Lazear parents: Close our school, and we’ll open a charter

Staff PhotojournalistThe families at East Oakland’s Lazear Elementary School have come to a decision, says parent leader Olga Galaviz Gonzalez: If the Oakland school board votes to close it next year, as Superintendent Tony Smith has recommended, they will try to reopen it as a public, independently-run charter school.

“We’ve been working on it,” Gonzalez said about the charter school petition.

Lazear’s school board representative, Noel Gallo, says he opposes the closure and that he is no longer interested in selling the property. He says that if the board votes to close the school on Oct. 26, he would support the charter petition.

I wrote about Lazear in the spring of 2010, when the parents went out on strike, unhappy with the principal and one teacher in particular. I revisited the school a year later — in April –and found a much happier, academically-focused place.

Now, Lazear is on a list of five elementary schools slated for closure, along with Lakeview, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. Its state test scores, though lower than neighboring schools, rose 27 points to 714.

“That school has turned around, and now we want to close it,” Gallo said.

Lazear’s enrollment on the 20th day of school was 248, though it might have been higher without district interference, Gallo said. The school board trustee said the student assignment office directed some families to other schools at the beginning of the school year, saying Lazear was about to close or that it was full.

“They were being told, `Lazear isn’t taking more kids,'” he said.

I’ve heard of this happening before, at other schools being considered for closure.

From a news release Lazear parents sent out today:

…Lazear in particular has been an ugly stepchild of the
District and during the past ten years the parents have had to go on
strike twice due to problems at the school, which the District chose
to ignore.

Now the District wants to close Lazear, but parents are still fighting
for their beloved school. Tonight parents will run this meeting and
the District can choose to support this school or Lazear will go

The school board discusses the issue Wednesday night at a 5 p.m. meeting to be held in the Castlemont High School auditorium, 8601 MacArthur Blvd.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Paloma

    Go Lazear families! Ke

    A bit of a side note… Lazear wasn’t the only school where the Student Assignment Office incorrectly said there was no space. It happened at my elementary school in East Oakland.

  • another interested parent

    At some point, some OUSD schools must be closed. There are just too many. And with few exceptions, no one wants their school to be one of the ones closed. But what are we to do?

    There will be even less budget money for each school next year and there might even be mid-year cuts to school site budgets as it looks like the state will end up with those “trigger cuts” this year. The Superintendent has said that the only way to save Oakland schools from having to make even more devastating cuts next year at the site level is to have fewer schools. I am not even sure that closing the few schools currently on the list will be enough to save school sites from having to cut even more from their already spartan budgets. What else can be done?

    And I am sorely disappointed in the Board — whose members approved the criteria by which schools would be assessed for closure — as it appears that any Board member who represents a school on the closure list will now oppose that closure. Certainly that is the impression the Gallo and Spearman have given. How is that good governance in the best interest of all of OUSD’s schools and students? That is just politics as usual and will get OUSD nowhere.

  • Mr. T

    Noel Gallo and Alice Spearman lack integrity and are willing to take down the whole system for their pet projects. You approve the rules of the game and then cry foul when your team loses? You flip flop on this now, what will you waffle on later? People will remember this come re-election time…

    This is a slippery slope, setting the dangerous precedent that powerful people’s pet projects will be saved. We need to trust the process, not let personal preference and power determine who stays and who goes.

    Also, do Gallo and Spearman have another plan to save or raise money if they successfully fight closures? We still owe $69 mil to the state, our teachers and admin are paid worse than in surrounding districts, and more state cuts are looming. If we don’t close schools, then how do we deal with these problems?

    Flip flop, yet no solutions that make OUSD healthy and stable? People will remember this come re-election time…

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    My sympathies with the Lazear community. We at Santa Fe have also experienced assignment office redirection of parents who wanted to attend our school. They were told our school was closing and they should choose a new school.

    Thank you Katy for shining some light on the Lazear community and the decisions they are facing. I trust Board Member Gallo will do his utmost to support the best interests of his constituents. I certainly hope the same can be said for Board President Jody London, who represents Santa Fe.

    Board President London has not actively engaged with, nor conducted any dialogue with our site since April of 2011. She did visit recently with the OUSD Superintendent, Dr. Smith, but she left midway through public commentary due to her needing to attend a mandatory meeting for her daughter’s Nutcracker rehearsals.

    We currently have 65% of our students, well over 100 children aged 5 to 11, who walk to school. A former Oakland Police Department captain testified to Ms. London and Dr. Smith that asking those children to walk over 2 miles from their homes to the proposed new school sites will create a serious safety issue for the children. Many attend after school programs, and would then be walking home after 6 PM through areas that are not safe for children.

    In trying to gather support from Board President London at our Santa Fe Community Meeting, I spoke for two minutes and said the following:

    Board President at Santa Fe Input – 10/6/11

    My name is Peter von Ehrenkrook and I am currently a 5th grade teacher at Santa Fe Elementary.

    I have to acknowledge that I am not worried about the Santa Fe teachers or staff. We will all have jobs in the fall, though some of us may be placed at less than desirable sites due to our public dissent.

    In addition, I am not worried about our top performing students. They will be quickly assimilated into the local private and charter schools. Even Anna Yates in the Emeryville School District will turn a blind eye to home address issues if the child is a high performer.

    My concern is for those children who are rejected by the local charters and private schools. Either their parents don’t have the savvy to get them in, or once they fail there the charters and private schools send them back to us. This is often due to issues with low academic performance, erratic attendance, or behavioral problems. We always welcome them back and do the best we can to support them academically and emotionally.

    We also do our best with children like the 13-year-old who came to me recently from a local private school knowing only 5 letters. They had passed him on year after year with As and Bs. Or the English Language Learner who was dropped into my class last year the day before the CST. His family kept him out of another local school for over a month in protest over his being bullied, and only reenrolled him when we opened our doors to him. This is what a real Full Service Community School does.

    Nothing I have seen or heard from OUSD eases my deep concern about the future safety and welfare of our children in transition – those who are homeless, live with a grandma, or live with a relative who works nights.

    These are real children I teach every day. They wander in around 10 AM, since they have to get themselves up and walk from the areas near the old Longfellow or old Golden Gate sites. If you ask them to travel to Sankofa, or even worse to Piedmont Avenue, they may just decide it’s not worth the effort. They need a local public school they can walk to safely, and from which they can walk home safely at 6 PM after taking part in an After School Enrichment Program.

    Until you can assure me our At Risk Students will be safe and their needs will be met, I will continue to rally public support against this closure.

  • another interested parent

    Mr. T, all politics is local, isn’t it? Seems to me that if your concern is getting reelected, then as a school board rep you want to oppose the closure of schools in your district even if at the beginning of the process you did approve the closure criteria and say that these will be very hard decisions but they must be made. Because we have no at-large school board reps that might represent the greater interests of students throughout Oakland, then each one is concerned only with voters in his/her district. No one seems able to put aside the politics and vote for what is best for ALL of Oakland. And I am doubtful that voters will disagree with the turnabout of Gallo and Spearman even if it means that more schools across the city will lose teachers next year because school site budgets will have to be slashed even more.

  • http://lazearelementary.org AnaParent

    Ms. Murphy missed the main point. Yes, we are willing to go charter, but that was NOT the main point last night. We do NOT want to go charter. We want to stay in OUSD and work with the district to make Lazear the best school.

    The parents led a meeting where they told the district Board members and staff our positions on the closure criteria and the district’s positions.

    The parents and teachers said that Lazear has become a STEM school. Every class at Lazear teaches science for an hour a day. And on top of that my son does more science in the after school program with Lawrence Halls of Science. It is amazing. We also do engineering and use technology in exciting ways. We should have a STEM school in Oakland and Lazear has already started.

    Another point: Our enrollment can go up. Weve been asking for years to be a k8 school. We have room to expand and can meet the enrollment requirements of the district pretty easily. Lazear wont cost the district money. OUSD isnt saving money by closing Lazear. And yes, parents have been told the school was full but that was not our main point.

    Another point was that the last time OUSD closed down schools they sent teachers from those schools to Lazear. Lots of them. Many teachers didnt want to be here and were nightmares. Some were mad, bitter, and didnt trust parents, kids, or the principal. Teachers were always fighting the principals. Our scores dropped, people left, and our budget was messed up because of this. We even went on strike to protest some bad things. The district kept telling us to be patient be patient be patient. Now, we are asking the district to be patient. Give us a year to show our changes make a big difference in scores this year. But don’t close Lazear because of things the district started.

    Another point was that we now believe in our principal and our teachers. Our scary, unhealthy teachers are gone and so is the principal we fought against. Our teachers are working hard and the school has completely changed. The teachers do the little things that make you know they care for your child. The principal said last night that he is African-American in a “Latino school” and it is good for Oakland that the two groups get along like we do. We are starting something important for the city of Oakland. We love our principal. He is not perfect, but we know he loves our kids. And all our kids are seeing African-Americans as positive, smart, and caring – not whats on television. So that’s important also.

    Another point was transportation and safety. We don’t want our kids to have to cross busy streets and railroad tracks to walk to school.

    The only disrespect came when somebody who was NOT from Lazear tried to get everybody fired up talking about immigrant rights and the Dream Act. What? Does every Latino look an illegal to you? Newsflash dear, we are citizens who like our school’s new direction, pay taxes, and want to keep the momentum going.

  • Mary H.

    Families have been directed away from our E. Oakland “slope” school as well. Katy, maybe you can investigate a little and see if this underhanded method of lowering enrollment is district policy.

  • Katy Murphy

    AnaParent, thanks for expanding on the parents’ arguments for keeping Lazear open (in OUSD). I wasn’t there last night, so my blog post was not a report on the meeting itself. Also, I wasn’t suggesting that Lazear parents would prefer a charter school — only that they were preparing to file a charter petition if the school board closed the school.

  • Monica Yu

    Can someone please explain the fiscal impact of a school like Lazear becoming a charter? Does it still save the district money if a school becomes a charter? I know there are many opinions for and against charters based on the way they serve kids, but I am wondering about the financial effect? Thanks!

  • Maria

    Lazear…..know what this means…a charter school gets less money for one (no matter what the union cronies say).Your attendance will drive the budget (2), OUSD kids will NOT automatically enroll to your school (3) Your petition (contract) will be approved for 5 years and then , if you dont perform (something Lazear hasnt done consistently) OUSD will close you. OR, if Gallo or other politicos step in…the state board will close you instead under the new law.

    I suggest you visit other charter schools in the area…see what works and what does not porque, los padres voice doesnt equal los examenes de estudiantes.

    Do what you mus pero, Tengan cuidado. Charters dont equal automatic success( ask Ms. Duron about her first charter school….con todo respeto). OR, Of course you can go to Aspire and do it right.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Charter schools tend to get quite a bit more funding from private donors than do traditional public schools. That could mean Oprah, or the Broad Foundation, or Pixar, or Wells Fargo, or the Walton Family Foundation, just to name a few of many potential donors. And if the Lazear parents were to pursue a relationship with an existing charter school management organization, their new charter school would have access to whatever funding stream that the company has established.