Hills crowding debate: 20 months and counting

Way back in April 2007, I had the pleasure of observing the first of many sessions about overcrowding in a severely undercrowded district. It was on a Sunday afternoon at Hillcrest Elementary School, and boy was it intense.

Tonight, literally more than 30 meetings later, the board voted to send all Hillcrest-area kids for whom there’s no space to nearby Kaiser Elementary, a high-performing arts magnet school. They also agreed to eventually expand capacity at the also crowded Montclair Elementary School by up to 100 more students, which the school’s faculty council apparently opposes. No boundary lines changed.

You can find the presentation here.

Dozens of parents at various “hills schools,” some of whom live across the city from where their kids go to school, attended tonight’s meeting to voice support for Oakland’s Options policy.

School choice advocates take note: Gary Yee, Alice Spearman, Noel Gallo, Kerry Hamill and Chris Dobbins made a point to state their support for neighborhood schools — and, in some cases, to blame the district’s over- and under-enrollment problems on the district’s choice policies.

Spearman even called out some middle-class, African-American parents from East Oakland’s lower hills who send their kids to elementary schools in tonier neighborhoods.

“You guys want to think about why you’re taking your children, and using that gas money, to take your students from recognized schools (namely: Howard, Thurgood Marshall, Grass Valley),” Spearman said. “It’s a shame.”

Minutes later, on the way out of the meeting, I overheard one of the mothers tell another parent, “I felt like I was being scolded by my grandmother!”

Whose side would you take?

Katy Murphy

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

  • former hills parent

    Since when has Gary Yee supported neighborhood schools? It has been my impression that he supports non-neighborhood children over neighborhood children.

  • Katy Murphy

    I don’t know what your experience has been like with Gary Yee, but he here’s what he said last night about his approach to education policy, in response to all of the parents’ public comments:

    “Small (school) arguments don’t convince me. Choice arguments don’t convince me. K-8 arguments don’t convince me. … It’s the quality of instruction in the classroom, the quality of the leadership and the support of the parents. Period.”

  • former hills parent

    As Redwood Heights was experiencing problems with overcrowding and non-neighborhood children bumping neighborhood children from the school, Gary Yee did not support clamping down on falsification of addresses to insure that neighborhood children received priority placement.

  • Involved Parent

    The solution does nothing but move the issue to another time and hopefully provides additional capacity to Montclair. But how will that work if the boundaries remain the same? Kaiser does not appear to be a viable option for many Hillcrest parents. This is not over, just over for now.

    And the Spearman smack-down was particularly nasty and uncomfortable. Rather than singling out parents who care enough to show up and let their voices be heard, she (and all other BOE members), should use the opportunity to learn more about the issues they see in their local schools and use that insight to make the changes they need to make in order to improve them. But regardless of all that, it’s NOT OK for a public official to berate any community member who actually takes the time to be informed and speak up, regardless of the school or district they represent. Good grief!

  • Long distance Chabot parent

    Last night Alice Spearman spoke as if she really knew why we chose to apply for the school lottery but does not. If she did, then she would know that unfortunately there is big difference in our local school and Chabot. Our family places a high value on academic execellance & diversity; learning and understanding and respecting varying cultures. Our local school was over 90% one race. It did not matter if that race was our own; we felt it would be better for our kids to be in a more inclusive environment.

    Parent participation, proximity to employment/bart (in the event of emergencies), enrichment programs, etc… were all a part of our decision to drive across town.

    The fact of the matter is OUR family feels it was best to try to provide what we felt was best for our children… Am I wrong for wanting the best educational experience for my kids? What kind of parent would I be for not trying (choice lottery) to provide the strongest foundation possible???

    I think the school board needs to take a hard look at making more schools appealing or they will eventually see the same situation they are experiencing with Claremont (currently several Independent schools [Athenian/Bentley/Prospect Sierra/Santa Domingo]providing shuttle service from Rockridge Bart station to/from their school…stealing Oakland’s best & brightest) at elementary level schools.

  • Hills Neighborhood Parent

    The school board, once again, passed the buck and failed to make a tough decision. Where is the backbone of the board? They need to FIX this problem. They should have done so by either strinking the boundaries and/or making Hillcrest a K-5.

    I wasn’t at the meeting, but the Spearman comment sounded inappropriate. If you allow for an option program, do not criticize those who make the effort to find a better school. Let’s face it – there are only a handful of great schools and dozens of bad ones. I would do everything I could do LEGALLY to access a better education for my children and kudos to those who are persistent and lucky enough to land a spot at a good school. [As a side note, I hope you volunteer your time and/or donate money to help keep the school performing at a high level… think of this as a way of giving back for your good fortune.]

    As for Gary Yee, in my experience he is NOT pro-neighborhood schools. In nearly every case in Oakland where there are high-performing elementary schools, it is because of the strength of the neighborhood families. Without the support of the neighborhood, it seems near impossible to a school to be high-performing. The exception would be Kaiser (this school seems to attract committed families across Oakland) and, in other communities, magnet schools (again, this would attract a certain type of student and family).

  • John

    Here are the comments of someone who works locally but felt overwhelmingly impelled to leave Oakland:

    “It would mean driving over the Richmond Bridge to work, spending untold hours in traffic. For me to give up a walker’s manna to commute 40 miles a day spewing exhaust and wasting money on fuel and tolls was ludicrous.

    But that’s how bad it is in Oakland. It was easy for me to pick up and move, but what about young families who have kids in school, whose mortgages are tanking? Trapped.”

    Read the full story here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/07/INDF14G3QD.DTL

    Condolences offered here to “young Oakland families” trying to acquire a quality education for their children and having to endure, among other things, the tortures of schoolboarding.

  • skyline parent

    My Oakland experience has not been the negative one described by the above poster. I moved here 24 years ago and have never been the victim of any type of crime. I have lived mainly in East Oakland (near Mills college) and in the Redwood Heights areas. My kids went through OUSD and have done very well in all regards. The oldest got a full scholarship to a prestigious college after graduating Skyline (taking many AP classes) and was accepted to both Cal and UCLA as well as numerous other schools. The youngest now attends Skyline and is doing well, and I am hopeful for a similar outcome.

    I have mixed feelings about the current school choice option, and sent my kids to their neighborhood schools, but the schools were decent (I guess some disagreed and voted with their feet). There is a history of parents organizing and “reclaiming” neighborhood schools that had been opted out of for periods of time, from Grass Valley to Brett Harte to Claremont to Edna Brewer, resulting in much greater success overall for all attending students. I always really admired the parents who spearheaded those efforts. While I did not hear Ms Spearman’s comments, I assume she also believes that if families stayed with their neighborhood schools, they too, could see remarkable improvement.

    On a last note, thank you Kerry Hamill for the ethical and humanistic way you served OUSD on the board during one of its worst periods. I know that you sent your kids to their neighborhood schools and helped to support them on a smaller scale as well. I felt your perspective was enhanced by actually having kids in the district and it was much appreciated by many of us not in North Oakland.

  • aly

    long distance chabot parent: your thoughts are beautifully laid out and i don’t think anyone in their right mind could argue with your desire to give your children the best. i am just sad that your neighborhood schools are not able to do that because it means so many children are missing out.

    the problem with all of these debates is that they make the school district responsible for enormous social problems. it isn’t as if there aren’t good teachers with dedication in the lower-performing schools; the problem is often with the poverty, lack of education, and lack of access at home. by asking the parents who happen to live in less active, concerned neighborhoods to keep their child there rather than take them to school where they can be part of a community that raises the child seems unjust to the child. you can’t punish them for the apathy of their neighbors.

    i believe that if we as a district spent more REAL time and effort getting families involved, making them feel comfortable and invested in school (which may mean events outside of the school’s walls in many cases), and helping them with obtaining necessary resources, then the neighborhood schools could have a chance at improving. maybe if you could show the parents who are choosing to go somewhere else that change is being attempted they could help lead it. it seems that the elementary schools with take-charge principals who have been relentless about community organization have been successful (sankofa, la escuelita are the first that come to mind as having made tremendous gains in climate, success, and community in recent years).

  • Nancy

    What about the teachers living on a less than living wage as well as having been socio-economically reduced to the same situation as the families in the less-attractive school boundaries? I’m with John…moving out asap…my car vandalized to the point I can’t even keep a cheap car stereo, my garage tagged by dumb gang member mentality…a dead dog placed in our garden…etc, etc, etc…Oakland is the dumbest place…why doesn’t the school board adopt a totally mix it up enrollment policy, like an EEO policy based on demography and socio-economics…This whole City is the lousiest place to live and work…under/uneducated and molto ritardando…I wish with the budget crisis they would buy out any higher paid with an early retirement option…You’d never see me again, then I would take my kid to safety in another State!!!!

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