Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
Starting this week, the first week of the new year, Fremont, McClymonds, Castlemont, Frick and Brookfield are all having “community meetings” to discuss “improving” the schools. The reality is that the management of the schools is being put up on the market for people to compete over who can best run them. Charter school management companies will compete against the existing school staff to put out the most compelling “plan” for the schools. And all of the staff of each school will have to work on their school plans in a rushed way, in the middle of the school year when the focus should be on students.
Almost 100% of the people we’ve spoken to who work at the schools are incredibly upset about the process. People are angry at the top-down way in which these meetings are being railroaded through in such a fast paced manner. We’ve seen the same process happen with the attempt to privatize the land that Dewey Academy and the old OUSD admin building rest on; the mobilization of students, parents, community members, and school workers during the summer of 2014 slowed down the process, and we should take notes from that example.
What follows is a quick sketch about Antwan Wilson and Allen Smith’s history of “school turnarounds” written by Jack Gerson, a retired OUSD teacher. We’re posting it here because it provides some very useful links and controversial analysis about the process that the people from Denver (Wilson, Smith and others) are unleashing here in Oakland. Please post your thoughts in the comments section. We welcome disagreement, questions, and other thoughts.
We will be posting more on this process of privatization, as well as its connections to gentrification in Oakland, as it unfolds.
Antwan Wilson, Allen Smith et al are bringing their Denver turnaround schemes to Oakland. Let’s ask Wilson and the OUSD board to come clean with the facts: Wilson did not turn around Montebello High during his 2004 – 2007 stint as principal. Why did the OUSD board cite that as a — if not the — major factor in his hiring. Even superficially, couldn’t they see that only three years later, the school was being “turned around” again. These aren’t turnaround schools: they’re turnaround and around and around schools. Or maybe merrygoround schools. And we’ve seen this all in Oakland, where Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds were broken up a decade ago, put back together amidst great fanfare three years ago, and now are being reorganized again. Turn around and around and around and …
Indeed, Wilson only spent three years at Montebello High, promoted to Denver central administration in 2007 based on his (alleged) success in “turning around” Montebello. Said “success” is still the foundation of Wilson’s reputation. Thus, last April, when the OUSD board was ready to name Wilson superintendent, their friends at oaklandlocal.com reported:
“OUSD said that Wilson gained acclaim for his work as principal of Denver’s formerly troubled Montebello High School, where he turned around achievement such that the percentage of students accepted into two and four-year colleges soared from 35 percent in 2005 to 95 percent in 2008.”
There’s at least one minor problem here. Wilson did not “turn around” Montebello High. He may have increased college admissions, but we’ve seen similar dramatic increases right here in OUSD which weren’t terribly meaningful; among other things, students were admitted into remedial college programs and college dropout rates remained sky-high. And it appears that something similar went on — and continues to go on — in Denver.
So on the Denver Public Schools website, there’s a report titled “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” (http://static.dpsk12.org/gems/turnaround/DenverCase26jun2012.pdf). It’s a 12-page case study whose purpose seemed to have been to promote the turnaround proposals for a group of schools in Northeast Denver, centered on — you guessed it — Montebello High. By 2012 Antawn Wilson was assistant superintendent of Denver Public Schools, and was overall in charge of the turnaround strategy. The executive director of the eleven northeast Denver turnaround schools was Allen Smith — that’s right, the same Allen Smith that Antwan Wilson brought to OUSD and installed as “Chief of Schools”. On page 7 of the report, the situation at Montebello is discussed:
“Sitting in a high-poverty, high-minority area, Montbello High School has a history of inconsistent leadership having experienced 27 principals in the last thirty years. Its image is one of toughness, perceived as a last stop before prison for many students, noted DSSN Director, Allen Smith. Despite three years of hard work between 2004 and 2007 by former principal Antwan Wilson, attempts to change expectations and improve performance could not overcome the entrenched negativity.”
OOPS!! It appears that Antwan Wilson didn’t really turn Montebello around after all. Indeed, this “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” notes (also on page 7) that “only 9% of the students in the Montebello Region scored proficient in math before the 2011 – 2012 school year”. Some miracle!!
Of course, the report goes on to claim that things picked up in 2011 – 2012, thanks to the latest “turnaround” magic dust sprinkled by Allen Smith and Antwan Wilson. If anyone thinks that such “achievement” will prove any less illusory than Wilson’s 2004 – 2007 turnaround job when he was principal of Montebello, I have a selection of bridges I’d like to offer at a remarkable discount.
I suggest that folks read “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” carefully, and with a critical eye. Also, take a look at “Background — Turning Around Low Achieving Schools in Colorado”, which at least raises a few caution flags:
What’s needed is not this kind of flimflam. What’s needed are the real reforms that can make a difference: cut class size to 15 and reduce caseload; pay teachers and all other school employees adequately; provide ample resources and wraparound services, including counselors, nurses, libraries, vocational programs, etc. Involve students, parents, and the community in the school decision-making process. That’s a start.