Blue Oak gets bad news

Butte County Office of Education is yanking the beloved Waldorf school’s charter

The Blue Oak Charter School governing board voted on Tuesday (Jan. 11) to seek charter authorization from Chico Unified School District after Butte County refused earlier in the week to renew the school’s charter.

If Blue Oak is successful, it will keep the Waldorf-methods school open and functioning after the current charter expires in June, and Chico Unified—instead of the Butte County Office of Education—will be responsible for some oversight of a school that has struggled to raise test scores and build a stronger administrative base.

Blue Oak parents said they were stunned by the Butte County Board of Education’s Jan. 10 unanimous vote to deny charter renewal for the Chico school. “We’re absolutely shocked,” said Charter Council President Heather Altfeld. “We’re incredibly disappointed; our school represents more than 200 families.

“I feel this is a school that supports the best practices, and am 100 percent confident about the education my children have,” added Altfeld, a mother of three Blue Oak students and a founding member of the school.

The Butte County Board of Education voted against renewing the 10-year-old school’s charter after county Superintendent Don McNelis shared his view of Blue Oak at a public meeting.

“I don’t feel the school is being successful,” McNelis said in a telephone interview the following day. “I shared my concerns about the school’s state ranking. It’s been going down, and I felt that was a major problem.”

Although Blue Oak raised its API (Academic Performance Index) based on test scores by 58 points in 2010, a state ranking, the “Decile” ranking, sank to 1 in the 2008-09 school year. That means the school is ranked in the bottom 10 percent of schools in the state, according to some student-performance indicators, McNelis said. “The school has not been successful in either state or federal rankings,” he added.

But McNelis’ position surprised some who attended BCOE’s meeting, perhaps because the county’s Charter Review Committee that included Assistant Superintendent Steve Olmos had recommended the Blue Oak charter be renewed with conditions. McNelis said he had intentionally tried not to influence his committee, “but perhaps that was a mistake on my part.”

In material presented with the agenda to the Board of Education, the committee said: “Blue Oak Charter School has not made reasonable progress in meeting its established educational goals regarding state testing results during the last five years. … Blue Oak is demonstrating the will to change … [and] has already begun on its plan to improve student achievement….”

Blue Oak’s new director, Michael Ramos, said he was “completely blindsided by the superintendent’s position.”

He said McNelis’ presentation to the board was “based on conjecture and inaccurate.”

Ramos said the school has begun using state-approved textbooks and has taken other steps to ensure better testing results and improved academic performance. Ramos, who took over leadership of the school several months ago, formerly worked in the Butte County Office of Education.

McNelis said he has other concerns about the school as well. He said the school has been using the special-education funding provided by the state “for a variety of other purposes.” Altfeld denies that allegation; she said the school is consulting with its attorney to ensure that its use of the funds for hiring “intervention specialists” is appropriate.

McNelis also said there had been “security breaches” at the school during standardized testing, though he doesn’t believe what occurred was “intentional.”

Altfeld said some tests had been left in the school’s office in an unsecured location, and when she realized what had occurred, she immediately reported it to the California Department of Education. The state concluded the incident didn’t merit investigation, Altfeld said.