Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Anatomy of a Failure: How a Promising LA Charter School Came Apart at the Seams

Anatomy of a Failure: How a Promising LA Charter School Came Apart at the Seams:

Anatomy of a Failure: How a Promising LA Charter School Came Apart at the Seams
Charter Schools - Dividing Communities since 1991


LESSONS FOR CHARTERS--In 2014, when teachers at Los Angeles’ Jefferson High School opened their own charter school, the Student Empowerment Academy, they hoped to bring the larger world into their classrooms. They wanted to show kids opportunities outside of their neighborhood, where academics often took a back seat to economic survival. Kids would learn science, math and social studies by solving real-world problems in teams, just as they would in the work-force, while teachers would have autonomy and genuine decision-making authority. 
But faculty members soon found themselves facing one real-world problem they hadn’t bargained on -- a tug of war for power with administrators and board members. Conflicts reached a boiling point in 2015, with staff leaving en masse – either fired, pushed out or stressed beyond their limits. 
The school also ran afoul of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which oversees the city’s charter schools, for financial mismanagement and other shortcomings. With enrollment dwindling, Jefferson announced that SEA would have to move to another facility for the 2017-18 academic year. If these obstacles weren’t enough, in its last year the fledgling charter school was led by a former professional football player with no teaching background and little administrative experience, and who, along with the academy’s board of directors, would throw the academy and students under the school bus once the going got tough. 
SEA’s story highlights the precarious nature of small independent charter schools, and brings to light the fact that charter boards of directors are largely independent and don’t always have to account to parents, teachers and communities for decisions that affect students. In the end, the academy’s board of directors concluded that SEA faced problems that were so intractable that the only solution was to shut it down, and last June, two weeks after classes ended for summer break, the directors voted for permanent closure. 
Teachers and parents were left reeling. Parents demanded to know what happened to the public funds that created the school, and where their kids would attend classes the next year. Teachers argued that more could have been done to save the school. 
Jefferson High sits in a South LA neighborhood where corner stores, modest homes and ramshackle apartments huddle cheek by jowl with small factories, all in the shadow of downtown’s skyline. Alumni include diplomat Ralph Bunche, the first African American Nobel laureate, choreographer Alvin Ailey, jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon and singer Anatomy of a Failure: How a Promising LA Charter School Came Apart at the Seams:
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