A new Sequoia Union High School District charter school is on track to open next year after county education officials overruled a previous denial of the school’s charter application.
The Oxford Day Academy plans to bring its innovative and unorthodox school model to East Palo Alto, under an approval Wednesday, Aug. 24, by the San Mateo County Board of Education.
Though school founder Mallory Dwinal was successful in reversing a June denial to join the Sequoia Union High School District by the school board, county trustees acknowledged previous concerns expressed regarding the feasibility of her curriculum built around public service.
Students at the school will split time between the classroom and the community, where they will apply their lessons through programs designed to breed a passion for giving back.
The ambitious model was too risky and likely to fail claimed some Sequoia Union High School District officials during a Wednesday, June 15, meeting when the board voted 3-2 to not accept the school’s launch.
Dwinal exercised her right to appeal the decision to the county Board of Education and received unanimous approval to open the school, as trustees believe the issues associated with operating the school could be resolved, according to a prepared statement.
“We work very hard to evaluate whether a charter petition will positively benefit the students it hopes to serve and whether it meets the requirements of the law,” said Jim Cannon, president of the county Board of Education. “In the case of the Oxford Day Academy, our board unanimously felt that the Oxford Day charter proposal presented an innovative, well-conceived educational plan that will provide another educational option for students in the Sequoia Union High School District, especially those students living in East Palo Alto, East Menlo Park and Redwood City.”
In acknowledgment of the potential complexities associated with assuring the school meets its goals, officials must sign agreements with both the high school district and county Office of Education to offer support for special education and other auxiliary services before opening next fall.
For her part, Dwinal said she appreciated the validation offered to her vision by county education officials’ approval.
“It felt really good,” she said. “It felt affirming that this project we’ve been working on, that we have been building and taking so seriously, went before a group of experts and they agreed with it.”
Under the approval, Oxford Day Academy stands to join Everest Public High School and Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City and East Palo Alto Academy as the fourth charter school in the Sequoia Union High School District.
A tremendous amount of work is ahead for Dwinal, she said, as she needs to find a campus for the school, hire a staff and identify students, among other efforts.
“It’s both daunting and exciting,” she said, of the tasks ahead. “It is daunting because we take very seriously the responsibility of educating a family’s children. But we have an incredible team and we have been chipping away for the last year leading up to this and we are building on work we have already done, so we have the foundation and the tools to execute. But it is something we take very seriously and it can be overwhelming.”
Alan Sarver, president of the Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees, also acknowledged there are a variety of challenges facing the school as it moves toward opening.
His primary concerns matched those expressed when the district board shot down the school’s initial application regarding ensuring students are adequately educated, especially when off campus and working on the community service projects.
“I think the devil is in the details with that kind of work,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts to get the benefits of additional educational coverage outside of school walls.”
But he said the partnerships with the district and county Office of Education will work toward ensuring the school’s students are granted the best education possible.
“We feel very strongly there is a lot of exciting, innovative educational approaches to their program,” said Sarver. “But when you are trying lots and lots of new things, it needs to be well staffed and supported to see that this is accomplished.”
Dwinal said she is committed to spending the coming months addressing all the issues previously identified, and anticipates bringing her educational vision to fruition.
“We are just really excited to get started and see what comes next,” she said.
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