Notes from the school closure meeting

The Oakland school board is expected to vote tonight on a proposal to close five elementary schools and to merge others. I’ll be updating this periodically throughout the night.

Want to watch it live? Go here. – Katy

11:05: The five elementary schools will close. The board voted 5-2 to approve the resolution. “You will pay the price!” someone just yelled.

10:55: Alice Spearman says, “Superintendent, I just can’t go with it. It’s not in me.”

“But the fact remains, we do have to close some schools.”

10:10: The board secretary just called 44 (or maybe it was 34) more speaker cards. The crowd has thinned out. Most of the children are gone by now. It’s past their bedtime!

9:15: The following exchange will give you a sense of the tone of the meeting and the kinds of exchanges happening between the board (mostly, Jody London, the board president) and the audience:

A public speaker starts talking.

London: “Please introduce yourself.”

Man: “I am a citizen. Quiet now.” (laughter)

Citizen: “I’m putting you guys on notice right now. What your vote is is going to decide your future.”

8:25: The Oakland teachers union officers read a statement opposing the closures: “We call on the district to abandon their plan and work with the many teachers, students and community leaders who have come to the past few board meetings with creative ideas for keeping their schools open.”

8:10: Public comment has begun. Little boy from Lazear Elementary: “I really love the school. It’s like the best thing that ever happened to me.”

8:00: Noel Gallo draws his third standing ovation as he questions the ability and/or willingness of district staff to do what they say they’re going to do.

Gary Yee stands up and yells into the mic to Gallo: “You’ve been here for 19 years. What have you done about it?”

7:55: It sounded like David Montes de Oca said that children entering grades 1 to 5 in 2012 would be placed in their top-choice schools before other students in OUSD enter the Options process. Jody London asked how the transition of displaced students would affect the current options priorities, and I think that was his response. I need to follow up and clarify. (He talks really fast!) Continue Reading


How many schools are in OUSD, anyway?

The number 101 (as in “101 schools for 38,000 kids”) has a catchy ring to it, but how accurate is OUSD’s school closure talking point?

Board member Noel Gallo raised the issue last night, saying he’s seen totals in the mid-90s. A parent just asked about it too, wanting to get the number right for an editorial. It’s not a figure you can round very easily.

A school enrollment spreadsheet I requested from the district lists a total of 99 schools, and that includes Youth Empowerment, a small high school on the King Estates campus that closed in June. (Technically, it’s classified as a proposed merger, but I doubt many students who attended YES would define it that way.)

Maybe the disputed figure actually supports the argument that OUSD has more schools than it can manage — no one seems to be quite sure exactly how many that is!


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.

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Instability in OUSD: a brief lesson in recent history


The number of students attending Oakland’s district-run public schools shrank by about 30 percent between 2000 and 2010 — a trend that’s partly explained by a decline in the number of children living in the city and partly by the explosion of independently-run, state-funded charter schools during that time.

Despite that striking statistic, the district has even more schools today than it did back then.

If you don’t count the already-closed Youth Empowerment School (which somehow ended up on the list of schools to be phased out next year), there are still 100 schools in OUSD — about 15 more than there were in 2000. As education blogger John Fensterwald pointed out to me, that amounts to an average of 640 students per school in 2000, compared to an average of about 380 per school today.

With numbers like that, you might think this is the first time OUSD has considered reducing the number of neighborhood schools it operates. Not so. Oakland Unified shuttered about a dozen during the 2000s — and that’s not counting the ones that were closed and reopened as a school improvement strategy, or the new schools were shut down soon after they opened.

Most of these schools closed their doors before I started covering OUSD, but not all: Burbank, Carter, Cole, Foster, Golden Gate, John Swett, King Estates, Longfellow, Lowell, Merritt Middle College, Sherman, and Toler Heights. (Am I missing any? Not sure how to classify Cole or Lowell, as West Oakland Middle School opened on the Lowell campus as Cole was closing, but years after Lowell closed. And Hawthorne Elementary was a charter conversion. ) Continue Reading


The School Closure List

Oakland’s school closure recommendations are posted.

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith and his staff are proposing the district close five elementary schools — Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe — in 2012. They would also expand two others, Burckhalter and Kaiser (either at existing campuses or at another location, and with all current teachers, staff and administrators), by Aug. 2013. The goal of the expansion, as proposed, is to be able to accommodate at least 380 students at each school.

This will all be discussed at a 5 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the Oakland High School theater. The board could vote on the school closures as soon as Oct. 12. The final date slated for a board vote is Oct. 26.

District staff estimates the five closures, along with the current merger of the Castlemont/YES high schools, will save the district $2.26 million in general-purpose funds; that figure does not count teacher costs, as the teachers would move to other schools, or special-purpose money.

Staff is also proposing a separate, earlier School Options process for the 882 general education and 77 special education students who attend the schools slated for closure (in kindergarten through fourth grade). It would run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 5, the first date of the regular Options kickoff.

In addition to the proposed closures and expansion of Kaiser and Burckhalter, staff might add grade levels, one year at a time, to Greenleaf, La Escuelta, Lincoln, Manzanita Community (which is listed as a merged campus with Manzanita SEED, the dual-language immersion school) and Sankofa elementary schools, as well as at Madison Middle School (See Slide #13). Some of those decisions are supposed to be made by Dec. 14, according to the slide.

What do you make of these recommendations?

School closure recommendations


School closure update

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith had said he would release the school closure recommendations today, but that deadline has been pushed back. OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint said the list won’t be posted until about 5 p.m. Saturday.

“The superintendent is considering the feedback he’s had,” Flint said. “He’s weighing a lot of different possibilities that have been proposed.”

Flint said Tuesday’s meeting — in which the recommendations will be discussed, but not voted on — will be held at 5 p.m. at Oakland High School, which is on the corner of Park and MacArthur.


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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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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