Backers of a $10 million plan to reinvent the American high school in Oakland have scrapped the project, saying it's neither the time nor the place for such an experiment given turnover and turmoil in the city's school system.
Oakland was among 10 locations across the country selected in September to be part of the Super School Project to revolutionize the high school experience. Nearly 700 teams competed in the national competition, which was sponsored by Palo Alto heiress Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Summit Public Schools , which operates a chain of charter schools, with support from the Oakland school district and Mayor Libby Schaaf 's office, submitted a winning proposal for a charter school focusing on personal learning and real-world experiences. The goal was to open the new school at the California College of the Arts on Broadway in Rockridge in fall 2018.
But the effort started to fall apart over the last several months and was ultimately abandoned in recent weeks, The Chronicle has learned. Now, Summit leaders will use the money for one of their existing charter schools in Daly City.
"There are just better ways for us to help kids in the Bay Area," said Jason Solomon, senior director of advocacy and engagement at Summit Public Schools, which operates eight charter schools in the Bay Area and three in Washington state.
Solomon noted that the team's entry to build the new school included the support of former Oakland Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who resigned this year to lead the Washington, D.C., schools. On top of the turnover in leadership, the district is grappling with the need to close or consolidate schools given declining enrollment while juggling a $30 million budget shortfall over the next year.
Given Wilson's departure, "we of course didn't have the enthusiastic champion, which probably would have been helpful," Solomon said.
Community groups and parents had also expressed concern about locating a new charter within a few blocks of an existing public school, Oakland Technical High School.
Given the district's ongoing challenges — and the possibility that the school board would not authorize the new charter school with Wilson gone — Summit and Super School leaders agreed to abandon the project in Oakland, Solomon said.
The charter operator will use the Super School funding to expand programs at Summit Shasta, in Daly City, officials said.
"I think that's smart on their part," said Oakland school board President James Harris. "When Antwan left, a lot of people were kinda in the dark about it."
Harris said it's not the right time for a new school.
Summit "looked at the landscape and said this is not the right time. I agree with that," he said. "I don't think we need more locations; we need more quality."
Solomon said organizers also took into account that Summit already has a presence at several public schools in Oakland, providing coaching and training in its methodology and curriculum, which emphasizes coursework and opportunities related to individual student interests and abilities. More than 130 schools nationwide are participating in such training and the effort is increasing in Oakland, he said.
"We thought we should prioritize that in Oakland," he said.
City officials said it was a loss for Oakland.
"While we are disappointed, we are glad they are focused on deepening their efforts with existing Oakland public schools — increasing the number of schools served, expanding to additional grade levels, and offering a summer training," said David Silver, director of education for Schaaf. "Enhancing professional development, coaching and collaboration opportunities for our dedicated Oakland teachers and school leaders, as well as strengthening partnerships and support for public schools already in existence is critical to realizing our vision of educational equity across the city."
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