East Palo Alto charter school wins county approval | News | Palo Alto Online |


East Palo Alto charter school wins county approval

Oxford Day Academy to open fall 2017

Two months after the Sequoia Union High School District board voted down Oxford Day Academy's petition to open a public charter high school in East Palo Alto, the San Mateo County Office of Education gave the school its unanimous stamp of approval.

Founder Mallory Dwinal won the county board's support 7-0 on Wednesday, Aug. 24, after appealing the Sequoia Union board's June decision. An 11-member team from the county Office of Education -- including senior administrators, lead deputy county counsel, an English learner support services coordinator and special-education administrator -- reviewed the charter petition and found that it met all five criteria laid out in the state Education Code.

"Our County Board of Education takes very seriously its role as an appellate body and we carefully weigh all the issues involved in a charter appeal," county board President Jim Cannon said in a statement provided to the Palo Alto Weekly. "In the case of the Oxford Day Academy, our Board unanimously felt that the Oxford Day charter proposal presented an innovative, well-conceived educational plan that will provide another educational option for students in the Sequoia Union High School District, especially those students living in East Palo Alto, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City."

The tuition-free Oxford Day Academy, which is now slated to open in August 2017, uses an instructional approach based on that of the prestigious Oxford University in England (from where Dwinal graduated). The school uses a tutorial model that asks students to learn core academic skills through in-depth projects with real-world applications in their community, like looking at local crime rates as part of a math problem or writing a grant application for a local school in need of funding, Dwinal said in a previous interview.

Teachers and "socio-emotional learning coaches" work with students in small groups on a daily basis in a multi-grade, interdisciplinary "learning studio."

The school also emphasizes community connections, culture, service, social justice and leadership.

The Sequoia Union school board voted against the school's petition 3-2, expressing concerns that the petition did not meet required standards in several areas. Staff, which recommended the board reject the charter, had identified concerns about curriculum, enrollment and budget.

Despite the county review team's supportive recommendation, its report, too, pointed to some areas of deficiency. Two topics lacked a "reasonably comprehensive description," including for services for both English-language learners and special-education students, the report states.

It also recommends that "given the breadth and scope of the curriculum ODA describes ... it is critical for ODA to clearly develop its curriculum with sufficient specificity to ensure teachers have adequate understanding and support to address students' needs."

"The ODA educational program would benefit from fully developed and detailed phasing and professional development plans to ensure strategic program support and implementation," the report states.

Calling Oxford Day Academy's program "rich," "innovative" and ambitious," the county also "strongly" recommended that Oxford Day Academy increasing its projected staffing for the first year of operation from three to four teachers.

The county school board also opted to give Oxford Day Academy a three- instead of five-year charter, Dwinal said because its model is "so different and so new."

"The model is completely different from anything we've seen before and they want to be cautious in making sure it does right by kids," she said.

Dwinal plans to open Oxford Day Academy next fall, starting with about 68 freshmen and building capacity by one grade level each subsequent year, according to the county report. The school hopes to serve 272 students by the 2020-21 school year.

The school will be open to all students living in the Sequoia Union High School District, but will primarily target students from East Palo Alto and Redwood City.

The school will begin as a pilot this year, and is looking to work with students who are not attending school during the day for whatever reason, whether they are being homeschooled or might have just left the juvenile justice system, Dwinal said. Students will get academic credit in exchange for the work that they do, allowing the school to work out any kinks in advance of opening next year.

Dwinal has yet to find a physical space to house the school, but was waiting to do so in earnest until the charter was approved, she said. The county's report cautions that there is a "limited amount of available space in East Palo Alto."

Oxford Day Academy is the latest in a handful of new schools set to open in East Palo Alto. The Ravenswood City School District board recently approved a TK-8 KIPP Bay Area School, also set to open next fall, and Priscilla Chan, wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, is planning to open a free, private pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school in East Palo Alto called The Primary School.

The Sequoia Union school district currently sponsors two independent charter high schools, Summit Prep Charter and Everest Public in Redwood City. It also supports East Palo Alto Academy (EPAA), which was launched by and receives support from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, as a dependent charter school.

Two other charter schools also operate within the Ravenswood City School District boundaries in East Palo Alto: the K-6 East Palo Alto Charter School and the 7-12 East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy. Both are operated by the charter organization Aspire Public Schools, though the Sequoia school district previously sponsored East Palo Alto Phoenix, according to the district.


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2 people like this
Posted by Sue Allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:42 pm

In the next 5-10 years when EPA and Belle Haven part of Menlo Park are no longer low-income communities how will the mission of all these charter schools change? Will they just be free private schools for the gentrified new residents? Or will they charge tuition? Or will they move their campuses elsewhere?

Like this comment
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Sue Allen - As long as parents want to send their kids to a charter school, it's all good, right?

6 people like this
Posted by Congrats
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2016 at 5:13 pm

Glad the EPA community has been able to accomplish this despite the bureaucratic obstacles from their own school district. This will be much better than sending their kids to Palo Alto via the Tinsley program.

A good local school helps foster a sense of community, and the Tinsley choice was always a temporary bandaid which didn't deliver much IMHO. If anything, it just aggravated the performance gap that so many local politicians and school officials like to quote to push their own agendas.

2 people like this
Posted by TP
a resident of El Carmelo School
on Aug 31, 2016 at 6:18 am

CONGRATS.Did you read the article.

"The school will begin as a pilot this year, and is looking to work with students who are not attending school during the day for whatever reason, whether they are being home schooled or might have just left the juvenile justice system, Dwinal said."
This is going to be a program for kids with issues, a continuation school. Most parents who care about their childrens education wont send them here.

4 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2016 at 10:25 pm

Really, I was reading this wishing we had such an option in Palo Alto. All the people I know homeschooling are doing so to give their kids better, healthier, more customized, real-world-based schooling options. But no one is stuck on homebased instruction, most like to integrate the education with some kind of community of learning. This would be perfect. I could see this being an excellent and supportive place for students who are working, too.

I really do not get the antagonism toward charters. School district leadership just hate sharing control. You know what they say, absolute power corrpts absolutely. Congratulations and all the best for this wonderful innovation.

Like this comment
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 31, 2016 at 10:42 pm

My issue with charters is how they can be forced down a community's throat. Because of how Palo Alto funds its schools, they're a bad fit for this city. There are various other situations where I don't like the politics of them.

That said, this charter sounds like a good thing. Drop-out rates among high-school students in this state are high and this program looks like it targets kids who aren't being well served by traditional high schools.


Palo Alto has the Middle College option and some others as well--well, some of these programs are in nearby city, but Palo Alto students use them.

2 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2016 at 12:46 am

That's a fair concern. I agree that this program sounds like it will serve a pretty unserved segment - especially boys. But we have that the same unserved segment in Palo Alto, too, but nothing to serve the need. Although one never likes to think of having to force districts to do anything, that is the point of charters - sometimes it is necessary for families to take things into their own hands if the district isn't doing its job.

Palo Alto doesn't offer any options like this for kids who want this kind of education, or a "hybrid" option between homeschooling and something like this. It's strange that in a place known for innovation, we're the last place to innovate in education.

I'm not well versed in the Middle College option. I am wondering if you know it well enough to explain the ins and outs versus just taking the CHSPE and taking the community college courses of interest. Is Middle College part high school part community college? It's my understanding that high schools have to take you back even if you have taken the CHSPE but you want to take more high school coursework. What would prevent someone from taking the CHSPE, taking whatever courses they want in high school without having the usual stress i they don't like the district options, then leaving to take community college courses and transferring to a UC through the guaranteed transfer option?

Palo Alto used to have and independent study option - whatever happened to that?

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