West Oakland Middle School to Envision Charter: ‘Stay Away!’

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OUSD teachers pose in front of WOMS. They are asking Envision Education, a charter management organization, not to take space in the Lowell campus that WOMS, the only public middle school in West Oakland, uses.

Teachers and community public school advocates are asking Envision Education, a charter school management organization, not to take over public school classrooms at West Oakland Middle School (WOMS).

“We want to persuade them not to take (our) space because it will be harmful to the last public middle school in West Oakland,” writes WOMS teacher Christie Blakley in an online petition that now has over 900 signatures.

Envision is scheduled to tell OUSD on May 1 whether the charter is accepting the district’s offer and will co-locate with WOMS.

Classrooms are already crowded, as some WOMS teachers are doubling up to utilize limited space. But Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has offered Envision Education rooms in WOMS because Proposition 39 requires that public schools that don’t meet enrollment quotas offer space to charters.

But Envision Education is not required to accept OUSD’s offer. Blakley claims WOMS teachers need the space they have and would like more space for restorative justice programs, reading and math intervention, language development and small group and/or one-on-one work for special education students. She is also concerned that co-locating with a charter would require WOMS to compete with the charter for resources while making it harder to develop and maintain a positive school culture.

In an email to the principal and the WOMS Community, Envisions CEO Gia Truong and two other administrators stated they want to meet with WOMS leadership and community about having a successful partnership.

“We feel confident that there is enough space on the campus to ensure students at both schools thrive, and (we) are committed to working collaboratively to make that a reality,” the email read.

Patti Barros, who works at WOMS as a resource specialist for special education students, said she already does not have the space she needs. Many of her students’ individualized education plans require one-on-one or small group work. But since she shares her room with another teacher, she often has to carve out space where she can. She has taught in the teachers’ lounge, the school library, and the garden. Without a stable workspace, learning and teaching become more difficult, she said.

“It’s hard to make progress with students when there isn’t adequate space to bring them into,” said Barros.

Blakley is worried that if Envision moves a school into WOMS campus, the charter could take students that are more likely to score well on tests, while neglecting students who are more likely to score lower on tests for WOMS. And the existing charter, Envision Academy, currently enrolls significantly fewer special education students.

Speaking out in support of WOMS, Pastor Anthony Jenkins of Taylor Memorial Church recorded a plea addressed to Envisions after preaching on Sunday, April 22, asking the charter not to take space from WOMS.

“How can we allow charter schools to come in to sift the students that they want?” asked Pastor Jenkins. “Gods arms are open to everyone without discrimination.”

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