Rebuffed By CVUSD & County Board Of Education, Oxford Begs For State Rechartering

Oxford Preparatory Academy, which was founded by Sue Roche and under her guidance advanced to become San Bernardino County’s highest achieving school academically consistently for five years and then saw its luster tarnished when Roche sought to cash in on her teaching formula, is petitioning to keep itself afloat by obtaining a special dispensation from the California Board of Education.
Oxford is chartered to run as a school under the aegis of the Chino Valley Unified School District through the 2016-17 academic year. But Chino Valley Unified’s school board turned down Oxford’s application for rechartering in March, despite its position at or near the pinnacle of scholastic performance in the region. Oxford then struck out when it sought to appeal that decision with the San Bernardino County Board of Education, which refused to consider the matter on technical grounds.
Oxford is a charter school. Charter schools exists as operations under the authorization but beyond the direct control of the school district’s which charter them. Charter schools offer a curriculum that varies from those of traditional schools, offering specialized education for slow learners, accelerated education for fast learners or subject matter that is not normally available through traditional schools. A charter school is funded through money provided to it from the chartering district’s budget.
On July 8 Oxford’s internal board of directors voted to take the academy’s petition to the California State Board of Education, asking it to allow it to operate five more years and upgrade its operation from a single elementary campus to two, including a high school in Chino.
At one point, Roche was lionized as the progenitor of one of the most dynamic scholastic operations in Southern California. During the mid- and late stages of the first decade of the 2000s, Roche had been the principal at Rhodes Elementary School, the highest-scoring school in the Chino Valley Unified School District as measured by state administered scholastic tests. Roche parlayed that success 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 outside the classroom 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, Black orchestrated having Oxford Charter Academy enter 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 a key Roche backer instrumental in convincing the district to proceed with the original charter for Oxford in 2010, recognized 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 brightest star in the Chino Valley Unified School District’s academic constellation. 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. By its own admission, Oxford Prep administrators said it made material changes in its governance and operations. 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. 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. 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.”
In reaction to the San Bernardino County Board of Education’s refusal to consider the appeal, Oxford’s administrators in the last fortnight held two public parent meetings to inform the public of the county board’s decision and consider the academy’s options.
An appeal to the state board of education has been filed by Oxford in Sacramento and officials are hoping the state will hold a hearing and complete its decision-making process by November.

Leave a Reply