The Oakland school district might study its school attendance boundaries again next year, if the school board approves such a proposal next fall — but the new lines wouldn’t be drawn before the 2013-14 school year, David Montes de Oca, director of OUSD’s Quality Community Schools Development, told dozens of concerned parents yesterday evening at Crocker Highlands Elementary.
At issue, at least most urgently, is Crocker Highlands, which expanded to include some of the area that until now has belonged to nearby Lakeview Elementary School. When Lakeview closes this month, four schools will incorporate its attenance zone: Crocker, Lincoln, Cleveland, and Piedmont Avenue.
Crocker is one of the district’s most sought-after schools; its kindergarten was filling up with neighborhood kids even before the school’s boundaries expanded for the upcoming school year. As a result of the changes, parents say, 18 families who live in the neighborhood were initially denied seats; some were later placed, but the school district has yet to provide the numbers. Now, some parents in the original Crocker boundary area have circulated a petition calling on district leaders to reconsider that adjustment.
Crocker is adding a fourth kindergarten class this year, though that’s considered a one-time “bubble” solution. (Note: I’ve requested information from OUSD for months now about the number of neighborhood kids denied seats at Crocker and other schools; my polite pestering has yet to yield the answers. Still, Montes de Oca vowed to parents he would “push out” such data to the public to help inform their decision-making.)
As I sat in the meeting, it reminded me of a similar gathering at Hillcrest Elementary five years ago. It’s been awhile since I’ve written about parent angst, frustration and confusion over OUSD’s School Options program — specifically, schools with a higher demand among neighborhood families than available kindergarten seats.
For those of you who aren’t already all too familiar with the Options process: In Oakland Unified, families fill out their top school choices by mid-January and receive assignments based on a set of priorities that the school board revised in 2008. Basically: 1) kids with older siblings attending the school, regardless of where they live; 2) kids in the neighborhood without an older brother or sister at the school, selected at random; 3) kids who live near low-performing (Program Improvement) schools; 4) general lottery of all others interested in attending the school.
Families can appeal their placement and be put on a waiting list.
Here are some interesting things I learned at the meeting:
- Half of OUSD children — 51 percent — attend a school that’s not their local, neighborhood school.
- About 8-12 schools, including Crocker, are “oversubscribed” — they had more applicants than space for all of the incoming neighborhood kindergartners.
- Each year at Crocker Highlands, 23 to 30 percent of the children who get into the school end up going elsewhere. This happens at other schools as well, so the district often admits more children than it has room for.
- About one-quarter of OUSD’s elementary schools have new boundary lines to incorporate the residents who live near the five elementary schools slated for closure at the end of the month — Lazear, Lakeview, Santa Fe, Marshall and Maxwell Park.
- The district will likely add a “pause” in its school assignment process to take stock of all of the neighborhood families denied seats at their local school. Those families — who’d still have the right to appeal and be put on a waiting list — would have the option of choosing another elementary school within their middle school “megaboundary.” (Right now, unless families know to place that megaboundary school #2 on their list, those spots go to other non-neighborhood kids first.)
When someone asked Montes de Oca if district officials knew that this would happen to Crocker, he gave one of those “yes and no” answers: “What we knew is that there was a potential for any school to be affected by those changes.”
Do you think the district should hire a group to study its attendance boundaries?