Hillcrest’s middle school is back on the table

FRIDAY UPDATE: The committee didn’t make any recommendations this morning, although Kerry Hamill made it clear that she was for keeping the middle school at Hillcrest. The committee agreed to meet two weeks from now, on Nov. 21 (same time), to discuss a scenario Hamill proposed that includes expanding Montclair, redrawing attendance boundaries and keeping the Hillcrest middle school intact.


Hillcrest is one of the only public schools in Oakland that includes an elementary and a middle school.  Its grade configuration was hotly contested last year, since a number of pre-kindergarten families in the hills neighborhood — who paid top-dollar to live nearby — were turned away because of overcrowding.

Last December, the board decided not to narrow the school’s attendance boundaries or do away with the middle school, but to study the issue further.

But both issues have resurfaced, as you can see on this presentation from a previously canceled meeting. At 7:30 tomorrow morning (sorry for the late notice!), the district’s Special Committee on School Admissions, Attendance & Boundaries will discuss these scenarios. You can find the agenda here.

Two of the three recommendations for resolving Hillcrest’s overcrowding problem entail phasing out the middle school by 2011.

Should this happen?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Razon

    This is newsworthy? Sounds like the schools in the Hills donot want to congregate with the dark skinned ones. I dont blame them. We dont like you either.

    Do your kids go here?

  • John

    Razon, in another recent post you make some good points. You make a point here as well, and I hope those reading this will see it. Although your point is distasteful it’s what you believe and feel, and I appreciate your openness.

    I taught for eleven of my twenty-five years in Oakland’s Fruitvale district and met many who exemplify your segregationist attitude. It was recently represented in that skipping mob of illegal immigrants skipping over BART fare gates in route to protest their “right” to keep, and get more of, what they’re stealing from local etc. tax payers.

    Perhaps resident members of the Oakland hills school community will take note of your informative comments and sooner than later come to understand, if they don’t already, that a one sided “celebration of diversity” is not in their best interest.

    Instead of competing for, and trying to stuff their kids into, a dwindling supply of “good hill schools” hill area residents will bite the bullet (instead of taking one) and move to a safer community where they’re no longer in the minority and subject to the hostile attitudes of a growing majority of minorities like you.

    Hard working hills area residents must come to understand that there’s no sanctuary in this ‘sanctuary city’ for them!

    After twenty-five years in Oakland’s ‘flat land’ schools and observing the growing trend you represent I sold my Oakland hill top home and got the hell out! Thank you Razon for helping make the case to those I left behind.

  • Catherine


    I agree that Hillcrest does not want to let their K – 8 school go to a straight K – 5 school like the others in the district. I may even agree with you that it has to something to do with keeping it white and Asian.

    However, there are some kids that just cannot function in a HUGE middle school environment and NEED a smaller school. While I have a child that thrives in a large environment with the ability to hire specialized teachers because of the school size and budget, my child has a few friends that would literally learn nothing in such environments because they are just too large.

    I do not believe that Hillcrest should be able to keep their K – 8 school unless other, flatland schools are also able to keep their K – 8 schools. It’s just a matter of fairness. The children who need the small school environment are not just white and Asian kids, there are many kids of color who also NEED that environment to learn – just as some of the Hillcrest 6 – 8 grade students would thrive at larger middle schools if only their parents would let them attend.

  • Katy Murphy

    Catherine: Hillcrest’s demographics wouldn’t change even if the middle school did close. It’s so crowded right now that the issue isn’t whether to let kids from other neighborhoods in, but what to do with the children who live within the school’s attendance boundary.

    The district’s demographer says that even with the space freed up by moving to a K-5 model, there wouldn’t be room at Hillcrest for all of the “neighborhood” kids. Such a shift would lessen the overcrowding problem, but it wouldn’t fix it.

  • former hills parent

    Large schools have their advantages. My daughter previously attended one of the so-called “better”small hill schools. With the clonish Open Court curriculum this kindergarten children who entered able to read chapter books was subjected to having to listen to instruction about the letters of the alphabet, since the majority of the class were at that level. We are now in San Ramon at a large, 750+ school, with 9 first grade classrooms. Teachers work together to offer reading and math classes with groups of students at similar academic levels. They are challenged and not bored. This can occur at a larger school. I will not even go into the subject of homework. My daughter’s homework in Oakland was a JOKE. She could complete it in 10 minutes and found it toooooooooo easy. Her homework this year is aligned to what is being taught in the classroom, is expected to be done every day, and is challenging. AND all of the students do this homework. This is the expectation so all of the students do this.

    There are wonderful schools and districts beyond Oakland.

  • Catherine


    I agree that the demographics would not change at Hillcrest. In fact, I have a friend in the neighborhood who chose a private Kindergarten because she is a working single mom and needed an all-day kindergarten that Hillcrest did not offer at the time. She is only a few houses away from the school and cannot get her daughter in the school.

    My point to my post was that there are many kids in Oakland who really NEED a small school to be able to learn. Hundreds of kids in a middle school hallway is just too overwhelming and they would literally fail. Some of the kids are white and Asian, however, some are Hispanic, Middle Eastern, African American and other black cultures. Small school environments, if availabe to one group should be available to all groups.

    I recently participated in a study with another school district that is considering accepting out of district kids for available slots. One of the interesting “draws” for me as an Oakland parent is that they were willing to allow my child to skip grades if she had the maturity, could pass the graded exam with a score of 95% or better and there was space available. My consideration will be whether Oakland can get it’s act together, whether the school is large enough to meet my child’s needs and whether the new school distict and/or Oakland Unified really cares enough to make sure my child has adequately challenging work to do EVERY DAY in elementary school.

    So far the district has been telling me to wait until middle and high school.

    It’s very tempting to be able to have affordable options outside OUSD. By the way there is “expected giving” to the arts and science fund of approximately $1,000 per year – which is about what we cough up for our PTA now.

  • Cindy

    It is easy to understand why Hillcrest is passionate about preserving their school. I think everyone at every single high-performing k-5 school in Oakland would like to have the OPTION of having their child continue at that school through 8th grade. But that can’t happen without huge sacrifices to neighborhoods and to Oakland as a whole. The facilities aren’t there and schools don’t have the physical or instructional capacity to move to that model.

    The fact is that Hillcrest has an unfair model that provides an option available only to 20 families per year in the neighborhood. It has 60 precious slots for a public school. That is not fair. It is not equitable. It is not right for an overcrowded area that needs those slots for other families. If every school in Oakland had that option, it would be one thing. Right now,k-8 school is an exclusive option only to families in a priviledged area.

    It is clear that moving Hillcrest to a k-5 model will not resolve the need to redraw boundaries. The area is growing and over cpacity. But 60 slots are 60 slots and every other 5th grade parent in the Hills has to make tough decisions about where to send their child to middle school.

    Moving to a k-5 AND redrawing boundaries levels the field. It does not eliminate the pain. It is the only fair and equitable solution that helps alleviate the burden of a growing k-5 population being redirected to Kaiser, Montclair, Chabot and Thornhill.

  • rocky

    A discussion of certain kids NEEDING small schools does not really apply to the conversation here. Kids don’t get assigned to schools like Hillcrest based on their needs — they get assigned based on the physical location of their home.

  • Catherine

    The NEED of the children is often stated by the parents of the Hillcrest kids in keeping a K – 8 school. The kids need to be in the smaller atmosphere to learn. The kids need to be kept on a smaller, safer campus. Talk to the neighborhood parents and you will find a great fear that their children will somehow be bullied, not learn or be so overwhelmed in Montera or Claremont that they cannot function.

    I clearly understand this is about boundaries and neighborhoods. What I hear from the neighborhood parents is the need for a small, safe, protected middle school – boundaries and OUSD needs be damned.

    I also know that nearly every middle school student at Hillcrest will not enroll in public middle schools in Oakland if their middle school is taken away. Not that the revenue is that much, what about $180,000 for the ADA?

    What OUSD does not do, is look at the needs of the students they serve. Case in point, private school tuition is being paid by OUSD for several students whose needs were not being met.

  • Randy

    My home is valued at more than $1.1 million. I pay the same tax rate as Hillcrest, but don’t have the option to send my daughter to a k-8 school. Instead, my school may be have to accept fewer transfer students from outside the district to accomodate Hillcrest’s redesignated boundaries. And this is all to accomodate 60 slots at a middle school that my child will never have an option to attend. Can ANYONE explain how this is fair?

  • Randy

    Correction: my school may very well have to accept students outside the neighborhood (not the district) to accomodate the Hillcrest exclusive middle school. And yet my daughter still will have to go outside our neighborhood school for middle school while Hillcrest kids a mile west can possibly keep in their small community that I pay for. Fair is fair; the system as it stands is not.

  • concerned mom

    I totally and 100% agree with Randy, and am in the same boat. I also think we should unite and call on the district to provide a middle and high school public education that matches what we are getting at the elementary level. Maybe then folks wouldn’t leave in droves after 5th grade…

  • John

    Yes Katy, it should happen. Younger children should have first priority in home school. In the multi story elementary schools I’m familiar with the early primary (K-3) classrooms are located on the ground floor for the safety and convenience of the younger children.

    Women and CHILDREN (still?) have first access to life boats. Shouldn’t younger children have first access to their ‘home school,’ as close as possible to the safety and nurture of caregivers as nature permits?

    “Younger children thrown overboard as ordered Captain Bly!” “Aye matie!”

    For those who don’t want their babes treading first academic waters far from home, there are some top rated life boats in Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, & Walnut Creek!

    Start rowing!

  • Randy

    Say the district loses $5000 for each of the 60 kids who leave to go to private middle school (if that’s where Hillcrest middle school parents choose to send their children.

    That’s a LOSS of $3,000,000/year x 3 years (loss of $9 million).

    If those slots are opened for residents who stay k-5, then the district GETS $300000 for SIX years (gain of $18 million – loss of $9 million + net gain $9 million).

    Am I missing something here for our bankrupt district?

  • Jeff

    You seem to be data driven, unfortunately your initial response is anything but. Study after study shows that good schools drive up home value – so that the same house in Piedmont costs more than a house across the street in Oakland. Likewise, individual schools that are rated higher beget higher home prices within a district, and a K-8 that is similarly rated to a K-5 begets a higher price – SO, your $1.1M house (congrats by the way) would be worth more in Piedmont.
    There is no question that there are problems with the Hills schools that need to be resolved, but your fairness argument above is not a reason.

  • Leah

    I somehow missed this discussion. I think my sub button isn’t working. Anyway I have 2 children at Hillcrest. My concern is that phasing out the successful middle school will not solve the problems for anyone else. The classrooms used by the middle school are only 3 rooms, one of which is set up as a science lab. Adding those rooms to a K-5 configuration would not allow for a whole new section of K, 1,2, 3 so it would only lead to many split classes (if one were to take 50-60 K’s each year). In any case apparently only 4 children ended up being redirected this year so the impact on Chabot, Kaiser, etc has been nil.

    Furthermore the argument that one should get rid of the successful middle school due to an issue of “fairness” makes little sense to me. Should we get rid of Peralta’s beautiful murals because it’s not fair that other schools don’t have them? What about Chabot’s new building? Maybe they should stay in portables until all the schools with portables can have new buildings? Really if one extends the “fairness” argument it quickly reveals its absurdity! If other schools want to take Hillcrest as a model and replicate it that would make sense as a response but why one would try to tear down something that works, which takes nothing away from other schools, in the interest of an arbitrary notion of fairness is beyond me.

  • Leslie

    We have serious overcrowding in Oakland k-5 schools. By converting a k-5 school into a k-8 model and taking away k-5 capacity we simply move Hillcrest’s problem to to other nearby, overcrowded schools. This just doesn’t make any sense!

    Oakland’s hills elementary schools are already overcrowded, yet there is plenty of capacity at middle schools. We should be CREATING k-5 capacity, not eliminating it.

    Capping Hillcrest kindergarten enrollment will make it one of the smallest public elementary shools in Oakland.

    As long as neighboring schools are at full capacity, it is an unfair burden. Why such nonsense is even a consideration is beyond me! What, we don’t think that other neighborhoods will need the space for their kindergarten families?

  • Insider

    While only two redirected kindergarten students from the Hillcrest area enrolled at Chabot this year, 13 were redirected and assigned and chose other options. If all of them chose to attend Chabot, it would have made a majore difference on diversity at the school. That is more than half a classroom of redirected students.

    Some of the no-shows may understandably have chosen other options because of the construction and disruption this year. Chabot does expect an increase in neighborhood enrollment that when the new building is completed.

    It is true that boundaries will need to be changed at some point, but creating more k-5 space at Hillcrest will make a difference as well. Sixty spots are 60 spots.

  • Hills Neighborhood Parent

    The middle school has to go! I can’t believe neighborhood families are being turned away from their local elementary school so a few families – just 20 a year – can have their children attend middle school there. That’s ridiculous.

    Those defending the middle school at the expense of spaces for elementary are being self-serving and selfish. Yes, you are! I know this move alone won’t solve all the problems, but it will help to alleviate the situation. The boundary should also be re-drawn.

    It’s not that the K-8 model isn’t a good one, but there isn’t space at Hillcrest to keep the middle school intact, so let’s focus on the elementary school children. Neighborhood families with young children deserve the right to attend their neighborhood school! It’s too bad that Oakland doesn’t have small, quality middle schools. There is demand for that, but alas OUSD hasn’t figured out a way to tap into it.

  • Leah

    Wait a minute. There are over 60 students in the middle school so that is not just 20 families. Also my understanding is that one of the options on the table is adding capacity at Montclair. That sounds like a win/win to me. Room for more K-5 students and keeping the 6-8 students in OUSD. Also as I said above the space used by the middle school is really not going to add enough capacity to make a workable, larger K-5 school. I doubt many of the nay sayers have really come to Hillcrest and looked at the site and the configuration. There is a huge report on the issue available through the Hillcrest website that has diagrams, charts, etc

    Also I appreciate this forum but I don’t appreciate being called names, especially by anonymous posters. Let’s try to keep the discussion civil.

  • Insider

    I agree about the civility. It is an emotional issue but name calling will do nothing. It is not good modelling.

    A lot of us would love a small public middle school that takes just 20 kids a year (thus the 60 6-8th grade). But we are still talking about asking neighbors to accomodate privilege and pay for it and get nothing in return other than a more crowded campus and decreased diversity. Is that fair?

    I do think it’s important to point out that Hillcrest is unsurpassed in its good works to help less fortunate schools. It is a model for others who care about community. But it is not the same as working with Chabot and other schools to ensure that students can continue to get the education they are receiving at these schools and whose slots will be sacrificed if kindergarten enrollment is capped at Hillcrest.

    Every kindergartner redirected to Chabot or Montclair from Hillcrest k-8 is a slot that could have been (and always is these schools are always full) taken by a student from a disadvantaged school whose parents feel just as passionately about his/her k-5 education as others do about a k-8 system.

    But let’s stop the name calling. It’s really ugly.

  • concerned mom

    I’m a parent of two hills-area students, not at Hillcrest. I like the idea of making Chabot and Montclair both K-8 (since they are the ones scheduled to increase capacity anyways), loosely following the model of Hillcrest. Pearalta is another school that could potentially follow this model. It seems like the district might be game for something like that (and supposedly there is some money from something Oaklanders voted on a while back). Then, people might be less concerned about the fairness issue AND happy that their child will have the opportunity for a quality K-8 education, just like at Hillcrest. Let’s work together to come up with creative ideas for the district, rather than trading insults and bad feelings back and forth.

  • Insider

    Chabot is not scheduled to increase capacity. It is at capacity. Every class is full. The new building is replacing rotting, molding portables that were temporary when they were placed on the campus in the 1930s (and then added to with other more modern portables as the school grew).

    What Chabot stands to lose is its ability to take transfer students from underserved areas of Oakland. Much as we would all love to have the OPTION of a k-8 school, our ability to serve underserved kids and raise achievement and performance for all students (non sub-groups rise with the tide as well, and they are equally high-peforming to Hillcrest’s when the data is disaggregated).

    We live in a city that goes well beyond our lovely neighborhoods. We do ourselves a favor when we do what we can to ensure that all kids get a good shot at a great education, not just those who live in affluent neighborhoods. We need an equitable middle school system for all. But this should not come at the cost of a decrease in k-5 capacity in an area already screaming for more k-5 space.

  • concerned mom

    Insider– I encourage you to think outside the box and in a positive manner so we can do exactly what you are asking for–thinking beyond our neighborhoods and making sure all kids get a good shot at a great education. What if Claremont were to close at the end of the year? Could that physical space be used to somehow have the option of a K-8 school for Chabot or a school such as Peralta AND serve underserved kids AND raise achievement and performance for all students? None of this is easy, but if we get creative and a bit flexible with space, we can possible come up with something really good for a bunch of kids! Something to think about, especially since the current sitation doesn’t seem to be working out too well…

  • Insider

    Claremont will not close at the end of the year. Simply, it won’t happen because it serves four feeder schools, not just one, and there is a very active group of parents that have given heart and soul to it. They have the best math and technology programs around and have sunk thousands into these programs. Although they have some PI issues they need to address, they are the ONLY 6-8 middle school in north Oakland and the district would be absolutely crazy to touch it this year.

    However, that said, if Hillcrest can find a way to preserve its k-5 program without capping enrollment at the 40 — which is the lowest threshhold for nearly any public school in Oakland — maybe there is capacity outside the box to consider.

    It is difficult okay impossible to think that Chabot would ever compromise its neighborhood to be a k-8 school. Because it currently operates at capacity, it would be required sacrifice its own k-5 neighbors much as the Hillcrest model currently asks of its own should the boundary shift occur to accomodate a k-8.

    With its commitment to diversity, not to mention its own neighborhood, the only way to make Chabot a k-8 would be to move in concert to new facilities. But that’s what Chabot and Peralta are looking to do with Claremont middle (but as a separate facility with more options including a gym and labs for its student). Wouldn’t it be unproductive for these at-capacity schools to change a model when they have capacity at a facility that offers far more than the k-5 model at their current site? Why would anyone canibalize that? With Claremont, Chabot AND Peralta have a k-8 system. It’s a matter of getting parents and the district to put equitable energy into the system.

    Hopefully the commitment to making that system work will continue, but it will require the same energy from Chabot, Peralta, Emerson and Santa Fe that Hillcrest k-8 supporters are currently putting into the program there.

    You are right, however. Maybe Chabot and Hillcrest should team up, and bring Montclair in it as well. Although Monterra is a high-performing, but large middle school. We need to think outside the box. More importantly, we need to think outside the BLOCK.

  • Michael

    It would seem to me that the real issue of concern to all Oakland parents has not been discussed. OUSD simply does not seem to understand how to competently run secondary schools. I have a child at Chabot Elementary, another at Claremont Middle, and two step children at Peralta Elementary. There are a number of successful elementaries in this district, but the same thing cannot be said of the secondary schools. I am a high school teacher in another district, and a CTA chapter president…and I have worked in a number of districts around the bay area. I don’t know what the answer is for the OUSD, but something major needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.

  • Katy Murphy

    You raise an interesting point, Michael.

    Since one of your children attends Claremont, what do you think the school needs to become successful, at least in your mind?

  • Michael

    Fundamentally they need to get control of the school, and their students. Every time I have gone to that site I have encountered large numbers of students wandering through the halls, and around the campus…something which is common at Oakland secondary schools. What is considered acceptable behavior in, and around, the Claremont campus would not cut it at my district’s middle school, and we deal with a similar population by socio-economic standards. You cannot educate those who aren’t there, physically and mentally. It seems that the OUSD has largely abandoned imposing any real consequences for improper behavior, possibly because of concerns about ADA.
    Beyond that…I don’t think that OUSD has any clear vision about what skills their students should have mastery of by the end of each grade. You cannot hold students to non-existant standards. I know that Chambliss is trying, and I respect him for that, but how much support is he really receiving from the District? My first period just started…got to go.


  • Hills Mom

    Hi Michael,

    I appreciate your prospective. My kids is only in 3rd grade so I’m just making leaps here but it seems to me that another issue Claremont has is that a large portion of its 6th graders enter the school with low levels of 5th grade proficiency. I am wondering what type of mechanisms (if any) the school has in place to get these kids caught up.

    Re: grade-level standards & skills. Doesn’t OUSD simply follow the state’s grade-level standards? I’d love to learn more about this.

  • Hills Mom

    Kathy – did you go to today’s meeting? (Nov. 21)

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes I did. I guess I should write about it, huh?