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So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Tiny indigenous charter school wins big victory in Sacramento

Parents and students protest L.A. Unified's decision not to renew charter license for indigenous high school.
Parents and students protest L.A. Unified's decision not to renew charter license for indigenous high school. Fernando Ramirez, Semillas supporter

A rare unanimous yes vote by all ten state education board members in Sacramento last week reinstated the charter school license for an indigenous El Sereno high school that had been denied a renewal by the Los Angeles Unified School district.

The decision ends a year-long fight by Anahuacalmecac International Preparatory High School's principal and parents. School Principal Marcos Aguilar, described the process as a “protracted struggle,” and said he was grateful to the families who joined the fight.

The vote was the last possibility for "Semillas" - as the school is commonly known - to stay open after an unsuccessful appeal to the County Office of Education. L.A. Unified had denied the school a renewal because it was carrying a large debt and its test scores were low. The school's API for 2012 was 683, which is below the state's goal of 800, yet it was squarely in the middle of all schools in the state.

Aguilar countered that the school had lined up a $650,000 grant to balance its budget and the state verified that via email with the grantor. The school also boasts a 100 percent graduation rate and 85 percent college acceptance rate.

“Several of us have indicated a desire to come and see you in action,” state school board vice president, Ilene Straus, said told the school staff and parents at the conclusion of last week's public meeting. 

Myrna Castrejon, Senior Vice President of the California Charter School Association, compares the Semilla’s victory to an underdog marshaling community support to take a righteous struggle against the odds, all the way to the Supreme Court -- after lower-court denials -- and win.

“It’s extremely rare,” said said of both the community organizing effort the Semillas school mobilized, and the unanimous state decision in its favor.

Castrejon said few schools charter schools which are denied a license renewal follow through on the appeals process because of the time and resources it takes. In the last five years just four charter schools, including Semillas, appealed to the state board. This marks the third win.

State school board member Trish Boyd Williams was impressed by the school's mission to keep an indigenous language alive.

“The second and third generation students," she told the rest of the board, "are learning that language so that they can stay connected to the elders - but are also learning either Spanish or English.”

Board member Carl Cohn agreed.

“This looks like a school that is making a difference in a very diverse state,” he said. “We are a big state and we should be able to handle some schools that are outside the box.”

Aguilar said he now has plans to expand the school.

“We [will] work to expand access to maternal language, culturally relevant and autonomous education for all Indigenous Peoples,” he said.

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