Jul 28, 2014

PUSD Board Imposes Conditions on Aveson Charter Renewal

At last Tuesday's meeting, the Pasadena Unified School Board set conditions Aveson must meet by June 30 in order to have its charter renewed. Some criticized the school for its academic performance and lack of diversity.

PUSD Board Imposes Conditions on Aveson Charter Renewal

The Pasadena Unified School Board put Altadena's on notice at its Tuesday meeting: The school must meet a list of conditions by June 30 or risk losing its charter.

Officials said at Tuesday's meeting that the school needs to have several teachers update their credentials and also said that in the long-term the school must have a plan to recruit more English learner and low-income students. The school must also make plans on how to improve some of the academic testing indicators for its student population (the full list of conditions the school needs to meet can be viewed at right).

While some of the school board had some harsh words for the school, board members also said they do not believe it is likely the school's charter will be revoked any time soon, as the school will likely be able to meet the board conditions.  

In addition, the motion passed by the board, in fact, says that even if Aveson does not meet the conditions imposed by the board by the June 30 deadline, they will be "at risk" of losing their charter but not guaranteed to lose it.

Still, that did not prevent board members taking shots at the school's academic performance.  Board member Ed Honowitz referenced the school's Academic Performance Index (API) scores and noted they had declined over the school's four-year existence.

"I think what I find very disconcerting was over that period of time what you've seen is a school that has continually declined in academic performance and a school where our schools outperform their schools in all subgroups," Honowitz said.

Scores by Demographic Subgroups

Honowitz was referencing data presented by officials that suggested that when broken down by demographic group--white, Latino, black, Asian--the school's students were outperformed by other elementary schools in PUSD.

Data in PUSD's report showed that when compared with the 10 other elementary schools with an API above 800 (Aveson's API score was 816 last year), Aveson is under-performing across all those groups.

The report also notes that the state's similar schools metric, which is used to compare schools across the state on the basis of their demographics, rated Aveson 1 on a scale of 1 to 10, the worst possible ranking.

Lack of Diversity

Also noted in the report is that Aveson is unrepresentative of PUSD's majority-Latino demographics, estimating Latino students make up only about 15 percent of Aveson's students.  The report says that only 10 percent students are low-income enough to be in the federal government's free lunch program, far lower than the district average. There are only three English language learners enrolled at the school, according to the report.

Forming a plan to reach out to low-income and English language learners is one of the conditions that the board set for Aveson to meet by June 30.

Honowitz suggested that without changes to the school's population, the charter school is effectively appealing to parents who would rather not have low-income students around.  

"I have a real issue around offering a choice that in some ways could be characterized as here's a school where if you don't want to be with low income students or you don't want to be with non-English speaking students, then here is a publicly-supported school for you," Honowitz said.

Aveson Response

Kate Bean, the director of Aveson, told the board she is confident the school can meet the conditions set up the board.  

"These are absolutely appropriate things we need to take care of," Bean said

At the same time, she said, she wished the district had set the conditions sooner- she said the school has been waiting since December to hear what conditions the district would have, and in the mean time, the student enrollment period has started.

"Just please don't hold our families and kids hostage, and our teachers because we did not get those communications before," Bean said.

Altadena Patch left a message for Bean seeking further comment for this story but did not receive a call back by the time of publication.

Other Board Member Views

Not every board member criticized the school: several board members said they would support renewing Aveson's charter unconditionally and asking them to voluntarily meet conditions without threat of discontinuance.

Board member Ramon Miramontes said that while he appreciates concerns over diversity at Aveson, he believes it's hardly the only school at PUSD with those issues.

"If we are really serious we would look in our back yard," Miramontes said.  "I would ask the board to hold our own schools accountable."

Additionally, one member, Renatta Cooper, noted that she had personally received a recruitment flier in Spanish from the school, suggesting they are at least attempting to recruit English language learner students.  She also noted though that the school has not yet made any progress on actually increasing its diversity.

Though board members initially differed on whether to impose conditions on Aveson or not, the ultimate vote on imposing the conditions was unanimous.  

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