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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.

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.  

mary March 06, 2012 at 06:02 AM
Hopefully not the "private school" atmosphere that surrounds Sierra Madre.
Gary Edwards March 06, 2012 at 06:10 AM
they need to work on their "individualized learning plan" and have admitted so. still think no homework policy is lame. u can give the kid a little bit vconce/while. maybe scores went down when parents pulled out their kids who were scoring high on tests? they don't teach to the test so maybe that's why kids are having some trouble now. kids who scored well on test a few yrs ago came from schools who did teach to the test and kids brought their test taking skills w/ them only to see the skills in some erode
navigio March 06, 2012 at 06:16 AM
Mary, the granicus link I provided above includes some mention of the special ed dynamic, including the fact that Aveson was not satisfied with what it was getting from PUSD and just recently moved instead to the county's system.
mary March 06, 2012 at 06:18 AM
@Corey- I was told that PUSD provided minimal special ed supports to Aveson, and was not encouraged to send a child with special learning needs there based on that. What if parents were not aware of that and sent their child there to find out too late......?
mary March 06, 2012 at 06:22 AM
@Navigio- makes sense. That was exactly the feeling I received from Aveson. It was not that they didn't want children with learning differences, but that they received significantly less support than the other schools, putting them at a disadvantage. Hopefully by using the county system they will access a more reasonable level of supports.
navigio March 06, 2012 at 07:16 AM
Gary, its a good question. Personally, I would find it hard to believe that test-taking ability could erode enough to explain the scores given the increase in enrollment they've had every year (ie a yearly influx of new, test-taking experts :-) ), though I guess in theory its possible. That said, a drop that dramatic/consistent is usually the result of some significant demographic shift. However, the stats seem to indicate any shift is in the opposite direction. The other explanation is of course something like what Corey suggested is going on (also a distinct possibility).
Rachel March 06, 2012 at 08:57 PM
I think PUSD and Aveson need to be thinking a little more about the simple explanations as to why non-white, poor(er), English-learners are not choosing Aveson. I think many kids families would choose it if it were in their own neighborhood instead of far away from homes, jobs and bus lines. I understand from a good source that San Rafael had a hard time populating their dual-language immersion program with English learners because the parents just couldn't get their kids to school (no car, no bus service, too far to walk, little time). Way up in Altadena, it's the same. I think it's irresponsible for anyone to accuse the adminstration of trying to keep out certain populations or hypothesizing that these kids just can't "perform" before looking at the hard realities faced by these underserved groups. I think many families would like the school, they just can't logistically make it work.
pusddad March 06, 2012 at 09:33 PM
seems like a valid explanation to me.
lonnie fehr March 06, 2012 at 10:08 PM
http://www.michigan.gov/documents/Final_Parent_Involvement_Fact_Sheet_14732_7.pdf part prob is parents also .ie test scores
Gary Edwards March 06, 2012 at 10:31 PM
if "non-white, poor(er), English-learners" are not choosing Aveson, so what? if aveson is too far for them to drive, that's the way it goes. a bus stop is across the street.
pusddad March 07, 2012 at 01:46 AM
doesn't that then create an exclusionary barrier to the less fortunate that reinforces the lack of diversity?
terry Morris March 07, 2012 at 02:11 AM
There are still some people who believe that schools that are supported by everyone's tax dollars should serve everyone's children.
Rachel March 08, 2012 at 05:39 AM
Yes, it does. And it's not Aveson or PUSD's fault. So what doesn't make sense is that PUSD expects Aveson to attracting a more diverse population. How exactly are they supposed to do that? I suppose by overcoming poverty and transportation issues? I'm just saying that It's more complicated than just making it a condition of keeping their charter and then POOF, it's fixed. Of course taking a bus would be great. How can they afford the monthy fair (for a parent and child, because surely a kindergartner is not going to ride a bus alone to school)? And then are they supposed to take another bus when the child is sick and has to come home early? And every day adding 1 1/2 to 2 hours of transportation time to a child's already long school day? And you have to concede that Altadena is not known for it's reliable and frequent bus service. Sure, the city buses sound great. And to further complicate things, Aveson does not have a lunch program that provides free or reduced lunch prices, which most of these kids PUSD is talking about would require.
terry Morris March 08, 2012 at 04:08 PM
There is economic diversity among communities of color. All people of color are not poor. Perhaps an outreach could be made to create ethnic diversity first, then economic diversity. Altadena has a thriving middle class community made up of a variety of racial backgrounds. Why aren't middle class African Americans or Latino families enrolling in Aveson? There may be a perception that charter schools (and private schools) are for white families who do not want there children in schools with poor children of color.
navigio March 08, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Terry, I agree on the unfortunate existence of this stereoptype. Every time I use the term 'demographics' I cringe because I think people read it as 'ethnicity' or 'race'. But that is not my intent. I use that term explicitly because it covers other, often more relevant things like socioeconomic status, parent education level, native language, swd status, home environment, etc, etc. Some of these are sometimes correlated with ethnicity or race, but only generally speaking. More often they are not. (take a look at Rosebud's 'demographics' for a great example). As an example, one of the biggest problems I have with the focus on 'achievement gap' is its almost invariably referred to in the context of race. Obviously with our history, there is good reason to do that (and Im not saying to stop). But it is irresponsible to make it the only metric because given the way we present (not-dissaggregate) our data, it reinforces stereotypes in a way that I believe is misleading. And that does a disservice to our kids and our schools. I agree with you on the perception of charter schools, or for certain charter schools (again, look at rosebud). Selective schools of choice (I mean mostly charters with that--though even traditional choice public schools can have this dynamic) tend to reinforce self-selection. That is a real problem imho because self-selection is a process that feeds on itself unless there is some active effort to divert it. And often even that is not enough.
navigio March 08, 2012 at 06:32 PM
You make some great points Rachel. Especially the last one. Note that many charters choose not even to participate in these programs (I guess because it involves extra effort for which they may not be staffed?--not sure). Aveson pointed out in their first preso that their low-income numbers were not 'official' ones the way they are for other schools since they dont participate in the F&R program (it seems it was more of an 'estimate'.. one that is clearly debatable given their PEL levels). I would note that we have two pure elementary schools of choice in our district in Norma Coombs and Don Benito. The former has significant levels of low-income kids and both have a non-trivial number of ELL kids. Of course both those schools are also provided busing (and its taken advantage of) so that is one real difference (though it probably makes much more difference for Don Benito, not surprisingly given its location). In other words, I think its more than just the logistics that are preventing this for Aveson (though that is surely part of it). In the end, the district surely has a responsibility to ask for this. More importantly, Aveson agreed. So I dont think we should discount this as an impossibility just yet. :-)
Dan Abendschein (Editor) March 08, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Good points terry, navigio. Interestingly, at the PUSD-Town Council meeting, Jon Gundry made a point of saying PUSD outperforms state as a whole in demographics and mentioned African-Americans and English learners as two categories where that was true. I had my laptop so I went to the state site and checked it out. He was right about African-Americans and Latinos doing better at PUSD. However, English language learners were actually better state-wide than in the district measured by API. Low-income students got the exact same average score in the district and state-wide. So to me, like navigio said, it makes more sense to took at English language learners and low-income students. I agree that looking at data by race make sense as long as we have a racial learning gap, but I think it is also important to realize that the more relevant figures have to do with whether you are reaching kids who are disadvantaged economically and kids who are not native English speakers, because they are apt to be the biggest educational challenge. Looking at the metrics this way is more accurate, because as terry noted, there are going to be real differences in the economic levels of every racial group, and it is important to note that when the state looks at demographics, it is looking at more than just race/ethnicity.
True Freedom March 08, 2012 at 06:45 PM
@Terry: maybe less of a perception problem and more of an "assumption" problem.. and you know what they say about assumptions (and those who make them)...
mary March 09, 2012 at 01:33 AM
@ Dan- Looking at the API statewide vs. PUSD for special education, there is a significant gap. I don't know what the breakdown by demographics looks like in this group, but it indicates there's something that needs to be addressed across the board.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) March 09, 2012 at 01:44 AM
@mary - Yes, that was the third key demographic I should have mentioned. I did see there is a gap there also. Thanks for mentioning.
navigio March 09, 2012 at 02:38 AM
first thing: usually you have to pay attention to how the claim is worded. I've noticed in the past few years that the claim was made in the context of improvement not actual scores for one year. For a number of years the district has outpaced the county and state in improvements and the district has made a point of emphasizing that. Not sure what exactly was said there Dan, though its on tape so we should be able to verify.. :-) But Mary's comment about not knowing what the breakdown is is absolutely relevant. This is one of my biggest problems with how our data is presented (state's fault, not district). There is no way to find the breakdown demographically of swd test takers. That said, there are some points that can lead us to draw some conclusions: - there are subgroups that are disproportionately over-classified as swd, significantly so. - pusd has much higher rates of those subgroups in its population than the state - the test results for those subgroup swd test-takers is significantly lower in the upper grades than in elementary - pusd not only has much higher rates overall, but its rates increase in higher grades as compared to elementary (state's stay pretty much the same for all grades). Simply put, I dont think its possible to make accurate comparisons using the swd API data that is made public unless the comparison entities are completely identical in makeup (rarely are--and in this case, the difference is significant). This is unfortunate.
Leslie Fleming-Mitchell March 09, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Yes, thanks for your comments, Nina! Aveson IS an equal opportunity school; everyone has the exact same chance to get in. It is a marvelous, healthy, happy school with great involvement from parents. Best group of kids and parents I've met in years, and I would know since we have kids at various PUSD schools. The naysayers need to find another outlet for their negativity, or better yet, stop that habit altogether. Onward, Aveson!
Leslie Fleming-Mitchell March 09, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Yes, Aveson IS an equal opportunity school; everyone has the exact same chance to get in. It is a marvelous, healthy, happy school with great involvement from parents. Best group of kids and parents I've met in years, and I would know since we have kids at various PUSD schools. The naysayers need to find another outlet for their negativity, or better yet, stop that habit altogether. Onward, Aveson
pusddad March 09, 2012 at 02:48 PM
those with siblings in the school have a guaranteed spot. those that don't, don't. is that the exact same chance?
Richard March 09, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the lottery last year conducted with kids that were classified as "in special need" (NOT "special needs", but rather the kids that had been in Loma Alta or Burbank or who would otherwise qualify for a Free Lunch program) in a separate set of drawings that was done *before* the other applicants? Thus actually increasing their likelyhood of getting in in comparison to non-"needful" families?
pusddad March 09, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I stand corrected then. thank you. But if she received a preference because of a sibling over a kid that does not have a sibling, then all applicants still do not have the "exact same chance."
OPTIMUM61 March 10, 2012 at 03:16 AM
I have had my share of pusd. I have a child in Aveson, and am pleased with the teaching. He started off his first semester at Marshall in which he was selected via lottery, although being excited when we received the letter, I was horried to find he was 1 of 37 students in a class, and this was in all of his classes. The classes were made up of learners and bullies, who were sent to school because if they didn't go parents were held accountable. I will keep my son in Aveson as long as I can. I had watching this school, and the too had a waiting list but when the moved to the second location we jumped on the opportunity to enroll. WE LOVE AVESON!!!!!!!! I love I can communicate with his teacher via person or email, and their homework assignments are posted, I feel connected with this school, everyone is in reach.
OPTIMUM61 March 10, 2012 at 03:18 AM
have had my share of pusd. I have a child in Aveson, and am pleased with the teaching. He started off his first semester at Marshall in which he was selected via lottery, although being excited when we received the letter, I was horried to find he was 1 of 37 students in a class, and this was in all of his classes. The classes were made up of learners and bullies, who were sent to school because if they didn't go parents were held accountable. I will keep my son in Aveson as long as I can. I had been watching this school, and this too had a waiting list but when thye moved to the second location we jumped on the opportunity to enroll. WE LOVE AVESON!!!!!!!! I love I can communicate with his teacher via person or email, and their homework assignments are posted, I feel connected with this school, everyone is in reach.
pasadenamom August 21, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Aveson is not under-performing. It's just not popular with a couple of PUSD board members who feel threatened by Charters in general. If we go around upsetting the status quo they might have to stay awake for board meetings.
navigio August 21, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Hi pmom, actually, i'd say its fair to say aveson is underperforming if the california charter school association itself defines metrics for failing charters that aveson has failed to meet. Note also that the vote to approve the (conditional) extension to the charter was unanimous. Celerity was another charter application approved by unanimous vote recently. And although i think public education has a right to feel threatened by charter policy, its difficult to imagine that unanimous votes to approve and extend charters are somehow indicative that anyone here is against them, let alone feels threatened by them. Its also difficult to comprehend how approving 5 year charters is somehow 'upsetting the status quo'.

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