• William Ga Pease

    As one of the former FAME teachers mentioned in Mr. Levine’s article, I read his article with great interest but with concern over several errors of reporting, omission and selective use of data that I’d like to clarify.

    Mr. Levine makes excellent points about the need for oversight and competence. As a teacher who enjoyed teaching at FAME and went to board meetings to defend it, I can still attest to waiting on pins and needles for weeks to see if I would get my final two paychecks (I finally received my June pay a week ago and my July pay today.) However, as to the academic side, which I understand better than the administrative, I want to note:

    1. Mr. Levine notes that FAME “offered a unique opportunity for integrating Arabic-speaking students into the American educational mainstream.” Nowhere does he mention that the school offered the only public dual-immersion English/Arabic program in North America, or that students at every level received foreign language instruction in Arabic.

    Indeed, the majority of our students did NOT come from Arabic speaking households.

    This omission is no different from making no mention of a dual-immersion Spanish/English school’s Spanish language instruction, even when most of the students do not speak Spanish at home, and describing it only as offering “a unique opportunity for integrating Spanish-speaking students into the American educational mainstream.” It is an omission that is wholly misleading.

    2. Mr. Levine refers to a piece wherein “Jim Morris and Desrie Campbell of the Oakland Tribune recently compared FAME’s academic results to the neighboring Fremont Unified School District.” Mr. Morris and Desrie Campbell are NOT reporters at the Oakland Tribune; they are the Superintendent and a School Board member of Fremont USD, respectively, writing a guest opinion piece. Mr. Morris, in particular, has been very vocal in his support of shutting down FAME. Which leads me to the selective use of statistics in this same article.

    3. I do not dispute the numbers in Mr. Morris and Mr. Campbell’s opinion piece, but I do think they only tell part of the story. The majority of our on-site students were NOT from Fremont, which is one of the highest performing school districts in Alameda County. Fremont was chosen for comparison by the county because more of our students reside in Fremont than elsewhere, but the majority still come from across Alameda County and beyond.

    By the county’s own assessment, “approximately 54 percent of students in classrooms were from school districts performing better than FAME academically” <>

    which, if based on API scores where no two schools in the county have the same number,

    http://api.cde.ca.gov/Acnt2014/apiavgcty.aspx?allcds=01

    means that 46% of our students will be forced to return to districts with lower average API scores. Even JFK High School in Fremont has a lower API than FAME. I say this not to demean those districts, or to say that our slowly improving scores were anything but average, but they are hardly the dismal failure implied by the comparison with Fremont. (NOTE: 2013 was the last year API scores were available; they were used in Mr. Morris and Ms. Campbell’s article as well.)

    On a personal note, over the last 3 years I was at FAME, I saw many problems, but things continually improved over my three years there, to the point that I was genuinely hopeful for continual improvements and excited about my job. At our senior graduation, only one of our high school seniors did not graduate, and from a small class of 30 or 40 at our site, we had grads going to UCLA, UC Berkeley, UCSD, and other schools I found impressive. I do not know how the 73% graduation rate is calculated and do not dispute it; I am just proud of the students we had graduate, and like many, miss the teachers and students I got to work with.

    In conclusion, I feel Mr. Levine makes good points about oversight, and I do not wish to defend improper handling of finance. Even at the county meetings, where I earnestly hoped for this school and community to continue, I was aware of the huge history of problems. However, I was not expecting what I found to be inaccurate or misleading information.

    I welcome any insights or corrections to my letter. Thank you all for your time.

  • RMH Jasmin Grau

    Mr. Levine –

    Thank you so much for your sorely needed article! I worked for this school last year, and had
    no idea about some of the things in your article. I will use this when people ask me – what
    the heck is going on over there?!?! It
    is very clear, I feel less confused – and that is a BIG thanks.

    One thing that was going on, amidst the madness, and that
    most people wouldn’t realize, was a largely normal day to day life at school
    for students and teachers… I appreciate that you are addressing the
    fixes needed in Charter Law to get the system back on track. This is one of those unintended consequences
    of a well-intended parts of the law;

    Students and Teachers Get Tossed
    Under the Bus In Closing A School with Bad Management

    The County Office of Education and Fame/Basis were locked
    for years in a stalemate – constant childish bickering so banal that one is
    embarrassed for them.

    The joyful daily life of the actual students and teachers,
    the real business end of the school, as far as I’m concerned, was always oddly
    missing in the debate between Fame and the ACOE. Sure, we used as pawns on occasion, in skewed
    data or a fuzzy lens of emotional tugging, but mostly forgotten.

    Now we see the real cause of the collapse, severe
    mismanagement and corruption at the core of Fame, so rotten that it could not
    be extracted.

    BUT, ACCORDING TO CHARTER SCHOOL LAW, A SCHOOL CANNOT BE CLOSED BECAUSE THE GOVERNING BODIES ARE CROOKED AS
    HECK even if PROVEN SO IN COURT YEAR AFTER YEAR. For the ACOE, it is understandably
    frustrating to be in charge of that oversight, but to just give up and wait for
    the house to fall of it’s own noncompliance – while full of students and
    teachers – is unconscionable and illegal.

    SO THEN, TO CLOSE THE
    SCHOOL THEY ATTACKED THE CHILDRENs PERFORMANCE. Fame/Basis was too busy cycling high
    interest loans between their friends against each upcoming Public Ed Fund
    disbursement – so collecting data was a bother.

    Why are Fame’s student’s scores compared with Fremont’s? Fremont is one on the best ranked districts
    in the region. Our students actually
    reside in Oakland, East Palo Alto, San Francisco, Daly City, Fremont, Newark,
    San Leandro, etc….

    To examine comparable data, the districts from which our
    student come need to be considered, not the most convenient district for the
    ACOE to site in their study.

    Nagla, director of testing this year, worked overtime and
    pulled of heroic feats (try state testing with homeschooler!). Had they employed someone like her consistently
    over the years, giving the tools and training needed – our students would have
    been able to show what I know they were capable of…

    FAME HOME SCHOOL
    STUDENTS WERE THE BEST STUDENTS – ON AVERAGE, OVERALL – THAT I EVER HAD THE
    PLEASURE OF WORKING WITH DURING MY 9 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM.

    Of my 5 seniors, all graduated. Four were already enrolled in community
    college classes during high school, and 3 of them continued at the CCs while 1
    of them was accepted to multiple UC’s and State Colleges. The remaining senior is co-owner of his own
    business and taking classes as he works with his business.

    I had papers and Science lab reports trickle in weeks after
    the school was closed, just because students wanted feedback. A 9th grade student of mine tore
    through my College History Textbooks just because she likes to read and wanted
    to discuss the comparison with her own texts.

    At one of our campuses, our tiny High School boy’s basketball
    team won a championship!

    Were they terribly wronged by Fame and the limited resources
    available? Yes! Did Fame ultimately interfere with their
    access to education? YES! Did our Independent Studies Program become
    referred to as the “cash cow”, especially with the special needs students who
    were undeserved? YES!

    WHY would I defend what is now a clearly dysfunctional
    situation, as I did petition for the school to remain open?

    Did our student, families and teachers fail overall…. NO WAY!

    The ACOE attacked student performance as my own students
    covered studies with enthusiasm I’ve never seen, and organized for state
    testing like I never dreamed homeschooler would. I
    could only conclude that the ACOE was bullying our school. One of the Board members had what seemed a
    very thinly veiled contempt for Arabic culture, making the fight that much more
    layered in ugly.

    Did I see more corruption and dysfunction than mainstream
    schools I’ve been at? Debatable.

    The last campus I worked (a highly ranked school) had 3
    principals in one year, the second was ousted for embezzling student funds. There was not a peep about shutting that
    school. I’ve been knocked to the ground
    in gang riots, had a hole punched in the wall next to my head… this was not the most chaotic. Just the craziest with the back office
    paperwork, and the most inconsistent in resources.

    But, student work was excellent. Teachers were professional. Families were cohesive and supportive, with
    almost no anti-social behavior.

    For this reason, I could not believe that we were being
    closed. So I worked day and night, on
    top of the regular work teachers do, to gather signatures and write letters to
    the court of appeals.

    The new principal, Laura Mercer, had clear plans to fix the
    mess of paperwork and shadiness in the HR/Payroll office. I spent over 100 hours pulling together a
    hybrid hands-on lab / online learning science curriculum, working through the
    night until the last week of school.

    The worse things get, the more hours teachers work, and more
    sacrifice we are willing to give for our students. The same thing goes for all of the families
    that I worked for. The community was so
    strong that it made up in many ways for the schools failings.

    And that is the character trait that is exploited in
    educators, tutors and special needs providers (some of whom FAME owes outstanding
    debts going back months – but they never cut off services, because it is for
    the kids…. sometimes with special needs…
    what you would do?).

    We are fixers, doers, innovators. We try again every year in often broken systems. Chaos is normalized for us, and we must
    continue on without breaking stride in providing services for students
    regardless of the chaos — in whatever
    back offices — each fall. It’s been that way for most of my decade in
    public schools, Fame just being the extreme on the spectrum.

    I worked in Independent Studies (IS), with 9 other teachers. I hold a Master’s Degree and several single
    subject HS science credentials. Several
    of the other IS teachers likewise hold MAs in addition to credentials. Several of the IS teachers have been in Home
    Schooling for over a decade and are a fountain of knowledge. We pulled together and carried on
    professionally through the chaos, patching up holes here and there with
    personal funds, as public school teachers do.

    BUT FAME CEO AND PR/Payroll/HR and Board knew they were closing,
    they had stopped paying tutors and healthcare provides while they had us
    chasing our tails in circles for “next year”.

    FAME never bothered
    to build a deserving defense of our students work, they were too busy scheming
    how to walk off without paying their debts.

    FAME THREW THE
    STUDENTS UNDER THE BUS in the final hour AS THEY RAN OFF WITH THE MONEY.

    THE RIPPLE EFFECTS OF
    THE APATHY IN OVERSIGHT, and DIFFICULTLY IN EXCERCISING AUTHORITY IN OVERSIGHT
    ULTIMATELY HURTS THE STUDENTS.

    How must students feel,
    to see that they don’t measure up in the papers? Especially when no one bothered to collect and
    properly analyze data (longitudinally) to show their learning? They are just being used as a pawn to shut down
    a corrupt upper management, the management that stole their school from them.

    OVERSIGHT. INCLUDING UNIONS (but that is a different
    article)

    DON’t LEAVE THE
    STUDENTS and TEACHERS stranded like LORD OF THE FLIES. Bring in the ship of OVERSIGHT before
    everyone is toasted.

    Mr. Levine – Where do
    I vote for you and/or upcoming Charter Law changes?