Update on Yu Ming Charter Expansion

Yu Ming Charter School is a dual-immersion Mandarin/English K-8 school in North Oakland. The school applied to the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) in October to expand from 488 students to 1400 students over the next 10 years. On Tuesday, the county board voted down the expansion by a vote of 4 to 3.

I wrote about this issue in a previous blog post, and in November the president of our neighborhood association asked me to meet with the director of Yu Ming, along with a few parents from North Oakland. Their biggest concern was that the expansion not happen at the Santa Fe site, which will be vacant next year when Glenview School moves back to its original location. The community wants a neighborhood school to open at Santa Fe, not a charter school that is more regional as Yu Ming is.

Yu Ming is a high-performing school with amazing test scores, and has won a national Blue Ribbon award from the federal Department of Education. Sue Park, the Head of School, clarified to us that their proposal is to open a new campus in East Oakland or San Leandro, not to expand anywhere in North Oakland.

We were all impressed by the accomplishments of the school, but I said that the problem with expanding was the negative pressure it would put on other neighborhood schools, wherever the new campus would open in Oakland or nearby: as charter schools attract families away from public schools (and Yu Ming historically has brought in higher-income families), the schools that those students leave have fewer resources. The painful and traumatic conversation in Oakland right now about closing schools (regardless of how you feel about that) is driven by those impacts. This was the rationale for the district closing Santa Fe back in 2012. So opening a new campus at this time, without a vision for helping the neighborhood schools that would be affected, would have the side effect of prolonging and deepening this pain and trauma in our city.

Ms. Park emphasized that one big reason for the expansion was that Yu Ming is not as diverse as they would like it to be: for example, only 16% qualify for free or reduced lunch. This compares to about 75% in OUSD overall. She said that without growing, it would be hard for them to shift those numbers quickly.

On Tuesday, ACOE staff pointed out that despite Yu Ming's efforts to diversify over the past couple of years, the ethnic diversity had not changed very much, even in the new kindergarten class. They also said that the expansion is not planned to start until after Yu Ming's charter renewal is due next year, which raised the question whether Yu Ming was trying to get the expansion approved before the new more restrictive state charter law (AB 1505) takes effect next summer, or before a possible change in the ACOE board in next March's elections.

Hayward Unified Superintendent Matt Wayne and board member April Oquenda spoke during public comment about Hayward's public Stonebrae Elementary School, which also has a dual immersion Mandarin/English program but is not a charter school. They were concerned that competition from a new Yu Ming campus would affect their school. Trustee McDonald noted that New Haven Unified and Fremont Unified are also starting Mandarin/English immersion programs in their public schools.

Board Vice President Amber Childress, ACOE trustee for Alameda and East Oakland, expressed concern about the size of the expansion but ultimately voted in favor of it. She was joined by Ken Berrick and Yvonne Cerrato, but the other four trustees voted against it and the motion failed. Board President Joaquin Rivera said that he was opposed to the expansion because Yu Ming has not yet shown an ability to diversify and to serve a more diverse student body well.

The ACOE board did approve a modification to further diversify Yu Ming at its current size (it is already approved to grow to as many as 600 students), by increasing the slots reserved for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch students to 30% (from the current 20%). I agree with this change - we should push our highly successful charter schools to be more diverse and to truly serve the whole community. In their renewal, I believe that Yu Ming should also be asked to join Oakland Unified's Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), so that it is contributing to the community's need to fully serve our students with special needs.

I am very concerned that county trustees who believe that OUSD should be closing schools would vote for opening a large new campus which would have a big negative impact on OUSD's enrollment, and thereby on the schools that are already under-resourced in East Oakland. That is why I am endorsing Angela Normand, a public school special education teacher who is running against Amber Childress for the ACOE trustee seat for Alameda and East Oakland in the March 2020 election. She is also endorsed by the California Teachers Association, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, and Alameda Board of Education Directors Mia Bonta and Gray Harris.

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