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Next on the CA chopping block: opportunity?

Girl reading at Highland Childhood Development Center. Photo by Laura Oda/Oakland TribuneYesterday afternoon I visited two East Oakland schools that offer hope, support and opportunity to people who are trying to make it in urban America.

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.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Adult Ed Teacher

    Katy:

    Can you confirm that the School Board *is* meeting this Monday, June 14th at 8:00 p.m. to discuss Adult Ed (and by implication, ECE) funding? We in Adult Ed have received quite a few “meeting is on again/ meeting is off again” messages from administrators at various levels.

    Thanks.

    Adult Ed Teacher

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, I’m trying to confirm whether it’s still on. I don’t see it posted on the meetings calendar, though special meetings require just 24 hours notice. http://ousd.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx

  • Nextset

    Let me see if I understand this. Some people feel that the public school districts are not only responsible for educating every person ages 6 to 18 who sets foot in the district, regardless of their status as a trespasser from a foreign nation, or even a foreign national here as a guest – but the school districts are also to lavish “education” on all such adults over 18 and provide day care for the children of all those who choose to have them & keep them and want free day care.

    OK. Do people think that money grows on trees?

    We are in a depression and it’s projected to get much worse before it gets better. The school district boards have to live within the budget they are given. That means setting priorities – they cannot provide everything to everybody.

    So who do you keep the lights on for? Children who are getting their only chance to be 6 to 18 years – or people, ADULTS (no longer children) who had their chance already?

    Legislation was floated in Utah to eliminate 12th grade as a budget measure. It’s not being implemented, yet. But these are the choices that are coming. Spending ANY school district money on adults (underclass adults at that) robs the young people. That includes spending on their daycare needs, their baby welfare needs are their problems. There is not enough public education money to go around and I say spend it where it traditionally goes, which is grades 1 to 12, not K either. The day may come soon when we will delete 12.

    The school boards should tell the needy adults that they must get their welfare handouts elsewhere in the government if they can. When they aged out of the secondary schools at their 18th year they were done as clients. Maybe they should have tried harder then.

  • Katy Murphy

    UPDATE: There are no special board meetings (yet) scheduled for this week, the board secretary says. I’ll keep you posted.