Strong academics have never been a concern for Old Town Academy, a San Diego Unified charter school in Middletown.
Whether it’s a product of innovative instruction, or has more to do with the fact that unlike at many traditional district schools, few OTA students live in poverty, test scores have remained consistently above the district average.
Yet the operational concerns – the practical matters of actually running a school – have posed challenges the school has yet to iron out.
That tension has played out in dramatic and odd ways at OTA. At the end of last school year, Tom Donahue, its founding principal, was fired. Then OTA moved forward on a merger with an out-of-town charter management corporation. Owing to the turmoil, the school lost its chance at $23 million – bond money the district makes available to eligible charter schools.
The issues at OTA are a microcosm of charter schools in general. Principals might get the academics right, but soon learn they don’t necessarily know how to run a school.
“We believe in activating all parts of a student’s brain,” said Jon Centofranchi, OTA’s principal who is in his first six months at the school. “Robotics and music are a big part of that, and that’s been a big focus of the school since the beginning.”
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I wish charter schools were not such magnets for self-interest, tainted funding and questionable motives. I know several ex-students and several current students at the school. Some of the comments here and in Mario's article ring true with what I know. But there is a lot of speculation and omission, both of which do little to paint an honest, full and true picture of this particular charter school.
If you think it likely that a large proportion of the original staff were in some way deserving of being left without their salaries paid until a tribunal forced the administration to pay, then you have a very dim view of human nature.
Look the school up on GreatSchools and you will see a certain downward change since the turmoil of May 2015.
Most of the original staff did no more than stand loyally by the administration that has subsequently been upheld as the only legitimate authority. Tri-Valley was shown to have greatest interest in selling bonds to cover debt in schools that it ran. The school was set to have cleared all its debt shortly before the turmoil started. I thought Mario's article left an unfortunate assertion in the air that the original administration had in someway mis-managed finances. I think it is far more likely that under the new regimen finances will be far more creatively managed with potential in both good and bad directions.
I have visited many schools in and around San Diego, and have never seen such frugal but effective and innovative approaches as were adopted at OTA. It is so sad that as soon as something apparently so successful is created, that it gets hijacked by self-interest and hidden agendas. I can't say if that is inevitable because of the way charter schools function, but OTA is sure proof that even charter schools that look great can still fall victim to all manner of destructive fates.
Before making comments, it really is essential to have ALL of the facts, and even then, they can be twisted to suit different agendas.
I'm not surprised OTA imploded. My child was severely bullied at this school by his classmates, basketball coach and parent volunteers, whom were part of the inner circle. To know the adults running the school treated each other in the same manner says a lot about the character of this school.
Mario, can you comment on or investigate this?
Ironic at the end of it all the Tri Valley folks were asked to step back. Sure lots of money was spent on fancy law firms and their large billable hours and egos. As in any "news' article there is way more to the story than what has been presented. As for the robust academics that has been introduced since... Nothing like a heavy dose of Common Core to get you fired up!
Very informative article. I felt your coverage was fair, telling the good, the bad and some ugly behavior.
Sad to think of all of the money spent, on lawyers, on ever changing administration and private companies, that could be used to educate children. It's very representative of the infighting that goes on at most of these charters.
Science labs with pizza boxes and tin cans. Terrible location in an unsafe (earthquake) office building, across from a drug treatment program, where one resident shot and killed another, on the sidewalk by the school, a month ago. No place to pick up kids after school, so San Diego Ave. is backed up for a mile at 3 o'clock every day. Why do parents want their children here??
Interesting that half of the 180 students would attend private school, if not for this school. I can tell it's a very white, upper middle class group of parents that drive up daily to block the street and pick up their kids. I heard the principal, when he spoke for an extension of the charter, at the school board meeting, brag about how the children would go to private school, if Old Town Academy closed. Good...Let them.
I have tenants who live right next door to this school, but their African American child can not, after three years trying, get admitted. This strikes me as the worse use of these public monies to support this essentially private school, funded with my taxes. Segregation, not only by race but by income...not what public school should be about.
"Science labs with pizza boxes and tin cans. Terrible location in an unsafe (earthquake) office building, across from a drug treatment program, where one resident shot and killed another, on the sidewalk by the school, a month ago."
Not quite sure how this links together. The pizza boxes are a danger during an earthquake? Has the building been condemned as unsafe? Are new building codes needed to ensure school buildings are safe? Are you suggesting positive discrimination by race is needed? I thought they had an open lottery, except may be had Tri-Valley gotten any further and started selling places to foreign students as they appeared to be involved with in Livermore.
Gun crime is a terrible thing, and I fully support gun controls, or may be we just need to arm school staff?
These are all serious issues and I am not making light of any of them. Just that the truth or best policy is often not clear.
You didn't say and never do Mario when you write about Charters, is this a for profit Charter? If so it seems that the school may be OK, but what about the taxpayers? After all is said and done this school takes and uses taxpayer money but in reality the tax payers have no say in how their money is used.
It seems that Tri-Valley wanted their man in as principal, I'll bet dollars to donuts that the new guy had ways to take more of the tax payers money and put in their bank.
Where are the test scores to prove that this school is far ahead of the public schools? Be nice to see, all well and good to say it, lets see it.
I would not be surprised that in a couple of years a nasty report will appear that states that this Charter was doing some things that were not above board.
Charters are here for one reason and one reason only and that is to drain the public schools of money and set the stage for the privatization of all public schools. The Wall St. mavens are drooling at the possibility.
Wake up and smell what is really going on.
"Charters are here for one reason and one reason only and that is to drain the public schools of money and set the stage for the privatization of all public schools. The Wall St. mavens are drooling at the possibility."
There are truly well meaning and experienced educators who get desperately frustrated by all kinds of ties and constraints in the public school system, and they want to try and do better. Same goes for some parents who home educate. However, you are right to say that these people could be (unwittingly) playing right into the hands of those drooling at the prospect of privatization.
You can't judge everyone who makes a mistake as being automatically corrupt in some way.