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Op-Ed: Clarifying NBEF's Intentions on Charter School Petition

Robert Verhoeff of the North Bay Educational Foundation says the group is continuing on its original path and not currently looking at other options.

(Editor's note: The author is a board member and co-founder of the North Bay Educational Foundation, which has sought to create a new charter school in Novato using the Core Knowledge approach to learning. The Novato Unified School District denied the foundation's charter petition in December).

By Robert Verhoeff

There seems to be some confusion about the recent story that ran in the Marin Independent Journal. I wish to set the record straight.

The headline “Novato charter school proponents say they are open to 'other options'” has been interpreted by some to mean that NBEF will not continue its quest to bring forward a Core Knowledge charter school.  We are continuing on our original path, and are not currently looking at other options.

The IJ article noted that “After announcing a one-year delay for a proposed charter school in Novato, the founder of the North Bay Educational Foundation said the group might withdraw the proposal altogether if the school district considers changes to its educational approach.”

While NBEF has temporarily withdrawn its original proposal, we are not looking to withdraw our proposal altogether.  My comment was part of a larger conversation in which I described the approach taken by the Moorpark School District (Riverside County) where they decided to make their entire district of elementary schools into schools of choice. What I had intended to impart was that if NUSD had moved toward a school of choice model like Moorpark’s, and offered multiple schools of choice, including magnet and/or charter schools, that (most importantly) addressed the varied educational needs of our families, we would not have needed to bring this petition forward. 

The IJ article also noted that "The objective of the North Bay Educational Foundation was never in and of itself a charter school," founder Robert Verhoeff said. "If we can begin having respectful discussions with the stakeholders, then perhaps there are other options that could become available."

While I spoke these words, again, out of context, they do not represent what I hoped to communicate.  This effort was not meant to force the district to have discussions, it was meant to open a Core Knowledge school of choice for interested families. Of course, we would welcome serious and substantive discussions with NUSD staff and trustees, as well as charter opponents, about the merits of a Core Knowledge charter school for families in Novato. Reasonable people have respectful discussions about important issues.

Any discussion needs to center around how “our” education system addresses the wants of all parents and how “we” are going to work toward narrowing the achievement gap by lifting up the education of all children and insuring equal access to academic excellence. As long as NUSD believes that a “one size fits all” approach is adequate, NBEF will continue to seek an education alternative desired and supported by hundreds of parents.

To be clear, the current intent of North Bay Educational Foundation is to open a Core Knowledge charter school.  While NBEF may consider pursuing additional opportunities in the future, until such time as alternatives exist that meet the needs of all families, NBEF is committed to petitioning for a Core Knowledge charter school. 

Lastly, it was stated that “The group might also seek to implement Core Knowledge in existing schools.” I do not know exactly what I said to give this impression.  Only NUSD could implement curriculum in one of their existing schools.  That is not our intent, nor our role.

Dr. Cunningham attended our meeting last Tuesday.  We hope this signals an openness on the part of NUSD to collaborate on the petition resubmission going forward. Likewise, our door remains open, as it has been since we first met with the district last June to begin working with them on this important initiative.

I hope this clarifies the intent and direction that NBEF is taking. 

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Tina McMillan February 01, 2013 at 11:47 PM
Troll I can tell the difference between empathy and sarcasm. In your behavior toward me and toward the charter there has been far too much animosity for real compassion. Someone who wants a reciprocal dialogue doesn't shut it down. In order to know if the Core Knowledge curriculum is the same as NUSD's you need to have a copy of both to compare. Remember the core standards are a goal. The curriculum is the path. That is why we can also have Waldorf, Montessori and other paths to the same goal. The charter budget was created and vetted by Ed Tech. The assumptions made by NUSD were based on their costs not typical costs for a charter school. If you look at the budget for the Novato Charter School you will understand why this doesn't pan out. Please remember in a district of 8000 students the likelihood that some may support a charter is just as reasonable as some wanting to remain in neighborhood schools. There are more than 52,000 people in Novato, many of them homeowners. We all vote in school board elections. We all vote in parcel tax measures. While you may feel you have control over these issues, in reality there is a much larger group which hasn't even weighed in yet. As for the work to create a charter, it would be far simpler to leave NUSD than take on this task. That is how I know that the people behind the movement are sincere, dedicated to education and willing to work to create choice in spite of the hatred that has been directed at them.
Mark Schoenbaum February 02, 2013 at 12:10 AM
Not_a_Troll - you are truely clueless. I am a parent with children in NUSD and I do not agree with your viewpoint at all. Stop pretending that you represent the community at large.
Ahmadou Bamba February 02, 2013 at 12:16 AM
Tina- You don't know them like i know them...
Not_a_Troll February 02, 2013 at 02:11 AM
Mr. Schoenbaum, I couldn't agree more - I do not represent the community at large (nor would I try to suggest otherwise). Indeed, the community is severely divided over this issue which of course suggests that no one person possibly could represent the community at large. Instead, I am recounting the numerous conversations I have had with parents concerned about the "demise" of Rancho - never ONCE has anyone raised the issue of curriculum. Rather, parents fear the general "decline" of the school based on the changing makeup of the student body ethnicity. I encourage you to re-read the comments by Anne and Tim D, both ardent charter supporters nowadays, but their reactions many months ago - the moment Rancho was told it would soon have to open its doors - "disgusting! ruined!" Again, this was never about curriculum, but about preserving Rancho's ethnic makeup (or lack thereof). When I was made privy to the charter talk, it - again - was not being touted as a great new curriculum choice, but a safe haven for our children in the rogue world of diverse Novato schools. So, please don't tell me that I didn't have the conversations that I've had. Friends and neighbors have greatly disappointed me, but it is what it is. I do not believe that every parent who is interested in the charter is looking for the safe haven; but it's disingenuous to suggest none of them are. I know for a fact some are.
Tina McMillan February 02, 2013 at 02:25 AM
NottaT I ask again, if this program could be accomplished, without negative financial impact on the district, would you accept a Core Knowledge Charter in Novato?
Mark Schoenbaum February 02, 2013 at 06:29 AM
Not_a_Troll - who says this is about ethnicity. My girls are mixed race and I want a school that is focused on them and their education instead of ADA, fundraising, and early dismissal/teacher training days that just happen to precede 3-day weekends
Not_a_Troll February 02, 2013 at 04:23 PM
Mark Schoenbaum, it sounds like you need to find yourself a good private school ... even the charter would rely on "ADA, fundraising and early dismissal/teacher training days that just happen to preceded 3-day weekends." And for the record, that's not limited to Novato's public schools. That's pretty much the way we roll with public ed in CA. (And, I say it's about ethnicity ... based on the comments I have heard from friends and neighbors who are specifically in favor of the charter because it is shaping up to be akin to the un-diversified Rancho of days gone by).
Not_a_Troll February 02, 2013 at 04:24 PM
Happy to answer your question, Tina, and I would kindly ask that you accept it for what it is (and not respond or otherwise try to convince me otherwise by posting reams of data, websites or a "plea" that I "read the NBEF website," which BTW I have ..). Anyway, in a nutshell, NO, even if there were no negative financial impact on the district, AT THE PRESENT TIME, I would not advocate for this particular curriculum, program and approach.
Will Johnson February 02, 2013 at 05:40 PM
Tina - thank you for keeping up with these few people who can't accept that someone might disagree with them and have a legal right to do so. Think about the other choices that Americans wouldn't have if not protected by law from strong ideological opposition .... These are the same people that opposed Rancho. They don't want anyone to understand that this charter has support from other parts of the community. They seem particularly interested in making sure those families that might want this choice don't hear about it or have misinformation. What so threatens these people that they would act like this? I truly don't get it. Let people make their own decision. This is not about eliminating diversity. it is about creating an environment where diversity can thrive and ALL kids can achieve their full potential. That can happen with close collaboration between teachers, parents and administrators. That is exactly why charters were first proposed and why the state of California protects the rights of citizens to create them. Is this charter going to attract a 'select' set of families? You bet! But it will have nothing to do with the color of anyone's skin or the size of their bank account. it will be families that want this choice, that want this curriculum and want to be more directly involved with their children's education and are willing to work hard for it.
Marys Mama February 02, 2013 at 05:47 PM
It's a sham, John B, that Core Knowledge does not in and of itself encourage diversity. NBEF relied on Rocklin Academy as a shining beacon of hope and light - going so far as to welcome its teachers for presentation and powerpoint. Know what the "diversity" of Rocklin Academy is? GATE students: 12% English learners: 0% Reclassified as English proficient: 4% Migrant education program participants: 0% Eligible for free/reduced price lunch: 3% Special education within past two years: 4% White 64% Asian 13% Two or More 10% Hispanic/Latino 10% Filipino 2% African American 1% Does that look like NUSD's makeup to you?!
Marys Mama February 02, 2013 at 05:47 PM
*shame (sham)
Marys Mama February 02, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Rocklin Academy, which is referenced ad nauseam by NBEF as proof that charters work ... proudly shares this data about its parents: Parent's Education: Overall Average Education4: 4.30 (based on the 98% who responded) Graduate School 42% College Graduate 49% Some College 7% High School Graduate 2% Not a High School Graduate 0% The unfortunate reality is that the NUSD parent makeup, as a whole, doesn't look like this ... of course, the NBEF charter will end up looking like it nonetheless ... way to cherry pick, NBEF!
Marys Mama February 02, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Problems with Rocklin Academy, the very school NBEF repeatedly quotes and points to throughout its website as a model for Core Knowledge: "Rocklin Academy faces scrutiny during renewal: Despite the high academic achievement at Rocklin Academy, Rocklin district trustees had issues with the school underserving English-learning students" "Rocklin Academy says goodbye to letter grades Teachers, board support change; some parents say not enough notice given"
Will Johnson February 02, 2013 at 06:26 PM
No it doesn't - it probably looks more like the community in which it resides. Peach Hill Academy looks more like NUSD. Wanna help me and look up the stats on that one? The success of the school, of any school, is a combination of curriculum, structure, teachers and families.
Will Johnson February 02, 2013 at 06:32 PM
Gosh, I guess I missed the part of the charter for either school that requires a college degree to enroll your child. I missed the part of the NBEF charter that says they pick students or parents at all. I do see that language, however, in the River Charter school in Napa, the school that Dr. Cunningham helped found, was on the Board of and sent her daughter to.... http://www.riverschool.org/enrollment_process "... determine whether there is a good match between the strengths and needs of the students and the vision of the school." No cherry picking there. Move on.
Will Johnson February 02, 2013 at 06:41 PM
You do understand that charter schools are open enrollment, free, public schools right? You do understand it is illegal under charter law and state law to mandate quotas, right? If I wanted to spend an entire day of finding quotes that prove my point I could, just would rather spend the day with my kids and let people come to their own conclusions and decisions.
Marys Mama February 02, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Today NUSD schools are racially and economically diverse and achieve some of the highest test scores in the State. NUSD should be proud of its challenging and diverse educational environments that benefit all students. “Rather than enhance this diversity, the proposed NBEF charter school is likely to force more Latino/Hispanic, immigrant and economically disadvantaged students into schools that are racially and socioeconomically isolated.”
Tina McMillan February 02, 2013 at 07:00 PM
That is the fallacy being promoted. NUSD elementary schools do not have an equal proportion of ELL students because we use a neighborhood model for attendance. It is possible to bring students to a charter if you are not sandbagged in the process. The petition that went out in Spanish was written to discourage ELL families by telling them that they were not wanted by the charter. None of this came from the charter. There is substantial time for outreach with a 2014 start date. The law does not allow charters to cater to any economic or racial group. What the charter can do is reach out to all families by describing what they have to offer. If the charter had chosen a curriculum that did not encourage diversity I could see the complaint but this charter specifically chose a curriculum whose very intent was to support children from poor families. Targeted learning is the approach taken with ELL students to overcome language gaps. There are two primary approaches to teaching English as a Second Language. One says the student must first be taught in their home language through 3rd grade and the other says to focus on English from the start and support parents by offering English language classes to them as well. If you can reach parents then you can reach children. Core Knowledge books all come in a Spanish version. The link is to the CK website Spanish translation that you can download for free: http://www.coreknowledge.org/spanish-translations
Tina McMillan February 02, 2013 at 07:08 PM
John As I am sure you have seen trying to discuss this issue as if there is someone on the other side willing to walk in the charter's shoes, so to speak, has not yet happened. Every argument you make, supported by facts, will be overlooked. That is why it is so important to keep putting the facts out to the community so that everyone has a chance to decide for themselves if they want to participate in this school. The ELAC meetings and the PTA are a huge step in the right direction. They give parents the ability to choose for themselves. I believe that all families want their children to have an education that best meets their needs. For some that is Waldorf, for some that is Neighborhood and for some that is Core Knowledge. I don't know if anyone has yet heard what will happen at Lynwood given this is the 7th calendar year of PI. I heard rumblings that it might turn into a charter conversion but can not find anyone to substantiate that. It would be interesting to see the stain associated with charter removed when the district may be entertaining that very choice. If what we wanted was schools that have district wide attendance then Magnets would provide an end to segregation. To suggest that NUSD has already addressed this issue is to ignore the boundary study that made clear we still don't have a means of providing equal diversification based on language and poverty level.
Will Johnson February 02, 2013 at 07:18 PM
2/3rds of ELL kids in NUSD are NOT proficient in language arts by third grade. If that is the highest in the state, then perhaps we need to find another standard to aspire to.
Kenneth Dahl February 02, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Mary's, The way to end the cycle of poverty is through education. How do you force someone to value education? What is the catalyst to change this cycle? http://www.marinkids.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/AG-Education.pdf These are stats for the entire county. Sobering. If this is happening throughout Marin where there are much higher per student spends, it suggests this is not exclusively a problem with dollars. In many ways, NBEF has, in fact, started a conversation. I hope that they are successful in creating this school and I hope it begins to chip away at these statistics. Why not encourage families of diverse backgrounds to get involved and make this a school that will best benefit their children? If they are on the Board and at the school it will be up to them to see how it is going and advocate for their needs. That is the magic of a charter school. Much more direct control and say in the day to day functioning of the school and the education of their children. This charter school is one idea that might help. What new ideas are you bringing forth Mary's, D Rex, Tammy, Not a Troll, Amadou? This is not a rhetorical question.
John Parnell February 03, 2013 at 12:52 AM
I think that you unintentionally make an interesting point about demographics. We keep hearing from critics and the NUSD that the petition signers were not ethnically diverse enough, which really means "too white and not enough Spanish-speakers." NUSD even gave the board an ethnic breakdown of the signers, which were obviously made-up numbers, because NBEF didn't even have that data. Truth-be-told, it seems that it is only Latinos that matter to NUSD, as no mention was made of any other ethnic diversity. But I actually find your point of academic demographics much more interesting. I don't so much care about the color of people's skin, and think it's a bit racist to constantly be focused on it. I do wonder though, what the education levels of the petition signers is versus the charter critics. Do you think that charter supporters have a higher education level? If there is a higher proportion of college graduates and advanced degrees, what would that mean? Would it be more statistically significant than the color of everyone's skin? And do you really think the towns of Rocklin and Novato can be compared from an ethnic standpoint? Shall we look at Boise or Dubuque also?
Kenneth Dahl February 03, 2013 at 01:14 AM
A teacher would never say that "these people" (parents) don't know about the struggles and challenges in the classroom. "These people" are in classrooms every day. This has never been about the hardworking teachers. I'd like for teachers to tell me how this insults them. "These people" want to work more collaboratively with and support their teachers. That is why charters work. What is insulting is how the education system and teachers union work - celebrating tenure over passion or results.
Kenneth Dahl February 03, 2013 at 01:25 AM
Now this is a curious term "well-distributed resources." hmmm. What do you mean by that? NBEF will somehow "rob" the district of engaged parents and enthusiastic and talented teachers? So if the charter school will be full of engaged parents and talented teachers, that sounds like a pretty good place to be, doesn't it?
Kenneth Dahl February 03, 2013 at 01:33 AM
Mr. Not a Troll, the truth is that there is likely very little if any financial downside. You do not advocate for this curriculum and approach for yourself. Understood. But why are you working so hard to try and take away this choice from those that want it and are obviously working so hard to achieve it?
Kenneth Dahl February 03, 2013 at 01:43 AM
The best way to foil your charter enemies, Mr. Not a Troll, then, is very simple. Encourage ethnic families to sign the next charter petition, and encourage them to enroll once the school opens. Pour all your energy into that. If attending school with ethnic families is what the charter is truly trying to avoid, your logic suggests that a large number of signatures from non-white families will have them heading for the hills.
I'm a Teacher Too February 03, 2013 at 03:19 PM
No, K8, teachers were an integral part of the process.
I'm a Teacher Too February 03, 2013 at 03:32 PM
A Rancho teacher said at a public meeting that Rancho was an effort to isolate? Does anyone actually believe that? That is insulting. Please do not represent something that you clearly are not. Hundreds of families and 17 teachers signed the petition. Hundreds of kids not at Rancho today, almost 400 kids represented by signature. Plenty of teachers are interested in the new charter - just not willing to face the wrath of posters, the district and the union until the school is open.
I'm a Teacher Too February 03, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Let me get this right --- someone claiming to be a K-8 teacher is posting on the Patch and doing archival research on two consecutive days during school hours. Are you using school owned equipment to do such research, K8? If you are a teacher, you should be fired. But I don't think you are fooling anyone. These posts are an insult to teachers. Take on a different fake name, would you? You are giving NUSD teachers a bad name.
Will Johnson February 03, 2013 at 04:37 PM
John Parnell, The district does actually have a database of NUSD students that contains demographic information on students (Aeries). However, a full third of the petitioners are not in this NUSD analysis – they are from non-NUSD schools, hence no information to report. You bring up a really interesting point …. the ethnic categories reported by NUSD are 1. Hispanic and 2. Non-Hispanic. While Hispanic is the largest ethnic group within NUSD at 32%, there is no break-out for Asian, African American, Filipino, American Indian, Native Islander, etc. These groups make up over 10% of NUSD (per the 2012 API reports, CDOE). So, NUSD never actually reported the % of white students, only non-Hispanic. Ask yourself why many categories were left out of the analysis. If you understand the mechanism of the millions in Title I, II and III funding, you might have your answer as to why NUSD appears to care more about some ethnic groups than others. http://www.nusd.org/files/_hWDl6_/c4a93143655db06a3745a49013852ec4/Summary_of_Petitioners.pdf

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