County School Board Turns Down Oxford’s Appeal To Keep Charter

The San Bernardino County Board of Education will not intervene in the Chino Valley Unified School District’s denial of Oxford Preparatory Academy’s renewal petition, it has been announced.
The county board’s action, like that of the Chino board before it, was an outgrowth of the effort by Oxford’s founder, Sue Roche, to significantly increase the amount of money she was making at the academy.
Roche parlayed her success as the principal at Chino Valley’s highest academically achieving school as measured by state administered scholastic tests a decade ago into getting the district’s initial $3 million backing to create the Oxford Academy in 2010. Using a formula that relied on heavy parental involvement and steady doses of academic intensity in the classroom, Roche soared to an even higher level of success with Oxford, as the students there consistently – for four out of five years – were the highest performers on state tests among all schools in San Bernarino County. Competition among parents in the Chino District to have their children attend Oxford was intense and a lottery system had to be devised because there were not enough desks, classrooms and teachers at the school to accommodate the students who applied to get in.
Oxford was so successful that the Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County allowed Oxford to set up a charter school there.
Last year, however, Roche moved to cash in on that success, resigning as the executive director of Oxford Preparatory’s corporate entity and promoting before she left Barbara Black to that position. Roche simultaneously created a for-profit entity, Edlighten Learning Solutions, in which she is the central figure and prime mover. Then, apparently at Roche’s direction, Oxford Charter Academy entered into a contractual arrangement that would have paid Edlighten $1.5 million to, essentially, employ Roche as the school’s contract administrator/executive director.
When Chino Valley Unified’s Superintendent, Wayne Joseph, who had been Roche’s most spirited backer and who was instrumental in convincing the district to proceed with the original charter for Oxford in 2010, caught wind of what Roche had done, he was in his own words “heartbroken.” Joseph said Roche had betrayed the faith of everyone involved by seeking to exploit the non-profit Oxford Preparatory Academy and line her own pockets.
As Oxford’s charter renewal was due to be considered earlier this year, there was widespread expectations that the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees would handily grant the renewal request, as Oxford was the most lustrous academic feather in the district’s cap. But Joseph told the board that Roche had engaged in “arrogance, overreach and greed” by employing “machinations” to cynically manipulate the academy’s reliance on consultants to enrich herself. It was, Joseph said, “alarming” that the Oxford board had hired Edlighten Learning Solutions to operate the academy as part of a contract which called for ten percent of Oxford’s revenues to be diverted to Edlighten for that service, representing a radical increase in consulting fees the academy was being budgeted to pay out over the next several years, the lion’s share of which were to be steered to Edlighten. “This is a classic example in which a very, very successful charter school, somewhere along its journey, lost its way,” Joseph said. The Chino school board voted not to renew Oxford’s charter.
Oxford’s internal board appealed that vote to the San Bernardino County Board of Education. As it was doing so, Roche, chastened by all of the bad publicity over her action, moved to disengage herself from the controversy by having the contract with Edlighten dissolved.
The county board was considering that appeal, but on July 1, Sarah Sutherland, an attorney representing the San Bernardino County Board of Education, wrote a letter to Oxford’s law firm, stating that because of Oxford’s governing board’s decision to materially change its operation and governance structure – i.e., undo the relationship with Roche – the county board could no longer legally consider the appeal.
According to a statement from the San Bernardino County Board of Education, “Because the material changes were made during the appeal review process, the petition that was submitted to the County Board is no longer reflective of Oxford Prep’s current governance and operational structure. The County Board… based upon guidance from legal counsel as a result of the material changes, does not have the jurisdiction to lawfully consider the Oxford Prep appeal and will not be taking any action to approve or deny the charter school’s petition.”
The release from the county board continues, “By its own admission, Oxford Prep administrators said it made material changes in its governance and operations by terminating Edlighten Learning Solutions as its sole statutory member following its renewal petition with Chino Valley Unified School District and its governing board. This unilateral action appears to have been done without consultation or approval of any of Oxford Prep’s current authorizers to include Chino Valley Unified, Capistrano Unified School District and the Orange County Department of Education. The lack of collaboration with current authorizers provided further concern that the material changes may not have adequately addressed issues involving transparency, parent involvement in decision-making and board representation.”
The statement says, “On appeal from non-renewal, county boards of education must review the same petition that was denied by its school district in determining if it meets requirements of California Education Code, Section 47605. County boards of education may not review any other petition on appeal from a school district denial under Ed Code, Section 47605 (b).”

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