The most important point that the public needs to know about the closure of Doyle Park School is that it was a political decision. The official rationale of test scores and finances was framed to create an image of a failing school.
Also, the acceptance of the French-American charter school by the board and the proposed closure of Doyle Park two weeks later was not a coincidence.
During my first year on the board, I heard no discussion regarding the closing of Doyle Park. The closure of a school is one of the most serious decisions a school board can make, a decision that should be thoroughly investigated over a period of time to let the public become informed and involved. The initial proposal to close Doyle Park appeared on the Jan. 25 agenda, a town hall meeting was quickly called for Jan. 30, and the final vote was scheduled Feb. 22. This is hardly a time frame for serious discussion.
I visited Doyle Park three times after the closure announcement on Jan. 25. I visited classrooms, talked with the principal and met parents. I sat in on several classes during two visits.
I saw excellent teaching and engaged students who were eager to please. I was impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the principal and staff. I met caring but confused and frightened parents. I saw a vibrant learning community.
On Nov. 14, the French American charter school appeared on the board agenda as both a discussion and action item, which is highly unusual given the magnitude of adding a new program.
We accepted it as a dependent charter on Dec. 14. Start-up costs, which had initially been an issue, were ignored. No specific site had been agreed upon. The charter proposal lacked many specifics, but the district pushed it ahead with a sense of urgency.
I should have looked much more closely before I cast my vote, but the agenda had been set and had been framed for expediency.
Subsequently, I have learned much more. The tentative agenda for the next board meeting contained the closure of Doyle Park. At the special board meeting on Feb. 8, a couple dozen members of the French-American charter addressed the board with a tone that I had not heard before, calling Doyle Park a failing school and essentially demanding that the district close Doyle Park and give them the site.
The district, without my knowledge, had made representations to the French American charter school and admitted as such in The Press Democrat. The vote to charter the school was a vote to accommodate 140 students with a site to be determined — not a vote to close Doyle Park. There should have been no linkage between the two.
The decision to close Doyle Park was not only political, but it was far too rushed. Closing Doyle by itself in this time frame and in this manner was wrong. Displacing a poor and minority student population for the sake of placing a very narrowly focused and untested charter on its site is morally reprehensible and is being legally challenged at this time.
Many in the public, including myself, feel they have been marginalized in this process. The lack of transparency and a hidden agenda have led to a break in the public trust as has been played out in recent board meetings. When trust is broken it makes the job of a school board, which is already very difficult in these dire economic times, even more difficult.