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Deja Vu: The same school closes twice


file photo of Paul Robeson’s 2008 commencement

Fremont Federation’s Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts will likely have only a few more commencement ceremonies like the one pictured above. On page 33 of tomorrow night’s agenda, you’ll find a staff recommendation to close the East Oakland high school – the very same school that the state administrator already approved for a gradual phase-out, last month.

What happened? A possible Brown Act violation. The district might not have properly publicized Robeson’s phase-out in December, so it’s on the agenda once again. (State Administrator Vince Matthews compared it to Obama’s oath of office re-do, saying it was done “out of an abundance of caution.”)

Robeson supporters, including teacher Craig Gordon, are rallying protesters for tomorrow night’s meeting. In a summary Gordon wrote for a teachers listserv and forwarded to me, he argues that the district undermined the school’s success by diverting students to the other small schools on the Fremont campus. The resulting funding drop, he said, left the performing arts school without funds for a drama teacher.

They plan to close our school this Wednesday night, Jan. 28, without one word of warning to our school community. Not a phone call to our principal, not a meeting with our School Site Council, not anything. Some of you may have heard that the Board already closed Robeson in December, but they did it illegally, so now they’re doing it again, a little more legally but no less immorally.

Gordon also raises an equity question. He notes that the enrollment and boundary policy issues affecting the district’s more affluent hills schools “warranted 39 meetings over 16 months with members of these school communities. For the East Oakland community of Robeson High, not even a phone call.”

I called Noel Gallo, a school board member who represents East Oakland’s Fruitvale area, to get his response. Gallo said he thinks it’s in the students’ best interest to close Robeson since the financially strapped district won’t pony up the resources needed to maintain its performing arts program, let alone shore up the quality of academic offerings at the small school. 

Robeson’s estimated four-year dropout rate is 64 percent, one of the highest in the district. The estimated dropout rates of other schools on the Fremont campus range from 21 percent (Mandela High) to 43 percent (Media Academy); OUSD’s average is 36 percent.

Gallo says Robeson hasn’t provided the level of “performance, care, discipline, motivation and growth” that the kids deserve. “We make too many excuses for failure,” he said.

Do you agree? Is OUSD doing the right thing for students by closing a struggling school, or is it failing them by abandoning its investment?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Sharon

    I just looked up enrollment for the OUSD charter schools. Last year they enrolled 1902 high school students, the size of an entire comprehensive high school.

    If OUSD wants any of its original schools to survive, it needs to consider a moratorium on granting additional charters. The pro-charter agenda that the state administrators pushed (O’Connell’s ties to Eli Broad) is responsible for a great deal of these school closures and the ongoing disruption to students.

    Enrollment for 2007-08:

    American Indian Public High School = 100
    Arise High School = 95
    Lighthouse Community Charter High School = 145
    LPS College Park = 261
    Oakland Aviation High School = 112
    Oakland Charter High = 30
    Oakland Military Institute, College Prep. Academy = 266
    Oakland School For The Arts = 178
    Oakland Unity High School = 216
    Oasis High School = 170
    Wilson (Lionel) College Preparatory Academy = 329
    TOTAL = 2015

    Others listed:
    East Bay Conservation Corps Co = ?
    East Oakland Leadership Academy High (EOLAH) = ?
    Envision Academy Of Arts & Tech (County Approved) = 113

    By the way, API scores for these schools run from 488 to 958.

  • Sharon

    Katy: I’ve recently heard a rumor that facility improvements (possibly including that long-awaited kitchen) are underway at the BEST campus, a school which was slated for closure at the end of this school year.

    Is this true? If so, and if BEST is still going to be closed, why are improvements being made at this time?

    And if improvements are being made at this time, what tenant is scheduled to occupy that space next?

  • Sharon

    Please note: The number under TOTAL above includes 113 high school students in Envision, the county approved charter. Please disregard it.

    The total of OUSD charter high school students for 2007-08 was indeed 1902, as stated in the first sentence.

  • susan

    Oakland District will never repair the education system. Charters are competition and that is good for OUSD who has a long history of messing things up. I agree, too many high schools, but OUSD should consolidate and creat better high schools so the charters will self eliminate.