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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fight For Valley Oak Goes to the County... And Beyond

As if Valley Oak did not have enough obstacles already, looking at the budget situation for the Davis Joint Unified School District gives one the clear impression that the school district could not afford to lose another couple of hundred students to a Valley Oak Charter School under the auspices of the county. How they choose to deal with that reality at this time remains somewhat unclear.

However, on March 6, 2008, a Thursday in the evening there will be a public hearing at the County Board of Education in Woodland where Valley Oak's Charter petition appeal will be heard.

There are more hurdles. If the County chooses to accept the charter petition, the teacher salary schedule is considerably lower than at DJUSD. Their health benefits program is more limited. How this impacts the charter and its ability to attract teachers is unclear at this time.

According to the County Board of Education's website, the board decision must be made no later than April 4, 2008.

The public has a number of different means by which to comment. One of course would be to show up at the meeting on March 6, 2008.

However, the public may also leave a voicemail message of up to five minutes in length at: (530) 668-3751.

They may also email the county at:

Valley Oak supporters are urging the public to send an email or a voice message to one of those two sources.

Valley Oak Teacher and one of the key organizers Bill Storm told the Vanguard:
"We need people to check our website and offer their support as is suggested there. I’m sure the district will have plenty to say against us, as will those people in Davis who want us dead and the neighborhood left unserved. Community voices will be important here."
Sarah Fonte, a teacher at Cesar Chavez, in a letter to the Davis Enterprise stressed that the Charter School is a free public school that is nevertheless unique.
"As a strong proponent of equitable public education for all students, I am glad to know that the proposed charter school is, in fact, a free public school. Like all schools in Davis, state academic standards will be taught and student academic performance will be measured through the same testing structures currently used in California's other public schools.

What makes this school unique, however, is that a board of teachers, community members and parents will work together to determine how these standards should be presented to best suit the needs of all of the school's students."
She adds that while the Charter School primarily intends to serve the neighborhood students and families, she believes "students who live in other areas in and around Davis will be able to take advantage of the school's programs as well."
"This charter school effort is not a privatization scheme, and in no way is it an effort to undermine other great programs present in the Davis school district. Instead, the goal of this school is to support the low-income and culturally diverse students, among others, who are effectively being denied equal educational opportunity because of the Board of Education's decision to close their highly successful neighborhood school."
Finally a letter from Henry Anker, a student at Holmes Junior High wrote an eloquent letter to the editor that was published on Valentine's Day.
"I am a student at Holmes Junior High, and Valley Oak Elementary School is part of my community. The issue of whether Valley Oak should become a charter school is not financial. It is social. The charter was turned down, but it is not clear why. It would be funded by the state of California and not Yolo County or Davis.

I went to a meeting at Valley Oak on Feb. 2. One person at the meeting who is a Valley Oak teacher and who lives in the neighborhood said, 'Valley Oak is more than a school.' What she meant by that was Valley Oak is a unique school that cannot be replicated anywhere else. It is unique because of where it is located, who it serves and how it educates.

When I was at the meeting, I could see why Valley Oak is unique. There were children, adults and old people; Spanish and English speakers. One teacher said there were 23 languages spoken at Valley Oak. There were always at least two people on stage explaining things - one in Spanish and the other in English.

They explained that if the school becomes a charter, it would be a cooperative. A cooperative empowers people to learn by participating. I learned a lot at that meeting - it was an example of the cooperative spirit that makes Valley Oak unique.

One person in the audience, Mariko Yamada, said her children went to Valley Oak once. She told everyone what a great school Valley Oak is, and she said, 'Most of the battles you will fight in your life you will lose, but if you don't fight - then we lose them all.'"
The message is clear. Members of the Valley Oak community want the public to know that this fight is not over. That the community is not giving up. That they will continue to fight and take this to the county. That if they should not prevail at the county-level they are going to the state.

There has been too much energy spent on keeping the hope of Valley Oak alive to give up now. Valley Oak represents a strong education for the children of a community that is often under-served. It means a strongly knit and closely bonded community. And the bottom line is that Valley Oak has succeeded despite all of the obstacles in the past. In this time of budget cuts and cutting of programs it is more important than ever to insure that our most vulnerable students have the best possible education.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting