School the board
The landscape in public education has profoundly changed in the last five years. How America educates its children has been altered by No Child Left Behind, increased standardized testing and the advent of independent charter schools. Sacramento is not immune to this transformation.
In 2003, Sacramento City Unified School District made the controversial decision to close Oak Park’s Sacramento High School and grant Kevin Johnson’s St. Hope Corporation the authority to run Sacramento Charter High School in its place. It was a serious gamble and tonight the school board will be rolling the dice and voting on the renewal of St. Hope’s charter. Recent coverage in The Sacramento Bee would have you believe that tonight’s vote should be an unequivocal “yes.”
I say, “Not so fast.”
In August 2003, SCUSD board members used this column to question the wisdom of granting the authority to run a public school to a private organization. Since that time, the students of Sac High have seen a radical transformation of their school. Students were introduced to a longer school day, mandated uniforms and a block schedule.
St. Hope also unleashed a slick marketing campaign bent on selling its success story before it had one to tell. Local and national media lavished praise on Johnson and St. Hope’s efforts. Unfortunately, the students at Sac High haven’t faired so well. Enrollment has fallen from 2,025 in 2002 to fewer than 1,100 today. The students who do attend Sacramento Charter High School face a constantly changing roster of classroom teachers, principals, school personnel, and board members. They also experienced the sudden departure of superintendent Margaret Fortune just days after the legality of St. Hope’s involvement in a school board campaign was called into question.
From their redevelopment endeavors to their education efforts, Johnson and the St. Hope Corporation have failed to win the respect of the community. St. Hope has under-performed as both a school and a neighbor.
It is time to call their bluff. The school board needs to do its homework. Postpone tonight’s decision. Do a thorough investigation into where the students and educators have gone, and find out why they left. Former St. Hope employees are willing to talk; they just need a board that is ready to listen.