Wednesday night's Antioch Unified School District meeting could have been mistaken for a testimonial for Dozier Libbey Medical High.
More than three dozen people from a standing-room crowd addressed trustees and nearly all of them lavished praise on the magnet school.
One former student said she might never have graduated without the help of a caring staff. A current student praised the school's innovative teaching techniques. Another gushed over the chance to go behind the scenes to watch a hospital's inner workings. A parent summed it up best: "Dozier Libbey is not a good school; it's a great one."
As love fests go, however, this one struck a peculiar chord. That's because the topic before the board was whether Dozier Libbey should be allowed to withdraw from the district and operate as a conversion charter school. Or, put another way: Everything is going so well, why not change it all?
Twenty-three of the school's 26 teachers signed a petition saying that's what they wanted, indicating the school's "original vision" had been lost. Antioch Superintendent Don Gill, who learned of this uprising only three weeks before, acknowledged the movement puzzled him.
"The intent of charter law is to allow teachers and community members to come together and support schools that are not performing well," he said. "This is a school that's been highly successful."
The petition, presented by biology teacher Robert Young, cited grievances over part-time library hours, no vice principal, inadequate clerical staff and a need for more teachers, but those weren't the real reasons for revolt. The real disputes were over grading policy -- teachers advocate a "No D" policy, meaning if a student fails to score at least a "C," he or she fails -- and enrollment guidelines.
Since the school opened in 2008, any district student has been eligible to apply, with seats filled on a lottery basis. Under the charter proposal, there's a new pecking order: 1) current students; 2) their siblings; 3) children of teachers and staff; 4) residents in the "attendance area" (boundaries are undefined); and 5) district residents.
It's no surprise that most speakers opposing the conversion charter were parents. As they repeatedly pointed out, residents' taxes fund the districtthat created the school, which was intended to be available to all. Why should teachers, who want to cherry-pick pupils, be allowed to change the rules?
Gill said the "No D" policy -- which was in effect until the district rescinded it in 2011 -- also is a thinly veiled means of culling out low-achieving students. Those who are denied a credit for failing to maintain a "C" often transfer to another school.
"Parents had it in their minds that their kids would start out as freshmen and have all the hopes and aspirations of graduating from this wonderful school, and find out because of this No D policy they didn't have enough credits and had to leave," Gill said. "That was happening in pretty big numbers."
The conversion charter petition was rejected 5-0 by the Antioch board, which instead approved a dependent charter petition that provides for greater parental involvement but keeps the school under district control with existing enrollment and grading policies.
Teachers say they'll appeal to the County Office of Education, but it's difficult to envision them winning. The school is working. Nothing's broken. Why fix it?
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.