PLEASANT HILL -- The effort to convert Antioch's Dozier-Libbey Medical High School into an independent charter rests in the hands of the county Board of Education following a lengthy and emotionally charged hearing Wednesday.
Trustees expect to decide May 21 whether to uphold or overturn the Antioch school board's unanimous vote to deny the charter petition by teachers.
The specter of Dozier-Libbey becoming a charter has divided the Antioch community, and it did so again Wednesday night.
Over 250 people packed the Pleasant Hill Middle School multiuse room Wednesday, with the room split down the middle. On one side sat Dozier-Libbey teachers, students and parents, many wearing black T-shirts that read "Dozier Libbey Medical Charter" on the back. Antioch Unified administrators, teachers and some community members sat on the other, most with white shirts that read "Our Community, Our School."
More than 95 people spoke, with slightly more than half in support of the conversion.
Lead petitioners from the medical-themed magnet school made the pitch that autonomy is needed to expand its programs, allowing the school to create its own curriculum and grading policies and set staffing. They also rolled out some of their ideas, including increasing the ratio of computers to students, courses such as forensic pathology and medical America and a middle college program.
"We are teaching students to be prepared for college and careers in the health care field. This requires specialized curriculum and support," said teacher Kasey Graham.
Graham pointed out that Dozier-Libbey recently earned a silver medal from US News and World Report as one of the top 700 high schools in the nation.
"As proud as we are to have achieved this status, we also believe we shouldn't settle for silver. Reaching for gold means more students meeting college readiness standards," she said.
As a "conversion charter," Dozier-Libbey would continue to operate as a public school but would be recognized as an independent entity and receive funding directly from the state. It would be run by a board of directors, led by an executive director, develop its own budget, hire teachers and decide whether to contract out services.
Meanwhile, the district has moved to turn the school into a "dependent" charter, which would keep it under district control, but a Contra Costa judge last week halted that plan until the teachers' appeal is resolved.
No one disputed Dozier-Libbey's track record of academic success, but speakers offered different reasons as to how it has happened.
Supporters of the petition lauded the efforts of Dozier-Libbey teachers and Principal Nancie Castro, while opponents countered that the district, through community involvement, has been a key part of the school's success.
Antioch Unified board President Joy Motts read a prepared statement by the board against the charter petition.
"The petitioners did not use a transparent, inclusive process," she said. "Dozier-Libbey is a shining example of how the collaborative spirit of community can work. It was the community that created and helped nurture the school from inception."
Jack O'Connell, a partner with consulting firm Capitol Advisors Group and former state superintendent of public instruction, said the charter school law was designed to raise the bar for struggling schools and "not intended to disrupt schools that are working very well."
"By any measurement, the current relationship between the school and this district is working well," he said. "It's being pursued for all the wrong reasons."
April Padilla, a parent of a Dozier-Libbey sophomore who plays three sports, lauded the ideas teachers presented to make the school better.
"(The district's) rallying cry seems to be 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Is that what we want the leaders of tomorrow to take through life with them? My answer to that question is no," she said. 'Just because something isn't broken doesn't mean it can't be made better."
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.