Despite strong opposition from community members, the Oakland School Board decided Wednesday night to move forward with a plan to reduce the number of schools in the district through closures and of mergers. Oakland Unified officials plan to announce the next round of school closures and mergers this fall and implement them in the fall of 2022.
However, some members of the OUSD board of directors, as well as parents, students and teachers, have raised questions about the timing of these decisions. District leaders wonder how to restore relationships with OUSD families after more than a year of distance learning during COVID-19 pandemic and critics of closure and merger plans say moving forward could further alienate families, and possibly provoke more. leave the neighborhood.
Students will return to campuses on August 9 for the 2021-2022 school year, and a week later, school communities will begin to hear if their school has been closed, merged with another school, or expanded. Principals will be notified in late July, school communities will know their fate between August 16 and August 27, and the district will present the changes to the school board in September.
“I have no doubt that we need to make significant changes regarding the quality of our schools and the number. I have some concerns about the tight timelines for engagement and decision-making, ”council director Aimee Eng, who represents District 2, said at Wednesday’s school board meeting. “The start of fall just doesn’t put us as board members in an excellent position to be able to weigh the decision on the recommendations and also the potential impact.”
The neighborhood City-wide plan is a process to increase students’ access to better quality schools by closing some schools and merging and expanding others that have more successful programs and room for improvement. District officials say this will also alleviate budget constraints resulting from understaffed schools. The costs of running a school, including staff salaries and building maintenance, are the same whether a school has dozens of empty places or is fully enrolled. But because California schools are funded on the basis of student attendance, many small schools do not provide enough funds to support themselves, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said.
“Even when we top up funding some of our larger campuses, students who attend these very small, often under-enrolled schools find themselves without access to the arts, librarians, nurses and other essential programs and supports. Johnson-Trammell said at Wednesday’s school board meeting. “It’s unfair to our students, and it’s especially unfair to most of our vulnerable students who need more than the basics.”
Introduced in 2018, the progress of the Citywide Plan was halted for a year and a half due to the pandemic. The long-awaited announcement of the next round of schools was supposed to take place at a board meeting this month, but board members approved a resolution late Wednesday night postponing the news until September, when the school board will vote on a new district map that includes school changes.
District staff will use a combination of quality, equity, and sustainability factors to analyze and score the 81 OUD schools and determine which ones will be recommended for closure.
“This job is extremely difficult. Our schools work hard every day to serve our communities and our students, ”said Academic Director Sondra Aguilera. “We constantly have quality, fairness and sustainability issues that we have to deal with. ”
Schools that struggle the most in the quality category, in which staff consider standardized test scores, reading levels, graduation rates, college readiness, career path participation, and school climate, include Markham Elementary and Horace Mann Elementary in East Oakland, Emerson Elementary in North Oakland, and Madison Park Academy, Coliseum College Prep Academy, and Life Academy, all located in East Oakland. High schools in East Oakland, Castlemont, and Fremont, and Street Academy, an alternative school on 29th Street off Broadway, top the list of high schools where academic quality lags.
Equity measures include disparities in student performance on standardized tests, chronic absenteeism, suspension rates, and schools that have already undergone a change, such as a merger. The schools that struggle the most with equity measures are Futures and Markham Elementary Schools, both in East Oakland, Frick United Colleges and United for Success Academy, also in East Oakland, and West Oakland Middle School. The high schools that had the most equity issues include Castlemont and Fremont.
To judge sustainability, the district assesses each school’s application rate, i.e. the ratio of enrollment applications to school places, teacher retention rates, trends in enrollment, for example if more or less students attend school over time, facilities and buildings are in good repair and have space to increase enrollment, feeding patterns neighborhoods that reveal where schools attract their students and the ability of principals to manage change Schools with the most room for improvement in sustainability measures include Howard and Burckhalter Elementary Schools in East Oakland , and Sankofa United Elementary School in North Oakland. Colleges and high schools include Roosevelt in East Oakland, Westlake near Adams Point, Castlemont High School, and McClymonds High School in West Oakland.
Aguilera, the director of studies, stressed that just because schools ranked first in each category, which means they had the most difficulty in each area, did not mean they had to close. These decisions have not yet been made. Other factors the district will take into account include school demographics and neighborhood dynamics, such as whether there are other schools nearby that serve the same classes and how many families live in the neighborhood.
“This is not a list of school sites that we recommend for changes,” Aguilera said. “From these frequency tables, we will make recommendations. “
Community members and board members opposed to school closures point out that school closures in Oakland often have an impact on students of color, especially black students. They said they find this process is no different.
“Nothing says ‘Welcome to school for a restorative restart’ than telling schools filled with black and brown students that we are going to close your school or change your school because you are not doing well,” said Parent Kim Davis during a public comment portion of the meeting.
According to measurements provided by district staff, the schools that top the list as having the most room for improvement in equity, sustainability and quality are primarily in East Oakland, with some in West Oakland. , but all are neighborhoods historically and continue to serve black and Latino residents. Few are in North Oakland and none are in the Oakland Hills. All of the top schools enroll large numbers of black and Latino students, and the majority of students attending these schools are entitled to a free or discounted lunch.
Other school board members and public commentators mentioned a presentation last month from district staff on the mixed results of the first school closings and mergers as part of the city-wide plan. The report showed that some merged schools did not see the expected increase in enrollment, while other schools did not benefit financially in the few years following the changes.
“My biggest concern is that we haven’t fully shown the results over a long period of time to say that they actually work. All of the previous closings combined still haven’t shown us the financial savings we’ve recouped, ”said manager VanCedric Williams, who represents West Oakland. “Our hypothesis is that this provides financial benefits to the community. And we still have to prove it. “
Directors Mike Hutchinson, who represents Fruitvale, and Williams, voted against continuing the Citywide Plan last night. Director Eng was absent for the vote, but the other four directors approved it.
“It’s not something the board likes to put schools through. This is necessary because our enrollments continue to decline, ”said Shanthi Gonzales, Chair of the Board of Directors of OUSD. “The other costs facing the district continue to rise. I understand how unpopular it is and how painful it is for schools to go through this. We don’t have good choices.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, trustees also approved a plan to renovate part of Cole Middle School to house the district’s administrative offices, which are currently housed in a commercial office building on Broadway. , in downtown Oakland. The project is estimated to be worth around $ 48 million and will be funded by Measure Y bond money. Previously, the board had considered dispersing central office staff to several school campuses, but school communities objected to the move. this plan.
Trustees also voted to order the superintendent to repay OUSD state loans in full by January 2023, three years ahead of the original plan. In doing so, the district would become free from state oversight and from the state appointed administrator who has veto power over budget decisions.
Next week will be the last school board meeting of the school year, and principals will be making several important decisions, including approving the district’s 2021-2022 budget, the local monitoring and accountability plan, which is a plan. triennial on how the district will spend funds on specific student groups and the superintendent’s strategic plan, a vision for the next three years.