School closures, “political reality”

Two weeks ago, as part of its big restructuring and school closure process, the Oakland school board approved a system of ranking schools, primarily based on where they are most needed, geographically. Board members talked about the importance of looking at the district as a whole when determining how many and which schools to close, rather than advocating for their respective districts.

That was all before anyone named names.

On Wednesday, the names of 10 schools “identified for possible closure consideration” appeared on a staff presentation, highlighted in yellow: Burckhalter, Kaiser, Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park, Santa Fe and Sobrante Park elementary schools; and Claremont and Frick middle schools. (Note: The superintendent said at the meeting it was unlikely any middle schools would actually be recommended for closure. The district is already consolidating a number of its high schools and doesn’t plan to recommend any more.)

District staff members stressed that the list was not a set of recommendations, but the result of initial number-crunching — running the district’s 101 schools through the first few steps of the formula the school board members approved. They began by ranking schools according to enrollment trends, population density and facility size. Schools that are already undergoing major changes are removed from the list.

Still, with those names in black and white, the conversation changed.

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Jody London (North Oakland) said she wondered if district staff had taken into account the “political reality” of closing the only school of a certain type in an electoral district — namely, Claremont Middle School in North Oakland. Alice Spearman (East Oakland-Elmhurst) said she was disappointed to see smaller, predominately African-American elementary schools near Interstate 580 on the list. A vocal critic of the district’s small schools initiative — in which a number of large, low-performing schools were closed and smaller ones were opened in their place — Spearman said she’d rather see the district consolidate elementary and middle school campuses in the district’s flatlands, even if it meant creating an elementary school with 700 or more students.

Spearman also questioned why six schools in West Oakland were exempt from closure consideration — as specified in the criteria — because of a district initiative to bring a science, math, technology and engineering focus to the area.

Board member David Kakishiba urged his colleagues to maintain discipline in the face of a difficult decision. “Two weeks ago, we approved criteria,” he said. “The superintendent is coming back with results. When we get to the point where we’re going to completely upend the criteria, we’re wasting time. I’m wondering: What were we thinking two weeks ago?”

A number of parents from Kaiser Elementary made the case for their high-performing school, which had 272 students in 2010-11. Although it’s located in a wealthy Oakland hills neighborhood, they noted that most of its students come from other parts of the city, making it racially and socioeconomically diverse. Last year, African-American students made up the largest ethnic group at the school, with about one-third of the student population; they averaged a score of 816 out of 1,000 possible points on the state’s Academic Performance Index, well above the district average. The school’s API is 885.

Lisa Cartolano, whose children attend Kaiser and Claremont, said the idea of closing either school doesn’t make sense for the school district. “This is why people leave Oakland,” she said. “I have so many friends who have up and left. … It’s getting exhausting.”

Other speakers accused the district of protecting schools with predominately white student populations.

“How do we keep Montclair and Thornhill when they’re a block a way from each other?” asked Wandra Boyd, a longtime advocate for African-American students who once ran for a seat on the school board. “You’re closing high-performing schools that have a large African-American population. … In each and every case, you’ve never affected the white students.”

Preliminary recommendations for school closure and restructuring — which will take into account special education programming, board feedback and other factors — will be presented at a public board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The board is scheduled to make a final decision by Oct. 26.

Vernon Hal, the district’s deputy superintendent of business services and operations, estimates that each school closure would free up about $450,000 to spend on the district’s remaining schools, even if 20 percent of the affected students leave the district. Consolidating two schools that share a campus, he said, would result in a savings of about $250,000.

Restructuring presentation
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Katy Murphy

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

  • Former Hills Parent

    Fletch, I’ve been advocate for a magnet middle school on this board for years (and earlier in this thread too). This is exactly what OUSD needs to keep some of the academically-minded and largely white population that abandons OUSD in droves after attending their good elementary schools. I have no doubt that there are some great teachers in OUSD at the middle school level and that my children could get a solid education if they were in class with other like-minded children, yet there ceases to be a middle school option that is safe, solid and acceptable to me.

    We’ve since relocated to greener pastured, but in my former hills neighborhood, I know a number of families who, over the years, have sent their children to Edna Brewer, Bret Harte, Montera and OSA. Several have pulled their children after a semester or a year. The reasons vary: unsafe campus, drugs, academics, distracting kids, violence, bad influences, not the right fit, etc. Most of these folks were really excited about supporting public school options but most of the time they have ended up disatisfied and unhappy. I believe nearly all of the parents would have loved the idea of an academic middle school in Oakland. I simply can’t understand why OUSD won’t examine this options, especially as they will have empty campuses and classrooms to use for this purpose!

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    Do you even hear what you are saying?
    The administration makes decisions that impact teaching in a classroom directly. That hierarchy dictates not only what, but way too often, how a teacher will teach. ( Open Court Reading, Si Swun Math, Success for All Reading…) There were people hired to make sure these programs were being implemented verbatim. Some elementary schools were told you can do nothing but teach math and English language arts. This meant no science, history, art, for the children. YES THIS DID happen and STILL does in places. I had a principal say to me that I would not be happy at her school because the teachers could not teach anything but Open Court and math. These were administrative mandates. This situation is far more complex than your understanding. It is easy to just blame those who work at the “bottom”. I guess that is your way of saying, blame those who work directly with the children. Funny how that works for a teacher, you get payed less than those on “top”, you are told what to do by those at the “top” and when things don’t go well you are solely to blame.

    As far as the CST goes…math and science especially require layers upon layers of understanding. The sequence and scope is taught line upon line. Skill upon skill. So although students may be tested in a high school math course and level, success and understanding of that content is most definitely dependent upon basic math and reading , as well as all the sequence that follows. Children are CST tested from second grade up, BTW.

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    Thank you Oakland Teacher #93 for the history of Sankofa and the K-8 model. It further mystifies me why this should be a disqualifier for their closure.

    That said, from all accounts the Sankofa staff is a dynamic and dedicated group, and should they merge with Santa Fe I imagine it will be a very productive relationship.

    My greatest concern, is for the children who in some cases will be asked to transfer schools for a second time. Santa Fe took in staff and many students from Longfellow and Golden Gate when they closed. Many of our families had and have difficulty with transportation. We also have a high rate of families who are homeless or living temporarily with relatives, and they may find it even more difficult to get to school on time (or at all) if they are required to travel the additional distance to Sankofa or Hoover.

    As stated before, geographically it makes much more sense for Santa Fe to welcome the Sankofa population into our newly renovated facilities.

  • Former Hills Parent

    Livegreen, my family is caucasian and we are also well-off. Both of those things put us in a small minority in the majority of OUSD middle schools. I’ve looked at the numbers for Edna Brewer and Bret Harte, for example. If I sent my children there, they would be among the few representing with race and socio-economic group. At those schools, only about 5-8% are white and the majority of kids at the schools are poor children of color. Socially, culturally and academically, there will be a large gap between my children and most of the students at these schools. Montera has many more caucasian students, but they are still a minority at the school. There are still way too many students at Montera that aren’t there to learn.

    The small number of wealthier hills parents at places like Bret Harte and Edna Brewer are unlikely to make much of a difference, in contrast to the smaller elementary schools where the support of a neighborhood can turn around a school or a school with a solid reputation like Kaiser can attract strong families from all over Oakland.

    Further change could come to Montera if all the neighborhood kids in its catchment area chose to support it. If all the kids from Montclair, Thornhill, Joaquin Miller and other hills schools sent their kids to Montera, and few flatlands kids were accepted as transfers, it could be a school on par with Orinda, Piedmont, etc.

    A magnet school is the way to go. Sure, people might be upset if their kid didn’t get in, but right now families with means flee OUSD in droves after elementary school. A magnet middle school gives these folks an option to stay.

    Finally, I’m all for diversity but not at the expense of my children’s education. I’d be happy for my children to attend a school that is reflective of Oakland’s melting pot but only if the kids are there to learn and advance themselves. We didn’t find the environment we needed and that’s why we moved last year. My oldest is now thriving in a middle school that is meeting our high expectations.

  • Harold

    If you own property in Oakland and send your kids to private school, you are paying twice for their education.

    That doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I have a relative who graduated from Tech two years ago. I watched her and dozens of her friends graduate from OUSD and head to ELITE universities. Most of them attended: Glenview/Crocker/Lincoln for grade school and Westlake/Brewer for middle school.

    The biggest problem for OUSD is its unclear, ineffective discipline policy in the secondary schools. The children I mentioned above, were able to flourish in this environment. But they shouldn’t have had to.

    The people at the top (Dr. Smith, Nexo’s and Principals) need to put the children first. Worrying about ADA money has led to a system that enables abhorrent behavior. Suspend and expel those who disrupt and are not focused on their education. Its really simple. OUSD owns a lot of property in Oakland. Take control. Open a middle school campus for students/families who cannot handle the basic expectations -behavioral and academic.

  • Trish Gorham

    Lisa @ #74

    I meant no offense. And I am still active in OEA, thanks for asking.

    I am trying to explore logical, objective, (not political) methods to make these painful decisions. I acknowledge that a district that has lost 8,000 students over the last 20 years may not be able to support the same number of schools (and even more administrators) as 20 years ago. So where do we go from there?

    I made the comment because I, like you, question the current criteria for the ranking of schools. I question why schools considering “restructuring” were removed from the list without any assessment of their “restructuring” plans. I question why Secondary Alternative Ed programs (at least 10 across the city) were not considered for consolidation. I question why all the schools in West Oakland were not considered. (Could not the STEM plan be put into action despite the number of schools involved?). While achievement should not be the absolute criterion, I question its complete absence from the process. I have many more questions.

    I believe capacity vs. enrollment is one criterion that can be applied objectively as part of this process. I am open to others.

    I need to state that I am a Kaiser teacher, came there when Washington was closed in its centennial year. Like you, I am fighting, along with our parents, to keep our exceptional school open. And I applaud your advocacy for your school and your broadcasting of district tomfoolery.

  • Trish Gorham

    I need more clarity on the staffing situation at Burckhalter. The district does not send teachers to a school, the principal hires staff based on enrollment and budget. What happened to the students of those retired teachers?

  • Fletch

    Lissa –

    I obviously meant an academic magnet like Lowell in San Francisco. Not some arts school that has to accept everyone or uses a lottery to pick who gets in.

  • Fletch

    Livegreen –

    Magnets don’t have to be small. Lowell High in SF has 2700 kids. I’d say have the magnet target getting the top 10 percent (or so) of the kids. That’s plenty of opportunity there. If it’s popular, expand it!

  • livegreen

    The bulk of my comments were geared for defending Fletch’s unwarranted and factually wrong criticisms of Elementary Schools. Regarding Middle Schools, I agree with the criticisms that the District is not doing enough, even if my anecdotal info from families I know attending some of these middle schools differs from yours. (& mine is from currently enrolled families, not from several years ago).

    I entirely agree with Harold’s comments in 105. OUSD must do something to support teachers & families when dealing with disruptive kids.

  • livegreen

    Fletch, point taken about Magnet Schools. Padea at Oak Tech already takes enough heat in the community (to your earlier point, just at the MSchool & HSchool levels). Since they’re getting through that and expanding academies on other campuses, they’ve apparently determined that’s the more politically feasible alternative that still IS making a difference. According to OUSD presentations I’ve seen, Oakland Tech IS attracting back students who previously left.

  • livegreen

    Re. Burkhalter, didn’t they finish some major construction there a couple years ago too? I thought I used to see a lot of portables where the fixed up playground now is. Also, it’s just down the street from the new middle class Monte Vista Villas development. With a decent plan for Burkhalter, why couldn’t OUSD attract families from there?

    I guess that’s included in the tough choices they have to make: money & attendance talks, BS walks…

  • Fletch


    But why would the community have a problem with the program at tech.

  • livegreen

    re.#93, the constant recycling of ideas, it sounds like Oakland, California & U.S. politics. & a lot of big corporations (when they merge and then sell off their units). Keeps people at the top employed & earning the big bucks.

  • Roberta Draheim

    Thought some might want to know what it felt like to sit with the district in one of those question/discussion meetings re: school closures. This was my impression of the meeting held last Thursday at Sobrante Park Elementary.

    Sobrante Park will be closed! That was the subtext of a meeting with school staff, interested parties, and district personnel on Thursday, September 15th. District personnel led by David Montes de Oca, were very professional as they assembled to “answer questions and get input” from school staff and interested parties. But they answered few questions, even the one about overall cost savings if the selected schools were closed, an answer you’d think would be right on the tip of the tongue of everyone involved in this selection process. All in all, the meeting felt far more like a grief counseling session than a question and discussion session.
    Before I say more, Sobrante Park is already a shining inner-city example of a school that fits OUSD’s Full Service Community School (FSCS) strategic vision, with all the academic programming, community outreach and partnering, and whole child view that a FSCS implies. But when the district applied their formula (considering school size, age, fiscal health among other issues), which apparently accounts for 3/5s of the decision, then made their exceptions, we were high on their list. Our ability to influence the remaining 2/5’s of the decision with subjective criteria like community and geographic issues, much less challenge the 3/5’s objective formula used, needs to be presented in 12 days to the board and Superintendent at the school board meeting on Sept. 27th.
    Seriously? The school and the community are being given only 12 days to respond with issues that are vital to our students, their families, and the community, an absurd timeline that I imagine all other schools on the list are facing. Why such haste?
    Considering the district’s goal of “radical transparency,” noted in its strategic plan, this selection process appears anything but. First, who (what group, district personnel or outside consultants) came up with these formulas to determine which schools were to be selected for closure? Second, what are these formulas? Third, where have these formulas been used with a successful result before?
    Finally, when did all this start? The district’s web site notes a timeline (conveniently not presented at the Sobrante Park meeting, only alluded to) which looks like in August 2011 or earlier, the formulas were applied to all schools to see which might qualify; principals, school staff, and partners were to be notified/engaged in August/September (thank you Oakland Tribune); September and October parents and the community were to be engaged on the issue, with the final list to be announced by Oct. 26th. That compressed timeline has been further rushed in reality as the last opportunity to influence the decision by schools and the community is the school board meeting on Sept. 27th The process appears to be so rushed, it puts me in mind of those old Marx Brother’s films where one brother would stop running and the rest would topple into him, leaving them all in a big heap on the ground. Where’s the fairness and the equity (two concepts sprinkled liberally throughout the district’s strategic plan) to our students, their families, and the community in this rush to action? If the district needs to have a decision by October to insure affected students a place in another school next year, why didn’t they start this process last spring, allowing affected schools a reasonable amount of time to respond?
    If schools must be closed, the process should be, as the district states in its strategic plan, radically transparent. It should also be equitable. There should be sufficient time for schools and communities to give serious feedback to the district with some faith that their input will be seriously considered. Isn’t that the kind of example we should be providing for our children of how to navigate difficult times? Shouldn’t our actions be examples of thoughtfulness and respect of all those involved in order to reach equitable outcomes? But then, that would be so radically transparent, wouldn’t it?

  • Kaiser Parent


    How did you manage to get the district to come out? We at Kaiser have been inviting out Rep–Jody London–and other members of the board ad naseum. We have not been included in any discussion whatsoever. They won’t even talk to us on our campus.

  • Harold

    @Kaiser Parent – Maybe she’s too busy trying to save Claremont M.S. from the chopping block …

    I really hope there’s more competition for school board seats in the future. People running unopposed is not good for the community.

  • livegreen

    -Jodi London, or any other Board Member for that matter, does not represent Kaiser because the school is in one district but most of the parents in another. So Kaiser effectively has no representation (= no political consequences);
    -If Claremont gets closed it will be to hit the reset button and reopen with a dramatically different population. It’s the only way to attract a large # of neighborhood kids and break the school out of it’s chaos.

    -As I’ve said before & as the OUSD presentation says: the District MUST share plans with parents to help relocate them (or “entire programs”) in a way that mitigates concerns even when schools do close.

    Otherwise the loss of parents are going to be way more than their projects. Which would be a real shame for all, esp. as their are viable alternatives to “all or nothing”.

    Don’t believe me OUSD Administrators: see Netflix.

  • CGHatcher

    I work at Lakeview elementary school and am tired of people who have chosen to send their children to other school bashing our school. You are absolutely correct, you have the option to send your child(ren) to any school of your choosing, as long as they have the room to accommodate the request. But high API scores do not tell the entire story of a school. Lakeview may not be everyone’s choice, but it is the choice for the 300+ plus students and their families that we serve.

    In response to assertion that Lakeview’s position next to the freeway poses a greater risk to the students who attend, a study done by UCLA found that freeway pollution extends up to 1.5 miles from the freeway and is most pervasive during the early morning hours between 3:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m. You can’t’ find a school in OUSD that isn’t within 1.5 miles of a freeway (24, 580, 880)which means theoretically, the health of every child that goes to school in Oakland is compromised, not just those next to a freeway!

  • LE

    I am a parent of a Lakeview student. My child is devastated at the idea of having her school closed just as I am as a parent. I live in the neighborhood and have a feeling that closing Lakeview is more political than anything. I believe the district could find better ways of saving money. We are left in the dark about the plans for the site if the school does close. In addition, was a study conducted to show that Lakeview students are less healthier than other students because Lakeview is near a freeway? Not one that has been shown to the parents of Lakeview. Plus the rumor is that they are going open up a Charter School. Will the Charter School children inhale less freeway fumes than Lakeview students did? This is political yall! Their alterantive to the site makes no sense based on their reasoning for closing Lakeview.

    I agree that API scores don’t make a school (although important). It’s the teachers, students, parents, atmosphere, and faculty. I believe OUSD is one of the worst school dicstrcist in California, but, after touring Lakeview I knew I wanted my child to attend there. If Lakeview closes I am taking my child out of the OUSD.

    Lakeview parents we have to stand up and attend the meetings and say “NO” we are not going for this.

  • Vivian

    I totally agree. And I love the fact that the school is so diverse. My grandbaby love going to Lakeview. She is devastated at the thought of it closing. Our kids have a say in this as well. OUSD need to stop going by what they’ve heard and take a field trip to the school and judge it for themselves.