Who gets a seat in Oakland’s most sought-after schools?

schoolroom2.jpgHappy New Year! I’m back from the two-state family holiday tour, trying to catch up on what I missed while I was away. Please fill me in.

In my haste to finish up my work before leaving town, I didn’t have time to post an entry about the postponed school board decision on the proposed boundary changes at Hillcrest, Montclair and Chabot schools — or about the fact that board members promised to take a serious look at the district’s enrollment policies for the 2009-10 school year.

Right now, under Oakland’s School Options program, neighborhood children with older siblings at the local school have top priority, followed by other neighborhood kids; those who live outside of the local attendance zone whose older siblings attend the school; those who live near low-performing schools; and then everyone else, by lottery.

But as neighborhood demand increases for the city’s highest-performing schools — many of which are located in affluent areas — it is becoming increasingly difficult for families to opt into one of those schools unless they can afford a home inside its attendance boundaries.

What changes, if any, do you think the board should consider as they re-examine OUSD’s enrollment policies? Should neighborhood children always have top priority, or is the school system ethically (and legally) responsible for reserving spots for children who live near low-performing schools?

Here is the board resolution that school board member Kerry Hamill read at the last board meeting:

A clear and transparent enrollment process is essential for all families.
Board policies which drive the current enrollment and assignments through the options process are currently being reviewed by a board subcommittee with district staff to ensure that they fully reflect the goals and objectives of the newly empowered school board.

The process of modifying OUSD boundaries should be tabled until Spring, 2008 to give the School board and staff time to reach consensus on board policy related to enrollment, boundaries, the district’s open enrollment process and the city’s need to be certain that we ensure access to a quality education to all of our students.

With these factors in mind, I move that the board postpone a decision regarding a boundary change for the Hillcrest K-8 school attendance area until the conclusion of the board’s work reviewing its current enrollment policy, and that the issue of overcrowding and enrollment issues at Hillcrest and potentially other Oakland schools return to the board for future consideration not later than April, 2008.

During the intervening months, staff and members of the school board will conduct meetings with the Hillcrest, Chabot, Montclair, Kaiser and all other school communities potentially affected by the overcrowding to review future enrollment projections and other factors which may arise.

During the intervening months, the district should assess and explore any and all alternatives which could allow an increase of the supply of K-8 spaces in North Oakland, and possibly expand the number of students who may attend Hillcrest Elementary School.

For the 2008-2009 school year, all families within any OUSD overcrowded attendance area not placed at their home school will be redirected through the district open enrollment process to their next closest neighboring school.

image from dospaz’s Web site at flickr.com

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    Boy, it’s a thorny problem, and I’m glad I’m not responsible for solving it. I don’t envy the school board members – no matter what they come up with, some people are going to be unhappy.

    Of course, the best solution would be raising the performance of all the schools to the levels of the best ones, but that’s a long way in the future. In the mean time, some families will get their kids into better schools and some won’t.

    Perhaps the district should be looking at some sort of needs-based assignments, so a kid who is going to do well anywhere (like my younger son) goes to the school which needs more high-performing students, and children who face economic, family situation, or other challenges (like my older son who has autism) gets to attend the best-performing schools.

    Of course, that suggestion would still make some families unhappy. If my younger son were assigned to a poor-performing flatlands middle school next year, and not one of the good middle schools we picked after the Options Fair, and not our neighborhood middle school which was our 3rd choice, I’d be plenty annoyed about it.

    Like I said, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for solving this. No matter how it gets worked out, someone is not going to like the solutions.

  • John

    The price for solving your child’s (future) quality education problem ranges from $450,000 to over $3,000,000. We chose a solution at the low end of the price range:

    Click, select, problem solved.

  • Sue

    I’m glad your solution works for you, John. My family can’t afford even the “low end”. And we can’t give up the ASIP program that older son has at Skyline. OUSD has a lot wrong, but that’s one thing they got right.

  • John

    We sold our once upon a time high end Oakland home on that in 1990 was on a price par with Orinda and has now fetched a selling price that now affords us a low end place in Orinda. But less space for us and better learning space for our daughter seems well worth the trade.

    But of course everyone’s circumstance is different and I’m glad you took the time to point out the “one thing” OUSD got right. I’m genuinely pleased it works for you.

    Incidentally, homes are comparatively quite affordable in Tuolumne County where you grew up and where the Twain Harte (K-8) schools rate in the eighty percent range state wide. It’s too bad the job market there is so limited.

    For families living in the Oakland hills and facing a private school affordability crisis, perhaps investing in (buying or renting) a Lamorinda condo/Lamorinda schools address would be cheaper than private school tuition on this side of the tunnel? However, I know this won’t work for everyone. We must all cope with Oakland’s worsening public education crisis as our individual circumstance and creativity permits.

  • JC

    John – How does advocating that Oakland parents leave Oakland help improve the Oakland school system? I certainly believe there are real issues in the Oakland schools, but is it really impossible to get a quality education in the Oakland schools. And if you live in Orinda, why continually post on a Oakland education forum?

  • Sue

    Um, John, I don’t think you meant to put words in my mouth, did you? I didn’t say or imply “the one thing OUSD got right” – there are other things that are right with the district too. I was referring to “one of those things” with which I’m familiar because the program has been benfiting my autistic son for six years.

    I think my family is better off than the median in Oakland. There’s lots of renters in our city. We bought our house six years ago, a tiny craftsman bungalow in need of a lot of fixing up, for about half of Orinda’s current “low end”.

    Even if we didn’t have good reasons for staying in Oakland (my casual-carpool commute into SF is shorter than some of our friends who live in the Outer Sunset district of SF, and AC Transit is so much better than BART as well as being less expensive), we simply can’t sell our house in this real estate market. And honestly, I’d miss our neighbors. Sweet people all up and down the block, all looking out for each other. One neighbor has picked up our younger son from school with her grandson, and we’ve picked up her youngster when she needed to be in two places at once. Another neighbor who lends any tool anytime, so our fixer-upper can get fixed without having to rent or buy expensive tools. Borrowing a corkscrew when ours broke, taking somebody else’s cat to our vet when she was hit by a car, and mourning together when the cat didn’t survive. Celebrating the birth of someone’s new baby. A community, and a sense of belonging.

    Maybe you have that with your neighbors too, and I hope so, but we wouldn’t give up what we have, *hoping* we might have a chance to rebuild it someplace new. We have too much invested where we are – not the monetary investment, the emotional one – and we appreciate all the good things about Oakland, and want to be part of changing what’s not good.

    YMMV, and JC’s question about why you’re posting on an education blog for a city you don’t live in seems valid to me. What do you get from poking at those you left behind?

  • John

    JC & Sue: If there’s one thing I learned from my decades as an OUSD special education teacher it’s patience, an asset of some worth in aiding my response to your ‘not one of us’ mentality. How about “Love it or leave it, and if you do SHUT UP!?”

    And Sue, I also remember my cat “Yellow Eyes.” My childhood neighbor reported it sprawled out on the Warren Freeway. My dear mother held me close as I mourned our dear dead cat. I held my mother close while she was dying in 2002 at my childhood Oakland home. It’s great that you have a good relationship with your neighbors and can count on them for mutual support, including the acquisition of a cork screw for a bottle of wine – another source for coping with the larger than neighborhood reality of Oakland.

    You’re right Sue. There actually are other things Oakland got right with the district. Like the time the district weeded out it’s ghost employees who had been picking up pay checks but not reporting to work. There are so many things Oakland got right, or rightly tried to correct, that I’ve lost count. One thing that has been repeatedly confirmed for me about the OUSD and Oakland City Council is that history continues to repeat itself over and over and over and….

    How many school and community groups over the years have heralded themselves as agents of change? It’s wonderful. It’s noble? My long participation as a cog in Oakland’s ‘agents of change machine’ did result in one meaningful and lasting change resulting in a daughter who no longer needs to have her diapers changed.

    Here’s a scenario that could one day have you calling for a thousand cork screws and the support of your neighborhood homeowner support group! Let’s say you suddenly had a family or other emergency out of state requiring you and your family had to leave Oakland for a spell. Let’s also assume you couldn’t, or didn’t want to, sell your Oakland home under current market conditions so you decide to rent it out to make ends meet. Eventually circumstances elsewhere require that you sell your Oakland home. FORGET IT! Before you can sell it you must first move back into it and live there for two years after evicting your tenants. You must do this because Oakland’s Measure EE says you must. Evicting renters to sell your home is not considered a “just cause” for evicting tenants in Oakland. If you don’t believe it check with any local Real Estate attorney familiar with the tragic consequences of this 2004 ‘Oakland renter majority passed’ rent control initiative.

    So for those of you who may be wisely thinking about renting out your Oakland residence to buy or rent in another district so your children can get a better education, FORGET IT you nasty fat cat Oakland homeowner you!

    Tell me Sue. Do you consider the advice I gave the Skyline student about future college options as “poking at those I left behind.” If so, I can take some comfort in knowing that at least you weren’t poking fun at her, you wonderful, sweet, moral Oakland person you.

    Oh yeah Sue. Although your son appears to be receiving decent special education services in Oakland, are you aware of the changes that have occurred in OUSD Department of Programs for Exceptional Children (special education) since 2004!? I didn’t think so.

    I’ve got a lot more to say but need to take a patience break.

  • Sue

    My goodness! I seem to have hit a nerve, my apologies.

    You seem to be making a lot of unwarrented assumptions about me and my knowledge of the district, though.

    Let’s see, I’m supposed to rent out my house because of some unspecified out-of-area situation? Huh? Then I’m supposed to sell the house? Or I’m going to get foreclosed? Again, huh? Where did this come from, and what does it have to do with the price of coffee in Brazil? (Dueling nonsequiturs, anyone?)

    As for knowing about the changes in the Programs for Exceptional Children Department of the district, your assumptions are so far from accurate that they’re really funny.

    Ours was the first family to meet with Dr. Ward – on his first day as state administrator – to express our concerns with the gutting of the department. There was nobody left in the department except the secretary – my husband would remember her name, but I’m afraid I don’t at the moment.

    Two weeks before Dr. Harris arrived in the district, my husband had spoken with her by phone. We had a good working relationship with her predecessor, and hoped to have one with her too. Sometimes we did, but sometimes it was very painful on all sides. I will say that she was always professional, even when disagreements were ugly and could have decended to a personal level.

    We’ve had a meeting with Vince Matthews (classy guy, my husband seriously provoked him, but he handled himself in a very appropriate and professional manner) and the current Director of Special Programs, following her extremely inappropriate and unprofessional behavior when my husband contacted her with concerns for our autistic son’s physical safety on the Skyline campus after he was identified in a front-page article in the Oakland Tribune and threating comments (promptly removed – thank you Tribune staff) were posted on-line in response to the article. At this point, we cannot work with the present director because during that meeting she lied to our faces about her behavior.

    But, hey, lecture away about your views of the department. Gallows humor is fun for me, and you’ve provided me some good laughs today. It’s even possible that you might know some tidbits of information that we don’t.

    I don’t remember your comments regarding college, which means they didn’t strike me as inappropriate. I do think that suggesting Oakland families leave, because you did, and buy homes elsewhere, like you did, is not helpful or appropriate here. It also seems either disrespectful or ignorant of circumstances of those who don’t have the means to follow your example.

    I’ll try to be nice, and to be reasonable. But if you choose to keep poking at snakes with sharp sticks, I hope you won’t be surprised if sometimes this snake uses her fangs and venom. Worst that can happen is that one or both of us would get our comments removed and be banned from this blog.

    Hope everyone else is keeping warm and dry in this miserable weather!

  • Lisa


    When my students’ newspaper from Fremont Federation beat out the $25,000-a-year Convent of the Sacred Heart newspaper in the Best of the West competition, I felt proud. Proud that kids who grow up in horrendous conditions and who go to schools that score at the bottom of the Academic Performance Index can still tell their stories in an award-winning way. I suspect that throughout the OUSD, there are teachers and students who are outperforming schools like Orinda and Convent of the Sacred Heart in ways that just don’t get measured on the API.

    Media Academy
    Fremont Fedeation

  • Timmy

    On this issue, which elephant in the Oakland Board Room are we going to talk about?

    The only way to serve ALL Oakland students well is to raise the level of instruction in ALL schools so parents will not have to flee their neighborhoods either physically or by student proxy. The present policy is simply an acknowledgement that all Oakland schools are not equal.

    It is going to take money, time, real constructive team work and a parent-teacher-administration base united to accomplish it. Can we get those things?


  • John

    OK Sue, you win. I feel your venom coursing through my veins. Before it stops my aging ticker I’d like to spit out, I mean articulate, a few last words that you are more than welcome to follow up with ‘the last word.’

    Although you know nothing about the larger issues affecting OUSD special education, I do appreciate your accurate characterization of the current director. I also sympathize with your expressed concern regarding your son’s physical safety at Skyline. On these points, that all should take note, you have my sympathy.

    I don’t, as you interpret me, happen to believe everyone “should leave because I did.” However, based on my considerable experience in Oakland and the OUSD I believe that leaving is an option some folks should seriously consider – even if you believe that someone who has already exercised that option is not entitled to “suggest” it to others.

    You comment that “it seems either disrespectful or ignorant of the circumstances of those who don’t have the means to follow your (my) example.” I suppose it is frustrating, as your comment implies, for those who don’t have the means to leave. I spent several decades plus of working with OUSD special needs children and their families who would have found it economically challenging to leave Oakland.

    It’s too bad the priorities of Oakland politicians contribute to the dismal circumstance that is Oakland. However, the misguided policies of some should not prevent others from doing what’s best for their families and children if they have the means to do so.

    Perhaps you would be less concerned about your “son’s physical safety on the Skyline campus,” and your husband wouldn’t anger to the point of “provoking” a superintendent if you moved to a different school district? [Hey, he sounds like my kind of guy!]

    Say! Maybe you could get a bunch of like minded folk to petition Katy Murphy to remove me and my comments from this blog. If my opinions are to be silenced let it happen Oakland style. It’s her blog and she has the right to kick anyone off she wants, including me. Maybe your city council person and school board representative could help bring some pressure to bear?

    Anyway, I’m glad that, as you admit, I brought a little humor to your stormy day. Here’s another something to make you smile: ‘Why did the Oakland School Board member cross to the left side of the road?’ Answer: ‘Because (s)he didn’t want to be seen on the right side of anything.’

    P.S. In spite of your venom (of questionable toxicity) I don’t consider you to be a “SNAKE,” and neither should you! I sincerely hope that you’re keeping warm and dry on this miserable day.

  • John

    Yes Lisa, there are always the individual exceptions and we should be proud of them and share them. Unfortunately, positive individual exceptions don’t equal a positive generalization. But your point is well made and much appreciated. John

  • another hills parent

    Although I may have worded things differently than John, I do agree with him. My experiences with my neighborhood elementary school and OUSD district staff have been less than desirable. I have reached the point that taking a loss on my house in order to move to a community with a functional school district(opposed to the dysfunctional state of affairs in OUSD) is my only option. I have tried to work within the system, but it is difficult when the district office is so involved with its own problems that they are not watching over the schools to ensure that all is running smoothly and following ed code.

  • John

    Timmy, in response to your comments I’d like to quote the remarks of another contributor (teacher Deckin) who
    has an experience based knack to say it like it is in fewer words or less:

    “…To those parents who don’t have the options of good performing schools, my heart goes out to them, but they should also know that they are the single biggest educational influence their child will ever have. If they themselves value education (in their own lives), if they read voraciously (and not just to their children), if they demonstrate that learning is the single most important thing in life, trust me, their kids will probably do all right no matter what school they’ll go to. As will, honestly, those kids of the privileged who are bullied by ‘less bright’ fellow students. The ultimate power to make an educated child is in the hands of the parents; the local school district can only make it easier or harder for their influence to come through. Too many parents (personal experience) in these poor performing schools simply drop the kids off and expect the school to educate them. That’s not what parents in the privileged areas do: they constantly stimulate their children, etc. The home life is the biggest determiner of academic success. All schools do is moderate that effect (very) slightly.”

    I think we can extrapolate from teacher Deckin’s comments why “all Oakland schools are not equal” and what constitutes the primary determiner that will make them equal. Although the truth can “make you free,” it doesn’t get you elected to the Oakland school board or City Council.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    I support neighborhood schools for neighborhood kids. There will be huge unintended consequences if OUSD de-prioritizes neighborhood children in the enrollment process. A few thoughts:

    1. Without a guarantee of a spot at a good local school, many families will go private or leave Oakland. Fewer families will take their place and OUSD will have a net loss of the students it can least afford to lose.

    2. The academic standards of the good hills schools will decline if OUSD moves away from neighborhood schools. It’s not the school that creates success; it’s the students and families that are part of the school. A few children from the flats won’t make much of a difference academically speaking, but once the school population hits a certain “tipping point” and academics start sliding, then the school will lose the support of the neighborhood.

    3. There are simply too few “good” students to go around and too many poor performing and unmotivated students within OUSD. As a parent to high-performing, motivated children, I want my children to be in classes with other similar children. That will not happen if OUSD implements a lottery system like that in San Francisco. I will not sacrifice my children’s education by sending them to a mediocre school with children who aren’t developmentally, socially and emotionally ready to learn and excel and there are many who feel the same way that I do.

    4. Those of us in the hills already struggle to attract appropriate resources. We pay the highest property taxes and yet much of this money is spent in other areas of the city. Let us at least keep our neighborhood schools! I used to live in another town in the bay area and in that area the quality of life was much higher. Libraries were open all day seven days a week. Property crimes were lower. Schools, K-12, were excellent. The streets were clean and safe. Then I moved to Oakland to be closer to work. I pay more in property tax than before and I have to contend with fewer services, poorer schools and more crime. I do enjoy many things about living here and I don’t want to leave yet, but there are some big sacrifices that I am making too. If my children’s school is another sacrifice, then I’ll be ready to pack up and move on.

    So, OUSD, don’t mess with the neighborhood schools format. It works in the hills and nothing else will.

  • John

    Hills Neighborhood Mom: Your points are well made and greatly appreciated. I most appreciated your observation that, “once the school population hits a certain “tipping point”…academics start sliding.”

    When I graduated from Skyline, before a major academic (motivated learner) demographic shift, it was a highly regarded academic learning environment. At that time its perimeter fencing largely existed to define its boundary. Today it performs a greatly needed security function, not only for the school but for the surrounding neighborhood as well.

    I would hope that district action remains consistent with your advocacy for the neighborhood schools format. However, Oakland’s majority flatland politic could well undermine the current academic (motivated learner) demographic of hill area schools.

    My advice: Keep one finger on the OUSD pulse and another poised to dial up two Realtors – one to help you sell and the other to help you buy elsewhere.

  • Philippa

    The piece that I don’t understand in the capacity debate is why Hillcrest, alone of all Oakland schools, goes from K through 8, when the rest of Oakland does not have access to a 60 to 70 child public middle school. Perhaps the most sensible solution is to eliminate the 6th, 7th and 8th grades at Hillcrest to make room for K through 5 expansion in that neighborhood, without adversely impacting the surrounding schools. Then, as their children graduate from the 5th grade, the affluent and influential parents in the Hillcrest area can put all their energy toward improving Oakland’s middle schools!

  • Caroline

    I don’t live in Oakland either (or even the East Bay), but I like to keep up on education issues outside my area.

    I’ve made this point before. While I’m not making any judgments on how Oakland should run its assignment system (and would be out of line to do so), I refute the implication that SFUSD’s lottery system would “sacrifice …children’s education by sending them to a mediocre school with children who aren’t developmentally, socially and emotionally ready to learn and excel and there are many who feel the same way that I do.” My kids have attended SFUSD schools for 12 and 9 years, respectively, and that does not describe their schools nor their classmates.

    Overall, SFUSD is a far higher-functioning school district that OUSD, as the numbers show. I’m not saying that’s BECAUSE of the lottery system, obviously, but reality (including hard numbers) show that our district is doing a solid job.

    My only point here is to refute the inaccurate notion some parents have that the lottery system has caused SFUSD to become a troubled school district. Again, reality and indisputable achievement figures show otherwise.

  • Joe Camel

    To quote the question posed by Katy on this blog:

    “What changes, if any, do you think the board should consider as they re-examine OUSD’s enrollment policies? Should neighborhood children always have top priority, or is the school system ethically (and legally) responsible for reserving spots for children who live near low-performing schools?”

    Can people stop the bitch session and the dialogue about whether to move or not? I’m sure there are other blogs covering these topics.

    How do we solve Oakland’s problems? Not compare them to SF or Orinda’s?

    Personally, I don’t think you can move away from a neibhorhood model. I think there is some ethical responsibility to reserve some spots for non-performing school kids, but certainly don’t think there is a legal one. The board needs to find its voice. They have let one school (HIllcrest) wander to far from the operating norm of the others (including nearby, high performing schools like Thornhill, Montclair and Chabot). They need a clear policy about K-5 vs K-8 or any other model. Most of all, they need a new middle school in the Hills area to end all the Hills parents bickering (I’d love to hear the Hillcrest parents argue that they’d rather have their kids attend a 2 class middle school rather than a state of the art 6-8 proper middle school because “K-8 is so great”). Of course this would only ensure other parents continue to bicker since they don’t live in the neighborhood and wouldn’t have access.


  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    Caroline, I wasn’t implying that SF lottery is a disaster for SF families. I know that it seems to work for most families in SF.

    However, Oakland is not SF and for many families in Oakland, a city-wide lottery would be an absolute disaster. I truly can’t envision a scenario where most hills families would embrace a lottery. Families with resources and alternatives would flee such a system, leaving OUSD with even greater problems. That’s why OUSD would be foolish to abandon its neighborhood schools format.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    Joe Camel, I’m against any system that will take seats away from neighborhood kids. Many or most of the hills schools are at capacity with neighborhood kids and demand is increasing in most areas.

    Holding even 10-20% of seats for non-neighborhood kids will mean that neighborhood kids won’t get a spot at some of the hills schools. See the previous posting regarding unintended consequences….

    OUSD should maintain its enrollment priorities as they stand and make some adjustments to the attendance boundaries as needed.

    Hillcrest should become a K-5 so they can serve as many young neighborhood kids as possible.

  • Joe Camel

    Hills Neighborhood Mom,

    What is your thought about non-neighborhood kids already attending a school? Hillcrest currently has (according to OUSD) 31 kids from outside the neiborhood attending Hillcrest. I don’t know the history of those kids – maybe they once lived in the area and moved away, maybe they had a sibling there, etc.

    Since people keep talking about keeping “neigborhood” a priority (I agree) – does that mean those 31 kids should be “kicked out” (current policy says kids only go through the Priority Process in K, 5th and 8th grades) so that all incoming neighborhood kids can get in? I believe the Hillcrest is currently “over capacity” by around 30 kids. Doesn’t that “solve the problem”


  • Joe Camel

    And I guess I should learn to spell ‘neighborhood” if I think it’s a good solution.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    I have no issues at all with non-neighborhood kids attending a school so long as they do not displace neighborhood residents. At all points of entry (K, 6th, 9th) neighborhood kids should have first priority and beyond that there should be seats saved for neighborhood kids who may move into the neighborhood after the enrollment deadline. If space allows, any seats beyond that should be given out to others.

    I have heard of school districts that remove non-neighborhood children to make room for neighborhood children at any point in the year, but I don’t think this is a common practice and that’s not necessarily what I am advocating.

    However, if schools can’t accommodate children within their attendance boundary, I am in favor of possibly remove anyone who falsified their address to gain entry. This is a common practice and it’s putting a strain on space at some of the hills schools.

    Hillcrest may be the only school with extreme capacity issues at the moment, but there are other schools that have continually added portables to accommodate a surge of students. Maybe this can be done for a year or two, but at some point these schools will also run out of room to expand. Tough choices lie ahead.

  • A Different Hills Mom

    I’d like to add a voice for seeking a solution that means schools are *not* purely neighborhood schools. As a parent who has seen her child’s school evolve over the years from being able to accept transfers from outside the area, to a school that is over-enrolled from within boundaries, I’d say we’ve lost something significant in terms of diversity, and the culture in which we’re teaching our kids.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of neighborhood schools, and I know I’m asking to have my cake and eating it too. It’s just that as we’ve become completely enrolled from within boundaries, I feel more and more like I’m in Orinda, not in Oakland. While some would desire that, we’ve found it to be negative.

    Being fully enrolled from within our boundaries means some things are easier – fund raising, for instance, is not as demanding as it was before, and that’s socioeconomics, pure and simple. However, I think it makes it even more challenging to build a sense of diversity at the school, and try to get the school community to think outside its own boundaries.

    I don’t have a solution, but I have experienced the change to be not all positive. No, I’m not ready to move, or transfer my kids to another school; as I said, I’m a big fan of the neighborhood school. Just adding another voice….

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    A Different Hills Mom, I appreciate what you are saying and I think it’s great that we can all have talk about these issues…. but at the end of the day, in the name of increased diversity, is it fair to divert your neighbors to a lesser performing school in order to accommodate children who add more racial or economic diversity?

    How would you feel if you spent a million to buy a house in a certain neighborhood and your child could not be accommodated at your local school? Would you be willing to have your children attend a lesser performing school to accomplish the goal of more diversity? My guess is that few hills families would willingly take that option.

    If it gets to a point where all neighborhood children can not be accommodated, it will also be disastrous for the communities involved. For Hillcrest and Redwood Heights, two schools who nearly diverted kids last year, divisions quickly developed between those who got in & those who didn’t and between those who wanted to keep the schools small & those who wanted to accommodate new students.

    In situations that I am familiar with, friends and neighbors were pitted against each other over school issues. It was very negative for the schools and the communities involved and this could easily happen in other hills neighborhoods too.

  • Pamela

    This is a so non productive. Anyone who has lived in Oakland any time at all knows that the “hill” schools have always been the better schools. I have lived and gone to school in oakland and now have a 9th grader at Skyline High. And the same debate that we are having today, my parents had when I was in school 30 yrs ago. Nothing has changed, and we have had years to change it. Everyone in the “flats” knew if you didn’t have the money to send your kid to private school, you would have to lie and get him or her into one of the hill schools. That is if you wanted him to have a brain in his head. So the statement that the hill schools would decline academically is basically untrue. Kids from the flats have been catching the bus up to redwood heights for years and it is still one of the best schools in the district. And parents will keep doing what ever it takes to get the best education that they can afford for their children. So OPS can change the enrollement system if they want to. The truth is, to most parents, it doesn’t really matter. They will do what they have to for their Children.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    Pamela, beyond suggesting that people should falsify their address to gain access to a school, what changes are you suggesting?

    If schools were truly mixed up in a city-wide lottery, there is no question that academic results would decline at all the hills schools. This will happen even if a certain percentage of seats are held for non-neighborhood kids. Plus, once a school hits that “tipping point”….

    As an aside, see Katy Murphy’s recent article on Montera. Looks like that school hit its own “tipping point” a few years back and has lost neighborhood support and now it is trying hard to gain it back. That’s what will happen to the hills elementaries if they should lose neighborhood support.

  • hills parent

    To Pamela:

    You mentioned Redwood Heights. This is a school with declining test scores, while other hill schools have raised their test scores. I wonder what that is all about????

  • another hills parent


    Pamela: I apologize. It was not you who mentioned Redwood Heights. It was Hills Neighborhood Mom. However, I totally agree with HNM. Additionally I must ask, what is the role of district office staff in monitoring decline of school test scores. I understand that some parents are not concerned about API scores. Although I would agree that a single year decline is not necessarily cause for concern, but what about two or three consecutive years of declining scores. I hope that the district asks these questions, as I guarantee would and does occur in other school districts.

  • Pamela

    While I was not suggesting that people should commit fraud, let us be clear, it does happen. And isn’t that a shame how in This great city, parents can be reduced to fraud in order to get the best education possible for their child. My suggestion, honestly, I’m not sure that I have one. The school system in Oakland has been one-sided for 30 yrs or more. You can’t live here and not know how messed up OPS is. To force a child to go to a sub stadard school based on his address is educational murder in this city. And I for one believe that if you get a child from day one and place him or her in a well performing school, that child will suceed. If they have the support of the parents. To some how suggest that where you live, determines your course is wrong. One possible suggestion is Charter Schools. Even though I live in the “hills” area, This was a great choice for my son. He attended Kipp, and after our experience with Skyline, will probably be returning for 10th grade. Charter schools are a great choice, when your choices are limited. It is the only choice if you don’t have the money to pay for private education. Isn’t it something where those who have the least, have to spend the most for a good education.

  • peter

    Out of curiosity:
    The phrase “high performing school” comes up a lot in this thread and on this blog. Can anyone define it? Is it based on test scores? And if it is, what does this have to do with the school when these scores correlate to only two things: parent education level and parent income? Or is there some other measure that is being used to determine “high performing”??? Conversely, what makes a school “sub standard?” Definitions may go a long towards having a productive discussion of this topic!

  • Sue

    Peter, I think you did pretty much define it – STAR and API scores.

    However, the correlation with parental blah-blah-blah isn’t absolute. My younger son is attending an elementary school with medium-high scores, but over 60% of the students are Title I, “eligible for free or reduced lunchs, disadvantaged, English learners.” It was one of the few schools in OUSD to receive a state Title I Academic Excellence Award last month.

    If we’re trying to identify which parental characteristics lead to success, in my experience it’s *involvement*. Ours is a “hills school” with almost no neighborhood kids – nearly all are coming from the “flatlands”. We have the success we do because the parents are making an effort to get their children out of their poor-performing (i.e. low test scores) neighborhood schools, and once they get to the “good school” the parents do much more than drop them off in the morning and pick them up at the end of the day.

    At the end of the day, I like our elementary school more than the ones that have the top scores in the district. We have less to work with, but nearly every family rolls up their sleeves, so to speak, and pitches in wherever they can. The staff knows they’re valued and appreciated, and that support helps them do their jobs better. The kids know that educational success is important to *everyone* around them, and they’re motivated to do well.

  • another hills parent

    With the budget cuts looming, OUSD cannot afford to lose any more families fleeing to other communities or private schools. So———why does your neighborhood “hills” school have almost no neighborhood kids. AND more importantly, how can OUSD get these families to return. If this flight is not curtailed immmediately OUSD will find itself in even more debt.

  • Liz

    I just stumbled across this conversation and find it fascinating. While I realize my views may perhaps change if I had more interest at stake as a resident of Oakland or a current parent, I see many short-term responses to the issue at hand. My concern as a soon-to-be-parent is that I am about to bring a child into a world that is experiencing growing inequity and where many are raising questions about long-term sustainability. My question for the Oakland community (the students, parents, board and district) is what district enrollment strategy will lead to a more sustainable future?

    I think there is much more potential for long-term understanding and community building if a second grader and her family in the ‘hills’ gets to know a second grader and her family living in the ‘flats.’ When we think of the growing crime that plagues our streets today, how many of us think about how we could have perhaps made a difference for those children when they were young before each turned to a life of crime. I expect that, if given the choice, anyone in the community would rather influence a child as a second-grader than confront him as a gang member in the streets ten years later. This is one way we can each make a difference in our community.

    All parents have the best interest of their own child in mind. No parent wants a child to be a low-performer or a criminal. And as cited earlier, a major factor of a child’s performance, especially at the elementary school level, is the influence parents have. Some parents recognize this and are confident that they can supplement their child’s needs in the elementary school years. Some parents recognize this, and their only alternative is to send their child to a neighborhood school. What type of society are we creating when we educate our children in communities of have-nots and have-lots? We each have to make choices about what we do to preserve our children’s best interest – personally, I think I’d rather give up my short-term interest in a neighborhood school (high-performing or not) for the longer term interest of improving the greater community than see my child face even greater societal challenges in the future.

    So, instead of focusing on who deserves a seat in a specific school, my question for parents, school board members and others pondering this issue, is – do you have the long-term interest of the community at heart and, if you do, what is in the best interest of the entire Oakland community?

  • John

    Peter comments that IF test scores and “parent education and income levels” are linked to high performing schools what does this have to do with the school, or is there some other measure being used to determine “high performing???” As a matter of fact Peter, there is.

    One such measure, referenced below, identifies nine characteristics of a high performing school. They are: (1) Clear and Shared Focus; (2) High Standards and Expectations; (3) Effective School Leadership; (4) High Levels of Collaboration and Communication; (5) Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Aligned with Standards; (6) Frequent Monitoring of Teaching and Learning; (7) Focused Professional Development; (8) Supportive Learning Environment; (9) High Levels of Community and Parent Involvement.

    http://www.k12.wa.us/SchoolImprovement/Involvement.aspxfor some clarifications on 1-9]

    It is OUSD teacher Deckin’s observation that, “The home life is the biggest determiner of academic success. All schools do is moderate that effect (very) slightly.”

    Perhaps the strength, weakness, or absence of SOME of these measurement categories for high performing schools (#’s 1,2,4,6,8, & 9) should also be considered in the context of a student’s ‘home life?’ Do parental academic and behavioral expectations reflect: a clear and shared focus; high standards and expectations; frequent monitoring of, and involvement in, their child’s school program; and a supportive home learning environment?

    Perhaps well educated, but not always high income, parents who’ve acquired these characteristics in the attainment of their educations are better able to communicate and pass them along to their children.
    Is it surprising that those with higher incomes typically have higher levels of education complemented by the “high performing school” characteristics identified above? When these characteristics are modeled and nurtured in a student’s home life isn’t that student considerably more likely to become one of the high performing students that make high performing schools a reality?

    Follow-up quiz: What came first, the high performing school or the high performing student? Answer: The influence of high performing parents. “All schools do is moderate [their] effect (very) slightly.”

    Anyway Peter, here’s the “other measure (and definition) that is being used to determine high performing” schools you inquired about.

    Let the “productive discussion” continue!

  • Sue

    To Another Hills Parent:

    I didn’t say, or intend to imply that “our school” is our neighborhood school. I wish my family could afford to live in that neighborhood, but we’re in the flatlands with everyone else at the school.

    Why no neighborhood families? Good question, and I can’t answer for those families, since I’m not one of them. All I know is that it’s been the same population coming up from the flatlands since my younger son was a kindergartener and we pulled him out of that awful, horrible, no-good, flatland, neighborhood school.

    He’s a 5th grader now, so it’s been like this for at least six years.

  • John

    Has anyone seen or heard from Peter?

  • peter

    Oh, I’m usually around, John, and I think the measure you posted is a fantastic one… but I am quite sure that it is not what people are referring to when they use the term “high performing school” on this blog. According to the characteristics mentioned, many schools in Oakland would be considered high performing, or at least approaching that level (having most of those traits), including many schools that have been referred to as “sub standard” right here. And I would think that we need to have a shared definition of what “high performing” means, otherwise we are going to be talking about two separate things… parent income/education level vs. actual traits and descriptions of a school.

  • John

    Oh Peter! I’m so glad you’re back! You initially asked if there is some other measure than “parent education level & parent income” to determine a “high performing (school)???”

    The universe is a very big place. When you asked if there is “some other” measure, you did NOT limit FROM WHERE the “other measure(s)” might come. Consequently, in my desire and concurrence to advance your stated wish to establish some basis for “a more productive discussion on this topic,” and because there was no ‘WHERE there,’ I felt at liberty to import “some other measure” from some other state.

    You’re being “not quite sure” that my imported definition of “high performing” schools is what people on this thread are referring to suggests you think you have a pretty good hunch what they are referring to, which I would hazard to guess from your comments is “education levels and parent income.” My response, complementing the imported definition and desire to kick off a “productive discussion,” establishes a speculative link between six of the nine high performing school measures or traits identified AND high parent education (but not always income) levels that make for high performing students that make for high performing schools.

    I am most intrigued by your assertion that “many schools in Oakland” would be considered high performing, or at least approaching that level (of having most of those nine traits), including many schools that have been referred to as “sub standard” on this blog.”

    To be clear those school traits or measures are: (1) Clear and Shared Focus; (2) High Standards and Expectations; (3) Effective School Leadership; (4) High Levels of Collaboration and Communication; (5) Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Aligned with Standards; (6) Frequent Monitoring of Teaching and Learning; (7) Focused Professional Development; (8) Supportive Learning Environment; (9) High Levels of Community and Parent Involvement.

    Your perception that “many schools in Oakland” have “most” of these traits suggests an impressive overview of schools district wide. Would you therefore agree or disagree that “high levels of parent involvement” are more restricted to schools with high or significantly increasing overall test scores? Or is this trait (#9) one of “most of the traits” you refer to as being characteristic of “many” Oakland schools?

    Although I’m loath to show my naiveté, I must ask you Peter, How many Oakland schools “have most of these traits?” If you could provide a list instead of a number it could be a real asset to a productive discussion. In fact, if you could advise which traits apply to which Oakland schools it would be extremely productive! I’m sure of it.

  • John

    Peter! Where be thee?