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.

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    I am not here to pat myself on the back.
    I am expressing extreme displeasure at the fact that school closures are not being based upon the academic achievement of its students. Many “underperforming” schools will remain open because of this criteria, and high performing public schools will close. Burckhalter, Kaiser and Lakeview should not be on this list. Those with 1 and 2 rankings should be.
    The criteria is wrong and we payed these people way too much money to come up with a way to justify closing schools that would be nice for charters based on their locations to freeways and being in the best locations.

    Ms. Spearman,
    You and the rest of the board members should not be allowing closures of thriving schools PERIOD. Those with low ranks of 1 and 2, and low API should be closed. The fact that Kaiser, Burckhalter, Lakeview are on there and Reach, Lockwood, Pride, New Highland with LOW RANKS, in UNSAFE AREAS are not being closed is an unjustifiable travesty. PLEASE DEMAND ACADEMIC SUCCESS coupled with SAFE ENVIRONMENTS for our children to be THE only criteria!. Thurgood, and Howard are BEAUTIFUL! Get our children away from crime ridden areas and use the money for bus passes!

  • Anon

    I posted this on the other thread as well, but just wanted to underscore it here given some of the posts above. I’m a Lakeview-zoned parent, and our family would support closing Lakeview—not because of its performance, but because of its location immediately adjacent to I-580 with virtually no buffer between the school and the freeway. (If you haven’t been there in person, you can “experience” this by using Google Street View—stand on the 580 and you’ll find yourself looking directly into Lakeview’s school yard and classrooms.) This is not an appropriate location for an elementary school—the research is very clear that school proximity to freeways is directly related to respiratory problems and asthma in children who attend these schools, and we’re not willing to gamble our son’s health. Unfortunately, no amount of investment in the school or restructuring can change this basic problem.

    The site would not be “nice for charters” given its proximity to the freeway—in fact, it would be highly unlikely to be approved as a school site or a charter under California’s current school facilities code, which considers air quality and noise. Title 5 specifically prohibits schools adjacent to freeways if these factors affect safety of educational activities, and I think a prospective school would be hard-pressed to prove that there would be no impact. California prohibits construction of new schools within 500 feet of a freeway for health and safety reasons; Lakeview is within 100 feet. So I don’t think there’s much threat of a hidden agenda to make room for a charter as far as Lakeview is concerned. (Lakeview itself is grandfathered in because it predates the freeway, but a new school would not be.) I do think the Lakeview site could be a great location for OUSD staff/offices, however, given its central location—for adults working indoors, the freeway proximity could be a plus.

    Finally, it’s important to note that one big reason that Lakeview enrollment has dropped in recent years is that the school has been in PI since 2008, so many neighborhood families have successfully used the Options/appeals process to transfer to other nearby OUSD schools (I know of Lakeview-zoned families at Piedmont Avenue, Glenview, and Crocker, among others). Several of our neighbors are also at private schools. In fact, I don’t know anyone who listed Lakeview on their Options form at all for kindergarten in the last 2-3 years (mix of concerns about location and performance), so I’m not sure it’s fair to blame falling enrollment on the central office simply not assigning students to the school. Just another perspective on this challenging task…

  • Lakeview area parent

    As another parent in the Lakeview area with children not yet in school, I would strongly advocate for closing the school for both educational quality issues and the environmental health issues mentioned above, and I will be doing what I can to advocate for this.

    I hope that people who are not in this area don’t advocate against this closure – not sure what the rationale would be. I have had teachers there tell me they thought it would be an unsafe place to send their own kids, we visits the school and were extremely underwhelmed with the experience and playing in the yard is an environmental hazard. This seems like a good, thoughtful recommendation and I appreciate the school district going through this process.

  • Hmakesyouthink

    Montclair, Thornhill, Chabot, and Joaquin Miller could share kids. Has the board considered closing one of them?

  • Hmakesyouthink

    Franklin and Garfield could also share kids. Does any one know what is happening at Fremont and Castlemont? Are they closing or combining? I heard something about those schools in this.

  • livegreen

    From the presentation I notice “restructuring” in Step 2 (“expansion” included) allows some schools to escape the criteria in Step 1.

    Why is OUSD expanding a school that ranks #1 in “least needed” based on Population Density, Enrollment and Facilities (Step 1)?

    Interesting how some schools can escape supposedly objective “criteria” while others can’t.

  • classified employee

    Haven’t we missed an important point in this debate? Of course they are not going to select successful small schools to keep. “Small” isn’t in the future here! Instead of incompetence or malfeasance on the part of central office staff, couldn’t this simply be about math? The most recent negotiations between OEA and the District regarding a contract (where OEA opened with a demand for a 20% raise) illustrates the District’s problem. Until there are fewer schools (and, yes, fewer teachers) the District cannot hope to offer more competitive salaries to teachers. The only way this math works is if they keep large schools! So, no matter the success of small schools, they’re going to be high on the list of potential closures – unless something very dramatic happens with state funding. We’ve decided that schools are going to run like businesses, so these are the decisions we’ll continue to get – nothing matters but the math!

  • J.R.

    Very good point, this situation is analogous to CEO’s of major companies who dispose of 10,000 jobs and then subsequently receive a multimillion dollar bonus. I must state however, and I have posted many times before that Oakland has had too many schools, and thus too many teachers for years upon years. We have been for lack of a better phrase, for the most part a “financial black hole” where resources are just sucked up with not much societal benefit(with noted exceptions).

  • livegreen

    The #1 school on the closure list is a small school, yet it’s being protected. So some small schools are given exception, I’m just curious why?

    Re. budget, Small Schools happened because Foundations funded it, then pulled their funding. They wouldn’t have happened naturally anyway. So it’s not just the State or OEA contracts. It was NEVER sustainable.

  • Fletch

    Livegreen –

    Read what Lisa wrote. That’s exactly the problem. We’re worried OUSD will come in one day and destroy Thornhill through busing or some such. We don’t want our kids to make a bunch of friends and then lose them all when they switch schools.

    Also, OUSD’s curriculum is well known to be deficient, since it’s aimed at low-performing students.

  • livegreen

    Fletch, I’ll reply to Lisa’s comment later, but to bring busing into this discussion is simply ridiculous. It’s not in OUSD’s plans, OUSD has long-chosen to give bus passes specifically as an alternative to bussing, and finally it simply doesn’t have the money to do busing.

    This is so typical of Bay Area discussions: citizens of all political backgrounds bring everything into the discussion and it grows bigger & bigger and leads nowhere.

    Busing has NOTHING to do with the issues at hand or, for that matter, anything. I’ll read Lisa’s post again and compare it to the OUSD list in their presentation (through the link Katy’s posted). Thanks for pointing back to it…

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    I just want to put out there that I am NOT the same person as “Lisa C”

    Do you really think that by closing schools , teachers will be paid more competitive salaries?

    Teachers could be paid more competitive salaries and schools could stay open if Mr. Smith and the Board would stop approving $842,000 contracts to West Ed. ,$400,000 for someone to come up with new criteria for school closures that do not value academic successes, 6 figure salaries to many of the people who are heading up these ridiculous “Task Forces”. And this is the tip of the waste-of- money -iceberg that exists.
    Oakland spends $2384/student on consultants, Lafayette spend $274. Multiply that 2400 times 38,000 students…is a whopping $91,200,000. That is more than enough to keep 5 schools open.
    Stop the insanity with outside contracts.

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    Our School Board members need to be held more accountable. THEY HAVE THE POWER TO SAY NO. They have they power to stop spending these kinds of consultant fees to people who never even work with our children at the school sites.

  • Fletch

    Livegreen –

    I meant “busing” as a euphemism for loading up the higher performing schools with lower performing kids.

    It doesn’t really matter how they do it — by consolidating schools or through the options process.

    The only thing that would make me even consider Oakland would be if they set up a magnet school at the middle and high school levels. And, they would need to set up some kind of guaranteed funding source and autonomy for that school, so I could be sure they wouldn’t shut it down if it became too popular.

    I wonder, is it possible to do such a thing through the initiative process? And, give it funding from some small parcel tax or whatnot? Probably not, but it’s an interesting thought.

    Like most hills parents in Oakland, I simply do not trust OUSD with my kids. End of story.

  • Fletch

    Just re-read what “Lisa Capuano Oler” wrote: “All schools should really BE an option for everyone.”

    I strongly disagree with this sentiment. All it takes to ruin a classroom is a few disruptive kids uninterested in learning. Sprinkle them around cleverly enough and all the schools become unworkable.

    I’m not interested in schools as some sort of social experiment. I’m interested in them so my kids can learn and get into a great college. Honestly, mostly the latter. When was the last time you put your high school on your resume? Not often, because college is what really matters.

    The only way to enable this is through magnet schools and programs. OUSD resolutely refuses to create such a thing.

  • livegreen

    Fletch, Re. post 64, if you didn’t mean busing then you shouldn’t say busing. & Options is not the same as busing. The fact that you’re mixing up the two shows me how ignorant you are of existing and even long held policy. Re. “I simply do not trust OUSD with my kids”, well does that apply regardless of (even when you’re wrong about) the facts?

    Re. post 65, I don’t know if LCO’s statement is in the context of “option” in general or specifically OUSD’s Options process. Either way you’re mixing up her POV with actual policy. Option’s criteria actually mitigate & address your concerns. Your policy concerns are mitigated by Thornhill’s demographics. Your academic concerns are mitigated by how well Thornhill is doing academically.

    So who are the “disruptive kids” at Thornhill & where do they come from? And how the heck is going to Thornhill a “social experiment”?

  • Super

    As an Oakland parent of a toddler in a sub-par school district, I have planned to either move or send my child to a private school. I am absolutely not interested in sending my kid to an Oakland school unless I can get her into a Chabot or a Thornhill. If I were a parent in these or like areas, I would want some assurance that the parents and/or children entering the programs were vetted. I would have no problem being subjected to an interview. My wife and I are and plan to be a part of our children’s education, which means we will do what we can to ensure she can learn in a positive environment. The Hills schools and a few others offer this because these are truly community schools with super-active parental involvement, whether it be helping children learn or disciplining children for disruptive bahavior. I have absolutely no interest in being part of a school system that does not have active parent participation. It doesn’t take much to spoil a class. If I were Hills parents, I would fight like crazy to ensure that OUSD does nothing to marginalize the integrity of their programs.

  • Former Hills Parent

    We used to attend one of the good hills schools but moved last year to a district with a better reputation and excelling schooling options for middle and high school.

    While we were still in Oakland, things started to go downhill when class sizes increased. In addition to having too many kids in the classroom, this also meant that a bunch of out-of-attendance-boundary kids, mainly flatland kids, ended up at our school. Sadly, many of these new kids were not up to academic standard of most of the students at the school. Also many came with behavior problems.

    Given this situation and with the lack of a quality middle school option, many families are fleeing the school. I think it’s a shame that OUSD doesn’t do more to hang onto their middle class and upper middle class families.

    I know there are a bunch of families outside the attendance zone who would have been assets to the school. I wish that there could be some vetting process to admit the families that are committed to learning, willing to help, able to volunteer, capable of getting their children to school on-time with children who won’t be trouble-makers or distractions. I would have welcomed those families. But, generally speaking, those aren’t the families who gained a spot at the school.

  • Anon

    Enough with the debate over whether Thornhill and Montclair should both exist. Yes, they are near one another geographically, but look at the numbers: Montclair has 439 seats to serve 373 students zoned to the school; Thornhill has 375 seats for 336 students in the zone. How would either school absorb the other in its entirety without significant capital investment by OUSD? (Not to mention that the number of students in the catchment area isn’t static and isn’t necessarily evenly distributed across the grades, so I think it’s always wise to have a little wiggle room so you don’t get into a pattern of turning away neighborhood families.) Now, could the schools share some of their administrative functions given their proximity? It would be great to see OUSD explore that to see.

    Kaiser, on the other hand, has 272 seats with only 47 students zoned to it. So yes, if the question is where does OUSD need schools, we should absolutely be asking the tough questions about why a school with only 47 students in the zone is needed. Does that mean it should be the *only* criteria? Of course not—absolutely performance should be factored in as well. Personally I think the beauty of schools like Kaiser and Chabot is that they do present true options for flatlands families—many years Thornhill and Montclair don’t take families from outside the neighborhood, but Kaiser and Chabot virtually always do. So I see that as a compelling reason to keep these and other schools open even if the population numbers don’t support it—but this needs to be transparent and OUSD needs to factor this in as a goal. Keeping students in the system or bringing them back, hills or otherwise, is beneficial to OUSD as a whole, so I’d like to see that be a goal of the process as well. There’s a lot of talk of right-sizing the district for the 38K students it currently serves, but what about the other 25K students in Oakland who are opting out of the system today? Some number of those families will always go the private/charter route, but stronger OUSD options, especially at the middle and high school levels, could go a long way in bringing back many of those students.

    If you really want to look at numbers and where we need schools, though, look more seriously at closing Lakeview. The schools along the northwest edge of Lake Merritt—Piedmont Avenue, Lakeview, Cleveland, and Crocker—have a lot of excess capacity collectively. Yes, those schools have been there for generations (80+ years)—but look at what’s happened to the housing around the lake in the last 40 years. All of those apartments built in the 60s and 70s replaced single-family homes, some of them quite large, with studios and 1BRs, and Adams Point in particular has very few children relative to its overall population.

    Today, we have Cleveland, with 360 seats for 197 students in the zone; Piedmont Avenue, with 375 seats for 186 students; Crocker, with 377 seats for 304 students; and Lakeview, with 317 seats for 281 students. (In total, that’s at least 1,429 spots for 968 students.) If you take Lakeview out of the mix and rezone students to the other three schools, you still have 1,112 spots for 968 students. In addition, you solve the problem that exists right now where there are families near Lakeshore who are under a quarter mile from Cleveland or half a mile from Crocker but aren’t zoned to those schools, in spite of the fact that they could walk. At the western edge of the Lakeview zone, the neighborhood is already sliced up between PAES and Lakeview, so it would reunite the community that was originally served by Edison Elementary; today, families across the street from one another on small residential blocks are zoned to different schools. This is obviously unavoidable in some parts of the city, but near the lake it would be relatively easy to draw the boundaries along the major commercial corridors to avoid this.

  • Trish Gorham

    Anon @ #68:

    If you are basing your figures on the District’s presentation, be aware that OUSD did not use census figures of school age children in a given zone to calculate need. OUSD only used stats of children presently enrolled in OUSD schools.
    No projection based on 4 year olds in a neighborhood.
    No projection based on the total number of children living in the neighborhood at all.

    It seems “need” in a zone might be more objectively based on the actual number of children who lived within the zone.

    And if that is not important to the discussion, why focus on the neighborhood need at all. Why not capacity versus enrollment?

  • Fletch

    Livegreen –

    I see what you’re trying to do there, but the argument just doesn’t work. Why do houses in Piedmont cost 2x what they cost in Montclair? It’s because of the schools. Yes, *today* Thornhill is a fine school. Not superior (for curriculum reasons), but good enough for most parents. But, OUSD has a long history of throwing its energy and funding behind failed initiatives around the low performing kids. The district doesn’t have a coherent strategy for fostering the high achievers. Yes, I know about Paideia and Hillcrest — but those sort of underscore the point that high-performing programs come about in OUSD in spite of the district, not because of it.

    Contrast that to Piedmont, where the priorities are more or less reversed. In Piedmont most of the high performing kids attend public school. In Oakland, the vast majority go to private school.

    All of the above is because of the mistrust I described. And that mistrust is furthered by folks constantly complaining about the “hills schools” — like it’s a bad thing that OUSD has a few schools scoring above 900 on the API tests.

    I know you can offer me detail after detail in support of this school or that, but the core problem in OUSD is one of credibility. Parents of high-performing kids need to see a real magnet program put in place with a guaranteed funding stream. Until that happens, enrollment will continue to fall.

    One other point I’d make is that I don’t believe the API scores at any OUSD schools. I personally know an OUSD teacher who has witnessed cheating firsthand. You may have read about what’s going on in Atlanta. I’m confident something similar is at work in OUSD. I do *not* believe student achievement in OUSD is actually increasing (outside of *maybe* some of the more rigid charter schools) — not with what I read in the paper every day.

  • Anon

    @Trish, I was just using the number of students living within the zone—but no clue where their data came from on that (and would be interested to know). It would be good for them to run this with the 2010 Census data, though, given that this is recent data that would let them see a snapshot of projections for the next few years too. Is the number of students living within the zone just students attending some OUSD elementary school? Definitely misleading (and not terribly useful) if so—I assumed this was demographic data, and don’t really see the point of considering it at all if it’s not.

    The main argument against just using capacity and enrollment, in my view, is that many children are in OUSD schools because private or charter schools are not an option for their families—so their presence there shouldn’t necessarily be taken as an endorsement of the school or its performance. (Sometimes it is, of course, but that’s where there the analysis of options can come into play.) But agreed with your concern—I was assuming those were Census 2010 numbers. (If OUSD is reading this—they should be!)

  • Trish Gorham


    Yes, the data used to sort schools is only based on students enrolled in OUSD, not census data.

    While presence in a school is not an absolute endorsement, I would argue that absence may be. If schools have 3-5 empty classrooms, it says something about where parents are choosing to send their children.

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    We have 3 empty classrooms at Burckhalter. We have a waiting list of parents who want to send their children to us. The District refused to give us teachers to replace 2 retired teachers. So they stopped enrolling students. So your comment is false, and offensive.
    Are you still active in OEA, or do you work for admin now? I can’t tell.

  • holly smith

    It is interesting to keep in mind that the district also has a list of schools expanding or transforming. Manzanita Community is slated to “close” and Manzanita SEED will go K-8 dual language. Greenleaf will go k-8, Sankofa k-8, and a few others. How are these restructurings going to effect the elementary schools around them, as well as the middle schools. This will bring more school closures next year.

  • Marcia

    Wow–I find some of these comments absolutely chilling. Vetted? Really? You think that a PUBLIC institution should have to “vet” Oakland children to see if they’re good enough to go to school with your kids?

    And for those who say they’re staying away from OUSD so their kids can get into a “good” college here’s a newsflash: it’s my observation that selective, elite colleges find graduates of urban public school systems like Oakland much more interesting, and therefore more desirable, than graduates of fancy private schools where half the graduating class applies to Harvard. (The same of course is true for elite public systems like Piedmont–where, let’s remind ourselves boys and girls, probably 95% of test scores reflect parents’ income, education level, and home language and 5% how “good” the school is.)

    My credentials for weighing in: mom of two OUSD grad young adults (slopes schools, not hills), one of whom graduated from a UC and the other from one of the “little ivies,” both of whom now have graduate degrees. While it’s not necessarily the easiest path, few adolescents have an easy path; our family has no doubt that sticking with Oakland public schools was the best choice and in fact gives them many advantages.

  • Former Hills Parent

    @Marcia. I spoke about vetting hypothetically but, of course, it is impossible to do at a public school. That said, let’s face facts: in today’s economic environment, where budgets don’t even cover the basics and good/great school depend on donations and volunteers, strong hills schools will likely decline if they take in a lot of non-neighborhood children. Unfortunately, the flatland families are generally less able or willing to support the school and often struggle with basic things such as getting their children to school on-time.

    Each of the hills schools can – and does – absorb a portion of children who are below basic academically. They also all have some children who are troubled or distracting, but at a certain point it becomes too much. When this ‘tipping point’ is hit, things can go downhill quickly and those strong neighborhood families, those assets to the schools who volunteer in the classroom and run the fundraising events, will run to private schools or to Piedmont, Orinda, Albany, San Ramon, etc. It’s already happening!

    I got my family out ahead of the crowd. Most of my old friends in Oakland are thinking about their own exits. The main reason: OUSD’s inability to provide a safe, academically challenging middle school. That does not exist in Oakland today.

  • Fletch

    Marcia –

    I appreciate what you said, but you’re simply flat wrong. A kid’s odds of getting into a top college are dramatically and unmistakably higher if they go to an excellent public or private school than if they go to OUSD. Your examples are interesting, but the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.

    I really wish people would stop trying to defend bad schools. Sending your kids to a bad school is not something to be proud of.

  • Harold

    I really don’t understand why some people decide to live in Oakland.

  • Fletch

    Harold –

    Touche. I think plenty of people wind up sort of stuck here.

  • Teacher

    Fletch — Marcia is not “flat wrong.” Rather, she is probably very right that a student with great grades and a commitment to taking advantage of every opportunity available to him/her at an urban school is more likely to gain entrance into top universities and get scholarships to pay for that university than a student who comes from a privileged school where everyone is college bound. If middle-class families would choose to put such students into the public schools of Oakland, and those families would continue to support those students at home with their education, those students will very likely have a better chance of getting into a good college than if the students simply become one of the masses of college-bound teens in a suburban or private school full of middle and upper-middle class classmates. They’ll also likely be more interesting and more compassionate people.

    Marcia does NOT appear to be saying that the total percentage of students at an urban school who get into top universities is going to be higher than the total percentage of students who get into a “good” suburban school or a private school. But many of the students at urban schools don’t even apply to college, or top colleges, for an assortment of reasons, so that is not comparing apples and apples.

    In a related note, I just got back from taking 45 students from Oakland to UC Berkeley and heard straight from an admissions official’s mouth that the university wants students who challenged themselves and did well in THEIR CONTEXT. They WANT urban students.

    After that presentation, we met up with three of our alums who are currently at Cal on full-ride scholarships — all three stretched themselves at our school and got involved in many, many activities and took all four of the AP classes offered. One of them even commuted more than an hour each way every day her senior year to get to our urban school after her single mom moved out near Stockton. A kid like that WOULD be more desirable to a university than a student at a Piedmont-type high school who took 12 AP classes and drove a BMW a mile to school.

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    There seems to be bias in the inclusion of comments in this thread.

    I asked yesterday why the principal of Santa Fe suddenly left the second day of school and took a position at East Oakland Pride. I also asked why the district spent almost $700,000 on Santa Fe’s new playground and fencing when it seemed destined to be closed. Was the closing of Santa Fe a done deal all along? Is the school finally being renovated to make it a more attractive site for potential buyers?

    Geographically, Sankofa falls between Peralta and Santa Fe, and it would seem according to the inital rankings that Sankofa could and should split its population between Peralta and Santa Fe. However, due to their status as a transitioning school to K-8, Sankofa has been moved to the bottom of the list. If Claremont is not being closed, and Santa Fe’s population will be moved to Sankofa, is it really logical that Sankofa become a K-8?

    These are questions that readers of this blog might want to consider.

  • A Hills School Mom

    Can someone elaborate on the potential change for some schools to go to a grade 6-12 model? I’m familiar with K-8 and the traditional middle school model of 6-8, but I’m not familiar with 6-12. As a parent with kids in OUSD, I’m curious about this as a potential option. Are other districts using it? What are the benefits? Is this option really on the table and if so, which schools would be impacted?

    Also, can we also stop wasting energy bickering about where we choose to send our kids to school? I have my kids in public school here in Oakland. So far it has worked well and we are happy. However, I have seen many families leave and I understand why they made that decision. OUSD is not working for everyone and I think we need to focus on solutions rather than judge others for what they do to provide a quality education for their kids.

  • Skyline Mom

    I have two comments. First “teacher”s experience with the admissions officer at UC Berkeley is consistent with the experience of the students in my son’s 2011 graduating class at Skyline. Students were accepted to Stanford, Brown, Columbia, NYU, Michigan, Cooper Union, Pitzer, and all of the UCs, including large numbers at Berkeley and UCLA among other schools. But I also agree with Hills School Mom, OUSD worked very well for my children both of whom have now graduated. I do respect the decision of those who choose to send their children elsewhere but tired of the refrain that they had to do so because their student couldn’t get a great education and would never get into a great college.

  • Ann Ferrari

    Katy- can you get us any more info on the K-8, 6-12 ideas? I have a current 5th grader, so I’m especially interested in this news. I have tried calling the various contact numbers in the colorful flyer they handed out at my child’s school and left messages, but have not received a call back, which is frustrating.

  • Harold

    @Fletch – “stuck”?

    Property in Oakland is expensive. If you don’t like the demographics, or the schools… there are communities through the tunnel that are less-expensive.

    I’d like to thank all of the “white” folks who commit to the concept of neighborhood schools in Oakland. I am inspired by you.

  • Anon

    @Ann and Hills School Mom, EUSD is experimenting with the 6-12 model at Emery Secondary, which might be a school to watch since it faces many of the same challenges that OUSD schools face. I’m more enthusiastic in general about K-8 models than 6-12 models, but am glad to see any form of experimentation with the middle school model, since that’s a weak link not only within OUSD, but nationally. (In fairness, though, cities with K-8 models are often unhappy with them too and looking for alternatives; educating early adolescents is just incredibly challenging no matter how you slice it.)

    Echoing Skyline Mom and Teacher, I concur—I interview East Bay students for an Ivy and we absolutely get strong candidates from both public and private schools in Oakland. Are there more from the private schools and elite public districts? Sure—but that’s because the vast majority of students at those schools are four-year-college-bound, have college-educated parents, have good college counseling and preparation for the admissions process, attended quality preschools, etc.—all factors in how likely you are to attend college yourself. You’re self-selecting (and, quite honestly, even within OUSD there’s a lot of this self-selection—most of the four-year-college-track students from these backgrounds who are in public school wind up at Skyline and Tech with a handful at charters, in my experience). It’s also important to note that in a diverse urban system, the goal is not to get every student to a four-year-college—that’s never going to be the right fit for every student, and the community college and vocational tracks will continue to be critical in providing job skills and training for students who aren’t pursuing liberal arts degrees. In contrast, at a school like Head-Royce there *is* an expectation that all students are headed to four-year programs, and that’s why they’re there. The admissions staff know the schools in this region and know what opportunities are afforded the students there—they look for candidates who push the limits of what’s available to them and explore the world beyond. That means something different at Tech than it does at College Prep, but that’s factored into the evaluation. At the end of the day, a kid who’s excelled at a school like Tech and is passionate and engaged is still a stronger candidate than a kid who’s drifted through a private school without pursuing much beyond what was offered, even if that student has higher test scores and more AP exams under his belt. They’re not looking at the overall performance of the school; they’re looking at the individual student. And the cold hard reality is that they take very, very few of these kids, period, simply because the acceptance rate is so woefully low right now that the school turns away students who would have been admitted in a heartbeat a decade ago. It just comes down to numbers. (And it’s definitely not about addresses!)

  • Fletch

    I agree this is getting belabored, but here’s my basic argument:

    1. In general, if you send the same kid to, say, Skyline vs college prep, the kid will have a higher probability of a better outcome in the latter case.

    2. Oakland could create magnet schools that would do as well as prep. OUSD chooses not to. No one will ever explain why.

  • Nextset

    Anon: Have a care about pushing valiant “struggling” students to the better 4 year college over the (presumably white) student who turns in higher test scores and grades without trying.

    What you are typically doing is pushing the “struggling” student past the point of their competency and having them fail or get mediocre grades in a school beyond them, where they’d get high grades in a school more appropriate to their scoring.

    If you miss-match the struggling student to their college you risk them dropping out, failing class, defaulting on loans and in general doing severe damage to their social and occupational futures. And this happens a lot with minority students. Schools (undergrad and grad schools) admit them for racial brownie points knowing they have little chance of doing well in their program. The fact of admission does not always mean it’s a good idea to go.

    Those scores mean a lot. Especially when you’re dealing with post graduate scoring such as the LSAT, MCAT GMAT, GRE etc. It’s a mistake to place a student in a program with higher norms than they score and just wish and hope it works out.

  • livegreen

    Many good comments here. I agree with many of the concerns about OUSD schools, but I also think facts speak for themselves and, using facts, one has to distinguish between where the problems are and where they are not. For example, I would agree with some of Fletch’s concerns when applied generally to some High and especially Middle Schools. That’s part of the emphasis on K-8 is coming from.

    However I do not agree with Fletch where he is simply wrong about the facts. Namely when it comes to Elementary schools like Thornhill & Peralta that are not only doing well, but doing as well as Piedmont and Orinda, two of the best school districts in the entire State.

    This can be demonstrated time & again, yet Fletch will continue to throw out his unfounded opinion & fears, confound them with facts, and try to convince hard working parents who ARE working for change at OUSD (whatever their backgrounds) that going here are a “social experiment”, we are “trying to defend bad schools”, OUSD parents are “sending your kids to a bad school”, an OUSD school whose scores are as high as Piedmont & Orinda is “not superior”, etc.

    & since you “don’t believe the API scores at any OUSD schools” and “do *not* believe student achievement in OUSD is actually increasing”, when state wide evaluations show your opinions are factually wrong, since you don’t go to OUSD & you don’t know why anybody would even live here, I must ask:

    Why are you here trying to deter us from our hard work, and our search for solutions? &, when we have demonstrated proof that some things are going well, why do you try to convince us we are wrong? & some of our best schools are (again, proven false) “just average”?

    Why are you even commenting here?

  • livegreen

    Back to the subject in this thread, School Closures, I think Peter has some good points in #82:
    -If Santa Fe is being closed, since it is near Sankofa, that makes more sense to me now IF the two are being merged. I am curious about why it’s Sankofa, but my overall concerns are potentially mitigated;
    -If OUSD used some Bond funds to fix up Santa Fe’s playground, and knowing that it takes some time to put such projects and spending into place, I’m guessing OUSD did this before they started figuring which schools would be closed. Can somebody at OUSD explain that?

    Either way, both Facilities Bond spending AND school closures need to be folded into the coordination and umbrella of the Strategic Plan to make sense.

    -Like Peter asks, but put in a slightly different way: will Sankofa have space to both absorb Santa Fe’s population AND go K-8?

  • Anon

    @Nextset, believe me, no kid is getting into this particular school who is not equipped to thrive there. (And plenty of kids are not getting in who would also thrive there, because there’s simply not room for them all.) But to disregard strong applicants solely because they attended mid- or low-performing public schools is as ridiculous as admitting students solely because they attended private schools or high-performing public schools. Neither practice serves students well. That’s not to say the school admits students it does not feel confident will succeed—graduation rates and admissions to graduate programs are important measures for all colleges. But the point is that schools are looking at the entire student—not just at grades and scores, which can be context-specific.

    This is one reason that, as an interviewer, I don’t see the application at all to make sure that I don’t assume a student is a particularly strong or weak academic candidate. I evaluate on the same criteria for every student, but how they meet these criteria can vary based on their unique experiences. For instance, two students might be interested in medicine. One might have taken his private school’s AP biology and chemistry classes and volunteered for a summer in a clinic in India because he was in a fortunate position to do so. Another might not have been financially able to do this and might have been at a school with no advanced classes, but he took everything that was offered and then signed up for a class at Cal and got a part-time job at the hospital near his home so he’d be exposed to the field. [Both real-world examples of private and public school Oakland applicants, though details/interests changed.] Both are completely valid ways to express an interest based on opportunities available, both students came across as very compelling applicants, and both received very strong reviews because they were articulate and passionate about how and why they had pursued their goals and how they wanted to continue to follow these interests through the programs at this particular college. In contrast, there are always the kids who are interested in medicine (or whatever) but cannot tell me how this has affected their high school experience or choice of classes/activities one whit, or how or if their interest is going to fit into the offerings at the college (please, do *not* ask the interviewer whether the college even offers the major you say you desperately want to pursue!) There are applicants like this from both public and private schools, so don’t kid yourself that this is unique to students from low-performing public schools.

    Incidentally, in my personal experience (which represents only a very small snapshot of the set of kids who’ve applied in the last decade, so purely anecdotal), the demographics of the students I’ve interviewed have actually been the reverse of what you might expect given the demographics of the schools involved—more of the public school students have been white, whereas more of the private school students have been students of color. Surprised me too–go figure!

  • Oakland Teacher

    Sankofa was originally a K-8 model, and the middle school was closed in 2007 for a multitude of reasons. It is interesting that we are know keeping a school open/not putting it on the closure list because it is going to be reincarnated as a K-8. Does that K-8 criteria trump all of the other criteria for closing schools, even if there are few neighborhood kids and poor test scores?

    It does seem like we are in an endless cycle of every educational trend to come out: large year-round, small, back to large, K-6, then K-5, some schools fighting to stay K-8, open small schools, grow small schools into bigger small schools, now having K-8 be all that keeps a school from being closed.

    Our school district is a model for constantly reinventing itself, and the effect/history is fascinating from an anthropological perspective.

    Not so great for the students and the neighborhoods though.

  • Fletch

    Livegreen –

    I actually appreciate your comments. The only reason I sort of care is the value of my home. Beyond that, I don’t care, since my kids will never go to an OUSD school.

    I also don’t really care about API scores. All they show (assuming no cheating) is that a kid can do some trivially basic reading and math. I want much more for my kids.

    The only other thing I’d mention is that, for OUSD, the problem starts at the top, not the bottom. So, your exhortations to fix things at the grass roots are well intentioned but won’t help.

    I really appreciate how you and everyone else has studiously ignored my call for a magnet school. I know why you ignore it. It’s because you know that would actually require action from the OUSD bureaucracy. And, you know that will never happen. So, I think we actually agree.

  • Fletch

    Anon –

    Maybe you should head over to Cal and sit in on a senior level class in the following majors:

    Physics, Math, Computer Science, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering.

    Then report back on the demographics of those classes.

    I’ve done this. It’s 95% white and Asian.

  • Gordon Danning


    I don’t know why people say that the problem is “at the top” — individual teachers have a LOT of say over what happens in the classroom, so if things are not as they should be, the problem is more likely to be at the bottom than at the top.

    PS: I don’t care about API either, but it isn’t really about basic math and reading; the lions’ share of the API is based on the CST, which in high school tests kids re: the math and science level in which they are currently enrolled. See eg http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/documents/cstrtqalgebra2.pdf and http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/documents/cstrtqbiology.pdf

  • Anon

    @Fletch, I believe the number of Black and Latino students at Cal is only 10 or 15 percent of the total student body, so those numbers aren’t surprising. That’s true of most private liberal arts colleges, too. (You’ll also find that the majority of students in those classes are male.) That’s one of the reasons there’s a focus on STEM initiatives nationally—to increase the participation of all students, but especially underrepresented groups like women and people of color, in these fields. My point was just that you can’t assume, as Nextset seemed to be, that high-performing students at public schools are black and high-performing students at private schools are white, since it doesn’t always hold true.

  • Fletch

    Will someone just humor me and say *something* about why there is no magnet middle or high school in Oakland?

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    “Magnet” schools are just schools that may have a specialized area of instruction to attract people from outside their normal boundaries. Oakland School of the Arts, the STEM schools, Fremont High’s Media program are “magnets”. I don’t hear people using that term anymore.

  • livegreen

    It’s interesting that people are willing to use the API’s to demonstrate how good Piedmont & LamOrinda schools are, but when it comes to Oakland’s schools the API’s don’t mean a thing.

    As for the claim that I’m making exhortations to fix things at the grass roots, that’s definitely part of it. But I also think OUSD’s emphasis on quality neighborhood-community schools in the Strategic Plan stands a chance of making things work for everyone. OUSD encompasses many many different populations, and must make this work for everyone. A very tricky thing that, recently at least, OUSD has actually improved it’s balancing act on.

    Re. magnet schools, they serve a very small population. They disenfranchise all the other middle class & wealthy families when (surprise, surprise) their kids don’t get in. Especially if there’s nothing else than that. Instead it’s much much better to improve the whole school, for the majority of children and families. That way rather than everybody being at war, everybody’s working together.

    The school our kids go to is not as high scoring as Thornhill. It is more diverse, the kids are thriving, all the kids scores are going up, we’ve had several neighborhood families come back from catholic and private schools (Park Day, Corpus Christi, Redwood Day, St. Paul’s, etc.), and some populations scores are higher than the averages at Thornhill, Piedmont, Orinda, etc., etc.

    Maybe this is the balance that MLK was looking for. Maybe it wasn’t the all white before busing, or all the all black after busing, but the in between he was looking for. It’s just it took a little longer for it to be achieved…and a little longer for the white families to realize not all the black families were the gang bangers, the “disruptive” kids, but instead plenty of middle class, upper middle class, and wealthy black families that were already at neighborhood schools when the white families came back.

    Now it’s on to the Middle Schools. The same questions linger there: are the lower scores because suddenly the minority kids who go there are disruptive?

    Or is it because there’s a collective fear from the white families that, when they go there, turns out to be just as unjustified, just as normal, just as above average, just as superior as was their Elementary School experience.

    And as were the minority families they were there with.