School Fair to Highlight Public and Charter Choices By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday August 12, 2005

Looking to reduce what the Alameda County Office of Education has called the “antipathy” between public charter schools and public school districts, two Berkeley-based educators have organized a cooperative public and charter school fair this weekend in Emeryville for representatives of both types of schools to present their programs to prospective students. 

The “New Schools, New Visions” school fair will be held this Saturday, Aug. 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Emery Secondary School, 1100 47th St. in Emeryville. Admission is free of charge to parents and students, who will be able to visit booths operated by more than 15 public and charter schools in the Bay Area. Representatives of local youth support agencies and organizations will also be present, and child care for small children will be available. 

A forum on potential collaboration and cooperation between public and charter schools will be held with Alameda County School Superintendent Sheila Jordan, Emery Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith, and Oasis Charter High School Director John Oubre. 

The fair is the brainchild of Berkeley residents Wanda Stewart and Marissa Saunders, and is being co-sponsored by the Emery Unified School District and Oasis Charter High School in Oakland. Stewart is the president of the Berkeley PTA Council and the coordinator of Recruitment, Outreach and Retention Services at Emery Unified. Saunders is the Student and Family Support Coordinator at Oasis, a hundred student downtown Oakland charter school geared towards students who have been unsuccessful in traditional public schools, or have been out of high school for a while and want to return. 

“The idea of a joint school recruitment fair comes out of the private boarding school world, where I came from as a school recruiter,” Stewart said. “A number of schools who had been in competition for students decided that when we worked collectively, we could reach more students. So we formed the Western Boarding Schools Association to make joint presentations, and we had unspoken agreements where we would refer a student to other association schools if we found that student was not appropriate for our school. The parents loved what we were doing, and it ended up working out well for everybody.” 

Both Stewart and Saunders agreed that such a collaboration will be more difficult between school districts and charter schools, which are in a fierce battle all across California for Average Daily Attendance money from the state. 

“Sometimes we as educators lose sight of the bigger goal, which is to ensure that each student is successful,” Saunders said. “Politics and finances often take priority over more important things. The mindset of the two types of schools has to change.” 

“I don’t know of any school that has enough money,” Stewart added. “We could continue to fight over scarce resources, or we can refuse to be pitted against each other and pool those resources and work together to expand the available money. It means we are all going to have to be more flexible, and we are going to have to have some hard conversations. We’re creating a new type of education system—who knows exactly what will come out?” 

Both women gave credit to Alameda County School Superintendent Sheila Jordan for helping to begin a public-charter dialogue in the area. Last October, Jordan put together a Charter School Policy Task Force to study the issue. Last June, the task force released a report entitled “How Can We Reduce Conflict Between Charter Schools and School Districts?” recommending areas of cooperation between the two types of schools. Jordan is expected to present the recommendations to the Alameda County Board of Education and to local school boards in the county this fall. 

“It was a powerful thing when Jordan stepped up and said she is going to support a collaboration between public and charter schools,” Stewart said. “It was only a few years before, when charters were first being introduced, that she was indicating that she didn’t like them. But a lot of that has changed since then.”