Hills schools? Not much of an Option.

Oakland’s school assignment letters went out last week, and the appeals line on Monday was long. Michael Bonino, the improbably affable guy who runs OUSD’s high-stress Options program, told me the first person showed up at 2:45 a.m.

All in all, the district’s Family and Community Office expects roughly the same number of appeals as last year — about 500 by the end of the week. According to the preliminary count, 84 percent of incoming kindergarten families got one of their top three picks for 2009; 92 percent of sixth-graders and 98 percent of ninth-graders did.

Here’s where the numbers get interesting (although maybe that’s not the adjective you’d choose):

  • Thornhill admitted 80 neighborhood kids and younger siblings for an ideal kindergarten class of 60 (three classrooms). Ten neighborhood children were redirected to Montclair.
  • Montclair also had a record number of neighborhood applications — 83 — and admitted a grand total of 96 kindergartners for four classrooms.
  • Hillcrest took 40 kindergartners; 18 were sent to Kaiser.
  • Kaiser, once considered a de-facto magnet school, only took one non-neighborhood/non-sibling kindergartner.
  • Chabot, like Thornhill and Montclair, had a record number of neighborhood applications — 92 — for an ideal kindergarten class of 80. I don’t think that even includes all of the younger siblings of existing students, who receive top admissions priority.
  • Fewer than five Options seats were available at the most requested schools — in other words, for kids who don’t have an older sibling at the school or live inside the local attendance boundary. (Hillcrest, Chabot, Montclair, Thornhill, Joaquin Miller, and Crocker Highlands had zip.)
  • Hillcrest and Thornill families were automatically put on a wait list.

Bonino said the Thornhill and Chabot numbers were the biggest surprise. One potential explanation for the spike in neighborhood applications, he said, is related to economics: that families who might have applied exclusively to private schools, before the meltdown, are now applying to public schools in the hills, too.

Hopefully soon I’ll be able to post more school-specific Options data, a spreadsheet listing all of the schools in the district, and how many applied to each.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Tamara Morrish

    Chabot parents had already been predicting – for the past two years – that neighborhood enrollment would rise, based on on simple observation of the visible increase of pre-K kids in the enrollment area, including many K and 1st grade families with one or more that would be coming in the next few years. Of course as Mr. Bonino pointed out, the economic situation is also contributing to the influx of families to the public school system. This may be the first year that Chabot may not be able to serve new families of incoming Kindergartners wanting to leverage the options process for a higher achieving school than their own neighborhood school.
    Tamara Morrish / Chabot PTA President

  • Insider

    Mark Twain was right; there are three kinds of lies … “Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

    This is exactly the scenario everyone was hoping would NOT happen. Thornhill, Chabot and Montclair parents in particular have been screaming to get the district to listen to what they knew was happening in their communities, even thought the demographic data bore otherwise.

    It is why so many people were involved in the North Oakland overcrowding issues over the past two years and begging the district to free up all the K-5 space it could. And the situation has gone from from bad to worse, with inequity the operative word.

    From this, it appears that Hillcrest has just two perfect sized incoming kindergarten classes of 20 and maintains its 50 – 60 exclusive middle school seats. Once again, Montclair, Thornhill and Chabot have been overenrolled and will have larger kindergarten classes than its neighbor. And even Kaiser, which has traditionally been a welcome, welcoming and high-performing magnet school for intradistrict transfers, has no room.

    The economy is hitting everyone, especially the most vulnerable. It’s time for the district and the board to work in the best interests of all students, and to make the tough decisions it needs to make. Conscious inequity has no place in the hills or in any place in Oakland.

  • Karen Fiss

    I am deeply disappointed and saddened by these statistics, but I’m NOT surprised. And OUSD should NOT be surprised either — the Chabot community stated again and again during the long debate over north Oakland school boundary changes that our school was going to be witnessing an increase in enrollment from neighborhood families. We knew the evidence was there — on our streets, with families from SF and elsewhere moving into houses with already one, two, and three children in tow. Coupled with the sharp economic downturn, Chabot families knew this enrollment increase would happen, and this is why we came to speak at so many School Board meetings — to protect the options process at our school and maintain the wonderful diversity that Chabot has enjoyed and celebrated.

    This is a huge blow to what little equity exists in the Oakland school system. The situation makes me sick because it reeks of the past — so much for the gains of Brown-vs-Board of Education. This is a broader problem of equity, access and excellence that needs intelligent and resourceful leadership. Is OUSD going to step up to the plate??

  • Judy

    My question is: “How many students got into the hills schools by falsifying their addresses? Those who were bumped from the neighborhood schools should be asking this question, since OUSD is notorious for looking the other way when this occurs…particularly when the falsification occurs by their own employees. Yes, I know this for a fact.

  • Hills Dad

    I have lost all faith in the so-called “options” process. There is no such thing in Oakland. The folks on the hilll get the good schools. The disadvantaged kids down the hill get what’s left over. In this case, nothing. The board had too many interests to protect and did not make tough decisions to redraw boundaries or make all hills schools K-5 models. Instead they tried to protect everyone. The kids are the ones who pay for it.

    Here’s an idea worth considering … Change the boundaries. Make all hills schools k-5. Add on to Montclair as discussed. Shift Peralta to the Sankofa campus and create more capacity there, keeping Sankofa kids there. Open up two classrooms at Hillcrest to create a bit more capacity for neighbor kids, and see what happens. Make Hillcrest a k-5 like all its neighbors, and move its middle school onto the Claremont campus as a “small school” like the district has been toughting. Or grow it at the vacated Peralta space per this scenario and let a few more kids take advantage of the model Hillcrest has created. That should work for everyone if equity is a true objective. Oh, and make ALL schools in Oakland as desirable as those in the hills — and as private schools.

    I can hear the screams already. But I also hear hope from those families who can’t afford good schools. I hope we listen to the latter.

  • Judy

    Katie: You did not mention Redwood Heights. Were there any noted issues there?

  • John

    Hills Dad: “I can hear the screams already. But I also hear hope from those families who can’t afford good schools. I hope we listen to the latter.”

    Our daughter’s physician owned a house in the Berkeley Hills, down the street from his neighborhood school. However, he had to drive his kids to a Berkeley flat land school while flat land kids were coming up to his neighbrohood school. WHAT A WONDERFUL THING. You should do the same thing HILLS DAD.

    P.S. The good doctor moved to another community where his kids could attend their neighborhood schools. Oh well, I guess we all can’t be good examples. Anyway, I look forward to you being the rare exception who puts his mouth where his heart is? (Is that your “scream” I be hearin?)

  • Hills Dad

    Actually, John, I think the screams would come from the protectionist parents who want to keep the status quo and even move their own neighbors to other schools. There is yet to be a suggestion from them about how to make something work. Everyone is protecting their own. Some schools are even sacrificing their own and expecting their neighbor schools to make up for it.

  • John

    “Protectionist parents!” My what a novel thought, parents more into protecting the interest of their kids than getting an ego rush on their soap box for (so called) “social justice.” But then you’re doing both, aren’t you!? I sit in awe!

  • Hills Dad

    Many of my neighbors will not be let into their hills school. I’m sure you are in awe of that as well. But my guess is that you are protecting your own school and the status quo there. And seeing many of your own neighbors turned away as well. All the hills schools are experiencing the same thing. What is your solution?

  • Small Town Kid

    Hills Dad – If there are more hills kids enrolling in OUSD, the logical solution is to readjust the boundaries. Would gaining the middle school spots at Hillcrest for K-5 make a major difference in the problem?

  • concerned parent

    I think it’s quite generous and kind that the Montclair School community is willing to bring in extra portables to have an additional kindergarten class (with still more than 20 kids per class, if you look at the number of 96 admitted)and help out other schools with overcrowding.

    The school was only going to take in 60 students for three classes in 2009-10, but has agreed to grow to accomodate the growing demand. I’m curious as to why Hillcrest only accepted enough to have exactly 20 students per class for a total of 2 classes- why are they immune to having a slightly bigger class size, but not other schools in the area? Why can’t some of their play space be used, just like Montclair will be giving up play space? We have been told at school district meetings that there is no fire/building code issue to stop an additional portable from happening on the Hillcrest campus– it would be nice for the Hillcrest community to also share in the burden of relieving the overcrowding, thus letting some of their own neighbors back into their school in the process.

  • Judy

    Small Town Kid: It may not make a major difference in this problem, but it would at least show that the Hillcrest families are not pulling the strings of the school board.

  • concerned mother

    Can anyone tell me about Redwood Heights and joquin Miller-what the kindergarten numbers are like since those are very good schools too.

  • Cranky Teacher

    It is “generous and kind” indeed of Montclair to offer to bring in portables in order to accommodate concerned parents of Hills kindergarteners who do not want their children in any number of places that could easily accommodate them.

    Consider, however, that Buckhalter was going to bring in portables to expand its autism program and offer a better continuum of services to flatlands kids with special needs, but can’t do that because portables “cost too much”.

    Just another discrepancy between Horrible Horrible Flatlands Schools and Fabulous Fabulous Hills Schools. Which has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with resource allocation.

  • concerned parent

    Cranky teacher– who determined that portables cost too much? The district has stated that the money for additional portables at Montclair School (and they’re keeping the 1940s portables for now as well) came from Measure B funds. Why can’t Buckhalter use that money too? Seems to be plenty of it. Is there someone at the leadership level of the school and/or an active parent community available and willing to advocate for the students to get those portables, or whatever else is needed? A squeaky wheel always helps, and seems to be what often makes a difference at a school like Montclair, Thornhill, Joaquin Miller, etc. Moreover, these “hills” schools actually end up with less $$ from the district than schools in other areas (don’t get Title 1 money, for instatnce), with fundraising and grant writing making up the difference. Something to think about…If we ALL get creative and model what the “successful” schools are doing, AND don’t take no for an answer when it comes to something like portables for Buckhalter kids, good things can happen and we all might be a bit less cranky.

  • John

    Hills Dad: The logical solution is to readjust your boundaries to another school district, as I did after living in Oakland for fifty-five years and teaching there for twenty-five.

    Given the faster devaluation of Oakland homes since the 1990’s you’ll likely be living in a lesser accomodation (for the same money) if you move to a superior community. However, whatever you move into I’m sure it will be a superior structure to your soap box.

    My daughter has adapted well to life in a condo and excellent schools. I’m sure your kids could also adapt.

  • Public School Fan

    Concerned Parent:

    Yes, indeed, it was kind for Montclair to agree to the addition of 2 portables to accommodate its own overcrowded neighborhood schoolchildren and the redirected kids from Thornhill, a school which for 2009-10 had too many neighborhood applicants to accommodate all who applied.

    It was also kind of the Bd. of Education recently to authorize spending $14 million to expand and modernize Montclair over the next three years, beginning with the addition of two portables for the next school year and eventually ending with a new 2-story building that will also house a new cafeteria. The plans are not yet set in stone, but it looks like Montclair will get some needed modernization and expansion. Why does it need expansion? Because it is bursting at the seams from its own neighborhood kids wanting to attend school there. The school needed more modernized space. The principal at Montclair has done much for that school (dynamic and creative) and the word is getting out to the neighborhood. And now it will also be able to take the overflow neighborhood kids from Thornhill who were unable to get in to that school due to space issues.

    It is certainly great that Montclair will be able to take more of its own neighborhood kids should applications continue on their current rising trend and won’t need to redirect its own neighborhood kids and will also help with overcrowding from other schools in its megaboundary. But it is certainly clear that Montclair will also be gaining some much needed space and modernity from the Bd. of Education.

    No redirected Hillcrest kindergartners for 2009-10 were sent to Montclair. Under OUSD regs. passed by the Bd. in June, if an elementary school is too crowded to accept all of its neighborhood and sibling kindergarten applicants and must redirect some of the children, then families get priority in the Options program only for other elementary schools in the megaboundary of the overcrowded school. Montaclair is not in the same megaboundary as Hillcrest. Thornhill, however, is in the same megaboundary as Montclair and will send its overflow there.

    Hillcrest is an overcrowded school on one of the smallest campuses in OUSD. From at least 2005 until now, it has accepted more kindergartners than it has space for due to the high number of neighborhood applicants. This has resulted in the school being overcrowded. The playground space available at Montclair is incomparable to that at Hillcrest and at Thornhill. I too have attended many Bd. meetings and OUSD meetings on these issues and I have never heard any official note that there are no regs. or state code provisions that would bar portables from being placed on the playground at Hillcrest. There are all kinds of laws and regs. that need to be investigated to determine if there would be room for portables — this is true of all schools contemplating putting in portables. What I have heard at Bd. meetings is that all kinds of opportunities were being looked into by the facilities group.

  • Hills Dad

    Elementary school slots are elementary school slots. If you have to readjust borders, do it. But all schools should be making the same sacrifices. At a time when elementary schools are overenrolled and the local middle school for Hillcrest is underenrolled, then it makes sense to free up some elementary school slots at Hillcrest and have those parents do what all the other parents who paid equally for their homes do. Slots are slots. We are going to have to change boundaries anyway. All communities have to make concessions. We should be trying to figure out how to elevate all public schools. Make space where we can, and rebuild our middle schools. You can’t do it in a vaccuum!

  • Cranky Teacher

    Concerned Parent,
    This came to light during discussions of the carving and redistribution of Tilden: initially, much of the autism program was slated to go there (to join existing Pre-K autism programs), but the subcommittee backed out of that due to the $700,000 cost of installing the portables.

    Point taken about the importance of parent involvement in making “good things happen”. We’ll see how that plays out in this case.

  • Public School Fan

    Hills Dad:
    Don’t hold your breath for any boundary changes. Despite the fact that under its own policies OUSD is supposed to reevaluate school boundary areas on a consistent and continuing basis to even out demographic shifts and address both overcrowding and underenrollment, it doesn’t seem as though OUSD is at all interested in doing so. At various Bd. meetings and school community meetings over the past 5 months or so, the Interim Superintendent has publicly stated that she does not favor adjusting boundaries and would not recommend doing so.

  • Kindergarten Mother

    Wow, and I thought I was th only parent having problems w/OUSD. I requested Joaquin Miller for my child b/c that’s my neighborhood. My child was assigned to a school on 98th and bancroft; Reach Academy. What I don’t understand is, why did OUSD bypass all of the other schools such as Sequoia Elementary and the others in my neighborhood and enroll my child in a school that is extermely far away to my residence…can someone tell me??? Joaquin Miller was not addressed in the article, so can someone tell me if Joaquin Miller is full, and if so, why aren’t portables an option there as well…there’s more than enough room on the playground to add them? I plan on fighting the assignment for my child, b/c we should have been given 2nd priority according to the OUSD website.

  • Public School Fan

    KIndergarten Mother:

    Please make sure that you appeal this decision if that is what you wish. From all of the numbers that I have seen, it does not appear that Joaquin Miller is full and redirecting students. Everyone is human and sometimes mistakes are made. The assignment office can rectify this if it was a mistake. And if it wasn’t a mistake, then it should still be able to tell you why this assignment was made. Otherwise, you should have been assigned your neighborhood school, Joaquin Miller.

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