Does school relocation = closure?

Staff Photojournalist

Speaker after speaker, parents who came to an Oakland school board committee meeting this evening delivered this message: Kaiser Elementary School is a place where children and families who don’t fit into neat little boxes can be safe and accepted — and thrive, academically. That it’s an option for families across the city (those who manage to get in) who don’t consider their neighborhood school to be a good place for their kids.

The official school closure recommendations don’t come out until Friday, but Kaiser appeared on an early list for possible consideration. And comments made by two school board members on the committee, Jody London and Alice Spearman, seemed to suggest that the school was unlikely to remain open, even though it’s filled to capacity and financially “in the black” — in large part, because it’s not a neighborhood school.

Ninety percent of the kids who go to Kaiser travel from outside the attendance boundaries, and the criteria for school closure places a great emphasis on neighborhood schools and densely populated areas with the most need for a school.

“What I am interested in doing is preserving your program and moving it into another area of town…” board member Jody London told the group. She suggested that they talk to the principal at Emerson Elementary, a school in North Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood that is under enrolled, but she didn’t complete her thought. The parents did not take the idea well.

What do you think about the idea of moving a school from one location to another (where another school already exists)? Where has it happened successfully? What would it take to make it work?

Note: I tried to embed the video of the board members’ comments, but I’m not sure it worked. Let me know!

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Katy Murphy

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

  • ann whidden

    Moving the school is closing the school. There would be no guarantees that we could keep our principal or our teachers because of seniority within OUSD. Emerson has very limited afterschool care, which would be a huge issue for many working families, and there isn’t the culture of support around LGBT famlies. I know of at least one transfer from Emerson to Kaiser in the last two years because of family safety issues related to LGBT. Whatever the site, it is reasonable to expect that many families would be wary and not willing to believe that OUSD would ‘make it right’ for families in the transition, and would choose a different plan for their families. If they see the value in keeping Kaiser, then they should keep Kaiser.

  • Kris

    This is heartbreaking and so indicative of the idiocy of the OUSD school board. Kaiser has relatively high test scores, demographics that are very representative of Oakland, excellent achievement by African-American students, and one of the highest parent approval ratings in the OUSD. It is the ONLY school in then entire OUSD that is actively and openly welcoming of LGBT families. As far as I can tell, the board wants to favor their ‘small school’ pet projects which are failing, and in order to do so they need to get rid of schools that are doing their job.

    Here’s the real deal. Kaiser’s test scores don’t quite match those of the other ‘hill schools’, so it’s an easy target. Most of the hill schools have a relatively wealthy and entitled parent base, so the school board wouldn’t dare threaten them. Kaiser is small and diverse. Many/most of Kaiser’s students would be in ‘flatland’ schools, but their parents have chosen Kaiser. But in many people’s minds, Kaiser is a ‘hill school’. The main criteria that the school board is using is whether a school has a significant population from its neighborhood. Kaiser doesn’t. It’s the school of choice for many families that don’t have a good option. Many of Kaiser’s parents drive their kids across Oakland to get to school. You don’t see that kind of commitment at Joaquin Miller, Thornhill, Hillcrest, Montclair, or other ‘hill schools’. At those schools, the neighborhood parents have taken over and successfully gentrified their OUSD school to the point that the OUSD pretty much doesn’t touch them. Kaiser isn’t gentrified, so Kaiser is a target.

  • J.R.

    You are absolutely correct, downsizing staff is a big money saver(that’s the idea). You are also right that seniority is going to play havoc with the school communities that have been nurtured, especially the successful ones. Parents are about to get a firsthand look at heavy-handed union mandated rules, and their effect on the communities they are supposed to be serving. I would advise all you concerned parents and taxpayers to watch the union situation unfold closely, this is going to be an eye opener and a reality check. You are going to have teachers being bumped around and it’s going to cause a chain reaction. It has happened in another district and parents were so absolutely livid that the super ordered the next year everyone was to stay put(no more bouncing around).

  • Seenitbefore

    Kaiser Elementary is hands down the best school community in OUSD! The students, families, teachers, staff and administrators, both PAST and PRESENT represent what a community of “the BEST of Oakland diversity” is supposed to be about.

    ALL families are honored and respected. ALL students are welcome and included. I began my association with Kaiser in 2002 and there are NO serious or notable discipline problems on the campus that I can recall hearing about in the past 9 years. Our students excel and work together to achieve. Our parents volunteer regularly and are in classrooms and participating in the school community on a regular basis, despite having to drive all over town to get to “their school (of choice)”. Our teachers work together and know ALL the families and the students. It doesn’t matter who the Principal is or which teachers have come and gone….. the COMMUNITY of Kaiser Elementary School simply welcomes the new..and keeps including the old… and remains unified and successful in providing the highest levels of public education to students and families who most likely could not afford a private school and would otherwise be forced into lower performing OUSD schools.

    So, of course….. OUSD will again try to fix what is NOT broken…. and probably destroy our school and devastate the lives of 270 kids who are not fortunate enough to live in the Kaiser neighborhood. Shame on the Board members who vote to close this school. I trust that wise Oaklanders will demonstrate their disapproval by voting out of office, any OUSD Board member who votes to close Kaiser Elementary School.

  • http://monteskewed.blogspot.com/ Monte McClain

    I find it difficult to believe, let alone understand, Board Member London’s and Spearman’s comments. If they, and other board members, are in fact interested in preserving the Kaiser school program and moving it into another area of town, why haven’t they visited Kaiser School or approached the PTA to try to organize people in that way. Closing the school isn’t moving the school, it’s killing the school.

    Obviously as a parent, invested in the community at Kaiser, I don’t want to see the school closed. I am not objective. I can’t be. Yet the Board seems to be inconsistent in expecting people to trust them, in terms of transferring programs from a succeeding school with a wait-list to an under-enrolled one, just because the board votes to close Kaiser.

    I would expect that there are no “guarantees” in terms of moving faculty and programs from Kaiser to another site, Emerson for example as cited in Ms. London’s comments. How then can the Board members expect that people will simply follow their lead?

    I want good things for Oakland. I understand that there isn’t enough money to fund everything. I understand that some schools have to be closed. I understand that I am relatively privileged. What I don’t understand is how the school board vote can expect me to trust that they will preserve the program at Kaiser which my family – and many others – have supported with numerous volunteer hours, money and relationships. Who’s to say that should the Kaiser community “move” to Emerson, that next year, with undoubtedly more budget cuts to come, they won’t close that school too?

    Kaiser is a model school community of collaboration between students-parents & teachers in a large highly dysfunctional city that I love. If it is that easy to transfer the model from one school to the next, why hasn’t the district done it before?

    I can’t afford to flee to Piedmont or Orinda or a private school. I am proud to be part of OUSD and yet I feel as if my school district is dishonest with me; asking my family indirectly to sacrifice a school program we’ve helped to develop in order for us – and many others – to go and build up another struggling one elsewhere in the city because the district has failed to develop other successful school sites. We repeatedly seem to wonder why people of all ethnicities, socioeconomic levels and families structures flee Oakland and OUSD and yet closing or “moving” (as Ms. London might call it) a successful, multi-racial, funded school merely fans the fan of flight from OUSD to private, charter and other school districts.

    If the Board is hopeful that Kaiser school – or other similar communities – will move to other school sites, then they should do more than simply encourage desperate families to contact the principal to ask for permission. The Board should actively be facilitating such creative restructuring. The district should intervene and pave the way for new solutions to familiar problems. Otherwise it seems like empty promises and unrealistic visions, which will only serve to increase the private school attendance at the expense of continued decreasing of the OUSD attendance population. I struggle to see how this closure is good for OUSD and Oakland in the long term.

  • Seenitbefore

    @ J.R. I am a union member as are all of the teachers at Kaiser Elementary. Please do not use OUR school and our students’ financial hardship of not being able to afford to live close to their school of choice as a platform for your union bashing diatribes. This is about our kids and their right to the highest quality public education that we can offer them. This is not about YOU.

  • Kaisermamaof1

    Relocation is not equal to duplication under any circumstance. The plan as set forth presently provides no guidelines, nor guarantees, that parents would find an equally high –achieving program in a new location. Any merger would automatically lower our API scores and it would take years to bring them back up, effectively taking our children and making them “the experiment”. The plan provides no guide-lines of how a move of Kaiser would “spread” our success, without our faculty nor our principal, both critical linchpins what makes Kaiser a success story. The plan provides no details on how our hard-working two-income parent community will be supported with adequate before and after-school care, enrichment programs, and inclusion of curricula that at Kaiser are for everyone not just who can afford it, and that OUSD does not provide.

    And, frankly, I’m getting sick and tired, of the conversation being framed and re-framed by this self-serving board with covert allusions of “elitism” and “shame on us” for being neighborhood parents/kids. By taking these positions they are not only perpetuating the stereotypes they purport to want to eradicate but, are doing a disservice to their constituents, who, despite any help from OUSD, have managed to provide a financially viable, safe, highly challenging, diverse and tolerant environment for all students, and are not being adequately represented. And really, someone please answer me why can’t any child from any part of Oakland come to a school in the hills? Why not? We have 285 students that do that every day, regardless of where they live.

    The reality is that OUSD agreed to take moneys from the Gates Foundation in the early 2000s, split up a number of schools that were under performing and increased the number of schools for the district without a clear plan on how to sustain the increase in capacity. Throughout this Kaiser has been in its location for over 40 years, never burdening OUSD or running a deficit, and providing the quality educational choice that parents have been searching for and demanding. The present strategic plan for the district takes a model from Harlem and “plunks it” in Oakland. It is a model that will fail, and no transference of physical location is going to maintain the success that is Kaiser at a different location. The model is flawed when applied to Oakland, and it will inevitably deepen the divisions of race, financial status and gender identity, by creating small “enclaves” of like-minded parents. Isn’t this what we want to remove!

    Kaiser is the “sacrificial lamb” because of where it’s located, and only that reason. Which, begs the question: for all of the constituents in Ms. London’s District 1 should be asking themselves: how much money has the OUSD estimated the land’s value of the school property to be? And, what is she getting out this? And is this why she’s so intent on eliminating a successful school? What other schools in her district will be on the list next year? And what other public office is she planning to attain?

    This is about dollars for land not about success and achievement or walking distance from school or misperceived lack of community.

    Shame on the OUSD for being misleading, unprepared, uninformed, unreceptive, and perpetuating the stereotypes and social divisions in Oakland that this school has worked so hard and managed so well to eliminate within it’s class-rooms walls.

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    You stated in the article that the official school closure recommendations come out of Friday. That is certainly news to me! The group who came and spoke to Santa Fe staff said nothing would be decided until after the September 27th meeting.

    I am pleased that Jody London met with Kaiser parents and staff, but where is the equity when all other schools on the initial closure list are not invited to speak about their particular concerns?

    I hope it’s not too late, on September 27th, to remind the board that Sankofa falls between Santa Fe and Peralta geographically. Sankofa tried and failed to be a K-8 school, so why would it succeed now when it was closed down in 2007?

    Is Claremont really on the closure list? If so, there will be several schools who will need to go K-8 to absorb their 400+ students. If Claremont remains open, is it reasonable to encourage Sankofa to go K-8 and syphon off middle school students from Claremont?

    As mentioned on another thread, Santa Fe has a newly renovated yard and fencing ($700,000 of taxpayer dollars going to a new charter site?), a newly stocked computer lab, and a heater/boiler system that was overhauled just last year. Wouldn’t a superior site, in a better geographical location, be a better choice?

    Moving Sankofa’s staff to Santa Fe, instead of the current reverse proposal, would not mean closure for Sankofa. It would be transplanting their vital group to a better physical location. Should a flawed criteria for closure supplant the obvious better choice?

  • Kaiser Mom

    Ms. London seemed bound and determined to close our school! Thats some representation. I’m sure she’s entertained the fantasy of re-creating what Kaiser does in the flats of North Oakland. Who can blame her after watching the success of Peralta which was once struggling (and is full of kids from within the Emerson boundries, btw).

    She and Ms. Spearman know they can’t simply pick us up and move us five miles away. Its too far probably half our school and we would lose too many teachers. What she and members of the board who have seemingly already decided want is to not only close the school, but to MAKE MONEY off its closure. They want to lease the site or sell it. This has been said now a few times.

    But would they really be making enough money to justify the closure? So many families at Kaiser willl simple leave OUSD. So many families would not enter OUSD without this OPTION. Over a couple of decades, thats several thousand children lost from the district. Aren’t they trying to prevent that?

    So what if Kaiser is a small school? It costs the district less money per child than many, many much larger schools. They have several small schools that share campuses and yet have more administration PER SCHOOL than any of the high performing schools. And they are not performing well! All that top heavy administration isn’t working. Why not consolidate a few schools that are shariing the same campus? Far less disruptive for those families—they would have the same campus, same teachers, just ONE office.

  • Trish Gorham

    A recommendation to close Kaiser will become one more public relations nightmare for OUSD and Oakland. Often, Oakland and OUSD are the unfair objects of derision by those that have neither care nor understanding about either. Not this time. A decision to close a financially stable, full capacity, high performing, multi-cultural, LGBT welcoming, safe, OUSD school of choice should, and will, be met with utter astonishment and outrage by any logical thinking person. Kaiser exemplifies all that is best about Oakland. The fact that it would be sacrificed because of a formula that ONLY takes into account the distance most of our families live from the school and subjugates all the above factors is incomprehensible.

    Success can be a delicate balance, a product of many factors, independent of each other and interdependent with each other. Which part of the mix is crucial? Which would not be transferable? It’s really impossible to say, isn’t it?

    So the real question is: Why has OUSD decided it is crucial to their Strategic Plan to mess with success?

  • A. de Jong

    A successful program like the one at Kaiser School should be emulated not shut down. It takes years to build a thriving educational community. This, again, sheds an unfavorable light on the districts ability to attend to important details rather than global “criteria”. We are a performing school of nearly 300 students. We enroll to capacity and come out “in the black” every year. We are a truly diverse school. We are a progressive school that provides a haven for the LGBT community and gender variant children. Closing down Kaiser will come at a great cost. And it WILL NOT be a savings to the district. According to figures provided by OUSD at a recent meeting, if 80 students left AND THEY WILL LEAVE that would negate any savings to OUSD from closing our site. If students leave, that means teachers would be shut out. Relocation is just another word
    for closure.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Kaiser is the sacrificial lamb on the closure list. It is the only hill school, allowing the decision makers to deflect outcries of closing only flatland schools.

    Question: Since opening all the small schools is partly what got us into this mess, why are none of those schools being closed (with of course the exception of Manzanita Community, which is being slashed under the guise of folding into Seed)? Instead those small schools (under-enrolled) are being given the chance to switch to a K-8 model, and are not even on the list. #7 mentions Sankofa becoming the site that displaced Claremont students would enroll. Anyone who has been around for a while knows that successful K-8’s are grown, and not formed instantaneously by shifting one school population into another school. When Carter was closed, those students were shifted to Sankofa. It was a disaster, and lasted only two years before OUSD put everyone out of their misery and turned it back into K-5. Sweeping “reforms” are part of OUSD’s sad history, with the kids being the victims.

    OUSD used to have a mainly neighborhood school policy, followed by magnets opening in some under-enrolled schools. Then we went to opening dozens of small schools, and instituted a more open enrollment “options” approach. Now we are penalizing a school who has successfully blended all of the edicts over many years, and offers a quality education to kids across the city, saying “You are not filled with neighborhood children, and have to be closed.”

    While I have very mixed feelings about closing schools, the criteria that are being used make no sense. Schools that are doing well and have decent enrollment should not be closed. Just because a school is willing to go to a K-8 should not excempt it from the closure list. How many back-room deals were brokered on this?

  • Oakland Teacher

    Oops, exempt not excempt in #9. My new keyboard and I haven’t quite gotten in synch.

  • J.R.

    Oh the irony, rather this is not about YOU, this is about the kids. Adults are not the primary concern, and kids are why schools exist not the adults. As I said parents are about see union politics in action,rather than just hear union rhetoric. Believe what people do and not necessarily what they say, we will see and find out where priorities are.

  • Katy Murphy

    Here’s the timeline: The superintendent’s recommendations are supposed to be released sometime on Friday. They will be presented to the school board at the Sept. 27 meeting (this coming Tuesday). And on Oct. 26, the board is expected to make a decision about school closures/mergers/restructuring.

  • C.B.

    Be careful in blaming unions for being “heavy-handed”. While it is true that some Union mandates are counter-productive, particularly those relative to seniority, it is the collective bargaining power of this same union that allows talented teachers to make even an average income. Without it Kaiser would likely not be the school it is. The bottom line; OUSD alone is responsible.

  • Jenna

    Emerson is making progress. More and more parents are getting involved. HOWEVER, there are so many behavior issues with the students at the school.

    For Ms. London, or others who think combining the schools and the students is a good idea, I STRONGLY suggest that person visit both schools while students are on the playground. The parents who send their students to Kaiser would not tolerate the roughness and behavior that is routine on the Emerson campus. The parents would simply move their children out of the district.

    To the families at Emerson that are working to make a difference: You are making a difference! The students are better behaved than in previous years. Please keep it up. This is an example of where a school needs to remain on the smaller side for a while until the behavior limits can be established.

    I have witnessed first grade students punching each other in the face with a fist for “messin'” with them.

    I have watched fourth and fifth grade students wait for other students just outside the school fence boundaries to beat them up and steal their money and their iPods. Yes, I did report what I saw to the police and to the school.

    This is simply not the behavior we see in Kaiser students – this is not a color or ethnicity issue. This is an issue of a school culture. Emerson is working to change theirs – Kaiser has done the hard work and it shows because their culture has already changed.

  • Gail

    What if, rather than “merging” with another school, Kaiser were picked up lock stock & barrel–principal, teachers, other staff, students–and moved to the site of another school on the closure list that could accommodate a modestly larger number of students and be closer to being a “neighborhood” school? Wouldn’t that allow the school’s positive aspects to continue while being available to students in that neighborhood who might not have any way to get to Kaiser’s current location? Is there any reason that couldn’t be done?

  • Maggie Hunter

    The Oakland School Board is sending a strong message to families of color in Oakland: you don’t belong in the Oakland hills. How many top-performing schools in Oakland reflect the city’s actual demographics (30% African American, 20% Latino, 25% white, 15% Asian)? ONE: Kaiser Elementary. The other top performing elementary schools are disproportionately white and disproportionately upper middle class. Kaiser Elementary school demonstrates that racial and economic diversity go hand in hand with high achievment. Why in the world would OUSD close the school that best demonstrates equity and achievement?

    There is no such thing as “relocation.” Relocation means closing Kaiser, losing teachers, the principal, the family community, and the school culture.

  • A Hills School Mom

    I am so dismayed as I read this thread. If I was a Kaiser parent I would be frightened and livid. I hope that Kaiser is not on the final list of schools to be closed. The Kaiser community has come together to build a thriving school. Its success should be celebrated not snuffed out.

  • J.R.

    Although OUSD may be foolhardy and inept(look at the track record), there is no way that anyone can seriously state that they are solely responsible for the long list of problems(parental apathy is a big problem).The Unions do plenty of damage to the “state constitutionally given” rights of students to have a quality education.Here is a brief synopsis of the case and the judges ruling.

    “The Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to a settlement that halted seniority-based layoffs at dozens of vulnerable schools, including the plaintiffs’. The local teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which the court had ordered to join the suit as a co-defendant, rejected this resolution as a violation of the union contract. But the court wrote, in its approval of the settlement, that “[u]nder no circumstances can [the school district] bargain away students’ constitutional rights.” In mid-August, the union filed an appeal”.

    The union should not even be able to insist that students rights may be infringed. We the taxpayers are not supposed to be financing a jobs system, but rather an educational system.

  • J.R.

    “it is the collective bargaining power of this same union that allows talented teachers to make even an average income”.

    This is a contradictory fallacy, because of step and column every teacher(regardless of merit or ability)is awarded increases so that pay and benefits are very heavy on the back end, and in the case of OUSD(too many schools equal too many teachers)thus requiring the cuts of LIFO. As we are seeing now, cutting junior teacher won’t be enough(school closures are testament in part due to this,but of course nobody raises this issue) because the cost of pay and benefits for the top most senior and admin are increasing geometrically. We are in a unsustainable position, and it is going to get even worse(the people that make the big money are also the people that make the decisions, and they will never fire themselves)just the same as the honchos in the union.

  • J.R.

    To focus more on the point, Oakland teacher beginning pay is dismal which lowers(mathematically)the computed average teachers salary. The truth is we couldn’t even begin to pay beginning teacher more because all the money is on the other end. It’s just a game with the numbers, and the kids and their taxpayer parents are losing.

  • J.R.

    My apologies for the thread jack(although it is related), but I had to respond to C.B.

    Back to the thread:
    My heart goes out to the parents/students of Kaiser who are being placed upon the PC altar, about to be sacrificed to the false god of equity. You’ve done a great job but that apparently doe’s not matter at all.Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

  • Kaiser Mom


    That’s good news! I think Emerson has the potential to be a great school. It has so many advantages already where it is located with Studio One and the pool across the street. I wonder if a student to student Big Sister/Brother program could be implemented with students from Tech?

    So tell me, how would the staff at Emerson feel about having a bunch of their staff removed and replaced by Kaiser teachers and other displaced teachers from across the city? How would you like a bunch of displaced–and traumatized—children from Kaiser and from other closed schools? Sounds like OUSD is offering Emerson and the district petri dish. Won’t it disrupt all the improvements and strides toward success the students and staff at Emerson have made?

    Why schools that have shown NO improvement year after year and have empty classrooms near other like schools are exempt makes no sense.

  • Kaiser Mom


    Where? It may not seem like it, but Kaiser is ideally located to serve the neighborhoods that do not have a high-performing, neighborhood school. People who live far down 580 come on 13. People from the flats and West Oakland come on 24. People in North Oakland drive up Broadway and hop over the freeway to go up the hll. For the most part, the access is not bad. There is usually no freeway traffic at all for pick up. It is actually very well located on a clean, well cared for plot of land with a 3 bridge view (which we all wish wasn’t there so they’d leave us alone!).

    There is no freeway access near Emerson or the site that Sankofa sits on. All the families (about half the school) down 580 would have their commutes more than double. It’s not feasible.

    So even in a perfect world of picking us ALL up (including our stellar after-school program run by Suzanne Plunkett and a staff that is phenomenal in their dedication) isn’t feasible because of how the school was encouraged by OUSD to be enrolled for the last 20 years.

    Why can it not be OK to have some neighborhood schools and some schools that are magnet/commuter schools? Why would it EVER be ok to close a high-performing school? Even after the fire, they let Kaiser stay open.

  • OUSD Parent

    Over a dozen years ago, wasn’t Kaiser considered to be a magnet school? When did that change? It seems really ludicrous to me to shut down successful schools that are operating at capacity. Also ludicrous is to shut down successful schools that have a waiting list and could be operating at capacity like Manzanita. It makes more sense to try to replicate their successes at other sites instead of thinking that the whole population could be transferred. It seems like OUSD is again shooting itself in the foot. . . .

    It scares me to think OUSD is considering 6-12 schools. Developmentally, the difference between 6th and 8th graders is huge, as is the difference between 9th and 12th graders. To me, K-8 makes more sense, as long as 6-8 or 7-8 is somewhat segregated from the younger kids.

  • Gail

    Kaiser Mom,

    I don’t know where; I just know that since several schools have to be closed there will be empty sites. I’m not advocating this; I’m just asking why it wouldn’t be a possible solution. Kaiser’s location, confirmed by your description of how students get there, does make it pretty clear that for students whose families don’t have cars the school isn’t an option. It still seems to me that moving Kaiser as a whole to a different site could accomplish 2 positive things: keeping a successful school community together and making a good school available to more students.

    Again, maybe there are reasons that wouldn’t work. I don’t know; that’s why I posed the question. But there’s no question OUSD has to close schools and figuring out how to do it in a way that causes the least harm is devastatingly hard. I encourage everyone not to refer to school board members as idiots unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

  • Kris

    Emerson is located in the Temescal area, a neighborhood which is dominated by upper-middle class, mostly white families. The vast majority of the families in that neighborhood send their children elsewhere, and thus Emerson is not a ‘neighborhood school’ either. In the best scenario, if Kaiser and Emerson were to merge and Emerson became successful, people in that neighborhood would start sending their children there and the school’s demographics would start to resemble the ‘hill schools’ and African-American students would once again be pushed out of a successful school. In the worst scenario, the violence on the playground (which I have witnessed first-hand and can confirm exists) and uninvolved parents would drive Kaiser families away to other schools. Who loses? Lower-income students.

    Alice Spearman’s district includes schools like Acorn-Woodland. You would be blown away at how much money has been poured into that school. A beautiful building, computers, brand new books, special programs, plenty of supplies. The results? Minimal gains.

    I guess Ms. Spearman and Ms. London’s philosophy is if it ain’t broke, fix it until it is.

  • Katy Murphy

    To your point about Acorn Woodland: The school’s API is 843 out of 1,000 — up 36 points from the year before (and 42 points below Kaiser’s).

    About 72 percent of the students at Woodland are English learners, and 90 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

  • Kris

    Fair enough…I haven’t worked there for a while and should have researched before spouting off an opinion. The API was 668 in 2005, so obviously big changes have occurred. I also see that their African-American enrollment has dropped from 24.3% to 12.5%.

    Do you have information about or links to individual school budgets? I’m curious about which school are in the black.

  • Kaiser Parent


    Again it would not work for Kaiser families because:

    Emerson is not large enough to absorb even half of Kaiser families and the population it already has. The only proposals made so far has been Emerson (and only in passing by London who represents both schools). This is probably because Sante Fe was dabbled and they realized that one of the main reasons Kaiser parents love their school is it is SAFE. And that means inside and out. Emerson is in a safe neighborhood, *lightbulb* how about there? Yeah, except you could only accommodate maybe half, half of whom would go for it, so that’s 60 kids you could get it in and how many of the 12 teachers? Between OUSD and OEAS, maybe 4? And goodbye to the after school program?

    2) For the 60 that are left, there just isn’t feasible access to Emerson for a large majority of folks that live down 580. It would add a substantial amount of time to their commute.

    And I’d like to point out, who walks their kids to school anyway? You know who? Stay at home parents. Even parents that live close to their schools drive…because they’re on their way to WORK. Obviously, public transportation to Kaiser would be a most welcome thing. Unfortunately, AC transit just cut the only line up there this year. A bus from the Bart station in Rockridge would be a most welcome thing. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where it is safe to put your young school child on any form of public transportation by themselves.

    If I lived near Emerson, I wouldn’t let my child walk there and no neighborhood has transformed more in Oakland than Temescal.

  • Karen Cohn

    Referencing the great series of articles by Scott Johnson in the Tribune (see oaklandeffect.com) about the effects of violence and trauma on Oakland’s young people really describes the heart of the differences between school cultures being discussed here. Families of all races and ethnicities are trying to protect their children from exposure to community violence, from having “fight or flight” experiences become normalized, which results in the brain adapting to those cues and young people becoming very reactive and not able to think through their responses. We need to offer the right support for the families stuck in the norm of living with community violence. Then we will not see this huge divide between schools where students, teachers and families can function and those where all three are struggling to be successful.

  • Gail

    Wow, I thought I’d made it quite clear that the question I posed had nothing to do with Emerson. My question was about moving Kaiser to the SITE OF A SCHOOL THAT’S ON THE CLOSURE LIST, which as far as I know does not include Emerson. If a lot of Kaiser students live “down 580,” Maxwell Park is “down 580″ and it’s on the initial list. Please don’t put words in my mouth; I never suggested Kaiser students move to Emerson but rather asked whether they might move to a school site scheduled for closure.

  • lisa Capuano Oler


    This is Crazy logic…you do not send your children to lower performing schools and hope That school does better. You keep HIGHER performing schools and send, or keep children there.

    Let us call it like it is. My money is on this scenario:
    Montes de Oca has a vested interest in charters.

    Close Lakeview and give it to a charter school called “Urban Montessori”.
    Close Burckhalter and give it to a charter called “Waldorf”.
    Kaiser…well I am still trying to figure out that one…but SOMEONE has something to gain , AND IT IS NOT THE CHILDREN OF OAKLAND.

    Shame on the school board if this goes through. Shame on Tony Smith.
    How will his African American Male Task Force be able to look people in the eye, how will Mr. Smith be able to EVER utter the word “Equity” again?

  • lisa Capuano Oler

    The criteria placing ANY emphasis on neighborhood schools for neighborhood kids goes against the way Oakland interpreted NCLB with “OPTIONS”. And now they want to PUNISH the people who utilized the option to go to another school.

    The Center on Education Policy is an advocacy group for Public Education. My guess is that no one would even suspect that Oakland Unified School District would be closing schools that are doing well and then moving them to lower performing schools. Contact these people and give it a shout.

    Center on Education Policy
    1001 Connecticut Avenue NW Suite 522
    Washington DC 20036
    Phone (202) 822-8065
    Fax (202) 822-6008

  • Kris

    @Gail According to the article above, Jody London mentioned Emerson. Just to clarify where that idea came from.

    @Lisa C Yes, it is crazy logic. I’m glad that came across in my post. I’m curious about this charter school connection. What is Montes do Oca?

  • lisa Capuano Oler

    David Montes de Oca. Coordinator, Office of Charter Schools at OUSD
    also the architect of the criteria used to close our schools.
    It was carefully crafted so that the schools left to close would be the schools needed for charters.
    They COULD NOT use the academic success criteria, or Achievement gap success as a criteria, because the schools that are not successful in those areas are not in neighborhoods the charters want their schools.
    Eliminate academic achievement and they can close down any schools they want.
    They are banking on no noise from parents.
    They are banking on no fuss from the school board.

    just sayin’

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    Thank you Lisa.
    They came to Santa Fe, took down all of our questions, responded obliquely to only a few, and we’ve heard nothing back from them.
    David Montes de Oca and crew also seemed surprised that we had not been provided with any parent letter, and promised one the next day.
    Well, we had our Back to School Night tonight, and our new principal wasn’t able to offer any information beyond what we have been discussing on this blog. Where is the transparency? Where is the equity? Where is the honest communication about motivations for the current criteria?
    I’ve been encouraged to not question the integrity of the architects of this debacle, but it becomes more and more difficult….

  • Steve Neat

    We, the teachers of Kaiser School, were shocked and saddened to see our school on a list generated by a set of criteria adopted by the OUSD school board. We understand that this list is an initial step in a process being implemented this year to close schools. Closing Kaiser School—one of the four most successful schools in the entire district as regards African American achievement—would be an egregious error that would harm our school district both fiscally and academically.

    Kaiser is a school where kids can be who they want to be. We are a welcoming environment for mixed race families, two-mom families, two-dad families, immigrant families—if you have a family that wants to be a part of an appreciative, accepting community then Kaiser is the school for you. A glance at our excellent ratings in the area of student safety on the “Use Your Voice” surveys from previous years will confirm this. Don’t tell the parents at Kaiser that we can close this school and offer them an equivalent program at another school because it isn’t true and they know it.

    Kaiser is a cost-effective school. Every year we get our ADA (Average Daily Attendance) money from the state and every year we finish in the black. OUSD implemented Results-Based Budgeting in 2003-2004, a program under which the central office keeps some of the money and then the school gets what it’s allowed to spend and the principal and School Site Council have to figure it out. It isn’t always easy but we have figured it out, unlike many other, larger schools that have had to be bailed out by OUSD. Since this is the case, how can we be labeled as not economical, or as too small to be cost-effective?

    Kaiser is a diverse school. Kaiser School’s student body breaks down as follows: 16% multi-racial, 35% African American, 27% White, 10% Latino, and 10% Asian. Kaiser shows what a truly diverse, integrated school can achieve. We are not a flatlands charter school that imposes militaristic discipline that no middle class parent would stand for. We’re not a hills school with token minority representation. We are a school that demonstrates what Oakland can achieve when all are included, when all are welcome.

    Kaiser is one of the top 4 African American public schools in Oakland. Only four schools have an African American student population over 33% and an African American API over 800. Kaiser School is one of them. Admirably, OUSD is trying to make the achievement of young African American men a priority. Keeping Kaiser School open would be one of the most effective ways to sustain African American male achievement in the short-term.

    We understand that the list that has been generated is only a preliminary list at this time. The criteria applied resulted in several surprising names (not only Kaiser’s) on the list for possible closure. We hope and we trust that the OUSD school board, upon your recommendation and with your support, will take another look at the criteria applied, and remove schools that have a proven track record of success from the list for possible closure.

    OUSD are now making pretty clear noises about moving our school rather than closing it. Unfortunately, this is neither practical nor acceptable. It is simply closure by another name. We would be combined with another school that would have their own strengths, weaknesses, program, staff, and their own set of things on which they are focusing. According to facts shared with the teachers by OUSD staff at a meeting after school yesterday, if 80 students left OUSD after Kaiser was closed or consolidated with another school, this would entirely offset any savings to the district. This is the worst kind of business-model school governance. It looks like it might make sense if you look at teachers, families and students as cogs and widgets, but we all know that a school is not a business, and neither is a school district.

  • Trish Gorham

    Katy, I have little hope of receiving any answers from OUSD. I believe you have the basis for a real investigative report. I hope you might ask some of these questions of OUSD staff and board members.

    The following questions and requests for information were submitted by the Kaiser Community to the Facilities Committee on September 20 in order to understand the objective, transparent process involved in closure recommendations. It is unlikely a rational decision can be made that does not take into account the following.

    What are the projected savings from each specific school site if closed?

    What is the school-by-school ranking of additional fiscal assistance given to school budgets by the district in 2010-2011? Where does Kaiser rank?

    What is the school-by school ranking of capacity vs. enrollment at each school? Where does Kaiser rank?

    What evaluation was made of the viability, practicality, and potential success of the “restructuring” plans of schools before they were removed from the list?

    Is there an estimate for the cost of potential lawsuits for the failure to protect children from bullying because of their parents or their own sexual identities?

    What is the actual census number of school age children in the attendance areas?

    What are the estimated costs involved in moving personnel and materials from closed schools to different locations?

    Why isn’t achievement and success part of the criteria at all?

    Why were Secondary Alternative Ed programs (at least 10 across the city) not considered for consolidation?

    Why were all the schools in West Oakland not considered? (Could not the STEM plan be put into action, despite the number of schools involved?).

    How was the criteria established? Upon what research was the criteria based?

    How did they translate research towards justifying the weight given to each of the six steps of the study?

    How was it determined that neighborhood schools are more important than successful, community schools?

    Was it considered how many families would be returned to neighborhood schools that are also on the closure list? (We have calculated the number at 25% for Kaiser families.)

  • Fletch

    Not to hijack this thread, but I had never seen these “Live/Go” maps before. Take a look at these two maps:



    Can someone explain this to me? I was told that Thornhill was literally 100% full, meaning that some neighborhood kids actually couldn’t get in. Meantime, I see that kids from down by the coliseum are attending Thorhill?

    The same does not appear to be the case for Hillcrest. Why do they get a pass?

    And, for a chuckle, take a look at the map for Montera:


    That last picture is literally an exact depiction of why my house value will never go up.

  • Katy Murphy

    Why is that picture a depiction of why your house value will never go up? Are you saying a school located in a nice area needs to be more exclusive to neighborhood families for that to happen?

  • Fletch

    Katy –

    I didn’t make the world. I just live in it.

    And yes. The evidence is Piedmont.

  • Tom Henke

    One of the key issues that is being ignored in this discussion is that Kaiser Elementary is essentially being punished by OUSD for being the most successful example of the possibilities of OUSD’s Options program.

    We came to Kaiser 7 years ago in the lottery because of the dismal failure or our local schools. OUSD had the previous year closed our truly awful neighborhood school, and we had been reassigned to the very underperforming Laurel Elementary. Because of Laurel’s designation as a Program Improvement school, we had a genuine option presented to us with the lottery. We found Kaiser somehow and encountered at that time an arts-focused, warm, child-centered environment. It was a school capable of accepting families into it precisely because it was remote and had a small neighborhood population. It had room to accommodate those who needed to be served under the Options program. Seven years later Laurel is still underperforming and still not somewhere I will be sending my second child if the closures go through.

    Like everyone at Kaiser, we fought hard for years to make the school work. Every day the travel to the school is a struggle that we all undertake willingly to have the opportunity to provide a better option for our kids. We volunteer for everything from classroom assistance, to weekend gardening, to working registration at fundraisers. When OUSD cuts the budget, we dig deep in our own pockets to keep the school functioning. We as a community and as a PTA pay for a music program for all upper graders, computer lab, library, and PE because we know that’s what makes for a rewarding environment for our children. We make the effort as a community to make this school work and OUSD apparently cannot see that as a model of success to be emulated or even preserved. Kaiser Elementary is the Options program in action, and it has worked.

  • AC Mom


    In the options process siblings of currently enrolled students have preference. Also, students who may have lived within the neighborhood boundary at one point sometimes move. It is my understanding, although it may be incorrect, that if you move you are not necessarily required to change school sites.

    BTW, your point about the need for a high-performing middle and high school program such as Lowell in SF, or Boston Latin, Bronx Science, etc. is well made, but given your comments about how much you dislike Oakland–why did you purchase a house there? Did your real estate agent lie to you, or were you hoping that Montclair would be annexed to Piedmont?

    To the Kaiser Families…keep on fighting.

  • Fletch

    AC –

    Regarding the Oakland/Piedmont thing, there are many reasons. Basically, I view the cost of private school as “worth it” because of the choices it gives me, and then I save money on the house.

    On Thornhill, I hear your point, but then why does Hillcrest not have the same situation? Does no one ever move out of the Hillcrest attendance area?

    Also, I kind of doubt people are moving from Montclair to some of the spots in that map.

    Anecdotally, I’ve heard stories of kids getting into Thornhill through corruption in OUSD. Who knows if this is true.

    Final point (not directed at AC Mom): I always think it’s funny that people suggest Piedmont as a way to escape OUSD. Frequently those are the same people that oppose magnets and care a lot about “diversity.” How come no one ever yells about the fact that Piedmont’s school system has basically no blacks?

  • Nextset

    Fletch: Why would anyone yell at the fact that “Piedmont … has basically no blacks?”

    Buying a house – or renting – In Piedmont involves the same cost/benefit analysis as getting a Plug In Prius. Personal appraisal of how the future will play out with the basic needs (in this case) of housing and education.

    First of all there are a limited number of blacks who make the stable income needed to service Piedmont residency. Piedmont residency is VERY expensive. For the same cash flow you get much more square feet in the relatively few good neighborhoods of Oakland.

    Those limited number of blacks would have to decide that the trade off in number of bedrooms, age of residence and parking spaces, etc they give up is worth the trade for the Piedmont Schools. In other words they’d have to have sufficient children and plans for their children (ie Ivy League schools) to make the proposed residence pay off. So that tends to exclude those high income blacks who have no or few children, or children not of school age. And if you do have say 3 or 4 or more children of school age and you’re black – you may tend to be in the lower income stages of your career.

    Again, demographics is destiny. The high earning blacks I know in the East Bay tend to have few children and working professional mothers. If you only have 1 child of school age, you just might use the money for a more handsome home in the better neighborhoods of Oakland and pay the cost for private school for your black child. Moreover, there are some such high earners who may not want to put their black child in a completely white environment – again this pushes them to private schools where they can pick and choose.

    The cost benefit analysis might change if the child is Black/Jewish mix for example. Mixed marriages could have a different dynamic of income, age of parents and related earning power at that stage, occupation and earnings (Jews make more) and future orientation (blacks are lees into that). And the choices go on.

    So you are not about to have any significant population of blacks in Piedmont, or buying Priuses. Too bad, so sad. But people always do what they want not what other people want them to do. There have been blacks in Piedmont – but not many and not in the middle of it. Too many demographic issues. The hard core of Piedmont are multi generational residents with family businesses and inherited wealth. Nowadays even they are moving to Danville and other parts through the tunnel. Are there any Knowlands left there?

    The Jewish families there used to be limited. Wonder what the German Jewish percentage of that school district is nowadays? Look at their demographics – family size, income and occupation.. This question is a no brainer.

    Piedmont and towns like it exist for a certain demographic. The other demographics and not about to spend their limited funds this way for reasons that make sense to them. Perhaps they prefer to have a bedroom for each child rather than bunkbed them so they can go to Piedmont Schools. Perhaps they aren’t worried about the academics because they have no illusions that their children will qualify or want to qualify for Ivy League.

    But there are blacks in Piedmont and in the schools. Just not many.

    Brave New World.

  • Kaiser Parent


    If you see this late response, I apologize for not noting you took Emerson off the table.

    The word is Maxwell Park is to merge with…I can’t remember and shouldn’t guess.

    But even if it didn’t, what about the others who come from North Oakland, West Oakland and the Hills neighborhood where Kaiser sits?

    You can’t pick up a student body and staff and plunk it somewhere else. Now, if OUSD has a bigger site somewhere near where we are already located, in an equally SAFE neighborhood (40 shots rang out 4 blocks from Sante Fe elementary in the middle of the day yesterday!) without the offering of a merge so we can keep our ENTIRE staff, then that would be something to consider.

    Can we please have a real kitchen and a place to eat that doesn’t double as the theater and the room for the after school program?

  • Fletch

    Nextset –

    Good commentary, but I think you missed my point. My point is that I think it’s humorous that the equal-rights crowd doesn’t get up in arms about the fact that Piedmont gets its own segregated school system in the middle of Oakland.

    This comes because of a historical boundary. But so did segregation. Why the respect for the Piedmont-Oakland boundary when it creates such obvious inequity?