I wish I was out on a feel-good story, but I wasn’t. I went because both schools might close, depending on the priorities set by our state government (and, by extension, the Oakland school district) in the context of a deep fiscal crisis.
The Highland Childhood Development Center and Edward Shands Adult School serve the youngest and the oldest public school students in the city – people under six and over 18.
Age differences aside, Oakland’s adult school and preschool programs bear striking similarities: Both make it possible for people of very modest means to earn degrees, hold jobs and create a better life for themselves and their children.
The preschool program allows parents to work or go to school knowing that their children are safe and learning skills necessary to do well academically. Some of those parents, in fact, are also adult education students.
Despite those shared goals, the district plans to salvage part of its preschool program at the expense of adult education. At 8 p.m. Monday, the school board holds a special meeting on additional adult education layoffs that would result in the closure of Shands and other adult ed centers.
Vernon Hal, the district’s CFO, acknowledged at last night’s board meeting that it was a classic case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Even if Oakland manages to save some of its all-day preschool slots by taking an extra $5 million from the adult education fund, the program will only be able to accept about one-third of the current children it has now.
At Edward Shands adult school yesterday, I met people between the ages of 18 to 52 who were learning English, preparing to take the GED through basic education classes or working toward a high school diploma. It became clear, as they told me their stories, that Shands gives them a sense of purpose — not just credits or access to a broader English vocabulary.
Two hours later, at Highland, 3- to 5-year-old children were sounding out letters, singing songs about farm animals and spotting small, familiar words while their parents were at work or in school. Unless parents can afford private care or have relatives to watch their preschool-age children, there aren’t many (or any) other options for those who work or study full-time.
Timothy Robinson, whose children attend Harriet Tubman Childhood Development Center in West Oakland, is learning to be a smog check technician and earning a bachelor’s degree; his wife works. While the kids are at school, he said, “I know they’re safe, I know they’re learning.”
“Why would they want to play with the kids’ future?” he asked.
Look for a story in Monday’s paper about the preschool cuts and one on Wednesday about adult education.