King Jorge Lopez, a former drug dealer and high school drop-out, took over an Oakland charter school founded by Mexican immigrant parents. “Embracing Latino heritage and bilingualism, and relying heavily on parent volunteers, the school quickly became a pillar of the neighborhood,” reports East Bay Express. But test scores were low. Only one in ten students tested proficient in either English or math in March 2004.
Lopez believed he could produce high test scores and ambitious, college-bound students by emphasizing mandatory attendance with more classroom hours; zero tolerance for bad behavior; a homework-laden curriculum stripped of cultural, linguistic, or artistic coursework; and inspirational or menacing speeches as necessary. “I run this school with a hard hand,” he explained recently. “I don’t take a lot of shit from parents. I don’t take shit from kids. I don’t take shit from teachers. My focus is the kids. I want them to leave. I do not want them in Oakland. If they do come back to Oakland, I want them not to live where they’re living.”
. . . This past March, nearly two-thirds of the school’s kids tested proficient in both English and math. That is roughly twice the district average, and an increase of more than 600 percent in two years. “Where have multiculturalism, bilingualism, and parent involvement taken us in the ghetto?” Lopez queried, referring to the previous administration’s core values, ideals widely held in the education establishment. “What I do produces results.
Oakland has only two middle schools that meet state standards: Lopez’s Oakland Charter Academy and American Indian Public Charter School, which was turned around by his mentor, Ben Chavis.
Under Lopez, OCA now ranks in the top 10 percent of schools with a similar socioeconomic makeup statewide, and in the top 30 percent overall. Last summer, Lopez sent 31 students to gifted-and-talented programs at Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Cal, something unheard of at OCA before his arrival.
Even board members who hated Lopez’s actions — replacing all but one teacher, reducing parent involvement and eliminating bilingual and Latino heritage classes — like the results.
Lopez was turned around by a chance to attend Berkeley High — his mother cleaned the house of a woman who got him in — and his brother’s insistence he leave the ‘hood and move to Chico, where his brother had a football scholarship at Chico State. Lopez started taking community college classes and ended up with a master’s degree.
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