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.

  • oakie

    It’s funny watching this dysfunctional district try to work through how –not— to serve the affluent hills residents and their access to the crowded few schools that actually work.

    It’s tricky. But one thing the district doesn’t get: if they don’t let the hills kid’s into those schools, they ain’t goin to those other OUSD schools. They’re leaving the district, and never coming back. So the district will shrink even more. Actually, maybe that’s a good thing.

  • rocky

    hmmmmm. I still argue that this policy basically grandfathers all non-neighborhood families still enrolled in hill schools so that they can stay, and closes the door for future non-neighborhood families to get in. Over time, legitimate, non-neighborhood attendance in these over-enrolled schools will drop to almost nothing. That will leave the problem of what to do about the shortage of seats for all the neighborhood kids at schools like Hillcrest.

  • John

    No problem Rocky! Move out of Oakland sooner than later.

  • hills parent

    I predicted that this would happen, so I am moving. I also know of other families who have no older siblings in the neighborhood school, are distraught and concerned that these non-neighborhood siblings now will displace their own neighborhood children, and are pondering their choices: private schools or moving out of Oakland.

    Hills Parents: Beware – try to sell your house in the future. Parents will young children now have no incentive to buy in the hills. My neighbor had his house ready to sell, but the young parents backed away when they heard that there would possibly be no space in the neighborhood school.

    I predict that in three years our hills schools will no longer be comprised of neighborhood students. These children will have either left Oakland or will be sitting in private schools.

    GOOD WORK OUSD! Another way to strike out at the hills parents…but in the long run this will result in the demise of Oakland schools.

    Hills parents: Remember this when you next vote for your school board representatives. Now don’t you wish the the state was still in charge, and not our so-called board representatives!!

  • Denise

    This is the right decision. Families should not have to enroll their kids in different public schools in the same district! It’s not good for the kids or the schools to split families up. If this means kids who live in the attendance area can’t attend — which is unlikely — then pick a different Oakland public school and roll up your sleaves and get to work. There are a lot of good Oakland Unified elementary schools to choose from with strong parent support. Sustaining this strength should be our priority.

  • former OUSD parent

    Good bye OUSD and good luck to you all, I miss the State already. The only hope you have is for the rules to be enforced. Read carefully the rules regarding habitually tardy families, constant student interruption of instructional periods, and overall attendence records. Make sure rules get enforced because they exist but no one pays any Attention to them or is Willing to Acknowledge their existence. Make sure it is just siblings too because every cousin will be following (I’ve seen it!). Say good bye to neighbors’ involvement by those without school-age children (money solicited for raffle tickets, walk-a-thons, etc.) because it won’t be the “neighborhood school” anymore (think real estate values). I do know exactly what I’m talking about because I’ve been there up at school. Hello to Private school for this family starting this fall.

  • hills parent

    Denise: why shouldn’t then families attend their own neighborhood schools, roll up their sleeves (as you say), and get to work in improving their own schools. Why displace those already in the neighborhood, forcing them to drive to other attendance areas?

    I agree that families should not be split up. SOOOOOO why not attend schools in your own neighborhood.

    This decision will only serve to ultimately eliminate the the true concept of neighborhood schools, one for children in the neighborhood.

    Why should I, who lives on the same block as my neighborhood school, have to drive my child to another school?

  • hills parent

    Former OUSD parent: I agree. I supported my neighborhood elementary school for 14 years before my own child started there. If this policy had been in existence during those years I would not have contributed a dime unless I knew for a fact that my own child would ultimately benefit from my contributions. I have no doubt that this feeling will be prevalent now in the hills schools.

    I am joining you in leaving this city, thanks to OUSD. In 15 years I have seen a rapid decline in OUSD leadership and this decision only serves to reinforce my feelings. I only regret not being able to vote against Gary Yee’s opponent.

  • another hills parent


    Would you, by chance, have children attending a school other than your neighborhood school?

  • Alameda Parent

    We welcome anyone to come to Alameda….Here is our districts policy..

    “Schools receiving requests for admission and intradistrict enrollment requests shall give priority for attendance in the following order:

    First: Children living within the attendance boundaries of a particular school.
    Second: Students diverted from their resident attendance zone.
    Third: Siblings of children already in attendance at the school.
    Fourth: Students placements requesting transfers from Title I schools identified for program improvement.
    Fifth: Students requesting transfers who are victims of an on-campus violent crime or are attending a school identified as persistently dangerous.
    Sixth: Student approved through the AUSD open enrollment program.
    Seventh: Children of district employees applying under the Allen Bill.
    Eighth: Students applying under the Allen Bill.
    Ninth: Students applying under an interdistrict transfer.

    If attendance boundaries need to be adjusted, the Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services will recommend procedures to assure an equitable redistribution of student enrollment with Governing Board approval.”

  • another hills parent

    Alameda Parent:

    Yet another sign of a functional school district that supports the concepts of neighborhood schools. I would not be surprised if you get interdistrict transfer requests from families in Oakland.

    The news yesterday about severe budget cuts to schools in Oakland will only get worse as more families leave for private schools or other communities. If OUSD thinks that it is bad now, wait until the repercussions of this new enrollment policy becomes a reality to families in 09-10.

  • Parent Cynic

    There are plenty of reasons to leave OUSD (and many of them have been noted ad nauseum on this blog), but this policy change isn’t one of them. According to Kerry Hamill, one of the school board members on the Special Committee that proposed this policy, no neighborhood kids are going to be displaced because of this change. Gary Yee and Chris Dobbins, the other members of the Committee, also noted that this policy change is not intended to negate the idea of neighborhood schools. This is not an anti-neighborhood school policy.

    Rocky’s comments seem right on the button. Eventually under this policy, there will be fewer non-neighborhood kids in the crowded hills schools — this is essentially a grandfathering clause. No slots are being reserved in perpetuity for non-neighborhood kids, only for non-neighborhood kids who already have a sibling attending that school. Eventually there will be fewer and fewer non-neighborhood kids attending these crowded schools as non-neighborhood kids without siblings at the school will have little chance of transferring in.

    Furthermore, this is supposed to be only the beginning piece of resolving the overcrowding issues that are plaguing some of the hills schools as well as several schools in the flats. According to what was said at the school board meeting on Wednesday night, the Special Committee will continue its work on looking at enrollment trends, and will make recommendations on adding capacity or moving boundaries or some other methods of dealing with the overcrowding.

    Finally, be careful what you wish for in Alameda. Alameda too has some overcrowded schools. It is my understanding that to enroll in those schools, it is first-come, first-served. So people end up camping out in front of the school overnight to be in the front part of the line.

    Again, there are a wealth of legitimate reasons to decide to leave the district but don’t make this policy change out to be the excuse that you hang your hat on.

  • another hills parent

    Parent cynic: Please remember your comments next year when Redwood Heights experiences neighborhood kindergarteners being turned away. There are already enough neighborhood K students there for the 2009 class to make up 2 1/2 classes. Now this policy will place non-neighborhood siblings ahead of these neighborhood children. Not to mention the students who will be retained and will need a spot.

    Having experienced the anguish of being turned away from my neighborhood school(I live on the same block) I can speak to this dilemma.

  • John

    “Gary Yee and Chris Dobbins, the other members of the Committee, also noted that this policy change is not intended to negate the idea of neighborhood schools. This is not an anti-neighborhood school policy.”

    However, in conjunction with the (non policed) utilization of false addresses for out of area student enrollment purposes the reality of this sibling enrollment policy ADDS to the Cynic Parent’s referenced “wealth of legitimate reasons (for hill parents) to decide to leave the district.”

    Think of it as a policy of “not intended” consequences that ‘serves the larger (Oakland) hood.’

  • hills parent

    Gary Yee has allegedly made comments in public that nobody is entitled to attend their neighborhood schools. This sounds “anti-neighborhood” to me.

  • Katy Murphy

    Yee might well have said that. But, to be fair, he also told me recently that he believes it will be better for the district as a whole if families stick to their neighborhood schools, rather than flocking to the popular ones in the hills.

    He was responding to my question about the fact that “megaboundaries” would make it harder than ever for out-of-neighborhood kids to score hills seats through the School Options process.

  • Hills Neighborhood Paren

    Kerry Hamill can’t make the promise that no neighborhood kids will be impacted in 2009. Those are foolish words. She obviously hasn’t considered what may happen in Redwood Heights next year. There is an excellent chance that neighborhood children will be denied seats at the school. A local survey revealed that there will be a much larger number of kids eligible to start at Redwood Heights than in most years and now they will have to line up behind all the non-neighborhood siblings! I bet some of neighborhood families will be redirected to Carl Munck and, in all likelihood, they will leave OUSD permanently. What a shame!

  • zrgsis

    Parent Cynic is right on. The argument that this change pushes out neighborhood children is a bit of a red herring. Schools like Redwood Heights are already composed of primarily neighborhood students, particularly the 2007 and 2008 kindergarten classes (the years in which overcrowding issues have reached their peak). Perhaps a dozen non-neighborhood siblings will make it in in the next few years; if the district thinks they can fit all the neighborhood students in, they’ve certainly done the research to back up that statement.

    My guess is that this policy change is actually to serve overcrowded flats schools (like TCN, whose principal David Silver is quoted in the article as a supporter) where several schools serve one boundary area and housing situations are more fluid, and so siblings often cannot get into the same schools.

  • John

    Hills Parent: I wouldn’t call it “a shame” that hill parents will leave OUSD permanently. After the elementary years there’s middle school and high school. Perhaps this is a blessing for them in disguise! Settling their young students in a decent K-12 district now instead of later would be in their student’s long term best interest.

    It’s a lot easier changing schools & classmates (peer connections) at an earlier than later age. The (emotional etc.) savings on parental pressures to purchase bottom feeder fashion is itself worth becoming an Oakland refugee today instead of tomorrow.

    Although, based on the new district school uniform policy, student petitions for bottom feeder apparel could be ameliorated IF the student attends a school where anti-gang safety issues require school uniforms. So it’s important to think it thoroughly through before making the permanent right move.

  • Emily

    Katy- Thank you for the update regarding the changes in the sibling policy for OUSD. Can you give us more information on the megaboundaries issue? It sounds like it’s still on the table, but do you have any specific information? It seems to me that changing boundaries would be far more disruptive than just the sibling policy change. Is it likely that the boundaries will be expanded? Is this a political no-no for OUSD?


  • Katy Murphy

    The board also approved middle school-area “megaboundaries” Wednesday night. These boundaries correspond with middle school attendance areas, but they only come into play for elementary school enrollment.

    Nothing has changed at the middle school level, and no elementary school attendance boundaries have been moved — yet.

    Megaboundaries apply to children who don’t get into their neighborhood school because of overcrowding. Before, there was no clear policy on what would happen to kids redirected from their home schools, such as Hillcrest.

    Now, for example, a neighborhood kid who doesn’t get into Hillcrest will have an admissions advantage at any elementary school that feeds into Claremont Middle School (Hillcrest’s megaboundary). That child will have be third in line, so to speak, at Chabot, Peralta, or other elementary schools within that megaboundary, after the siblings and neighborhood kids of those schools are admitted.

    1) siblings of current students
    2) neighborhood kids with no siblings at the school
    3) kids who didn’t get into their neighborhood school, who live within the megaboundary
    4) kids who attend Program Improvement schools
    5) open lottery

    Make sense?

  • John

    It makes sense that list items 1 & 2 should swap places to prevent false address students and siblings from denying enrollment to legitimate address students. The absence of a swap suggests that hill parents should change school districts sooner than later.

    The school enrollment priority ‘list’ should also be sent registered to AKK hill area (and other) Oakland Real Estate brokers to include with all Real Estate disclosures to prospective buyers.

    I had a dream that all hill families removed their children from hill schools and public buses (per federal policy changed) stop providing transportation from Oakland’s flat hoods to hill area schools.

    Absent a primary means of importing students to the hill schools they are forced to close and eventually get remodeled into retirement and day care facilities for aging (childless or empty nester) hill area residents, The End.

  • Oakland substitute

    Does anyone have any actual figures on just how many non-neighborhood kids are actually enrolled in these disputed schools? There were reasons why non-neighborhood kids were admitted in the first place. I remember a few years ago when Crocker Highlands HAD to find a number of transfers to fill up classes completely and avoid having a teacher consolidated (taken away). (I know Crocker isn’t actually in this conversation, but it is my point of reference & the same thing may have happened at these other schools.) In the not too distant past many locals were not sending their kids to these schools and very dedicated, energetic non-neighborhood families worked to make the schools high quality and diverse. It kind of sounds like the old high-income feelings of entitlement come into play, using other folks as long as it benefits me. These schools will not close if the high and mighty take their toys and go play at private schools, there will be dedicated families still there. Already you run when it comes to middle and high school even though if you looked there are very wonderful choices in Oakland, though they may be more “colorful” than you prefer.

  • hills parents

    I can tell you at Redwood Heights that it is now known which families are using falsified addresses. The district has also made it clear they do not care to address this falsification. How many of these families have siblings who will displace neighborhood kids? Does OUSD even care? Apparent not, or they would have addressed it.

  • Sharon

    Since the district is lax about challenging the veracity of addresses and ugly tension between parents escalates because of it, it might be worth a try for Redwood Heights parents to approach nearby Laurel Elementary parents with the idea of helping them build their neighborhood base. Maybe their strong PTA could even mentor Laurel’s PTA in some small way.

    Strong families live in Laurel’s boundaries who would love to see an “it’s okay to return to the neighborhood school” movement grow. The school is just waiting for its own small force of brave parents who are dedicated to shifting the reputation of the school. This would definitely take some of the pressure off at Redwood.

  • John

    Great idea Sharon! The best way to improve Laurel’s reputation is for the students (and parents) at Redwood Heights to swap schools with Laurel’s students (and parents). It would change Laurel’s reputation over night, and Redwood Height’s as well!

    P.S. You wouldn’t need to swap Laurel’s and Redwood Height’s teachers to accomplish this.

  • John

    Hills Parent(s): It comes as no surprise to me that it’s “known which families are using falsified addresses.” It’s obvious that dishonest families have already (false) ‘addressed’ their access problem, which it appears is exactly how the board wants it ‘addressed.’

    School Board member (& previous school board president) Noel Gallo exported his kids from their flat hood to a hill hood school, Joaquin Miller.
    It would be hypocritical of Gallo to enforce policy that prevents other flat hood parents from doing likewise.

    It’s important that we have board members who aren’t hypocrites, right?

    Pedigrees of righteousness they are! I felt unworthy to live in the same town with them, so I moved. Perhaps you should too.

  • Oakland substitute

    Sharon, you are right on the mark with your comments. Teaching and encouraging groups of parents to work with their neighborhood school to foster improvements is definitely needed in Oakland. There are many neighborhoods with potentially lovely little schools, but families in the area are not connected and don’t have the knowledge base to effect change. When some movement gets started it is very gratifying to see the next wave jump on and increase the activity at a school, publicity is very helpful there. When Edna Brewer parents began getting publicity a “buzz” was started about the school that parents all over Oakland listened to.

    John: if you have moved out of Oakland why do you continue your comments here and not enlighten the members of your new community?

  • John

    Oakland Substitute: Members of my new community are enlightened. Hill parent members of my old community are also enlightened. They just need some encouragement to get their children out of the Oakland Schools before they are totally taken over by those lacking (as you phrase it) a “knowledge base.”

    By the way, do you have any thoughts or response to my comments? Or, as you imply, is Oakland residency status prerequisite to a (your) thoughtful consideration of, and response to, my comments?

    Say, instead of thinking of me as lacking ‘Oakland residency status,’ try to imagine I only lack ‘U.S. residency status.’ Perhaps if you imagined me as an illegal alien you would feeeeel my comments are worthy of inclusion on this Oakland education blog AND some (hopefully) intelligent consideration and response from you.

    P.S. I taught at an Oakland school for eleven years where a large percentage of the students were begotten by illegal aliens. I know (at least) several of these illegal alien families misrepresented their address to achieve enrollment in an Oakland school outside their neighborhood school boundary.

    In the very unlikely event the OUSD elects to enforce (police) a strict neighborhood ‘school address enrollment’ policy perhaps the board should mandate that illegal alien families be given ‘false address enrollment amnesty.’ After all, it would be unkind to contradict the unreasonable amnesty expectation they’ve (been helped to) become accustomed to. What do you think?

    Oops! I forgot! My Oakland non-residency status has seemingly disqualified my comments on this blog as being worthy of (your) serious consideration and response. As you seemingly suggest, I should restrict myself and my comments to my community of legal residence, unless of course it’s located on the other side of the border.


  • Debora

    For those parents who say work with the neighborhood school – I agree with you – partly – Here’s why. Let’s suppose that a particular school has a current mix of 25% neighborhood students and 75% non-neighborhood students. You change the mix to be 65% neighborhood and 35% non-neighborhood. That should mean that 40% of the families (the difference) are actively involved in their children’s education. Maybe a few more, because of the students already at the school.
    The problem is that you have similar problems that Edna Brewer is doing a great job of correcting, but that still exist – the children who are currently there are working below grade level. These children receive priority because without raising the school scores and closing the achievement gap by an acceptable level, the school will be penalized. This means the children working at a higher level suffer – the after school / summer school are to move kids to become proficient, not to advance them. There are fewer resources to challenge kids who are not challenged by the curriculum.
    I don’t have the answer, but I really wish that Oakland could have schools all over the city who specialize – even in elementary – I would gladly send my daughter to Garfield, Laurel or any other school which had an excellent writing program – at the ELEMENTARY level. By the time she gets to Middle School where they do have extremely challenging work in the advanced classes – she will have had 6 years of being able to get straight 5s (we wouldn’t want to call them As for fear of hurting kids feelings who don’t get As) without having to think much at all.
    I do not believe in the Rogers Family Foundation per se, but I do hope with all my heart that the OUSD defectors (and I use that term incredibly loosely) are able to come up with the solutions we so desperately need.

  • Sharon

    Hi Debora: I have Laurel Elementary on my radar right now because I live in its boundary and see so many bungalow-inhabiting, middle-class kids who attend schools out of the neighborhood (seven of them currently on my short street) and I figure that there are probably enough of those kids living on other streets within Laurel’s boundaries to fill an awful lot of classroom seats. Last year, one of my neighbors declared that he wasn’t going to send his kid there “because it’s a failing school.” I didn’t know the facts myself then, but eventually checked and found that the school is not in Program Improvement and never had been. This is this type of rumor and misinformation that parents are using to shut down any consideration of the public schools. They just don’t know better and no one is telling them otherwise.

    I totally share your concerns about the importance of challenging and meeting the needs of ALL students. What is not being done for the higher performing kids is finally getting on the radar and it should. If you haven’t read it, here’s the link to a recent Fordham Institute study called “High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB” – http://tinyurl.com/3l83x9.

    We always supplemented our children’s public school education with classes, lessons and Kumon (discovered b/c of the teachers strike in ’95 but we made them do it for years because the district’s math curriculum at the time was that stupid “fuzzy” math). Of course, we were fortunate to be able to do so. On the other hand, they had friends with poorer parents who also went to tutoring, music lessons, Chinese school, etc. It seems to be fairly commonplace and parents have been doing it for a long time – and not just public school parents in Oakland. I even know private school parents who became so worried about the lousy job that their school was doing with math (Julia Morgan at $18+K) that they sent their child to a summer school class through UCB. So supplementing one’s child’s education is a useful, mainstream pursuit. Of course, there is a limit to what supplementation should be expected to provide.

    I was really glad that Bret Harte offered “accelerated” classes to students who wanted to take on the work that was required. Many parents there felt that this was an excellent solution, but it irritated some people. Over the past 15 OUSD years, we have definitely had “dud” teachers from time to time, but fortunately they were few and my kids seem to have turned out well. They can definitely hold their own with their private school friends.

  • Public school fan


    The problem of challenging kids who are already proficient or beyond proficient exists at virtually every OUSD elementary school. This blog is full of comments (including my own) about this very problem. This issue exists in the hills schools too not just in schools with a lack of neighborhood children. Someone on this blog called it “warehousing them for their test scores.” And, sadly, I have to agree. In my experience so far, there are virtually no resources for furthering kids who are already advanced. And certainly, as you note, the system is not set up to reward any school/principal/teacher for doing so.

  • mom23oakland

    The assumption that the kids from out of the neighborhood are less proficient is not entirely accurate in my experience as a parent and a teacher in OUSD. Often the kids are from motivated families that are able to support the kids learning, thus they are often more proficient.

    My kids always tested proficient or above and K-5, at Redwood Heights, they were typically challenged.

    In general, though, heterogeneous groupings in classes can be very difficult to teach, particularly in content classes in the humanities at the secondary level. Math and Science classes naturally select kids who are prepared for the classes- typically you can’t take Geometry without taking Algebra, for example.
    In Humanities, it doesn’t work as easily. I found myself teaching in the same 8th grade classroom kids who were reading at a third grade level and advanced high school readers. It can be done, but requires very complicated lesson planning and very skillful classroom management. Few new teachers have these skills – and in Oakland, we have a lot of new teachers.

  • Debora

    There is value in enrichment – my daughter is going into third grade and is in her 3rd year of German Saturday School, she can also speak basic Spanish, takes piano lessons, and goes to the Summer Camp offered through UC Berkeley’s ATDP. We can enrich until the cows come home – here is the problem with enrichment rather than classroom inclusion –

    Home time is family time – after working all day – it’s the time we build 3-D puzzles together or I see her “Camp Rock” show in the living room, it’s the time we talk about what is important to her and why. It’s the time to play with the dog, cat, rabbit and frog. It’s also the time to play outside with the neighborhood kids, building forts, making pulleys that go from house to house, planting, watering and harvesting strawberries.

    Because ultimately, school has my daughter 180 days a year, and just as I make the most of our life together, so should school, because that’s what I signed on for when I committed to Oakland Public School. I signed on to commit to getting her there every day, on time, with a positive attitude. I signed on to take my vacations and plan my life around a school scheduled year, even when the calendar comes out as late in the school year as humanly possible.

    So, I do help with enrichment – but education is more than driving her to enrichment activities.

  • Debora


    Thanks for the report – I will read it after my daughter goes to bed.


  • hills parent

    mom23: My daughter, at Redwood Heights, was not challenged in any way. She came into K already reading and spent the better part of the school year having to sit through instruction about the letters and sounds of the alphabet. Where is the challenge here?

  • Public school fan

    I’m with you Debora! We too enrich our children’s lives in ways similar to what you have described. ATDP has been one of the bright spots academically for my child, in a way sustaining her intellectual curiosity for the rest of the year.

    I do not, however, feel that it should be entirely my responsibility to find the challenges for my child. I too feel that this ought to be part of the compact that I as a parent have with my school and the school district — to educate every child in a way that is appropriate for each child. I am not a teacher and have not been trained as a teacher. I also do not have the experience and insight as to how my child learns in comparison to other children her age. There’s only so much that I can do. And truly, there’s only so much that I ought to do.

    But again, I don’t think this problem is limited to schools that have low neighborhoood participation. It is endemic.

  • mom23oakland

    I am sorry your daughter was not challenged at RHS. It sounds like the school was a bad fit for your family all around. My youngest read before kindergarten as well, but she had plenty to work on in other areas including handwriting, social skills, and other intangible being in a school community skills. She has been working on them, and continues to work on them. We do lots of enrichment with our kids… That’s part of being a parent, isn’t it? We’ve done it no matter where they have been. I have a son taking Spanish at Laney this summer, a daughter doing math camp at St. Joseph’s (and this from a private middle school) and the youngest is doing fine arts summer school at Glenview. In the past we’ve done science summer camps, Head-Royce and St. Elizabeth’s summer school depending on what the kid (and the parents) needed. We’ve also done tutoring, occupational therapy and work at the Ann Martin Center. No school is going to meet the individual needs of every kid the way that a parent does- it can’t and you should not expect it to.
    By the way, Glenview has a lot of interesting things going on: I am very impressed with the what I see there.

  • Public school fan

    Wow. So, it is my job as a parent to make sure that my child is academically challenged? I don’t think that enrichment activities/classes are supposed to take the place of learning at school are they? Isn’t that why they are called “enrichment”? They are supposed to enrich a child’s education not provide a substitute for it, aren’t they? Moreover, I don’t want to overschedule my children so much with “enrichment” that they can’t be kids — learning all of those social skills that they need to acquire by playing with kids in the neighborhood and coming up with their own creative ideas.

    I don’t think that we should make excuses for the shortcomings of our schools and the district. Essentially marking time with the high performing children in the classroom by not challenging them is certainly a shortcoming. And I don’t believe making this argument means that I expect the school to perfectly meet the needs of every child in attendance. The school will not be able to perfectly meet the needs of my child (or any child), but it would certainly be nice if the school and the district at least tried to motivate each child to learn as much as they are capable of in each succeeding grade. And, really, shouldn’t we expect that of our schools?

  • rocky

    “Wow. So, it is my job as a parent to make sure that my child is academically challenged? ”

    Actually, yeah… I think it is. Public, private or homeschooled, it’s your job. Public schools are what they are, some good, some bad, resource rich and resource poor… and will for better or worse respond to the individual needs of each specific child with varying degrees of sucess. It’s your job as a parent to evaluate what your child’s needs are and take whatever action you feel is necessary to ensure your child’s specific needs are met appropriately.

    Volunteer at school, do enrichment, drill with Kumon, or let them hang out and play with neighborhood kids so they “can be kids”…. whatever needs doing so that you can be at peace with the level of academic challenge and enrichment in their lives.

  • former OUSD parent

    What responsibility does the OUSD make to provide uninterrupted instructional periods during the school day? What little time is available is not being utilized it is usually a madhouse! There are children being promoted to the next level who have not learned the basics in their current level. There are no consequences for these children when they interrupt constantly. They deprive the rest of the class educational time with the teacher. When they don’t have the skills needed they are embarrassed and worried and then they act out, their parents often abuse the teacher while taking no parental responsibility, the parents often don’t have the reading/math skills either to help at homework time, (wouldn’t it be great if parents could take classes at community schools that teach them the work going on at their children’s level?)! Nothing changes at OUSD because they keep promoting these kids. And yes, the school district needs to act as if they have accepted the responsibility they’ve been given for ALL the students, high achievers, those at grade level and those that are struggling.

  • Debora


    If you honestly believe what you said about my job being the education of my child not the school’s responsiblity, then I will begin scheduling museum activities, travel plans augmented with learning assignments, classical music concerts, foreign language movies, etc. during the school day. It would provide the education that would fit my child.

    It would also take away the district / school average daily attendance money. I would then be taking the responsiblity you claim I should take, also use a classroom space and OUSD would be off the hook.

  • rocky


    If you think your child’s needs are not being met, it is YOUR responsibility to do something about it. Inside or outside of the constructs of the educational system you choose to use. If that means OUSD loses the $8K because you decide it’s not working for you, so be it. Seriously. It’s your child, it’s their developmental needs, and ultimately it’s your responsibility.

  • hills parent


    I agree, somewhat, with you. However, a free public education does mean “education”, and not childcare. I expect my child to be challenged educationally. If the expectation is that parents step up to do this for the school district, then they can pay for my membership in museums, parks, enrichment courses, etc. so that I can do this.

    Rather than make excuses for the school district we should all expect OUSD to step up to the challenges of education ALL of our children. How much longer can we be expected to serve as “enablers” to the school district. What’s next? A 12 step program for OUSD?

  • Sue

    Yes, ultimately it is the parent(s) responsibility to ensure their children’s education needs are met. Some parents are very good at it. Some don’t have any clue, and consequently fail their kids.

    Yes, the school district also has a responsibility. And if they aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities to our kids, then we parents – and taxpayers – need to advocate for our children. We have to hold the district’s “feet to the fire”. Because nobody else is going to do our job for us. If we don’t care enough about our own kids, why should anyone else care at all?

    Maybe it *ought* to work some other way, but this is how the real world works. I have friends in the Albany school district, one of the better ones in the bay area, and they have to do the same things to advocate for their Spec. Ed. kid that I have to do in OUSD for mine. It came as a real shock to them, because Albany had been doing very well for their older child who didn’t have serious learning issues. While they waited (for years) for their district to serve their child’s needs, very, very little happened. Once they turned from receivers-of-services into advocates-for-services, their work and stress levels went way up, but so did their child’s progress.

    If we expect someone else to take care of our responsibilities, we shouldn’t be surprised if the job isn’t done as well as we’d like, or surprised when it’s not done at all. Like Grandma used to say, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

  • Public school fan

    I don’t expect anyone else to take care of my responsibilties. That’s why indeed I do have my child participate in enrichment activities (because I find significant parts of the education provided by the school lacking). That’s also why I volunteer so much of my small amount of free time at the public school and closely follow what OUSD and the School Board are doing.

    At the same time, I also expect the school district to live up to its responsibilities. This is not a one-sided deal. If the school district is not even trying to meet the needs of ALL of its students, then it is not living up to its responsibilities and we should not gloss over this fact by saying that it is the parents’ fault. In some cases, lack of parental involvement is the root cause of some of OUSD’s problems. Is it the cause of OUSD not caring about its high-performing students? I don’t think so.

    OUSD has grown used to the fact that many parents will supplement their children’s education and actually has come to expect that parents should do so. Is that the price that I must pay to stay in OUSD? I guess that it is. The calculus for me then becomes at what point do I abandon OUSD because the enrichment activities and my involvment in my child’s education are still letting my child’s education down because the public education my child is receiving is so insufficient that I can’t bridge the gap? Think about the high-performing kids whose parents can’t afford extra enrichment activities or don’t have the time by virtue of their multiple jobs to ferry their kids to such activities. Shouldn’t the school district be doing something for these kids?

    And in the end, is it in OUSD’s self-interest to ignore its high performing students? I wouldn’t think so. I would think that the district would want to keep as many kids in the system as possible, given the overall waning enrollment numbers. And, I would also think that OUSD would not want to lose by attrition some of its higher performing students.

    I do want something done right, Sue, but sadly in this case I actually can’t do it myself.

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  • Sue

    I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to find fault or place blame.

    When I reread my previous post, I see a lot of the wannabe homeschooler coming out. We couldn’t do that with older son, because we didn’t have the education, training or experience needed to educate a kid with autism.

    I don’t think that lack-of-challenge-for-gifted-students is a problem that’s unique to OUSD. I think it’s more likely that it’s a near universal failing of schools and districts. My parents faced the same thing when raising me and my siblings. I’m 49, so that was back in the 60’s and 70’s. That school district (*very* rural, four teachers and classrooms for eight grades) recommended that my parents send me to a private boarding school for the gifted. Ultimately, my parents decided that it would be better for me to continue living at home with my family.

    We have State and Federal laws that give disabled students certain rights and benefits, and that makes my job as the parent of a disabled student much easier in one way. I can use those laws to get my kid’s needs met.

    I wish we had similar laws for the gifted. Younger son was identified for the GATE program three years ago, but it seems to be little more than an ego-stroke for students and their parents. While I like and respect younger son’s teachers, they simply don’t have enough time or resources to do everything that could be done for their gifted students. And without the weight of law behind me, I can’t force the district to do any or than it’s doing.

    So, my decision is to lobby my legislators for the laws I think are needed for gifted student education – with full knowledge that I’m going to have little or no influence. And do what I can to suppliment in the mean time.

    It’s not ideal. I wish we lived in that ideal world, but since we don’t, we just have to do the best we can.

  • Sue

    That should say:
    And without the weight of law behind me, I can’t force the district to do any *more* than it’s doing.

  • Debora

    I’ve been thinking about the higher achieving students and the ability of some school districts to teach ahead of the curve – i.e. years before the material will be tested in standardized tests and fast amounts more learning in virtually the same number of days and hours in the school year. So before I put this out I want to say that I am comparing two school districts of primarily white families and primarily upper middle income households.

    So here they are: Piedmont and Lafayette school districts both teach much more material every year than Oakland Unified – and teach it during the day so that it is not done at enrichment time. I am not proposing that you can compare a white family, living in a 6 bedroom home and an income in excess of $400,000 per year with a family of color in a two bedroom apartment, living with a $30,000 annual income. The white family clearly has advantages that go beyond income – namely, the societal benefits that come with generations of highly educated, and systematically privileged lives

    What I am saying is that these schools have a curriculum which teaches more in the school day than OUSD. We have high performing students, they have high performing students. We have low performing students, they have low performing students. I do know of two Piedmont Elementary Schools which gave 3 different families a list of tutors for hire who had helped other students who were behind. However, what if we used our dollars to tutor as you would in the more affluent areas?

    There are Gifted OUSD students, but there are also highly motivated OUSD students who have not been identified as gifted. We need to find out how these school districts can incorporate so much more material in the school day. This is partially why the test scores can remain so high – by the time the material is tested on the standardized tests the students have heard the material at home and at school for several years.

    Just thoughts – these are not solutions, we need to look at other areas that are achieving what we hope to achieve.

    Our students of all colors and ethnicities are no less capable than those of higher performing school districts.