Charter Schools Are Not The Problem: Fix Failing Schools First

Now that it has been a week since last week’s LAUSD board meeting and the dust has begun to settle, I look back on an amazing day, a day that brought me disappointment but also joy. Regardless of the outcome, it was a day of unity and empowerment for the school choice community. I arrived at LAUSD Headquarters at 6:30 AM on Tuesday morning to get in line for the afternoon board meeting. I had to get there  6 ½ hours early to make sure I would be able to speak during public comment. The sun was just rising, but the line was already wrapped around the corner when I arrived. Around 9 AM, Alliance charter school parents and students started arriving by the bus loads, wearing green shirts that read “Proud Alliance Parent” on the back. They started crossing the street and lining up at the corner of 3rd Street and Beaudry with signs that read “My child, my choice” and “Kids First Not Politics.” As more and more people continued to roll in, Beaudry Avenue was starting to fill up with charter school parents, students, teachers and leaders.

 By 11 AM, the crowd was estimated by school police to be 3,500 people, almost double the expected turnout. Granada Hills Charter High School’s band played music and entertained the audience. But the GHCHS Dance Team wowed the crowd with their Beyonce inspired hip hop routine. Following them up wasn’t an easy task, but I was the next speaker up. Tuesday’s crowd of mostly charter school supporters was the largest I have ever addressed. And even though my voice shook with my first sentence, I did my best to give an empowering “call to action” for my community. I told them that I knew this day was coming. I knew that “the attacks would continue because every time we have a victory, we face retaliation and that’s what this is. And no matter what happens today, whether we get the outcome we want or not, we cannot stop fighting. This is a battle that has been years in the making and we need to fight for as long as it takes.” The energy and cheers from the crowd were so powerful that it got the attention of two board members, that were now standing on stage behind me. Board Members Monica Garcia and Nick Melvoin came outside to address the crowd, but I could not stay to hear them speak because I had to get inside the boardroom.

I said goodbye to my daughter and my boyfriend, who had to stay outside. Watching my daughter hold up sign that said “Charter Schools Will Rock You, from a Fenton Charter Student” was so powerful for me. Two months ago she didn’t understand any of this. She didn’t understand why I sometimes dragged her to long boring meetings. That was until she went to the teacher’s march with me in December before the strike, and she heard and saw all the negative things people were saying about charter schools. That had a profound effect on her and her understanding of the situation.

The boardroom inside was packed, with five news cameras set up on the left side of the room. The first order of business was to approve the teacher’s contract that was negotiated the previous week. There have been many discussions and articles written about the financial implications of this deal and the district’s ability to fulfill the promises made. The Los Angeles County Office of Education referred to the contract as financially “not sustainable,” in an analysis it conducted. Nevertheless, the new contract resolution passed with unanimous yes vote.

When the time came for public comment on the charter school moratorium resolution, I was the second parent to speak. I made several points during my public comment in regards to how this new ban could affect us, that had nothing to do with our existing schools. I spoke about the lack of middle schools in Board District 6, where I live. In the city of Sylmar, we only have two options. My neighborhood district school is Olive Vista Middle School. Olive Vista, where many of my family members have attended, has a proficiency of 16% of its students reaching the state standard in mathematics. This is not acceptable, and therefore, is not an option for us. Olive Vista does now have an excellent STEAM Magnet program that we have applied to, but we are still not sure if my daughter has been accepted yet. The other option is PUC Triumph, which only enrolls about 300 students total and typically has a lottery to get in.

I also talked about accountability and how charter schools are more accountable than district schools, due to their five-year renewal process, in which charters are required to show that they are helping students succeed. If the charter is not renewed for any reason, the school can close down, misplacing hundreds of students. I think we should focus on fixing failing district schools and that includes low performing charter schools. I think all schools should be held accountable.

During my public comment on Tuesday I said, “I think it’s long past time we started talking about accountability for the district’s lowest-performing schools. Why are these schools allowed to stay open year after year? Maybe we should study that!” I told the Board with an applause from the room. Parents and education reform advocates are tired of seeing nothing done about these low-performing schools, that have failed generations of youth. So why don’t we identify the worst 100 public schools? Oh wait, the California School Dashboards new accountability tool just did that for us! LA School Report’s Esmeralda Fabian just wrote an article that identifies 110 of LAUSD’s lowest performing schools. It only took six years! The list includes 88 (80%) traditional district schools and 22 (20%) charter schools. I am a parent who wants accountability for all schools and if there are charter schools that are chronically underperforming, they should be held accountable, as well as district schools.

Right before the vote, Nick delivered  a compelling statement about all of the issues we should be putting a moratorium on instead of new charter schools. That list included a moratorium on the increase in housing prices, a moratorium on bad legislation coming out of Sacramento, and a moratorium on low performing schools! The room burst into applause and people shouted out in agreement. These are the issues we should be talking about, but instead he said we are “blaming others for financial problems without getting our house in order.” He also reinforced a belief that I share with him, and that is, “I have been consistent in my belief that the best way to mitigate charter growth is to improve district schools so that parents chose us because we’re the best, not because they don’t have any other options. That’s not a choice–that’s a sentence.”

I am so thankful to have at least one board member who truly stood up for us and students. It would have been even harder if there weren’t any NO votes that day, but thanks to Nick and his integrity, school choice families did have representation. Nick, also said on that this is not what we should be asking of the state. “The only ask of Sacramento, with the union, with our charters, should be invest in our kids because we know if you do they’ll live up to that potential.”

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Roxann Nazario

Roxann Nazario

Roxann Nazario is a charter parent living in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Born and mostly raised in the Valley, Roxann experienced her own struggles as a student in LAUSD. In order to ensure that her daughter would receive the education she deserved, Roxann made sure she was an active parent volunteer at her daughter's charter school. From field trips, to book fairs, to her daughter's charter school renewal, Roxann has made a point not only to advocate for her daughter's education, but she advocates for all children attending LAUSD schools. She campaigned for Kelly Gonez during her campaign for school board member of board district 6. She fought against SB 808, a proposed bill that would deny charter schools the right to appeal if their charter was denied by their local school board. Even though Roxann's daughter attends an amazing and well-known charter school, the school did not have an active parent group. So Roxann teamed up with one of her fellow charter moms from the same school, and with the school's blessing, they started a parent group called, "Parent Voice." Most recently, she was involved in a "Teach-In"/Rally in front of the California Democratic Party Convention that took place in San Diego in February of this year to advocate against the California Democratic Party passing a moratorium resolution on charter schools. Roxann and five fellow charter school mothers, all from board district 6, are being awarded with the Hart Vision Award for Parent Volunteer of the Year at the 25th Annual California Charter Schools Conference taking place on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

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