Former Antioch academy administrator writes about Dozier-Libbey charter conversion

Dear Editor,

Thank you for your continued well-balanced reporting of the contentious issue of the Dozier-Libbey charter conversion.

I know there are some issues where you and I do not, and probably will not ever, see eye-to-eye. However, the need for public school reform has never been one of them. I write today no longer a constituent of Antioch, but as a citizen of California and a school reform advocate. Mr. Crowder hit the nail on the head with his analysis earlier this week. This issue is far greater than Antioch and has the potential to stop the charter-movement, and the school-reform movement, dead in their tracks. Antioch politics have not given rise to an issue with greater state and national significance since I first moved there over ten years ago.

Charter school law is an example of the great power of political compromise. It accords parents and teachers the opportunity to take a direct role in the policies and procedures that govern their local schools while ensuring equal opportunities under the law to students regardless of class, race, or net worth. By vesting the power of school control in those who work with students on a day-to-day basis rather than a district office that needs to find some way of educating students with a disparate set of interests, needs, and motivations, charter schools can overcome the “Harrison Burgeron” effect of many district schools while remaining in the public sphere.

That said, charter school law is not a panacea. Plenty of charter schools fail – some from corruption and some from incompetence. Some commentators suggest that predicting charter school success requires some sort of precognition. This is why the conversion charter is such a strong model. A charter conversion typically requires a dedicated team of professionals with a proven track record of success. Districts (or counties when districts fail to do so) are encouraged to put their faith in a talented group of professional educators and release the reins on successful programs. By allowing self-governance by trusted leadership, school boards, and by proxy voters, are assured they will have successful, cutting edge opportunities for their students.

There could not be a better candidate for this type of success than Dozier-Libbey. Nancie Castro and her tireless, dedicated team have created a truly innovative and successful program—one that has shown excellence working within the confines of a district framework, but could truly soar if those regulations were lifted. There has been a great deal of press paid to specific policy decisions (for example the “no D” policy) that are rooted in research and best practices, but the real power of charter law is not in specific policies, but in the educators’ abilities to shape that policy quickly and efficiently as the need arises.

Even under an independent charter, there are checks and balances. The school must regularly return to sponsoring board to report on its progress and seek a continuation of its charter. A board of directors still has fiduciary duties and oversight responsibilities, and many meet Brown Act style public meeting requirements. Most charters are WASC accredited and require the continuous oversight that an accreditation board offers. Finally, charter schools are subject to state audits to ensure taxpayer money is being well spent and appropriately accounted for. Under this rigorous framework, there is certain to be accountability for public funds.

There has been much discussion in social and mainstream media regarding the equity and access issues to charter schools, specifically to the proposed Dozier-Libbey charter. One of the elements of a charter petition, and one of the most heavily scrutinized elements, is its plan to maintain balance and diversity. No doubt that oftentimes charters do not succeed in this regard. Maintaining true balance in a school of choice is a difficult undertaking and requires a great deal of planning and organization. Even then, it is not always possible.

With the conflicting data being thrown about, I am not comfortable saying whether or not Dozier-Libbey has entirely successful in maintaining a perfect racial/cultural balance in the few years since it has opened. What I can say is that there is no reason to suspect this data would be affected negatively by charter governance. A charter school can react quickly to demographic shifts and recruiting needs than a district school. I can remember many instances when Nancie was trying to get recruiting materials out more quickly, hold more parent meetings, and offer various times of day for parents to sign their kids up for Dozier-Libbey. Oftentimes the attempts were met with the lethargic complacency

of school district policy making. I firmly believe any perceived inequities have been exacerbated, rather than alleviated by district oversight.

It is important at this juncture to discuss the difference between elite and elitist. An elite school creates excellence; an elitist school requires it at admission. Dozier-Libbey is an elite school. Anyone can apply, and anyone lucky enough to be selected in the random lottery can attend. Once that student is on campus, it is up to him or her to succeed. A recent editorial in another publication mocked Dozier-Libbey’s “Cure” program. This program (that I believe no longer operates under this controversial acronym) is exactly what most parents and teachers want – additional one-on-one instruction and support for students who need it.

This is one of the many ways in which Dozier-Libbey is elite, rather than elitist – anyone that chooses to succeed is given every opportunity to do so.

I could go on-and-on about the virtues of the Dozier-Libbey charter petition (perhaps you think I already have). But I wanted to write this to you, personally.

While we disagree on some ideas, we have always respected each other’s minds and hearts. This is a good move for students, a good move for the community, and a good move for the state. I hope you will come out in support of Dozier-Libbey’s charter conversion petition.

Jason Miller

Miller is the Founder and former Administrator of the Delta Academy of the Performing Arts, which is part of the Antioch Unified School District, and is now located at Deer Valley High School.

9 Comments to “Former Antioch academy administrator writes about Dozier-Libbey charter conversion”

  1. Parent says:

    Just to clarify Delta Academy no longer exists at Deer Valley. They ran out the teachers and changed the name to Deer Valley Performing Arts. The amazing, innovative program that once existed is gone all due to AUSD!

    • Publisher says:

      Thank you for that information. The district’s website still lists it under Pathways.
      Allen Payton, Publisher

    • Michael Sagehorn says:

      The parent is incorrect. Nobody “ran out” any teachers from the performing arts pathway academy. Like all organizations, the performing arts academy-formerly Delta Academy, now Deer Valley Academy of Performing Arts was a merging of a pathway academy with a high school’s extensive program of vocal and instrumental music’, dance, acting and stagecraft. It was challenging and but if you examine the size, scope, artistic plus academic performance of the students enrolled in the Deer Valley Academy of Performing Arts you see student success. As a faculty member, I am proud of the collaborative working relationships I sustain with all of my fellow teachers.

      Speaking to Mr. Miller’s assertions, it should be noted that he served as a lead teacher, just as I and fellow colleague Sharlene Sabonis do now, and at no time did Mr. Miller possess an administrative credential.

      The question not yet answered by the Dozier Libby charter school petitioners is who or what non profit board or organization is established currently to take over a nearly $6 million operating plan to manage the function and leadership cognizance of a charter school. Among the petitioners listed there appears no education operations, fiscal, business, or human resource management competency of any similar significance. Mr. Miller’s comments must be examined in the context, that as a pathway lead teacher, the education management tasks required in a charter, were not tasks he confronted at Delta.

      The vision and passion demonstrated by Mr. Miller and the teachers, including several who still remain as my colleagues at Deer Valley, is demonstrated every day in both the arts and academic subjects. Vision and passion do not operate a successful school. Finance, management, and leadership skills are equally, if not more, in strengthening a school’s scorecard. An examination of the petitioner ‘s budget assumptions demonstrates an inability to forecast accurately as well as including a cash flow projection that considers the seasonality of state disbursement schedules. The petitioners have failed to develop a task development matrix that indicates an ability to comply with state directives as well as serve special education students. The lack of an already functioning non profit with the capability to finance start up costs shows an unclear leadership plan.

      Can these competences be identified, developed, and recruited to turn Dozier Libby into a highly functioning charter school? Most likely yes, but the larger question is it the right policy for Antioch’s education stakeholders? I can’t answer that, but I support the reforms offered by the dependent petition because the independent petitioners need to re-consider their motives and current skills before handing them the keys to the Dozier Libby “bus”.

      • Ann O'Nim says:

        I disagree with Mr. Sagehorn, and here are some things to think about:
        1. The DLMHS teachers have the full support of the California Charter Schools Association, including their legal team and budget folks. This is a large and powerful organization.
        2. The DLMHS teachers have the full support of Clayton Valley High Charter administration who have already solved the fiscal issues and the conversion issues and will help guide DLMHS teachers through the process.
        By questioning their charter petition without asking them directly and parroting the same things the district admin told teachers at DVHS when they impressed them to attend a long special faculty meeting and keeping them there until they signed they were “meaningfully” interested in teaching at Dozier-Libbey and promising them they would never have to teach there, puts you into the same boat with them.
        3. The only reason the AUSD cooked up their short, canned, dependent charter proposal was to tie up the Dozier-Libbey teachers in litigation and to avoid losing control. They want their own board in charge with an extra layer of bureaucracy (a committee) between them and the Dozier-Libbey teachers. That is certainly not the intention of the charter schools act! I do not believe for one moment it was in the best interest of the educational community. Since the AUSD has a strong history of losing court cases, it is my opinion that they will lose this one as well and Mr. Bergerhouse will be sent to work at the district office.
        Mr. Sagehorn, I suggest you talk to some of the DLMHS teachers and find out what is really going on.

      • Jason Miller says:

        Mr. Sagehorn,

        I am deeply troubled and offended by your mischaracterization of my credentials, my expertise, and my role as the founder of Delta Academy for the Performing Arts. Since you and I have never met, I will assume this is the result of misinformation fed to you by AUSD and Deer Valley administration and not a malicious attempt of libel. If you, or any readers of this page, would like the true information regarding my background, experience, or history with AUSD, please contact me separately.

        I do not want this discussion to distract from the true issue at hand, the need for Dozier-Libbey to be allowed to operate outside AUSD.

        Jason Miller

    • Jeanne says:

      I am so sorry that AUSD is letting down so many schools in Antioch! They would rather put money in their pockets then make commitments for Delta Academy and then break the commitment! AUSD continually drops the ball. Carmon Dragon, Black Diamond Middle School and Dallas Ranch Middle School! I pray to God that AUSD OPENS THERE EYES and stop spending money for all their attorneys to control Dozier Libbey Medical High School should be able to be INDEPENTDENT CHARTER SCHOOL! Our school is thriving and safe, but AUSD are fighting us. We do not need them! We want to be free of them. AUSD is failing Antioch schools. They need to focus on their jobs, to have safe schools for students and teachers and help the teachers to suspend the students that are BEHAVING BADLY! Race has nothing to do with it. AUSD needs to stand by your Delta Academy. AUSD HAD PRINCIPAL NANCEY CASTRO TAKEN FROM OUR SCHOOL THAT HAS PUT HER HEART AND SOUL INTO THIS SCHOOL. Which speaks volumes to our students! Work your butts off and you will just get kicked and seat to another school. It would be appropriate to thank Nancey and tell her we appreciate your hard work, but no AUSD on 4/9/2014 told she has been replace by Mr. Burgerhouse, whom will take her job, where all the students, teachers and staff need and love Principle Nancey Castro! AUSD NEEDS TO PROTECTS THE KIDS THAT HAVE AND ARE PHYSICAL BEATING STUDENTS AND TEACHER AND PRINCIPALS. WE NEED TO FIND AWAY TO MAKE AUSD ACCOUNTABLE! I am very sorry Delta Academy was taken from your child and DVHS! ALL children should always be put FIRST and be PROTECTED!
      Prays to everyone! Jeanne

  2. Karyl Hendrick says:

    Excellent article. Achieving educational excellence is one of the most critical conversations going on in our country, from the Obama administration to somewhat controversial experiments like tiger moms and Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to transform the Chicago schools. I think there’s a clear consensus: innovative, dedicated, and courageous efforts are needed to bring our schools up to the standards we need and should expect. I agree with the author that (principal) “Nancie Castro and her tireless, dedicated team have created a truly innovative and successful program—one that has shown excellence working within the confines of a district framework, but could truly soar if those regulations were lifted.” I sincerely hope they get their chance to continue on their path. I also hope that concerned citizens are observing the AUSD’s actions very carefully right now. The author is correct in saying this issue “has the potential to stop the charter-movement, and the school-reform movement, dead in their tracks.”

  3. Antioch resident says:

    Thank you Mr. Miller, for your excellent article!

  4. Rob says:

    Thank you for your insights, Jason. I will echo from personal knowledge and experience that there are misstatements in Mike’s characterization of Jason and representation of his credentials.

    The situation with DLMHS is unfortunate and does resonate deeply with me in regards to what transpired with Delta Academy. Delta did not so much merge with Deer Valley Arts as become subsumed by it. It is in the nature of the arts to seek survival even on the most tenuous of perches, and so I have no doubt that many good things have happened and will continue at Deer Valley Performing Arts Academy, due in no small part to very dedicated teachers. However, to say that DVAPA is fulfilling the mission and vision that Delta Academy had is disingenuous.

    There was no one such thing as an academy in AUSD. There are two-ish flavors of academies: they are the stand-alone academy (Delta and DLMHS) and the school within a school (EDGE, Media, Law, etc.). Both of those are fine models. They both have their advantages and disadvantages.

    The stand-alone, though, cannot become a school within a school (the reverse has not been attempted at AUSD, but I think it would work out pretty well). Stand-alone academies derive part of their benefit from operating outside the norms of the comprehensives. With small populations, they can adjust policy and schedules and myriad other issues with agility and without tremendous unintended impact.

    DLMHS has thrived in part due to its agility and the creativity and dedication of its faculty and administration. Why the district would want to do anything that might curtail the success of DLMHS instead of learning from that success and attempting to cull innovation from its constituents to attempt to replicate this model of success is beyond me.

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