Five years ago, the three high schools on East Oakland’s Castlemont campus had almost 1,300 students. That number has dwindled to 700 — a 45 percent drop.
The Fremont campus, also in East Oakland, has seen a similar slide. A decade ago, more than 2,000 students went to school there. Now, there are just 940.
Both campuses were divided into small, themed schools — each, with its own principals and administrative staffs — as part of an improvement strategy that received millions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
But since then, there’s been an exodus from Fremont and Castlemont. Many families from the East Oakland flatlands have used the district’s school choice policy to send their children to schools with better reputations across the city. Others have opted for one of the charter schools that have opened in their neighborhoods.
As a result of the dwindling numbers, the great high school “redesign” of 2003 and 2004 is — yes — being redesigned.
Troy Flint, a district spokesman, has confirmed that a team of administrators and other staff is drafting a proposal for the future of both high school campuses. Youth Empowerment School, in the East Oakland hills, will be part of the Fremont Castlemont plan, he said.
“While Castlemont and Fremont have made some progress since they were redesigned as small schools, they haven’t been able to maintain enrollment or attract new groups of students in large numbers,” Flint said.
Flint wouldn’t elaborate on what options were on the table, only that staff were considering “new and innovative ways to take the schools forward.” The cost of supporting three administrative staffs with fewer than 1,000 students is one reason behind the redesign.
Recommendations will be made public in January, he said.
Mike Jackson, a journalism teacher at one of Fremont’s small schools (Media Academy), says he has heard “hard rumors” that the schools will be merged into one — with a green engineering, architecture and construction theme.
Jackson said he has also heard that his nearly 25-year-old journalism academy, which predates the small schools, might be shut down in the process. The academy used to exist within Fremont Federation when it was a large, comprehensive high school. His students produce the award-winning Green & Gold newspaper, one of the few high school publications left in the city’s public schools.
“It’s really been an institution at Fremont High School,” he said.
Flint said the discussion isn’t about closing schools. “The drive is to create special programs to make them stand out from other high school choices so people will start to choose those schools again,” he said.
If that’s the case, what do they need? Do you agree there needs to be a redesign? What should it look like?