By John Crowder
It was quickly apparent to those attending the Antioch School board meeting on Wednesday that it was going to be a hot night…and not just because of the broken air conditioning. At issue was the petition filed by the teaching staff of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) to convert to a public charter school, and, once the meeting started, it didn’t take long before Superintendent Dr. Don Gill began to attack the teachers responsible for the petition.
Gill read from a FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) sheet, published by the school district, written in the form of questions and answers. The document, along with another similar paper, both now posted on the district’s website www.antioch.k12.ca.us, seems to be an attempt to paint the teachers supporting the petition as a small group of elitist teachers seeking to enrich themselves while excluding African American and Special Education students from their campus. These contentions, however, are not supported, even by the research studies referenced by the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD).
An answer to one of the questions posted by AUSD states, “A small group of staff at DLMHS…submitted a petition to the District to convert DLMHS to a charter school to be operated by a non-profit corporation.”
In fact, as has been widely reported in the media, 88% of the teaching staff at the school signed the petition requesting conversion to a charter school. On another website (www.facebook.com/dozierlibbey), created by those in support of the charter petition, it states that, “all of Dozier-Libbey’s teachers are very much united in this decision.” With respect to DLMHS being operated by “a non-profit corporation,” teachers explained at a subsequent meeting with the public held on Thursday evening that “the ‘corporation’ will be the community members who make up the charter board of directors…including parents [of students].”
The AUSD document makes more than one reference to the idea that, if the charter goes forward, actions they take “may further exclude students interested in the medical curriculum offered at the school.” With reference to a study done by Stanford University, a statement from AUSD reads, “However, that study failed to consider that by implementing a No-D policy and the requirement that all students take advanced courses not required for graduation, the school discouraged the attendance of its highest need students, including African American, English learner, and Special Education students, and effectively self-selected a high achieving population to remain at the school through graduation.”
That contention, however, is both directly refuted in the referenced study, and statistics published in the study support the idea that the programs at DLMHS are particularly beneficial for these very groups they are purported to exclude. In a table from the study that was shown on a slide during the Thursday night meeting (Click here) on page 8, table 2, it indicates that graduation rates for African Americans attending DLMHS in 2012 were 95%, while for AUSD as a whole they were only 67%. For the economically disadvantaged, the rate was 97% at DLMHS, but only 60% for AUSD.
Even more telling was the statistic regarding the percent of graduates completing all courses required for UC/CSU admission. For the class of 2012, African Americans attending DLMHS were successful by this benchmark 94% of the time, while at AUSD the success rate was an abysmal 15%, even below the state norm of 29% for this demographic. The Stanford study further states, “The author believes that DLMHS would benefit from opportunities to have some autonomy in defining its own enrollment, grading, graduation, and staffing policies. Because of its students’ success, DLMHS also has to combat the constant misperception that they enroll higher achieving students.”
The battle was joined, on both sides, when it came time for public comments at the AUSD board meeting. Parents, teachers, students, and former students all spoke on the matter. One parent, Jason Todd, was particularly incensed at the charter proposal. Referencing a discussion that had been held on Tuesday as part of the DLMHS Parent-Teacher-Student Association.
“I saw a staff that was disrespectful of parents, disrespectful of this board…They say they’re successful in spite of this board,” Todd said. “The charter sets up to make it an elitist school. This is a bad way to go.”
Todd was contradicted in his assessment by both current and former students of DLMHS, all of whom spoke in favor of the charter petition.
“This school does not discriminate against students, it simply pushes them…particularly students of low income and color,” said Antonio Hernandez, a graduate of DLMHS and currently a sophomore at Stanford University. “Students don’t go there who are higher achieving, they go there to become higher achieving.”
One thing that is clear, is that the teacher petition to convert DLMHS to a charter school has generated a tremendous amount of emotion, with the fight perhaps only just beginning. Those interested in the issue can continue to follow the positions taken by those on both sides at the above-referenced websites.
The Antioch school board has scheduled a special board meeting on Wednesday, March 19, to be held in the multi-purpose room of John Muir Elementary School at 615 Greystone Drive in Antioch. In addition to a public hearing on the issue, the board is expected to reach a final decision on the charter petition.