SOLANO COUNTY — Parents in Solano County are thankful the County Board of Education approved the opening of a new charter school they believe will deliver more education options in technology, language, and college readiness to prepare students to compete for college and jobs of the future.

Before Oct. 10, Dr. Ramona Bishop’s quest to open a community-led charter school in Solano County was on the brink of not coming to fruition, however, The Solano County Board of Education, SCBOE voted 5-2 to approve the petition to open ELITE Charter school covering the Vallejo City Unified School District, VCUSD.

“The students and the parents bought into the concept that all students are capable of going to college and all students have greatness within them,” said Dr. Bishop, a veteran education administrator in Sacramento and Vallejo said. “We joined with the community and just pushed through so that we could offer a nice option and curriculum for those parents.”

The SCOBE overturned a decision by VCUSD, which denied the ELITE’s petition in August. VCUSD’s trustees voted 5-0 to defeat the petition, citing its inability to explain a “sound educational program” and a proper location among other things.

Tiffany McCleod, who lives in Vallejo, said three of her children, ages 13, 12, and seven years old, will attend ELITE Charter School in August 2019. McCleod said she was already having an issue with the public school system and felt that her kids were are not getting the attention she permits.

“I am really excited about this school,” McCleod said. “The main reason why I like it is that I know there is an opportunity gap for children of color. We learn differently, to be honest with you. A lot of what our children see is based on the media images, how it’s a struggle, and almost a disadvantage being an African American. What I understand about ELITE, the pillars they stood for, they strive to make it that our children are proud of who they are.”

SCBOE had already shot down Dr. Bishop’s attempt to create a countywide charter school system back in January. She and ELITE’S Board decided to open up one school in one designated area, which ultimately won over the county board. The petition to open a Kindergarten thru 12th-grade charter school in Vallejo was submitted but could not get passed by VCUSD’s board members.

“I think the county board members just wanted us to scale it back and everybody wanted us to focus in on one city, which we decided to do,” Dr. Bishop said. “So we rewrote the charter to focus on Vallejo. That’s where the students needed a charter school the most.”

McCLeod said she attended all the board meetings about ELITE Charter School. After all the setbacks, obstacles, and “false accusations”that came with it, she said. The final decision to go forward with the charter school was a relief.

“The room just erupted with tears,” McCleod said of the final vote. “We cried, and we hugged. It was a fight. It had been about a year. Some people didn’t want the school. However, I was elated and to see this school get the ‘yes’ vote after the ‘no’ vote the first time, we were beyond excited.”

Dr. Bishop is no stranger to Vallejo. She spent six years as VUSD superintendent and led the district out of state receivership. Under her guidance, the district increased graduation rates by 20 percent. Now she is returning in a different capacity with an ELITE board that carries the wealth of educational experience and 13 board of directors.

“On our board we have, doctors of Theology, Masters of Business of Administration, professors focused on transforming schools, and science professors,” Dr. Bishop said of board members of Elite. “We put together a team of people that are going to create something that doesn’t exist right now. We are excited about providing a stable environment that transforms lives.”

Drawing up the concept for ELITE Charter School to up to eight months and modification after modification followed, Dr. Bishop said. The K-12 Charter School will open its doors in August 2019 with over 25 educators.

It will first start with 548 transitional students up to the eighth grade and expect to grow to more than 1,000 students. Dr. Bishop and her staff will admit pre-kindergarten students who will transform to the kindergarten level. A facility to house the charter school is currently being negotiated with the school district.

“It’s been an intense process,” Dr. Bishop said. “But at the end of the day, we think we have a product that’s going to work for everyone.”

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) reports that Black students graduated at “higher rates” in key school districts across the state in the 2015-2016 school year and reported that Black student enrollment has been on the rise since 2008. Charter students have jumped by more than 15,000 in the last ten years. Over 48,000 African American students have matriculated in California charter schools in 2017.

“Parents just don’t trust you blindly. They want to see that you are somebody who does what they say they are going to do,” Dr. Bishop said. “People who have followed our history and track records know
that at the end of the day success is waiting for us all. We’re going to build a new collaboration with everyone.”
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer