Board passes siblings-first admissions policy

Starting in 2009, the brothers and sisters of children enrolled at a school will have top admissions priority, regardless of where they live.

The board just approved the new admissions priorities, 4-1 (Kerry Hamill, David Kakishiba, Alice Spearman and Chris Dobbins voted for it; Noel Gallo voted against it; Gary Yee and Greg Hodge weren’t at the meeting).

“Nobody, next year, is going to be pushed out of a neighborhood school because of a sibling,” said Kerry Hamill, who served on the special committee that recommended the policy change, which goes into effect in 2009.

Children with older siblings enrolled at their local school already had an admissions advantage over other neighborhood children, under the board’s previous policy. The main difference now is that the same advantage will apply to all younger siblings of existing students (if the older brother or sister has already moved onto middle school, it doesn’t count).

It’s a tough issue, and as expected, people spoke out on both sides. Fans of the siblings-first policy argued that school attendance and parent involvement suffer when brothers and sisters are split between schools. Supporters also said the change would be vital for families, especially those who have had to move away from a school in which one of their children is already enrolled.

“Some of our most involved parents parents moved for economic reasons,” said David Silver, principal of Think College Now, a high-performing elementary school in Fruitvale.

(The district’s demographer, Juwen Lam, recently studied the mobility issue and found that 35 percent of fifth-graders had lived in another attendance boundary when they were in kindergarten. She also tells me that roughly 50 percent of Oakland families choose to enroll their kids in schools outside their home boundaries.)

Opponents of the proposed siblings-first policy, including parents of young children who live in Redwood Heights, said the change would create more problems than it would solve. “We’ve been whipsawed in the last few years by changes in enrollment policy,” said Danita Yocum. She said she feared kindergarteners would be turned away in 2009 as a result, despite Hamill’s assurances.

One Hillcrest dad suggested that the district’s overcrowding problems, which mostly exist in the more affluent “hills neighborhoods,” would be greatly diminished if all Oakland families just sent their kids to their local schools (a solution that sounded a little self-serving, considering the vast inequities in the school district).

Noel Gallo, who voted against the decision, said it was the district’s responsibility to make sure every school was desirable.

Hamill stressed that tonight’s decision was only part of the solution. She says the committee will continue to study Oakland’s enrollment issues and possible solutions, including redrawing boundaries, offering half-day kindergarten classes at some schools and otherwise increasing space at some of the high-demand schools.

So you can rest assured, more drama is to come.

image from Miz_Moose’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • http://none Nancy

    Our boy will enter Kinder 9/2010. With all of the purported overcrowding in the preschools alone, as well as years of dysfunction in OUSD, we have decided NOT to purchase a home in the Hillcrest boundaries dispite the fact that if we will have to also pay for private schooling, which seems to be the only option since our boy won’t even be able to attend his neighborhood school. Why should we have to pay for private schooling as well as have to reap the inconvenience of having to drive all over the place before, during, and afterschool? We have already made an about face away from the Oakland Hills for preschool reasons as well, since most of these preschools appear to have pretty packaging yet very unappealing contents that rarely if ever meet their intended missions which also appear to be ego cententric and non-reality based. Perhaps all of these people (both Hill and Flatland and otherwise) should bust the illusion of what exactly is a good school. If schools are failing, you can only blame yourselves for abandoning the challenge to make things right in your own neighborhood. I for one think they can have their Hill schools with all of the ego inflations and non-reality and elitism within them.