You don’t need to have served on a board of education to know this: Closing schools is a political nightmare. Imagine hundreds of impassioned teenagers marching eight miles from their school in East Oakland’s King Estates neighborhood to protest its fate. I don’t need to describe the indignation, the tears, the news trucks and cameras everywhere.
But phasing schools out, one grade at a time? Allowing them to die a slow death, without forcing out any existing students? Families and kids who don’t yet attend a school are much less likely to rally around it.
I have a feeling that’s the wave of the future here in Oakland.
Tonight, the state administrator is set to approve plans to phase out BEST High School, one of two small schools remaining at West Oakland’s McClymonds campus, by 2011, and to close the nearly phased-out only Peralta Creek Middle School (Calvin Simmons) after its last group of eighth-graders is promoted to high school.
Fremont Federation’s Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts has suddenly become a phase-out candidate as well. Last week, board members asked district staff to make a recommendation on the future of the small school — a performing arts school without a drama teacher. A staff report suggests that the district not admit any ninth-graders to Robeson this coming fall.
This spring, we’ll see intensive meetings about the future of a number of other Oakland schools struggling with low enrollment and/or low test scores, including: Claremont Middle School in Rockridge; Castlemont‘s small high schools; Sankofa Academy in North Oakland; Explore Middle School, in East Oakland; Far West, an alternative school in North Oakland; Madison Middle School, in Sobrante Park; and Brookfield Elementary School.
Gradual closures might be more politically palatable, but they’re still closures, all the same. Robeson, BEST and Peralta Creek are all fairly new, small schools that share campuses with other small schools, and I wonder how an influx of new students next fall would affect them.
Do you think it makes sense, from an educational standpoint, to phase out struggling schools and focus district resources elsewhere? How would this affect students and teachers and neighborhoods? How should these de-facto closures be handled?
You can find tonight’s full board agenda here.