Dozier-Libbey in Antioch calls attention to Charter School movement

On July 4th 2014 the Contra Costa Times reported Nancie Castro, principal of the highly acclaimed Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch since its inception in 2008 was unceremoniously removed and demoted to a teaching position at Deer Valley.

dozier-libbey-charterCasual observers might wonder why the major architect of arguably one of the few successes in the school district would in effect be fired? How could Ms. Castro be shown the door when Dozier-Libbey was named by U.S. News and World Report among the best high schools in the country with over 91% of their recent 130 graduates headed for college programs?

The answer is simple. Nancy Castro defied the school district and pushed for a recently failed plan to make Dozier-Libbey a Charter School outside the school board’s sphere of influence. Antioch Unified School District Superintendent Donald Gill, and the Antioch trustees, which spent scarce district funds on attornies to fight the rebel school, did not have the slightest hesitation to put down the uprising by cutting off the head and installing one of their people to run the place.

The status of Dozier-Libbey is still undecided per this report from the Press.net.

Were this private industry it would be the equivalent of the Chairman of Toyota firing the individual in charge of the Lexus Division because they are making excessive profits and setting the bar too high for future managers. However, in the case of Nancy Castro, not a peep has been heard because outside of the school, she has had virtually no support within the local educational community.

nancy castro dozier-libbey

Rep. McNerney meets with Principal Nancy Castro and Dr. Cynthia Soraoka, both of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School.

The same Teacher Unions that would insist a child molester caught in the classroom be given administrative leave and a couple of hearings before (maybe) dismissal has been uncharacteristically silent about this matter. Although no press releases are anticipated to come from them, it is a well known fact that Teacher Unions dislike Charter Schools as they represent a direct threat to union monopoly control of public education in California.

The Union and School District are silent partners in opposing the creation of Charters in that:

  1. They do not want a competing model for the existing public education system which is performance based as this threatens the present tenure system
  2. Even though many teachers eagerly take assignments at Charter Schools to have access to better students and working conditions, they historically have to work longer hours than normal instructors because of the demands of the job.
  3. It is thought in many quarters that Charter Schools dilute neighborhood schools by attracting good students and families who otherwise would be attending other institutions in the area.
  4. By creating their own school districts, Charters are taking administrative funds away from the district and less advantaged schools
  5. If Charter Schools prove to be successful, they put more pressure on large District’s to improve their performance.

Given these fundamentals held by the majority of educational hierarchies and their leaders, and supported by a union friendly legislature, education reform including Charter Schools is an uphill battle.

When the magic words uttered by educators “We are here for the kids” is spoken, what does this really mean? What are the true priorities and where does the money really go? Whose interests come first?

Unfortunately, there is not some type of a magic formula that will allow for California’s underperforming school system to extract itself from the dumpster fire where it currently resides. There is no “one size fits all” solution that works.

While Charter Schools give hope when nurtured in the right environment, they are not the entire answer to what ails public school education as recent history in Antioch indicates. Similar to what has happened in other communities, there have been mixed results there.

The Antioch Charter Academy (K-8) and Charter Academy II (K-6) have enjoyed moderate success. Test scores were much better than neighborhood schools but are only slightly higher than the State Average. It should be noted these institutions have been able to meet the criteria for keeping their accreditation with the  California Charter Schools Association  (CCSC) which entails:

  • An Academic Performance Index score of at least 744 from last spring’s state tests.
  • Three-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points.
  • Close to or exceeding the performance of similar student populations statewide for at least two of the past three years.

Admission to these Charters is by lottery. Most of the families who apply whose children eventually attend the schools are motivated and involved with their children’s education and posess a wide degree of cultural diversity. The only grammar school in the district, Lone Tree Elementary, that has higher test scores, is populated by students whose parents are better educated than the norm in Antioch.

In contrast to the other Charter Schools in Antioch is the failing Raising Academic Achievement Multi-Cultural Program (RAAMP), which was set up primarily for African American children who have not historically succeeded in the public school system. RAAMP has a higher number of students from single parent households whose families receive more government benefits than those attending other local charter institutions, and does not meet the standards for accreditation established by the CSDC.

It has been argued by RAAMP administrators that State testing criteria is not fair to them and evaluating RAMP performance needs to be measured in other ways. To their chagrin, few buyers in the educational community agree with this line of reasoning.

But the fact remains that for various reasons, Charter Schools in Antioch have gained different degrees of measureable success in the past few years. It seems that the one common thread that links the outcome determining their performance is family involvement in encouraging kids to succeed. Smaller class sizes, free lunch programs, intense counseling, and after school programs are not as statistically relevant when compared to parents who actively participate in their children’s education.

Interestingly enough, the characteristics of a good learning environment at home is more important than racial composition or economic demographics for those who attend schools in a given geographical area.

It is easy for critics to blame teachers, school districts, the State of California, and the Federal Government for dismal test scores and the lack of basic literacy for students who emerge from public education programs.  The fact is it will take a team work approach from all entities involved to make things work in the future. Especially parents.

Which brings us to Dozier-Libbey. This institution has been a real success story since its inception. District School administrators should be embracing former Principal Nancie Castro rather than demoting and exiling her from the school. Whether Dozier-Libbey should remain within the school system or become an Independent Charter are legitimate questions that need to be part of reasoned dialogue between all parties concerned.

Resorting to cheap political tricks using the “ends justify the means” approach is not the way to go.

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