For PTAs, another duty: neighborhood surveys

Moms and dads in Oakland Unified have far too much leisure time on their hands. Sure, they organize clam bakes, Bingo Nites and bake sales. Some even spearhead environmental initiatives and volunteer in classrooms. But do they actually go door to door to collect demographic data?

Oh. I guess they do that, too.


At 6 p.m. tonight, district officials meet with Redwood Heights Elementary School parents to discuss enrollment projections.

District representatives are also expected to propose a survey of neighborhood children — much like the one Hillcrest School’s long-range planning committee did last year.

The PTA at Montclair Elementary School was also asked to take up a census, a parent told me.

Most of these surveys would be conducted for potentially overcrowded schools. Montclair Elementary School parents, for example, anticipate a serious space crunch — and that’s without the expanded attendance boundaries proposed late last year to alleviate crowding at Hillcrest School. 

What do you think about asking parents to survey their neighborhoods? Is it a good opportunity for families to become involved in an issue they care about deeply, or is it too much to ask?

image from Bold Creative’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • hills parent

    Three years ago I met with district officials about enrollment issues and was astounded to learn that OUSD did not engage the services of a demographer. For a school district the size of Oakland this is irresponsible. Once again —WHEN ARE WE GOING TO LOOK AT OUR NEIGHBORING SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND LEARN FROM THEM???

    This is a sad situation when the district cannot work with their demographer to get their own enrollment figures. Why even pay for a demographer???? Why are other school districts able to make projected enrollments without asking neighborhood residents to conduct their own surveys? What is wrong with this picture?

    I was one of those Redwood Heights parents who did the door to door survey. It was evident that if we did not do it OUSD would continue to provide information not based on fact, but on guesswork.

  • A Different Hills Parent

    Never done a Clam Bake or Bingo night myself, but if we thought it would earn a significant amount of money, I’m sure we would. OUSD nixed bake sales on campuses a while ago, so that’s out, but we certainly have no shortage of opportunity for parent involvement.

    I’m not surprised, but I am saddened to hear they’re asking the parents to gather the data. I’ve said for many years, Oakland schools (and perhaps California schools) do best when parents treat them as a co-op. What parents are asked to do increases and increases, which continues to expand the disparity between the more and less affluent schools. The demands on parents are not just for funds, but for time; time in classrooms, time for meetings, time to fight on unjust or poorly managed issues.

    Is it too much to ask? Parents continue to step forward, as OUSD typically doesn’t step up when parents don’t – they just allow things to fall. At our ‘hills’ school, parents have dealt with maintenance issues, vermin problems, swept the yard, cleaned the classrooms, bought tissues, pencils, paper towels, and countless other ‘basics’ that ought to be funded routinely. I don’t think of this as just an Oakland issue, though – it’s a California issue. It may be worse here, but we’re not alone.

  • http://www.greenstampede.com Chris Dobbins

    Thanks Katy for shedding light on this important issue. In response to a previous post, the OUSD actually does employ a demographer, Ms. Juwen Lam. Demography, however, is an inexact science and the hopes of the “census report” is to get an “on the ground count” of actual numbers of potential students. This information will be used in addition to the demographer’s report to make not only immediate projections for 2008-09, but for the foreseeable future.

    In District 6, I have been concerned with the lack of information coming from the new housing development at Leona Quarry about potential students and we plan to do our own canvas there in the coming months. This information would be important to a school like Burckhalter which is currently under-enrolled, but only 2 blocks away. The housing development at the former Oak Noll Naval Base should be particulary impactful as it comes to fruition in the coming years.

    The district and the School Board are hosting meetings like the one at Redwood Heights, (I attended one at Horace Mann, earlier in the evening) and various other schools with parents and staff in order to discuss potential overcrowding issues and options for incoming students next year.

    The next Special Committee on School Admissions, Attendance, and Boundaries meeting will be on Friday March 7 at 7:30 AM at the School Board room. The public is most welcome to attend.

  • hills parent


    I am glad that Oakland finally decided to hire a demographer. For a district the size of Oakland this should have been done many years ago. I attended the Redwood Heights meeting last night and was disappointed that the district has once again implemented a new set of priorities for 08-09 enrollment, much to the surprise of everyone in the audience.

    Priority #1: Neighborhood siblings
    Priority #2: Neighborhood children and re-directs from overcrowded neighborhoods
    Priority #3: Non-neighborhood siblings
    Priority #4: PI status of neighborhood school
    Priority #5: Lottery

    #2 came as a surprise. To think that re-directs from overcrowded neighborhoods could bump neighborhood children once again goes against neighborhood children as a priority. We were informed by district officials that if a school is crowded and cannot accommodate all of #2, then a lottery would be held for those families.

    Once again – where is the priority for neighborhood children? Also, where was the public input for this?

  • Future (Perhaps) Redwood Heights Parent

    I was one of those parents who helped survey Redwood Heights in the hopes that it would help OUSD to PLAN FOR OUR NEIGHBORHOOD KIDS. How does having two different populations (neighborhood children and redirects) as the same priority make either of them a priority? Sounds a bit like “if everyone is special, then no one is special”. Why don’t they just call it what it is: a lottery so they can have no accountability when a neighborhood child doesn’t get in. Very disappointing.

  • Kim Cole

    Hi Katy,
    Just wanted to clarify one thing. Redwood Heights neighbors already did a survey this past fall and gave the results to the district. The survey was done by the Future RHS Parents Group. It was much more comprehensive then the Hilcrest survey. We sent volunteers door to door and counted all children under age 5.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for bringing that up, Kim. Is the Future RHS Parents Group planning a similar census this year? Is the data you gathered being used by the district?

  • hills parent


    This whole enrollment farce would be a wonderful story for the Tribune to pursue. OUSD has become a district out of control. Rather than own up to its mistakes, they just choose to make mistake after mistake. Can they set a vision for the district and work towards that vision…or is this another impossibility?

    Is this the “Peter Principle” at it highest?

  • Kim Cole

    At this point we have no plans to do the survey next year. We went 5 years out. Although the information will become less useful over time, it gave us a lot of information that we were looking for. I believe that OUSD is using the survey. They say it supports their stats that show there is not going to be an overcrowding problem at Redwood Heights in the years to come.

  • Concerned Alameda Parent

    Dear Surveying Oakland Parents:
    You are not alone!!! In Alameda, many of our elementary schools face overcrowding. This is something our school board and school district chose to ignore despite overnight lines outside schools at enrollment and despite demographer reports warning of overcapacity issues.
    A group of parents chose to take a school-zone survey upon themselves, to show the board and district the pending problem. Sad to say they did nothing in response, other than continue business as usual. Even sadder to say, the pending cuts due to the budget issues from the state are likely to make the capacity issues disappear and change our schools for a long time to come.

  • Katy Murphy

    Here’s a response from Juwen Lam, OUSD’s demographer, about school meetings, surveys and the work that she has done to get a handle on school-age populations:

    First of all, the purpose of the the Redwood Heights meeting was never to propose a survey of future incoming Kindergarteners. We have been working closely with the Redwood Heights community and were well aware of the survey completed by the Future Redwood Heights parents.

    Secondly, the purpose of asking the Montclair parents to do a survey of future incoming Kindergarteners was never to place the sole responsibility of demographic research on the parents. The purpose for asking for this survey was as a result of Board meetings on both December 12th and 19th as well as the Montclair community meetings in which we heard repeated feedback from the Montclair community that they wanted the same opportunity as Hillcrest to complete their own internal Kindergarten survey. In asking for the survey, we were providing an opportunity for the community to do what was asked for.

    Finally, the district has completed resident forecasts for all overcrowded neighborhoods and we are not relying on neighborhood survey data for enrollment forecasts. The purpose of doing a neighborhood survey would be more to gain insight into any additional information not available through birth data as well as to see how well the forecasts match up.

  • Karin

    The adjustment to the priorities was approved as a tool for the district to work with for the upcoming enrollment cycle only. It proposed and approved at the December board meeting. This solution is not perfect, but does stick to the neighborhood priority. It gives kids that cannot go to their neighborhood school a chance to at least be close to home rather than end up in the full district wide lottery. Technically, the wording does allow the redistricted child to displace a neighborhood kid, but when questioned about that before the district responded that they would honor the intent of the resolution. I don’t believe they would actually do that, but I agree it is unclear. I was at the meeting where this resolution was proposed and thought it was a reasonable solution to the urgent concerns of parents in overcrowded school districts. More time to more fully document the details may have been better, but it was not available with the application process pending.

    The district and the board are now working on a special committee to review the district wide enrollment policies and boundries. The meetings for this discussion are open to the public and input is welcome. I think the work of this committee is very important in addressing the new overcrowded environment we not face.

    You can see the minutes of the last meeting on Feb 22nd at:

    The next meeting is March 7th at 7:30am.

    Katy, I’d like to see you do an article on the work of this committee. A positive forward looking article that shows what the district is doing to try to build a solution and a longer term admission policy we can all live with.

  • Katy Murphy

    I agree, Karin. I plan to do a story about the committee’s work, and about the big picture.