Why is OUSD providing Marketing help to Vincent Academy to Stem the Tide of its Declining Enrollment?

WHY IS OUSD PROVIDING MARKETING SUPPORT TO A WEST OAKLAND CHARTER SCHOOL WHEN OUSD SCHOOLS ARE STRUGGLING FOR ENROLLMENT_Last night at the inaugural meeting of the OUSD Board Charters Committee, Director of Enrollment and Charter Schools¹ Sonali Murarka announced the first group of four OUSD-appointed charter board members selected pursuant to Board Resolution  18-0559 adopted November 14, 2018. The resolution was a response to allegations of embezzlement and wrongdoing at BayTech charter which had been renewed for 5 years shortly before scandal became public, and was intended to ensure that OUSD had early notice of significant concerns at OUSD-authorized charters.  One of the four charter schools selected for this first group of appointed board members is BayTech, as well as the Oakland Military Institute, North Oakland Community Charter School and Vincent Academy, all of which are struggling academically and organizationally in different ways. The Office of Charter Schools used a program called “Board on Track” to assess existing board capacity and areas needing support to determine who among the charter board applicants would have expertise in the areas most needed to improve the governance of the charter schools. 

Ms Murarka nominated Edward Huang to sit on the board of an elementary charter program in West Oakland, Vincent Academy. Ms Murarka described Mr Huang as the “Director of Growth and Expansion” at an education technology company with experience in brand building, marketing and fundraising.  For Vincent Academy, the Board on Track assessment determined that Vincent lacked marketing and fundraising expertise. In other words, OUSD is choosing their selected oversight board member specifically to bring his marketing and brand building expertise to help Vincent Academy market itself to Oakland families in hopes of building its enrollment, something which will likely come at the expense of the enrollment at the nearby OUSD public schools over which our OUSD board has direct control², especially its West Oakland neighbors Hoover, MLK and Prescott elementaries. This is absolutely outrageous and the OUSD Board should demand that another candidate for that position is put in place instead. 

To be clear, Vincent Academy needs help in other areas besides marketing. Vincent has had steadily declining enrollment over the last few years, down 25% since 2015.³ And while we do not believe test scores to be a great indicator of the quality of a school, the charter schools rely on them as the primary measure of success; Vincent Academy’s test scores in both math and english are the lowest of all elementary schools in West Oakland, and further, they have decreased by an average of 25% over the last five years, including a 36% decrease in math. Instead of appointing someone who might help those test scores improve, OUSD’s Charter Office has decided to help prop up Vincent’s declining enrollment with a marketing expert to help them better market their school (and fund raise to cover the cost). 

OUSD schools don’t have a marketing department to help them – especially not those schools in West Oakland. Why on earth would OUSD give a charter school access to that which our own schools do not have? It’s not about the “quality” of the school – if measured by the test scores that the charter industry likes to focus on. It is to help them with their declining enrollment³. That is NOT what our district should be in the business of supporting.

Please call or email the charter office and board members (see contact information below) and demand that they immediately withdraw Mr Huang’s name from consideration for appointment to the Vincent Board and instead appoint a board member who will perform the accountability function that Board Resolution 18-0559 envisioned without harm to the OUSD schools over which our board has direct control. 

Director of Enrollment and Charter Schools:  Sonali.Murarka@ousd.org or 510-879-1677
OUSD Board of Directors:
Jody.London@ousd.org or 510-879-2161
Aimee.Eng@ousd.org or 510-879-2162
Jumoke.HintonHodge@ousd.org or 510-879-2163
Gary.Yee@ousd.org or 510-879-2164
Roseann.Torres@ousd.org or 510-879-2165
Shanthi.Gonzales@ousd.org or 510-879-2166
James.Harris@ousd.org or 510-879-2167
¹The positions of the Director of the Charter School Office and the Executive Director of OUSD Enrollment were consolidated into one position in August, 2019. The inherent conflict of interest in this move is outrageous, and will be addressed later in a separate blog post.
²Interestingly, the chairman of the OUSD Board Charters Committee is James Harris, and he owns his own brand development and marketing company – perhaps he should be bringing that expertise to the OUSD board, because OUSD public schools, over which this board actually has control, could definitely use some marketing help.
³According to OUSD records, Vincent Academy’s enrollment is down 25% over the last few years, from a height of 288 in 2016-17 to 217 in September 2019. https://dashboards.ousd.org/views/Enrollment/Historic?%3Aembed=y&%3AshowShareOptions=true&%3Adisplay_count=no&%3AshowVizHome=no&%3Arender=false#7

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