Teacher: Oakland kids could be squeezed out of Alameda schools

Brian Rodriguez, a history teacher at Alameda’s Encinal High School, once taught at the old Elmhurst Middle School in East Oakland. Though he left the Oakland school district, he’s still teaching lots of Oakland kids. He worries that a “witch hunt” for out-of-district transfers is about to happen. -Katy

Encinal High School graduationI have taught at Encinal High School in Alameda since the 1996-97 school year, when I left Oakland following the teacher strike. I left reluctantly, because I loved teaching at Elmhurst Middle School, but like many union reps, I was the subject of illegal disciplinary action following the month-long teacher’s strike and left in disgust.

To my delight, I still was able to teach many Oakland students who also left OUSD following the strike, and to work with fine educators who left then, too. It’s estimated that 400 out-of-district students attend Alameda schools.

Encinal, with an enrollment of 1,100, is officially an “open enrollment” school, and as such has gladly accepted Oakland and San Leandro students.  This has made it a much more diverse high school. Over 40 different languages are spoken in the hallways.

My first Encinal principal used to joke that Oakland didn’t need a charter school because it had Encinal. These students have enriched our highly rated Advanced Placement program, raised the level of our sports teams, won many academic scholarships, starred in our outstanding drama productions, and played in our award winning marching band. Their parents have participated in PTSA and booster groups. Yes, there are numerous examples of knuckleheads who also came to the school, but with an out-of-district attendance contract it is relatively easy to get rid of troublemakers.

This is truly the market system at work, as parents and students have found a better alternative to education in their local communities, and Alameda gladly welcomed them, given the fact that the State of California reimburses the district for its average attendance.

But this mutually beneficial system is coming to an end, and a witch hunt will surely ensue to root out the out-of-district students and families. The recent defeat of Measure E, the school parcel tax, will result in draconian measures to save money in Alameda by closing both Alameda High and Encinal High and opening a “new” high school at one of the two locations in the 2011-12 school year.

This new high school will only hold grades 10 to 12 because all the students can’t  fit on one campus. Ninth-graders would move to a single large middle school, according to the district’s master plan. Of course, this also means getting rid of every student-transfer because there simply won’t be room for them.

The issue of out-of-district students played a key role in the defeat of the parcel tax measure, which fell short of passing by 275 votes. Opponents claimed that Alameda taxpayers were subsidizing Oakland students, who, according to posters on local blogs, brought low test scores, crime and drugs into Alameda. This was obviously tinged with racism, and wasn’t the reality of the situation, but many believed that issue, along with a full frontal attack on teachers unions, administrative costs, and the poor economy, doomed the parcel tax.

Ironically, Encinal is a “9” out of 10 when compared with similar schools on the state Academic Performance Index. It was recently rated by Newsweek Magazine in the 2010 America’s Best High Schools issue as being in the top 3 percent of all high schools in the nation, despite having more than 50 percent of its student body qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Time will tell whether these students and families will return to Oakland, if they’ll stay if a new parcel tax passes in the Spring of 2011, or if Alameda voters will reject further funding for education instead of opting to improve the quality of their schools.

Katy Murphy

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

  • jessica

    Yes, why should Alameda tax payers continue to pay for Oakland’s students?? If Oakland residents wish to attend school in Alameda, they should pay some sort of tuition!

  • Allison

    I live in Oakland and my children have attended school in Alameda for over 5 years. My family appreciates the opportunity my children have to attend Encinal. I will not be able to pay for there attendance if policies change. This is about the children and there education. How will my children transition into an Oakland school? What effect will this have on there life knowing they were not welcomed by the childrens families they went to school for the past several years. The same children they ran track with and participated in the school play with. I understand the downside if a child creates havoc and requires additional discipline but what about the children from Oakland who are postive contributions to Encinal?

  • Hot R

    The State of California pays for it. That is why Alameda welcomed kids from other Districts.