The latest school crowding fix

Staff proposals for addressing overcrowding at Hillcrest and other popular elementary schools have been swinging back and forth in recent months, as if there were some sort of behind-the-scenes tug of war on Second Avenue — which, of course, is entirely possible.

If the latest set of staff recommendations to the Special Committee on School Admissions, Attendance & Boundaries holds its position, Hillcrest will keep its middle school — and its attendance boundaries — intact. And Montclair, which has a crowding problem of its own, would eventually expand.

Hillcrest-area kids who are rejected from their local kindergarten for space reasons would have the option of attending Kaiser Elementary School under this proposal.

Kaiser, a high-performing, arts-focused school on the other side of Hwy 13, draws kids from all over the city. Such a change in admissions policy, of course, would leave fewer spots for children who live outside the Kaiser and Hillcrest attendance areas — a shift that raises equity questions.

Kerry Hamill, the retiring board representative for District 1, wanted the district to shrink Hillcrest’s attendance area. She didn’t sound too pleased with this morning’s proposal (or the last one, for that matter), and said it leaves Hillcrest families without “a home school.”

“We’re just punting the problem here. We’re not really solving it,” she said.

But the three-member special committee decided to move the recommendations forward anyway so that a decision will be made in time for 2009 admissions. The board is scheduled to discuss the proposal Dec. 10 and to vote on it Dec. 17.

In a nutshell, here are the recommendations:

  1. Make Claremont Middle School a “school of choice” (i.e. make it better)
  2. Expand Montclair’s capacity by up to 100 students
  3. Look at the possibility of expanding Hillcrest
  4. Amend admissions rules to allow displaced Hillcrest-area children to enroll at Kaiser until room becomes available at Hillcrest

What do you think about this latest solution? Do you agree with Hamill that it’s simply punting the problem?

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

Katy Murphy

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

  • Steven Weinberg

    I taught at Claremont from 1969 until 1999. In the early 1980s there was a successful effort to ungrade Claremont as part of the SOAR program (that also included Dennis Chaconas becoming principal at Oakland Tech, which was moving back to its building after a 4 year stay on Grove St.). The elements that made the upgrade successful included a new principal who brought several key people (teachers and administrators) with her, extra funds to allow the school to run higher level classes even though there were not enough students to fill them, and a district policy that forced all neighborhood students who wanted to attend public school to go to Claremont (no more transfers to Montera). The percentage of students from Chabot increased dramatically, test scores improved, and neighborhood support increased. The school also benefitted from “white flight” from some other Oakland middle school areas to Claremont. The progress made during those years eroded, but fairly slowly, and there were still significant signs of that progress when I left 17 years later.
    The improvement definitely required all three of the elements I mentioned: extra funds to establish high level programs even before most of the neighborhood students came, a new leadership team that shared a common philosophy and work ethic, and the district closing other options to the neighborhood students. The last element was vital, because parents needed to feel that their children would not be isolated by either their race nor academic standing and students wanted to go to middle school with their friends.
    History never repeats itself in exactly the same way, and there may be other ways to improve a school, but I think it is important to look clearly at what has happened before to help make wise decisions.

  • Tracy

    Kerry Hamill was a bad ass when she was in my district. She was involved with the students-brought them to Sacramento on busses, had media there! I am so sad to see her leave. She was always for the kids! I am looking forward to see her running for Governor someday!

  • http://www.guerillaeducators.typepad.com John Sole

    Despite demographic realities of overcrowding, poverty, parental involvement (or lack of it), etc., there is still the need for students to be achieve proficiency in grade appropriate curricular disciplines and for them to be prepared to become citizen/leaders. In order for these objectives to be realized, students need to be engaged and interested, have ownership in their educational processes, and have real-world Community Partnerships that model good citizenship. Project Based Service Learning is the most effective (but certainly not only) pedagogical strategy to achieve positive student outcomes. To see authentic examples of real students conducting real-world based projects in and out of real classrooms, visit: http://www.guerillaeducators.typepad.com.

  • Rhonda Woo

    It is punting the problem with respect to Hillcrest because “looking into the possibility” of expansion does not mean it will happen even if possible. Additionally, as I recall, the task assigned to the OUSD staff was to come up with a solution regarding overcrowding at Hillcrest while maintaining the current K-8 model. None of the 4 recommendations indicates whether Hillcrest will remain K-8 or not. Finally, the Kaiser “option” is not an option at all but a mandatory redirection of Hillcrest overflow to Kaiser and disregards the Hillcrest overflow families’ desires to the extent the Hillcrest overflow families do not list Kaiser as the second choice. Under the policy, Hillcrest overflow will have 5th priority as opposed to 3rd priority at any other District 1 school other than Kaiser. This is distinctly different from how every other redirected Oakland family will be treated. Every other redirected Oakland family will have 3rd priority in their second and later designated options/choices.

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  • Phil

    The “plan” to resolve Hillcrest overcrowding is to refuse admission to around half of all neghborhood families without older siblings already in the school. The Long-Term Planning Commission appears to have been a farce. A number of options were considered, none of which by itself would solve the problem acceptably. Thus, no action was taken (which is in the best interests only of existing students). What wasn’t considered were combinations of potential solutions (1-2 portables, reconfiguring classrooms, AND reducing Middle School size). All residents will pay the price for this non-decision in the form of a less inclusive school and reduced property values (who will want to move to a neighborhood where the neighborhood school is unavailable?). The Leaders resonsible for this process should be removed.