A big box store at Lazear?

3245396820_ecde5a5748_mThis spring, I wrote about the changes at Oakland’s Lazear Elementary School under its new principal, Kareem Weaver.

Lest the year end without controversy, rumors have been circulating that the school (see below map) could be closed down to make way for a big box store.

More than 100 people came to a recent meeting at Lazear with Oakland school board member Noel Gallo. Gallo said he called the meeting to quell rumors of an imminent closure and to assure parents that a deal wasn’t going to be cut behind the closed doors of the mayor’s office or the superintendent’s office.

But the rumors aren’t entirely off-base. Gallo said he had “an informal meeting” with the owner of the adjacent shopping center, Fruitvale Station, about the possibility of leasing the land on which Lazear sits. (He said he was first approached about this two years ago, and that it’s been “an ongoing conversation.”)

Gallo said city officials, including someone from the mayor’s office, have asked him what he thought about the idea, but that he has not seen anything in writing.

“Yes, there are discussions, but we’re not closing the school, and we’re not selling the property,” Gallo said.
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Gallo noted that Lazear is under-enrolled, with about 175 students (Lazear’s enrollment is about 270); he suggested that some of the families might prefer to send their children to a higher-performing elementary school nearby, such as Think College Now and ASCEND, which are in great demand.

Before I reached Gallo, I checked with OUSD spokesman Troy Flint, who said this: “Staff have made no recommendations to close any school at this time, let alone identify specific sites.”

I emailed Weaver to see what he thought about the situation, and he wrote:

I am aware of the possibility that our campus may be looked at by developers. But frankly, our school can’t afford to be concerned with anything but school culture and academic achievement. According to the recently released rankings, our school was a “1”, and it is my belief that only happens when people choose to make other things the focus. So this rumor presents us with an opportunity to show that we’ve matured and grown as a school community. Our focus is on student learning and school culture. It has to be.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Oakland USD teacher

    We have to make some tough decisions and, although closing schools is highly emotional, we can’t afford to keep maintaining under-enrolled schools. OUSD has too many small schools (and the staff that they require) and too many unused buildings. We need to get tough for the good of the entire system.

  • del

    Great response by the principal!
    Unfortunately, closing schools is a “good” answer for some of the issues that OUSD faces.
    However, the district can’t lease land to a developer if there is interest from charter schools in opening a school there, as I understand it. Unfortunately, districts have been forced to sell land to avoid that problem.

  • BobS

    The other article says, “Lazear’s enrollment, now about 270….”

    So how could it drop 100 students during the school year if it’s going as well as reported. I called the school today and was told 266 students go there. Somebody’s not telling the truth. I find it hard to believe… or sad… that a school board member would underreport the enrollment of a small school by 35%. He’s either totally uninformed, laying groundwork for the school to be shut down, or being misquoted by Ms. Murphy.

    2. Are there schools in Oakland that really are under 200 students? The ONLY way they should remain open is if they are high achieving academically. I don’t believe in closing excellence. You have to find a way to save excellence.

    As far as Lazear’s principal goes. It’s like in Braveheart when he says, “Men don’t follow titles,they follow courage.” Weaver shows conviction and reasonableness. He’s not sensationalizing things and not overly dramatic. It’s called leadership. Novel concept. Like I said before, I’d be surprised if he stays in OUSD. Just being honest.

  • Katy Murphy

    BobS is absolutely right. I should have checked the figure he gave me — in my own story! I apologize for the error.

  • livegreen

    BobS, That’s probably a sign the school board member is ready to run for City Council, or other higher office…

  • JustTeach!

    Sell, sell, sell! Sell the Lazear property where students breathe in car exhaust from 880 while experincing learning in portables and send those students to TCN, ICS, or ASEND (all in modern buildings). Sell the Kaiser property which is PRIME real estate and send the money from the sale with the students back to their neighborhood schools to support TRUE full service community schools. And sell the property of either Howard or Marshall… both underenrolled and sitting on amazing property. Sell the old Chabot Space and Science Center, and while your at it, sell 1025 2nd Ave and move all central administrators to school sites and make them teach one class a day. Now you don’t have to develop an entire department to figure out how to close schools. My services are free of charge.

  • Oakland Teacher

    There are schools in OUSD which are far under 200 students. One that comes to mind is the former Washington Elementary, which has been under 200 student enrollment since it was converted to a small school, Sankofa. It was on the closure list along with Burckhalter a few years ago, mainly due to low enrollment, but political posturing kept them both open.

    Katy, is there a way to get a list of schools who have enrollment under 200 students?

    While historically, it is presumed to be a mistake to sell land to make up for immediate shortages, it does seem that currently we are sacrificing today’s students for possible future ones (if they haven’t all gone to charters by then).

  • Katy Murphy

    Sure! I’ve posted a spreadsheet with the official enrollment numbers, by school, for 2010-11. A perfect way to spend a rainy Saturday morning in June…

  • Concerned Special Ed Mom

    Oakland Teacher, please be careful in making calls for the closure of particular “small schools.” Marshall and Sankofa are exceptionally high-performing schools for all of their students, serving as real homes for a series of Special Day classrooms. Those Special Ed classrooms have significantly less students, affecting the total numbers. Similar statements can be made for Burckhalter and Howard. Parents in Special Ed do not get to choose schools and their children constantly get shuffled around the district and pushed out. Let’s celebrate schools doing the good work of real inclusion.