Tonight, State Administrator Vincent Matthews decided to phase out two small high schools: the Business Entrepreneurial School of Technology (BEST), one of two schools on the West Oakland McClymonds campus, by 2011, and the Paul Robeson School of Visual & Performing Arts, one of four schools on East Oakland’s Fremont campus, by 2012.
Peralta Creek Middle School, which is in the second year of a phase-out (even if people at the school didn’t learn that, definitively, until more recently), closes at the end of the school year.
An emotional, historical discussion unfolded as retiring board member Greg Hodge, teachers and others traced the roots of these struggling schools to their much-celebrated origins not long ago.
Hodge said these schools and other small, themed start-ups were promised things that weren’t delivered (or which have since been taken away). A kitchen for the culinary arts program at BEST, for example, or wireless access for a technology school — or a performing arts program for a performing arts school.
David Kakishiba, the board president, agreed. But, he said, he doubted — even at the time that many of the schools opened — that those promises would be fulfilled. He said the board repeatedly asked to see business plans that would illuminate how these educational innovations would be carried out, to no avail.
“What we got was a parade of celebration,” Kakishiba said. He added, “I don’t think all of these schools were designed, planned, or resourced with the level of seriousness needed to fulfill that promise.”
Any new school faces its share of challenges. On top of those, Oakland’s start-ups (particularly those located in areas with declining populations of school-age children, such as West Oakland) have contended with new district policies designed to instill competition by creating more choices for families. New charter and district schools, along with OUSD’s School Options Program, encouraged families to vote with their feet.
(On the flip side, many `hills schools’ grew overcrowded as a result of these policies — another issue on tonight’s agenda that drew some impassioned speech.)
Then, when less popular OUSD schools — new and old — saw their student populations take a nose dive, they faced the consequences of another policy, one that allots funds to each school based loosely on its enrollment.
I wasn’t here when all of these schools opened, but I wonder: Did Darwinism come up in board or staff discussions? Was it anticipated, from the start, that — given the steep enrollment declines in parts of the district, beginning in 2002 — some of these schools would clearly fail without huge subsidies?