Lake Superior High, Oredocker Project schools to end next year
A group of students and their parents are fighting an Ashland School Board decision to close Lake Superior High School and Oredocker Project School, two of the district’s three charter schools.
The board voted unanimously May 20 not to renew the schools’ charters, a decision that stunned and raised the ire of parents and students who said the decision was made without any input from them.
“I was really, really, really pissed,” said Lake Superior High freshman Airianna Brown. “I think it was stupid that kids couldn’t be in the group when that happened, and say what they wanted to say.”
District Superintendent Erik Olson said the schools are being closed to streamline administration and ensure that district improvements would be made in all schools, not just the non-charter schools.
A group of Lake Superior students who sat down with a Daily Press reporter this week said they are angered by the decision and determined to get it reversed.
“It has been tragic and traumatic to all of us, I think,” said junior Ella Syverson, who discussed the decision with fellow student Quinn Godfrey, an eighth-grader.
“It was really hard to hear that it was shutting down, and to hear that our family in OPS and LSHS was being torn apart,” Godfrey said.
The two charter schools are alternatives to the standard educational model that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. By state law, charter schools are granted increased flexibility to design curriculum, instructional methods, and management practices to meet student needs.
Lake Superior High served 14 students last school year, and the Oredocker Project School enrolled 47 kids. Both outperform their traditional counterparts in state test scores.
A closed-doors decision
Charter schools have existed in the district for seven years: Lake Superior High School, the Oredocker Project School that serves middle school students, and the Lake Superior Learning Center for elementary school students. The learning center still has four years left to run on its contract and is not affected by the changes.
School Board President Jessica Pergolski said the action, taken in a closed session of the Board of Education, was properly an administrative decision.
“I don’t think it was really appropriate to bring it to the community to weigh in. This is a decision the board needs to make,” she said. “We’ve been elected to make tough decisions like this and represent our communities.”
School officials said the model used by the charter schools, which engages students in learning through the inquiry process and included collaborative teacher-guided student projects, would be continued after the charter school contract ends. In a letter to parents outlining the district’s plans, parents were told that the board and administration would consider keeping both schools going as non-charter schools within other schools.
That commitment rang hollow for Godfrey’s father, Sean Godfrey.
“That’s just whitewashing,” he said. “That is political speak. There is no truth to that. If it is going to continue to operate, why not put the energy that is already operating, that is already producing better test scores?”
Olson said the school board already had overall authority over the charter schools and that the major impact of the vote would be to eliminate the charter school council that had exercised direct control of charter school operations.
“The programming as you see it today and potentially next year, if the board and the charter council can reach an agreement, will look very similar. That schooling, the multi-age approach, the problem-based environment, that feel of community will continue,” he said, asserting that the model he was proposing has been used successfully across the state and nation.
Nevertheless, students told the Daily Press they fear for the future of their community.
“I feel like we are all really close in the charter school. We have all known each other for many years here, worked really closely together,” said Cecil Plansky, an eighth grader. “It feels like a family to us, and it feels like that family is being torn apart. I feel even if they do have a have a project-based learning program, I feel like it really can’t recreate the same sense of family that we have right now.”
Fixing what’s not broken
For the 2017-18 school year, the most recent for which state report cards are available, the Oredocker Project School earned an overall rating of 70.2, meeting state expectations. Its traditional counterpart, Ashland Middle School, earned an overall 61.3, meeting few expectations.
Because it is so small, Lake Superior High does not get similar ratings so an apples-to-apples comparison with Ashland High School is difficult. But Syverson is convinced Lake Superior is superior.
“You know, these schools have been really successful. If you look at our school report cards, last year, both the middle school and the elementary charter outperformed their legacy counterparts,” she said. “We've also had really good growth rates in reading as well. And we attribute that success to our community focus that makes us all feel safe and comfortable at home within our learning environment.”
Nevertheless, Pergolski said bringing the charter schools into the district fold would not cause a downturn in student performance. She said the district is well organized to keep the instructional model going.
“I don’t think it’s completely dependent on having a separate council,” she said, saying the volunteer council might not always be as strong as it is currently, and that being directly under the board would provide more stability.
The board held a series of three meetings following the decision to inform district parents about the decision, but the fact that there was no meeting with parents before the vote still rankles some.
Dale Torres has two children at Lake Superior High School, two at Lake Superior Learning center and will have one in the Oredocker Project School next year. She is still angry about the closed-doors vote.
“It is a decision they made without talking to parents, students and teachers. They just went forward without thinking there would be any consequences, that we should all just go with,” she said.
Torres said the kinds of things done at the charter schools now would not be possible once they lose their contracts, because of state regulations that are waived with the charter school.
“They are taking away what makes the school great,” she said.
Students — 31 of them from both affected schools — have written to the School Board asking that they have a chance to address the board and persuade them to reverse the decision.
At the very least, the letter says, students asked that the board “Involve OPS/LSHS students in any and all decision making processes related to the future of the Ashland charter schools and the future of project based learning in the School District of Ashland from this moment forward.”