Berkeley School Board Rejects Charter School Petition

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The proposed establishment of a new charter school in Berkeley was unanimously denied by the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education at their meeting Wednesday.

After reviewing the charter petition submitted Sept. 17 by Marcus Garvey Charter Schools, Inc., the board decided to reject the petition of the proposed Berkeley Charter Academy on grounds that it did not meet the required conditions established by law.

"There were some unsettling parts to this charter application," said Bill Huyett, district superintendent. "Probably one of the most unsettling is that it is a copycat of one submitted to (San Jose Unified School District)."

According to district officials, the petition contained signatures by several teachers pledging their intent to work at the proposed charter school - yet a petition submitted to the San Jose Unified School District also by Marcus Garvey contained identical signatures. Huyett said at the Wednesday meeting that in some places of the petition, the San Jose district was mentioned instead of the Berkeley Unified School District.

Nedar Bey, the founder and lead petitioner of the new charter school, was not present at the Wednesday meeting because he said he had expected to be contacted by the board prior to their decision.

Bey said in an interview that part of the intent of the petition was to help fix what he described as an achievement gap for minority students left unaddressed by the district.

"The issue that we have is the fact that from the test scores and data that school district is reporting itself is that they are failing minority students," Bey said. "At the end of the day, are these numbers acceptable?"

According to the 2009 Standardized Testing and Reporting Standards-Base Test results, 9 percent of black students at Longfellow Middle School tested proficient or above in Algebra, comparable to 5 percent at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and 7 percent at Willard Middle School. Bey said the Berkeley Charter School - which would enroll 250 to 450 students in grades six through eight - would improve those numbers.

But Yvette Felarca, a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and the Northern California coordinator for BAMN said the charter school would have segregated students and only widened the achievement gap.

"What we need to end the so-called achievement gap is to really stop the opportunity gap that exists," she said in an interview. "To do that we need more integration, not less, and we need more opportunities, not fewer ones, for black and Latino students."

Huyett also said at the meeting that the American Indian Model of Education the school would have followed is an "indoctrination program" that forces students to adhere to a certain ideology, which he said is evinced in the agency's commandments.

"More than a bit concerning about this is that this proposal is really not knowing our community, nor targeting the needs of our community," he said at the meeting.

Federal and state policy requires the board to support the establishment of charter schools and therefore seriously consider the every charter petition, according to board President Karen Hemphill, who said the Berkeley Charter Academy petition was not credible.

"The purpose (of charter schools) is to improve academic opportunities for our students and not waste staff time in what was clearly a cookie-cutter effort to access charter school funds without having a real plan," she said.

The petition also set a target Academic Performance Index score of 611 for its proposed Berkeley Charter Academy - a goal significantly lower than that of other Berkeley schools, which Huyett said is an especially low standard for a charter school.

But Bey said the API target score was low because the charter school would have enrolled low-performing students at first, though he added that the charter school would have sought a score in the 900 range over time.

Bey also said he is not giving up on establishing the charter school even after being rejected by the school board.

"We will be taking our charter and appealing to whatever authority we need to," he said. "At the end of the day ... we are interested in educating all students, but especially those who the school system is basically throwing under the bus."


Contact J.D. Morris at [email protected]

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