? In order to change the future we must change our focus. We can no longer focus on saving jobs but saving children.

“Tonight we reject the soft bigotry of low expectations. We see low test scores, low morale, low graduation rates. And based on that assessment, I can say, ‘Houston we have problem.’ It’s time to get on a new rocket. Rockets go where others do not go. Rockets explore where others won’t. Rockets, however, must be fueled. And you tonight are that fuel. And together we can launch our students into a future full of endless possibilities.

The slogan on one of the shirts of the Antioch supporters of the Rocketship charter school.

The slogan on one of the shirts of the Antioch supporters of the Rocketship charter school.

“To echo our First Lady, when test scores go low, our students must go high. Right now is liftoff time, it’s game time, growing time. In order to have a change, you must have a choice. When you don’t like Horizon, you change to Sprint. When you don’t like Dial, you change to Zest. Tonight, just like Celie, we choose the color purple.”

The last reference was to the purple shirts worn by Rocketship supporters that contain the slogan “We are FEARLESS in pursuit of our FUTURO!” The Rocketship opponents, who were predominantly white, wore yellow shirts with the slogan “No Rocketship.” Many of them were teachers like Sarah Nichols, who teaches 4th and 5th grade at Lone Tree.

“It’s really hard to be going through all of this on both sides,” she said. “It’s really hard to hear all of this. And it’s frustrating for me as a teacher. I would hope that the money that would be pulled away from our school to support this charter would rather be put into our schools to make them better, maybe our special education department. As the 600-plus students are pulled from our schools to fill this charter, the more than 20 great newer credentialed teachers that will become unemployed in our district would appreciate you saying no to it too.

A shirt worn by an opponent of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch.

A shirt worn by an opponent of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch.

“We are greatly concerned about scheduling for elementary children [at Rocketship]. Children need to learn non-cognitive skills, social skills, life skills, problem-solving skills through cooperative work and play. There doesn’t seem to be much time if any for socialization skills, play time etc. according to the schedule on the AUSD website for this charter.

“This program doesn’t seem conducive to the educational and emotional development of the child. The schedule is dense and instruction taught continuously with one break at lunch. I believe this will lead to a high level of stress for students. The day is way too long for teacher and students, especially kindergarten students.”

Cheye Calvo, chief growth and community engagement officer for Rocketship, acknowledged that Rocketship schools have longer days than public schools, but he said there’s plenty of time for social and emotional engagement, beginning with a community meeting, songs and dance in the morning. “We find our families engage in a way that is joyful and playful,” he said. “It’s not just sitting. There’s time to be quiet and learn, and a time to be joyful and play.”

The board majority agreed with the Rocketship supporters that low-income minority children deserve the same chance at a quality education as wealthier whites who can afford to send their children to alternative schools.

“The [Antioch] chief of police [Allan Cantando] and the newly elected mayor of Antioch [Sean Wright] both send their children to charter schools,” said board member Walter Ruehlig. “Charters are a great equalizer for those who can’t afford $15,000-$20,000 to send their kids to De La Salle. I wouldn’t want to have to think you have to be chief of police or a mayor or white or middle class or privileged to have that free choice…. After 48 years of public service I’m not going to now turn my back and my ideals and deny a chronically underserved minority population a free choice and the right for their precious children to have a decent and competitive future.”

The slogan on the shirt of a supporter from Concord of Rocketship whose child attends Rocketship's Futuro school, there.

The slogan on the shirt of a supporter from Concord of Rocketship whose child attends Rocketship’s Futuro school, there.

Ruehlig noted that Rocketship students perform much better academically than AUSD students on average. “Our superintendent is committed to a goal, which we haven’t had in years, a goal of improving 5 percent a year. That would take us eight years if we achieve, if we achieve that goal – we’ve been in stagnation, we’ve been spinning wheels – it would take us eight years to get to where Rocketship is today.”

In agreement was Fernando Navarro, who was attending his last meeting as a trustee, having failed to win election in November. He’s impressed with what he saw during a visit to a Rocketship school as well as the better test scores by Rocketship students.

“I observed the enthusiastic parents, the smiles of the children. [Tonight] I observed those who spoke in favor and those who opposed Rocketship. In favor were parents seeking a better education for their children, parents seeking the fulfillment of the American dream. Who opposed the charter? Those seeking to protect the status quo and willing to take the position of intimidation of anyone who dared to stand up against a system that has failed our children.

“The bottom line is we are the temporary guardians of the children in our schools. The children belong to the parents. The money belongs to the children. Where the children go, the children should have their money. My vote tonight is going to be with the children and the parents in the district. They are already leaving AUSD in record numbers in search of something better. Now with Rocketship we can have something better in Antioch.

“I don’t see division. I see an opportunity. They won’t build their schools for another two years. This gives us as a district an opportunity to get our act together. Let’s compete. One school will not dismantle our whole district. Competition is healthy. It’s the American way. I’ll stand for the rights of Americans to let their kids get the education they deserve every day of the week.”

Board member Debra Vinson said she also has the best interests of the children in mind by voting against the Rocketship application. She’s concerned about “the obvious friction that would come from having a charter school in AUSD also trying to maintain some degree of solvency.” Other concerns include charter schools having less experienced teachers, an insufficient number of low-income white and African-American students, a wait list to get in and insufficient special education programs.

Also casting a no vote was board President Diane Gibson-Gray, who agreed with the staff findings that the charter petition had not met all of the state requirements.

Trustee Alonzo Terry chose to stand while making his arguments in favor of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch during an impassioned speech.

Trustee Alonzo Terry chose to stand while making his arguments in favor of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch during an impassioned speech.

But Alonzo Terry, who like Navarro was attending his last meeting as a trustee having failed to win election in November, cast the deciding vote. He, like Navarro and Ruehlig, visited a Rocketship school. “I was so impressed, I was on my knees,” said Terry. “I wish we could instill what you have and Antioch charter has and do it here [in district-run schools]. We have some of the greatest teachers. Every school is not bad. We get caught up in red tape. Our children are not commodities. They are human reality.”

Ruehlig, Navarro and Terry all expressed concern that the district administration had stacked the deck against Rocketship’s application. Terry challenged the negativity of one of the district’s consultants, asking if she had anything positive to say about Rocketship. Navarro asked the legal counsel how many charter applications she had reviewed and approved – the answer was “hundreds” and “many,” including a previous Rocketship application.

Ruehlig was vexed that the board had only been provided 48 hours to review the district’s 23-page report rejecting the Rocketship application – and that the rejection seemed to be a foregone conclusion. “I’m not happy,” he said. “Why wasn’t this an opportunity for two sides to sit down to work cooperatively to improve the petition. To me the verdict was in. The final chapter of the story looks like it was written before the story even began.”

One possible surprise ending to the story concerns the question of whether the board actually had the authority to make its decision. Dylan Howell, an English teacher at Antioch High, told the board that, according to the state education code, school board terms of office expire on the first Friday in December, which was Dec. 2. Therefore, Navarro and Terry, who failed to win election, and Gibson-Gray, who did win re-election but had not yet been sworn in for another term, were not technically board members.

“There’s only two real board members here,” said Howell. “There is not a quorum. I don’t believe this vote can take place tonight.”

None of the board members addressed his challenge, as the entire Education Code Section 5017 reads “Each person elected at a regular biennial governing board member election shall hold office for a term of four years commencing on the first Friday in December next succeeding his or her election. Any member of the governing board of a school district or community college district whose term has expired shall continue to discharge the duties of the office until his or her successor has qualified. The term of the successor shall begin upon the expiration of the term of his or her predecessor.”

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Antioch church to host free, annual concert by Canadian academy’s orchestra and singers, Dec. 16

Thursday, December 8th, 2016


It’s that time of year again. While some may acknowledge this news with a smile and a Christmas song on their lips, scores of others will groan about the stress, the cold, the money, and the commercialization that the Christmas season brings. Whether you’re the person who strings Christmas lights in August, or the one who’s been dreading it since New Years, there is something for you to enjoy: a free Christmas concert performed live by the Fountainview Academy Orchestra and Singers.

Sweeping down all the way down from British Columbia, Canada this group of smiling young people is eager to help Antioch welcome the season with a dazzling Christmas repertoire of old classics and new, soon-to-be favorites. For about 15 years, Fountainview Academy has performed live concerts along the west coast as well as to a wide range of audiences, released numerous DVDs filled with uplifting music and beautiful BC scenery, and have been seen on national and international TV. Music fits neatly into the students’ lives along with work–experience training and academics. If you visit Fountainview Academy, you’re likely to hear students polishing their vocal abilities in the reverberating acoustics of the cafeteria while cleaning up the remains of a delicious vegan meal. Sometimes, you’ll even hear pre-lecture harmonies happening in the class room, or in the carrot barn as the students bag juicy, organic carrots grown on the school’s acreage.

Fountainview Academy is a private Christian high school that is dedicated to training young people to be people of character, active in service and leadership all around the world.  2017 will bring an exciting mission opportunity for these students. They have been invited to travel to the country of Mongolia to share music, work alongside their peers in helping in English classes, engage in medical mission work, and film some new music videos. During the concert you will have an opportunity to support them in continuing to bring music, service, health training, and smiles to people around the world.

Fountainview Academy is excited to share music with you and hopes to see you at our free concert being held at the Antioch SDA Church, 2200 Country Hills Dr., Antioch on Friday, December 16 at 7:00 p.m.

You won’t want to miss this evening filled with Christmas cheer as we focus on the true reason for the season. We can’t wait to see you there!

To learn more about Fountainview Academy, visit our website, and visit us on YouTube (search Fountainview Academy).

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Antioch School Board to decide Rocketship charter petition at Wednesday meeting

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Public comments allowed; district staff opposes; approval expected, eventually

By Allen Payton

The Antioch School Board will hold a special meeting, within the required time, to decide Rocketship Education’s petition to open a public charter school this Wednesday, December 7th. Although the board held and closed the public hearing on the proposed charter on November 9th, according to Superintendent Stephanie Anello, public comments will still be allowed at the meeting on Wednesday.

While AUSD has the lowest level of proficiency in both English and math among elementary students in all school districts in East County, Rocketship boasts of being able to help underachieving students in the districts they serve with their six schools in the Bay Area. They’re able to demonstrate that fact showing achievement statistics which outrank all of Antioch’s elementary schools, and many others, as well.

On Rocketship’s website, it states, “Nearly 9 of 10 Rocketeers in California were classified as ‘socioeconomically disadvantaged’ last school year.”

“In math, 49% of our disadvantaged Rocketeers met or beat the standard compared to 26% of similar students in the state and 28% in the local districts we serve.  Nearly twice as many Rocketeers are on the college and career ready path. In fact, our disadvantaged Rocketeers beat the state average in math for all students by 10 points! This is powerful proof that demographics do not define student achievement.”

In addition, their website also states, “In English Language Arts, 39% of our disadvantaged Rocketeers are on the college ready path compared to 32% of similar students in the state and 34% in local districts.”


With only 33% of Antioch students in grades K-5 proficient in English and 19% proficient in math, the private, non-profit organization’s success rate is appealing to many Antioch parents. Some spoke in favor of opening the school and wore purple shirts to show their support, during the public hearing.

Those statistics are even worse for Hispanic and African American students in Antioch elementary schools. Only 30% of Hispanic students are proficient in English and 16% are proficient in math, while only 22% of African American students are proficient in English and just 10% are proficient in math.

However, and although Rocketship pays their teachers more than AUSD does, many Antioch teachers oppose the charter school, speaking against it and wearing yellow shirts in opposition at the public hearing meeting. Although, Antioch High School teacher Sara Savacool, one of the leaders of the local teachers’ union, toured one of the Rocketship school sites with school board Trustee Alonzo Terry, she didn’t speak against the organization’s efforts to open one in Antioch at the public hearing.

If the charter school is opened, the district will lose 600 students who will transfer to the new school, continuing the decline in enrollment due to Antioch’s low performing schools, That will result in a loss of revenue from the state which is based on Average Daily Attendance of students in schools. Instead those funds will go to Rocketship to pay for their charter school operations.

The district’s staff is recommending a no vote on the petition. In the staff report, it states, “The Petition, as submitted, fails to provide a reasonably comprehensive description of several essential charter elements and suggests that the Petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program.  Accordingly, staff is recommending denial of the Petition.

The following reasons justify denial of the Petition prior to the commencement of the school’s operations: The Petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program presented in the Petition; and The Petition fails to provide a reasonably comprehensive description of all required elements of a charter Petition.”

To view the entire 23-page staff report, click here.

However, another effort by Rocketship to open a school in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, last year met with the same opposition, there, with both the school board, as well as the county school board voting no. But the petition ended up getting approved by the state Board of Education, which included the vote of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a former Antioch teacher and city councilman, who was backed for election by the state teachers’ union. He instructed his staff to help Rocketship with their petition for that charter school in order for it to be acceptable. The school is now in operation. (See article on that, here).

As a result, proponents, and at least one opponent, are making the claim that regardless of how the Antioch School Board votes Wednesday night, Rocketship will eventually get their proposed charter school approved and opened in Antioch.

This will be the last decision both appointed incumbents, Terry and Fernando Navarro, will make as school board trustees. They both lost for election, last month and their term will end at next week’s regularly scheduled meeting on December 14.

The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. and will be held off-site at Lone Tree Elementary School at 1931 Mokelumne Drive to accommodate the expected larger crowd, as attended the public hearing meeting on the petition.

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Antioch man appointed to Contra Costa Community College Board to fill the late John Nejedly’s Ward IV seat

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016
Gary Walker-Roberts in a screenshot from a video on the CCCCD website.

Gary Walker-Roberts in a screenshot from a video on the CCCCD website.

MARTINEZ, CA – At their November 29, 2016, special meeting, the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board unanimously approved the provisional appointment of Gary Walker-Roberts of Antioch to represent Ward IV.  This appointment, in accordance with California Education Code 5091, is being made due to the vacancy created by the unfortunate passing of Governing Board member John T. Nejedly last month. Ward IV includes the communities of Blackhawk, Byron, Danville, Diablo, Discovery Bay, San Ramon, and parts of Alamo, Antioch, Brentwood, Clayton, and Concord.

Walker-Roberts will be seated at the next regular Governing Board meeting on Wednesday, December 14, 2016, beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Walker-Roberts is an alum of Los Medanos College where he graduated Suma Cum Laude in 2013 with an A.A. in Behavioral Science and Social Science. Then he graduated again from LMC with an A.A. in Arts & Humanities in 2015. He served on the community college board as a student trustee this past school year, was student body president of LMC in 2014-15, student representative to the United Faculty, and was instrumental in the formation and opening of the Veterans Resource Center at LMC, earlier this year.

Walker-Roberts also graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. degree in Ethnic Studies: Gender & Sexuality from Cal State East Bay in 2015 and with a Masters degree in English from Arizona State University, this year.

His public service has included working on Antioch Councilwoman Monica Wilson’s reelection campaign, this year and as a volunteer and mentor for foster youth with Contra Costa County Children & Family Services.

With his application, Walker-Roberts submitted letters of support from both Wilson and State Assemblyman Jim Frazier.

He works in retail as a Fragrance Expert/Trainer for Louis Vuitton, USA in San Francisco and has worked in the field of skin care and cosmetics since 2005.

When reached for comment, Walker-Roberts said, “I’m looking forward to serving Ward IV from East Contra Costa County all the way around Mt. Diablo to southern Contra Costa County. I appreciate that the trustees feel I can handle the position of trustee.”

Asked what his plans are in the new position, he stated, “I want to continue to represent under-represented minority students’ needs and also continue to develop the Veterans Resource Centers throughout the district. We’re working with the Sentinels of Freedom to open one at each of the three college campuses.”

Other applicants considered for the provisional appointment were non-profit manager and educator Carl Nichols, litigation attorney Jerome Pandell and barber college owner Frank Quattro, all of Danville, and Director of the STEM-Workforce Initiative of the Contra Costa Economic Partnership, April Treece of Clayton. To see the application from and letters of support for each candidate, click here.

Unless a petition calling for a special election, containing a sufficient number of signatures, is filed in the Office of County Superintendent of Schools within 30 days of the date of the provisional appointment, the provisional appointment shall become an effective appointment until the next regularly scheduled election for Governing Board members in November 2018.

For more details on the petition process, visit the District website at

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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Holiday Boutique at Dallas Ranch Middle School, this Saturday, Dec. 3

Monday, November 28th, 2016


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Op-Ed: Pittsburg Unified fails students over anti-Trump protest

Monday, November 28th, 2016

By Fernando Navarro

On Thursday, November 10, an incident took place in Pittsburg and Antioch which illustrated a major failing of our public education system.  Hundreds of Pittsburg High School students, apparently protesting the results of the presidential election, walked out of their classes, off campus, and made their way to Antioch. During their journey, some of them committed acts of violence which resulted in three arrests…and a strain on police resources for both cities, as 23 police officers (15 from Antioch and 8 from Pittsburg) had to be called out to deal with the situation.

Statements by some officers indicated that the PHS principal, Todd Whitmire, joined students in the protest.  This has been disputed by Whitmire and Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD) Superintendent Janet Schulze, who claim Whitmire was with the protesters only to make sure they were safe.

Neither story speaks well of the PUSD leadership.  The first would indicate that PUSD administrators are actively working to incite students away from learning and discourse and toward yelling and violence.  The second would indicate that PUSD administrators have lost control of their school, and that student whims rule the day.

What we witnessed didn’t come out of nowhere, and didn’t come about because the, “election has been especially emotional,” as a statement by Schulze said.  This is the result of years of inept classroom management, which has led to a lack of respect for authority.  It comes about because, as with English and math, students don’t appear to be learning basic civics.

I recently lost my bid for election to the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Trustees.  That doesn’t mean I’ll be silent, though.  I’ll continue to advocate for the change that’s needed to turn our schools around and deliver better educational, and life-choice, outcomes for our students.  And I’ll be encouraging parents to educate themselves about school policies, and to make sure their voices are heard.  But I’ll be doing so by speaking and writing in the appropriate forums, not by disrupting traffic, disrupting classes, or by otherwise impinging on the rights of my fellow citizens.

Finally, I applaud Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando for speaking out about this incident at the PUSD School Board meeting.  I applaud AUSD Superintendent Stephanie Anello and Antioch High School Principal Louis Rocha for taking swift action to prevent similar disruptions in Antioch schools.

Now, let’s all come together to provide our students with the educations they deserve.

Navarro is a member of the Antioch Unified School District Board of Trustees.

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Antioch Rotary Club donates, delivers dictionaries to all third graders in Antioch public schools

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016
Antioch Rotarian Jeff Warrenburg delivers dictionaries to third-graders at John Muir Elementary in November.

Antioch Rotarian Jeff Warrenburg looks on as third-grade students  at John Muir Elementary read from their new dictionaries.

A vital part of the Antioch community since 1947, the Antioch Rotary Club, a non-profit service organization, has a reputation for excellence in community projects, from its free dictionaries for third-graders to providing scholarships to local high school students.  Antioch Rotarians feel that literacy is an important factor in being a successful adult.

The Antioch Rotary Club continues to help children in our local community by providing dictionaries to third-graders as one of their annual, service projects.  The mission was accomplished, recently when Rotarians from the club, personally delivered hardbound dictionaries to every third grader in the Antioch Unified School District.   Many Antioch children do not own a personal dictionary and some do not have access to one in their home.

“In Antioch, nearly 70% of our third graders receive free or reduced lunch and may not have the resources to have access to their own dictionary or the internet,” said Antioch Rotary Club President Milanka Schneiderman. “The Antioch Rotary Club wants to reach out to the third-grade children and give them an additional learning tool. Plus, the importance of the English language acquisition cannot be overstated as nearly 18% of our students speak a language other than English, as their first language.”

The Dictionary Project also known as READ – Rotary’s Empowerment of Antioch through Dictionaries – encourages children to use dictionaries so that they will be able to use the English language effectively during their school years and lifetime.  Besides its own funds, Antioch Rotary Club received a $7,000 grant from District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover’s Keller Canyon Mitigation Fund, a $1,000 grant from Pacific Gas & Electric, and an $800 grant from Higgins Mortuary for the READ Program.

“These sponsors of the READ project greatly help us make a difference in Antioch,” Schneiderman shared. “We really appreciate their support in the Antioch community.”

The remaining funds for the project were raised through the Antioch Rotary Club’s annual golf tournament and its sponsors.

“We greatly appreciate the community support for our golf tournament,” she added. “These sponsors, along with Rotarians make our scholarships and community projects possible.”

Next year, the 23rd Annual Golf Tournament will be held on May 5th, 2017 at the Lone Tree Golf Course & Event Center.

The Antioch Rotary Club was chartered in February, 1947. Their regular meeting days are Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. at the Lone Tree Golf & Event Center. Contact Lindy Maynes-Kolthoff, Club Secretary for more information:

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Residents speaking in support, teachers opposing Rocketship charter evenly split at Antioch School Board hearing

Thursday, November 17th, 2016
Supporters of the proposed Rocketship charter school in Antioch wore purple shirts, while opponents wore yellow shirts, at the Antioch School Board's public hearing on the matter, on Wednesday, November 9, 2016.

Supporters of the proposed Rocketship charter school in Antioch wore purple shirts, while opponents wore yellow shirts, at the Antioch School Board’s public hearing on the matter, on Wednesday, November 9, 2016.

By Nick Goodrich

At their November 9th meeting, the Antioch School Board held the required public hearing on Rocketship Education’s petition to open a charter school in Antioch. The meeting was held at Lone Tree Elementary School instead of the board chambers, to accommodate an expected larger crowd.

Nearly 100 residents, teachers and other community members showed up to either support or oppose the petition, with Rocketship supporters donning purple shirts, and those opposing the school sporting yellow “No Rocketship!” T-shirts. While the speakers from each side were evenly split, there were many more people wearing purple shirts than yellow, in the audience.

The presentation, led by Rocketship’s Chief Growth and Community Engagement Officer Cheye Calvo, highlighted the charter school’s success in areas like math and English, in which Rocketship students have consistently outperformed other students in the Bay Area.

“By 2016, the majority of Rocketship’s students are ahead of their peers nationwide,” said Calvo, who also noted that Rocketship outranks all elementary schools within the Antioch Unified School District in the two subjects.

Despite Rocketship’s success in math and English Language Learning, questions were raised by residents and Board Members concerning the charter school’s efforts in other areas, such as Social Studies and History.

Trustee Walter Ruehlig relayed a concern that Rocketship’s rigid academic structure, involving an eight-hour school day, means that those subjects, as well as recess and playtime, get short shrift.

Calvo was quick to respond, saying that “Rocketship schools are joyful places.”

“We develop the whole child…We give a lot of attention to social and emotional growth,” he said. “Students are taught social and emotional skills through programs in both the upper and lower grades. Building a sense of joy in school is what we are about.”

Questions about Rocketship’s practice of hiring un-accredited teachers while they work toward their teaching credentials also concerned some parents, who worried that their children might not get the same quality of education at a Rocketship school. Calvo was unable to provide statistics on what percent of Rocketship’s teachers were credentialed, when asked by the Board.

Yet, AUSD does the same thing.

Trustee Fernando Navarro also noted that the proposed school’s Board meetings would be held in Redwood City, asking how much say the local community would have in its running.

Calvo told him that Rocketship is still subject to the Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in local legislative bodies. Antioch residents, he said, would be able to attend the meetings by video conference without having to drive out to Redwood City, and would also be able to participate in public comments through live video streaming to the Board.

Public Comments

Residents, teachers and others from the surrounding community had the opportunity to speak to the AUSD Board and share their views on Rocketship’s petition, and several dozen stepped forward for each side.

Antioch resident Martha Steele Spellman opposed the school, citing charter schools’ often narrow approach to learning.

“Charter schools are by definition a niche category of learning, and they offer narrow learning opportunities,” she said. “Let’s fix what we already have.”

John Crowder, the Educational Services Director of the successful Math Intensive Program at Deer Valley High School, disagreed.

“We need Rocketship. The current system is not working for far too many of our students,” he told the Board, citing AUSD’s low state test results and performance in math and English, as a reason to give the charter school a chance. “At the student level, these numbers mean you have children in middle school and high school who can’t do basic arithmetic. Reading and writing skills are equally bad. You can change this. Rocketship is helping students like this succeed.”

Scott Benedict, a Special Ed teacher at Antioch High School, was skeptical that Rocketship would be such a big improvement over AUSD’s schools, and criticized its use of un-accredited teachers.

“A lot of things Rocketship does, we already do in innovative classrooms around the District…[Rocketship] is really big on graphs and models, but has no real data. We know how many of our teachers are credentialed, and how many are interns,” he said.

Another resident echoed Ruehlig’s concerns about recess, saying, “Rocketship doesn’t educate the whole child. Recess is important, but it’s left behind in Rocketship.”

For many parents in Antioch, however, the potential of opening a charter school presents an alternative to District schools, which are underperforming when compared to other Bay Area School Districts.

“The AUSD thought my fourth grade son’s reading level of 2.8 was okay, so they just passed him along,” said Julie Young. “Rocketship wants to bring kids up the achievement gap. Give Antioch the choice to have this particular learning model.”

Ten-year Antioch resident Jennifer Alfonzo agreed.

“I am a mother of five children, three of whom attended schools in Antioch,” she said. “I removed my three oldest children from the AUSD schools and enrolled them in private schools after years of frustration dealing with a broken system. We experienced problems with bullying and were frustrated that our kids were not learning as we knew they could. Once we moved them, they began to excel, even winning awards for academic excellence.”

The value of Rocketship, to Alfonzo and its other supporters, is in its ability to offer a different system with better results, to parents that may have become disenchanted with the District schools.

“Having a Rocketship school in our community will give parents more options,” she concluded. “Please approve the petition for Rocketship. Our children deserve to have this choice.”

With the recent opening of a Rocketship school in Concord in August, some parents advocated for more research by the Board, including waiting to measure the success of that school, before making a decision. That school was opposed by the Mt. Diablo Unified School District Board and the county Board of Education. But, it received approval by the state Board of Education, including State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, a former teacher in Antioch. (See related article)

The final vote on whether or not to approve the proposed school in Antioch will be held on Wednesday, December 7th, after the Board has weighed its options and input from the community.

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