There was standing room only in the Havenscourt auditorium tonight.
Parents and teachers crowded into the large room to listen to what the Oakland school board hopefuls had to say, while small children scampered up and down the aisles.
Unlike the painstakingly neutral League of Women Voters events, the organizers of this forum — Oakland Community Organizations — made their case for certain school reform policies at the get-go.
“We cannot afford to go back to the way things were before small schools and charters,” Deanita Lewis, a parent at Havenscourt’s Coliseum College Prep, told the people on the stage.
The climate was so favorable for candidates who embraced independently run, public charters and small schools (loud, mid-sentence cheers, vs. polite silence and half-hearted courtesy applause) that few on the stage dared to say much to the contrary.
Even District 7 incumbent Alice Spearman, one of the current board members known for denouncing the proliferation of charter schools in no uncertain terms, managed to summon a new-found tolerance for the institutions.
“One of the things we have to ensure is that all schools … present a sound academic foundation,” Spearman said tonight, when asked about charters. “Other than that, they’re fine, as far as I’m concerned.”
Eight of the nine candidates showed up, all but Tennessee Reed (District 1 – North Oakland). And scores of people turned out — not only to hear the would-be board members speak, but to make it clear where they stood.
I attended another event, a school district forum on enrollment policies, last Wednesday night. It was in the same auditorium, but the seats were nearly empty. The 14 people I counted included me, an interpreter, two presenters, a school board candidate and a school board member.
I guess the striking difference in attendance could be explained by the topics, themselves. Or maybe tonight’s turnout was a classic example of community organizing at work.