Charter School Advocate Questions School District's Meeting Policy

Robert Verhoeff of the North Bay Educational Foundation says he can't understand why the Novato Unified School District nixed a chance for his group to speak for an hour at the Dec. 18 meeting.

There are still a lot of head-scratching questions floating around in the wake of the Novato school board's decision to deny a petition to start a new public charter school.

Robert Verhoeff, a co-founder of the North Bay Educational Foundation, said he's going to focus on family during the holiday break rather than dive right back into the effort to open a charter school using the Core Knowledge teaching system. But, with the Novato Unified School District's unanimous denial vote fresh in mind, Verhoeff has a handful of questions that have yet to be sufficiently answered from his standpoint.

First is why the district did not allow the foundation an hour of time during the Dec. 18 board meeting to answer staff questions about the charter petition so that the trustees had responses to ponder when they rendered their decisions. Verhoeff said he believed that time would have clarified many sticking points brought up by district employees who wrote a scathing staff report in response to the charter application.

The foundation sent a request for a 1-hour block of time at the Dec. 18 meeting, but Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said no, and the district has said such a back-and-forth oral dialog is not part of the petition evaluation process.

"I would challenge either their attorney or district staff to show anybody where the process they followed is prescribed by law," Verhoeff said. "The board meetings are the property of the NUSD board, meaning they can chose whatever they want to do with their meetings. They are in charge of the agenda, and they certainly could have accommodated our request."

Board president Ross Millerick said the process is in state law, although there are many bills being presented that could impact the process down the line if they are approved. He said three board members would be taking a trip to Sacramento in January to offer ideas on how to make education laws better.

"It's a state-defined process," he said. "They had many months to prepare their application, and the district had 60 days to respond. It's the written record that's important."

Verhoeff questioned the role of the trustees as a governing body and overseer of the school district.

"It's concerning to me because whether a board is a school board, a company board or a nonprofit board, by it very nature it is supposed to be skeptical of management and be a deliberative body," he said. "It's not designed to just take what management says on face value without asking questions. Frankly that approach by NUSD causes a lot of consternation and concern from parents in Novato. The board is supposed to be a watchdog group."

Millerick said the trustees had complete trust in an experienced team of nine employees charged with examining the charter petition and writing a thorough evaluation for a staff report. In the end, the team recommended that the petition be denied, citing shortcomings in several key categories of state charter mandates.

"They reviewed that petition for 60 days and worked really hard on it," he said. "This community deserved a thorough review. It's a school district's duty to do that review. In the end, after a lot of review on our own among the trustees, we followed their recommendation."

Verhoeff said the foundation has yet to decide whether to appeal to the Marin County school trustees or rework the petition and resubmit it to NUSD.

Charter school supporters are seeking a new academic choice and a way to keep kids and families from leaving the public school system for private schools, which they say would benefit NUSD. Detractors say they are concerned about teacher layoffs, potential financial problems within the district, the closure of another school and the need to open such a school during such uncertain times for the education system.

The Novato Federation of Teachers, a group of school principals and several civil rights groups came out against the petition. The district said it stood to lose $1.4 million, for various reasons, if the petition were  approved.

The foundation seeks to create a new public charter school for kids from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade at a location to be determined later by the school district if the petition eventually gets approved. Unlike the Waldorf-inspired Novato Charter School, the North Bay Academy would follow a vastly different system called Core Knowledge, which is used by more than 700 charter schools across the country.

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Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 06:45 AM
As a result of the district's decision to maintain administrative staffing at levels in excess of what we can afford, we are left with solutions that will further strain the efforts of our teachers. Unless NUSD gets the necessary leadership from its current superintendent we are more than likely to see cuts to programs like K-3rd grade class size reduction. This program was the reason many residents voted for the $251 parcel tax that is set to expire in 2015. If we want to overcome our $3.3 million dollar budget deficit and create adequate classroom support we will need a parcel tax that is close to double the one we have now. Only 16% of the voters even have school age children. Watching Novato turn away from programs that could make a difference in how we educate our children makes an unlikely combination of factors for a parcel tax renewal or increase. Instead of spending $88,450 on new boundaries we need to focus our resources on programs that each bring a different education component to our district. Schools of choice have district wide enrollment. Instead of moving toward a system that would by its nature desegregate schools the district chose neighborhood boundaries that will forestall efforts to promote diversity. Creating a charter school and adding magnets models to our existing neighborhood schools creates the kind of change that can bring families back to public education. It worked in Riverside and it can work in Novato.
ConcernedNovatoan January 03, 2013 at 09:26 AM
Andrew, speaking of hypocrisy, why isn't the ACLU going after Novato Charter? Yet it singles out the new charter for racial inequality....IMO, finding the right school for your child is like finding the right neighborhood to live in...And one can draw all kinds of inferences from that analogy...
Tammy R January 03, 2013 at 03:02 PM
I'll join in on pointing out Tinas hypocrisy. Funny, back in August Tina had nothing but praise for the Superintendent and her involvement in charter schools. Now that they have had the chance to look under the hood of this one and found it unworthy of our students, she suddenly isn't in Tinas favor? I see a pattern here. Tina McMillan 9:24 pm on Saturday, August 18, 2012 Dr. Cunningham, our superintendent, was formerly the president of the Charter Council at the River School in Napa. It's curriculum is based on the Ho’ala Educational philosophy. http://www.riverschool.org/about/DistinguishedSchoolAward.pdf I also checked Moorepark District and over 60% of EL students are not proficient. Then I checked the CK school there, Peach Hill Academy. Over 50% of EL students are not proficient. Can I have the last 20 minutes of my life back please?
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 04:33 PM
How can you find anything unworthy until you have spent time discussing its merits with the people that created it? NBEF got 10 minutes to present their petition; the district got 2 hours to condemn it. Dr. Cunningham was a board member at the River Charter School. http://nvusd.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=254&meta_id=30026 It does seem odd that before she came to our district she supported a charter whose educational philosophy is focused on democratic ideals with little other curriculum information. "To educate sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students to be responsible, respectful self-motivated learners who make positive contributions to their communities. We will accomplish this with the collaboration of teachers, parents and students who provide a nurturing learning environment that emphasizes academic competence, creative expression, and personal and social responsibility while modeling the values we want our students to learn" "RIVER School is a grades 6-8 charter school with 338 students in 2008-2009 comprised of 225-67% White, 22% Hispanic, and 11% other ethnicities. Families choose to send their children to River School as it is an open enrollment school. While the vast majority of students come from within the District, River also draws from other surrounding districts. Parents must participate in school-related activities a minimum of 30 hours per family. 17%of our families are socio-economically disadvantaged."
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 04:38 PM
River continued The language related to IEP and 504 does not go into detail. It is surprising how little is expected when the district wants to approve a charter and how much is expected when they want to sandbag it. "Students with Special Needs Students who are identified as needing special education services are supported by their advisory group‘s teacher through facilitation of Student Study Teams, IEP‘s and 504 plans (with help from resource specialists, speech therapists, administration and the District Behavior Management specialist). In general, for any student who is struggling, whether identified as qualifying for Special Education or 504, accommodations are made by the teachers. A variety of intervention plans are created in partnership with parents to assist behavioral or academic issues." Cunningham took over at a time when it was crucial to bring in new revenue based on the comments of our previous superintendent and our impending budget deficits and cuts. Her tenure has brought us a school closure and the 5th year of PI at Lynwood using parent choice as a solution. That means you get first choice to send your children to other district schools if you are unhappy with their work.
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Moorpark was an example of a district that used Magnet schools to get needed revenue. We are not alone in our revenue problems. What we have not done is stepped outside the box as Moorpark did and River Charter did. Instead we focus on school closures and cuts to services. Our teachers were without a contract for several years and finally received a 2% raise which will not keep them from leaving to join other districts. At one time we had a 25% turnover rate and the teachers union commented that Novato had become the training ground for new teachers. They suggested we reduce our reserves to 3%, as required by state law, and provide a larger raise that would be more competitive. We can learn from examples set by other districts how to address our financial problems. Every school in California that has a large percentage of ED and ELL students is struggling to find better ways to educate them. The purpose of NCLB was to make sure that poverty and language differences did not get in the way of education. There is still no single solution to the problem of how to better educate ED and ELL. California is one of several states that has a substantially higher number of ELL students. Novato has three schools in PI and our district is in its third year of PI. If we want families to stay in public schools we need to work on what we have to offer all of our students. Cuts to education wont help keep kids in public schools.
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 05:52 PM
Here are the 2011/12 results for Lynwood & Peach Hill. Please remember that we are talking about adding to efforts not decrying the hard work by teachers at our current schools. The funding mechanisms must be improved. If we only rely on ADA and parcel tax we don't have enough money. Magnet and Charter have alternate funding sources. Using schools of choice is also a means of curriculum reform. http://api.cde.ca.gov/Acnt2012/2012SchSummary.aspx?allcds=21654176024525 Lynwood http://api.cde.ca.gov/Acnt2012/2012SchSummary.aspx?allcds=56739406055149 Peach Hill Lynwood 2011 Base API 2012 Growth API Growth in the API from 2011 to 2012 839---------------------- 842----------------------------- 3 Met 2011 - 12 Growth API Targets: Schoolwide Yes All Student Groups No Both Schoolwide and Student Groups No Schools that do not have a valid 2011 Base API will not have any growth or target information. Made AYP: No Peach Hill Academy 2011 Base API 2012 Growth API Growth in the API from 2011 to 2012 873--------------------- 896----------------------------- 23 Met 2011 - 12 Growth API Targets: Schoolwide Yes All Student Groups No Both Schoolwide and Student Groups No Schools that do not have a valid 2011 Base API will not have any growth or target information. Made AYP: Yes
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 06:29 PM
Any people that use their real names on this thread do so at their own peril. The repeated personal attacks against charter supporters and Rancho parents have included false allegations and a disturbing level of animosity. My purpose in remaining online has been to post links to facts. I hope all the families that are supporting the charter have the good sense to continue their hard work and outreach without defending on Patch. I suggest 2013 is an opportunity to write articles that describe alternative school choices, to bring out information concerning the district's finances, to discuss potential education cuts, and to explain how magnets and charters could help. AR, MM, MC, BB, and all the rest use this thread to defame. If they posted as themselves they know they would be held accountable. Why should any individual bother to use a real name in a debate where the opponents hide behind masks and make ugly accusations rather than focus on facts and issues. As for Rancho, while it has not been dismantled, the request to allow it to become a formal magnet using an Essentialist curriculum was denied. It had 51% of its teachers willing to create a charter conversion but the concern that the district would make this insurmountable was proven by their response to a regular charter. Rather than work with the families they chose to work against them. There was no attempt to provide an honest forum to discuss the issues.
D Rex January 03, 2013 at 06:49 PM
You have got to be kidding me! NOW you say people shouldn't use their real names?? After YOU tried to do a google search on my personal history and background to try to dig up god knows what? I specifically gave you my first and middle name (never my last) to proove the point and show what a hypocrite you are. There is no honesty or sincerity in your posts. They are as self contradictory as they are ludicrious. I'm just glad we got to see it with this shining example.
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 07:04 PM
Steve I did finally figure out who I was arguing with but it didn't change anything. You still spew the same hate filled rhetoric. I asked you to man up if you were going to make personal attacks and you used a middle name rather than your actual name. It is clearly a game to you and not about personal integrity. So when you call people out, and you have done this on several posts, I encourage them to simply walk away. Nothing productive will come of it. And that is a shining example of learning from the past by not repeating the same mistakes in the present.
D Rex January 03, 2013 at 07:40 PM
No Steve here, go sell crazy elsewhere.
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 10:19 PM
Then both names you provided were a fraud. The reality is that I can call you by any name because even if I find the correct one you will continue to deny it. So, for lack of a better name, "Steve", I have learned my lesson. I will not advocate for charter supporters to use their real names or participate in a conversation with people intent on spewing hate speech. One of us is plenty for that job. Now, if you want to get into a real discussion please respond the the post from the state of CA website showing Peach Hill having better scores than Lynwood following the use of "targeted learning" and the Core Knowledge curriculum with all students including ELL and ED. We can't expect teachers to work miracles with their hands tied behind their backs. We must provide them with adequate support, a living wage and a curriculum format that can overcome poverty and language based differences. We won't know what that is until we try alternate approaches. Everytime I find facts that contradict your statements I hear nothing in response. Why not focus on the very real issues our district faces?
Momof3 January 03, 2013 at 10:51 PM
How can Peach Hill be compared to Lynwood? According to Greatschools.org Peach Hill Academy is 55% Caucasian, 34% Hispanic or Latino, 25% are English Learners and 30% get free lunch Lynwood is 54% Hispanic or Latino, 32% Caucasian, 38% English Learners and 63% get free lunch. English Learners at Lynwood score higher than at Peach Hill.
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 11:08 PM
Go to the state website and see the scores broken down by subgroup. This school was able to use a technique called targeted learning in conjunction with the CK curriculum to get out of PI. http://www.vcoe.org/Portals/VcssoPortals/cici/RtI/Peach%20Hill%202011.pdf You can find fault in every statistic, reference and article I post but that wont solve the problems our district faces. Why not look at Peach Hill and see how they took the curriculum and created a focus that would make it work for ED and ELL students. The goal is to bring what works to Novato. If the charter incorporates the same techniques it will certainly fulfill the district's need for a specific curriculum that addresses the target group. We don't have to remake the wheel, we just have to look to other districts to see what has succeeded and failed and build upon that. The same is true for funding. Let's take a page out of Sonoma's book and try charter conversion, charter and/or magnet.
Tina McMillan January 03, 2013 at 11:12 PM
Remember Core Knowledge works with ALL students which is why it is such a great starting place. The API for the entire school is higher than Lynwood's and Lynwood has our GATE program. They grew 23 points, while we grew 3 points. Our maximum API at Lynwood is 842 while there's is 896. The schools are very close and if you take a look at the districts we share enough similarities to make it worth thinking about their approach to financing as well as having each school have a different focus. Peach Hill is the only Core Knowledge school in the district. The other elementary schools use other curriculum. More choices mean more opportunities for all learners. This isn't a contest to see who wins but research to see what may work.
Momof3 January 04, 2013 at 01:28 AM
It says pretty clearly Peach Hill is in PI. They are not out of it yet. PI status is very confusing but it's my understanding it takes 2 years to get out of it. Lynwood has in the past been in safe harbor but the bar gets higher each year and it's hard to climb out of once you are in it. Again...I don't know how you can compare the two schools with such different demographics. I don't think they are very close at all. San Ramon in my opinion is closer to Peach Hill and their score is 876.
John B January 04, 2013 at 06:20 AM
CA Dept of Ed is where one should go when research test and proficiency scores... Moorpark as a district is similar in its ethnic makeup to NUSD - both about 1/3rd Hispanic. Also similar is the percent of Hispanics proficient in Language Arts in 2012 in the district. 37% in NUSD and 35% in Moorpark. At Peach Hill, the school utilizing Core Knowledge, 54% of Hispanics are proficient. 19 percent points higher. That is a huge difference. Is it all curriculum? is it parent involvement and other school programs? Whatever they are doing is producing a result better than the rest of the district. If NUSD was at 54% proficient they'd be writing press releases and patting themselves on the back.
John B January 04, 2013 at 06:37 AM
Tammy - look at the numbers on Moorpark.. Peach Hill produces a much better proficiency rate for its ethnic kids than in the rest of the district. That aside, thank you for bringing Dr. Cunningham's association with the River Charter School to light. Fantastic PI work. Please look at the school's registration policy. Attending a mandatory information meeting. Students must write an essay and submit an art project and then parents must fill out a questionnaire. Then the student must be chosen. And then there is a 50 hour volunteer requirement. Are not these all things that the good doctor and her crack PI Officer slammed the NBEF group for? http://www.riverschool.org/enrollment_process then compare it to the district's reasons for denial http://www.nusd.org/files/_jMBH0_/3f57ac2186e8dff33745a49013852ec4/12-11-12_Staff_Presentation_FINAL.pdf see pages 16-17 Talk about hypocrisy!
ex principal January 04, 2013 at 05:18 PM
1. John, try to look beyond ethnicity when discussing student scores 2. The clear lack of understanding regarding sub group comparison is only surpassed by your deficient comprehension of education. Tina feigns expertise, but the insistence on holding 1 example as “the point” is not only unscientific, but its incorrect. First, lets understand what “Free and Reduced Lunch” means. In a household of 4, the eligibility is $28,600 in annual income. That is $552 per week. For a family of 4. Again, $552 per week. Lynwood has twice the number of FRL kids. 65% of the school is FRL. Peach is 29%. Lynwood has almost half the number of parents with a college (or higher) degree. 36% vs 52%. In fact, the CDE does not even list them together on its “list of 100 similar schools”. Why? Because they have very different populations. So to extrapolate (or even insinuate) that Peach outperforms due to CK is an inappropriate conclusion. Equally incorrect is the assumption that the proposed charter will be successful because overall Peach students API score is 896. By that logic, schools should only teach what the highest scoring schools teach. Rancho is scoring well, right? Gee, what curriculum do they use? Same as Lynwoood. Has been that way for 15 years. Indeed, EL and FRL kids at Lynwood outperform Peach kids by a wide margin in Math, but underperform in Language Arts. EL and FRL kids at Lynwood have an API that is higher than their peers at Peach.
ex principal January 04, 2013 at 05:19 PM
While we may not know what the exact formula is at each school and for each student, the NUSD staff knows much better than every poster here. They live it. They are trained professionals. Lynwood teachers are excellent. Don’t try to bring them down. The NUSD analysis of the proposed charter was correct. Sometimes the truth hurts.
ex principal January 04, 2013 at 05:23 PM
This is not to open a new debate, this is fact. This thread is old. It is over. Time to move on. I know I will be.
Tina McMillan January 04, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Not a single poster is criticizing the work of Novato teachers. Magnet schools like Peach were brought into the discussion because of they access funding to improve resources needed with ED and ELL students. Peach also happens to be a CK school. There are other Magnet Elementary schools in the district who also offer excellent curriculum choices. Our district could access this funding as well. Peach's competitive scores are one aspect of using CK. The curriculum research is based on poor students from throughout the country including cities and suburbs.
Demosthenes January 04, 2013 at 06:08 PM
No amount of facts will convince her the thread is old or the issue dead.
John B January 04, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Ex P - I wasn't trying to make a comparison with Lynwood. Please let us know how what I read on the CA DOE site is incorrect. Latino and ELL kids in a CK school have higher LA proficiency scores than the Moorpark district as a whole. Moorpark and NUSD look similar as districts, at least on paper. I pulled the proficiency numbers for as of 3rd grade. I can't say it is all due to curriculum, as I stated. I don't understand FRL, that is why I didn't post about it or try to compare Peach Hill to Lynwood. I've never spent time in Ventura county, but there are some compelling data points and ideas worth considering, in my opinion. For us to have credibility in your analysis, can you let us know at which school you were principal? Was it a Novato school, or are you currently employed in the NUSD? Let me know how to reach out to you so that I can continue to educate myself on the issues that our schools face. Me? Just a parent who cares enough to get informed and put in the time to look at the issues and data available. Can't say I am always gonna be right, so continue to educate us with fact. I'd prefer less insults, please.
John B January 04, 2013 at 06:45 PM
Ex P - did you work on the NUSD analysis of the charter? There may have been a few points that needed some work, but the staff recommendation and the denial listed numerous reasons that are abitrary and not part of Ed Code as reasons to deny. Classic overkill. Please study the petition and the denial document. If you put in the time to actually do that it is not that hard to see the situation for what it is. At least, from the perspective of one lowly parent. Of course our teachers are excellent. At Lynwood, at Rancho and elsewhere. That is not what this is about and never has been. The fact that so many great teachers stay in Novato despite their payscale shows their dedication and passion. Don't you dare accuse me of trying to bring teachers down. You are dead wrong.
John B January 04, 2013 at 06:50 PM
I certainly agree this is not a productive forum for discussion. This thread should have been dead weeks ago. If your mind is made up it is made up. My fear is that fair minded people will come here and look for information about the charter school. If there are only opponents POV's people will think it must be true. I don't enjoy this exercise, but someone has to try and present the proponent view and most people are so tired of being called names they won't bother any more. Sorry, but I am more about fight than flight. I agree it is time for everyone to move on to the next chapter. I will be interested to see how that plays out. Stay tuned!
Tina McMillan January 04, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Old stats. Here is the chart for 2012-2013 http://www.sandi.net/cms/lib/CA01001235/Centricity/Domain/85/houshold2012.jpg Free for a family of 4 is $29,965 Reduced price for 4 is $42,643 As for dead thread, your recent posts are what revived the conversation. While its great to have the last word and make it seem as if you know of what you speak for all I know you are "Steve". The discussion about Moorpark began as an example of a district that used Magnet schools to get grants that rebuilt campuses and allowed specific curriculum to be taught at each school so that school were better integrated based on focus rather than neighborhood. As a former principal I would think you would appreciate the benefits of Magnets. Our district chose to make all schools uniform thus removing the possibility of meeting the needs of a diverse student body as well as accessing needed funds. We have no solution to our structural deficit except increasing class size, shortening the school year and closing yet another school. The fact that Peach uses CK and created a concept called "Targeted Learning" in order to meet the needs of ED, ELL, LD and other populations, successfully, is worth looking at. NUSD does not have all the answers. It's teachers are strained by programs that do not provide needed staffing. Just ask the teachers what it will be like in a 2nd grade class or 30 or more students, without Aids, or Reading Specialists.
RVerhoeff January 05, 2013 at 07:22 PM
MM: You made a comment that absolutly rang true for me. "Kids who did not have a basic understanding of the language were perpetually lost during the lessons. And, it absolutely did impact all other children (i.e. proficient English speakers, my child) because there were simply too many "levels" the teacher had to work with." With your experience at Lynwood, I would very much like to have a private, respectful conversation with you on how you think a school (charter or otherwise) should set up programs that help children understand the english language - whether English is their second language or they are just struggling to understand. I admit the specifics of the EL teaching in the NBEF charter was vague. Not because we did not want EL kids, but because it is almost impossible to develop a program until you know the challeges of the students you are serving. That being said, I would like to hear your ideas on how that program may/could be structured to achiever better success than NUSD is experiencing today. As I also fully agree with your statement that "I don't view this as the appropriate forum for immigration reform. I'll let other people hash that out. The fact of the matter is, currently, NUSD has an obligation to teach the children of illegal immigrants", I hope you will reach out to me at northbayedu@gmail.com so we can have a civil and private conversation - even if it is via email to protect your identity...
ConcernedNovatoan January 08, 2013 at 01:58 AM
D Rex, I do know a teacher who works alongside Mr. McDonald but does not share his political views, yet says he is an exemplary teacher. His political views are not impressed upon the children he teaches.
ConcernedNovatoan January 08, 2013 at 02:29 AM
I agree with John B regarding the need for proponent side of issues along with the opponents' viewpoints to be presented in a rational, civilized manner. It was done well for the most part back in November at the open public forum, but I sure noticed a a lot more detractors snickering at proponents in the overflow room....


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