School Board Watch: Recommendations for school mergers, closures, and expansions

This week, the big item on the agenda is the presentation of district staff recommendations for school mergers and closures as part of Cohort 2 of the Blueprint for Quality Schools (item #19-1654).

For more, click here for the full agenda

The Blueprint for Quality Schools (OUSD’s initiative to meet the changing facility, program, and educational needs of the district, including school mergers, expansions,  and closures) has completed the first year for Cohort 1 schools as part of the Community of Schools Citywide Plan: Metwest expansion, Elmhurst/Alliance merger, and CUES/Futures merger (see page 10)

Tonight, the school board will discuss the recommendations for Cohort 2 ahead of the vote to adopt at the September 11 school board meeting. After a review of various scenarios based on the quality and financial sustainability of these schools, district staff will present their recommendations for Cohort 2 school changes in North Oakland and East Oakland. 

In North Oakland, the district considered 3 scenarios and are recommending Scenario 1:

  • Scenario 1: Kaiser and Sankofa merge on the Sankofa campus. 
  • Scenario 2: Kaiser and Sankofa merge on the Santa Fe campus. 
  • Scenario 3: Kaiser moves to the Santa Fe campus in fall 2020 and then Peralta and Sankofa would merge in fall 2021, while continuing to maintain two sites (Peralta and Sankofa).

In East Oakland, the district considered 4 scenarios and are recommending Scenario 2:

  • Scenario 1: Merge Oakland School of Language (SOL) and Frick on the Frick campus. Melrose Leadership Academy (MLA) stays on the Maxwell Park campus, with enrollment restricted to fit the capacity of the building. 
  • Scenario 2: Merge Oakland School of Language (SOL) and Frick on the Frick campus. Expand MLA to upper and lower schools on the Sherman and Maxwell Park campuses. 
  • Scenario 3: Merge SOL and Frick on the Sherman campus. Move MLA to the Frick campus. 
  • Scenario 4: Merge SOL and Frick on the Maxwell Park campus. Move MLA to the Frick campus.

GO’s Perspective

The goal of the Citywide Plan and Blueprint Process is to address inequity in our school system and ensure that there are quality, equitable, and sustainable school options from K-12 in every part of Oakland. 

It’s encouraging to see the district take into account and practice some recommendations the Blueprint Ad Hoc Committee (see slide 17-22) has suggested, including more community engagement. The district shared their outreach efforts including in-person meetings, phone calls, and door-to-door canvassing. A core part of the district’s outreach effort in North Oakland included a survey of families from the schools involved. However, in the survey OUSD presents, only 6% of respondents were from Sankofa, compared to 37% from Peralta and 27% from Kaiser. Additionally, low-income families were severely underrepresented among survey respondents. Low-income students comprise 29% of the student body across these three schools, but low-income parents only comprised 6% of the survey respondents. 

OUSD includes this caveat in its report. But when a district’s most marginalized students are not at the center of a school closure process, they are more likely to be negatively impacted. It is absolutely imperative that we find other ways to bring more low-income families into the decision-making process.

We must continue to hold the district and board accountable to bring more transparency and community engagement into the decision-making process. These are two values that are core to 1Oakland and have been lifted up time and time again by the broader community. 

As district leaders have shared

“Currently, many of our schools are under-enrolled, located in areas where few students live, or both. OUSD operates too many district-run schools for the number of students we serve; more than 10,000 seats are projected to be empty across 87 schools this year. Having too many schools with low enrollment prevents us from reaching the future we want for Oakland. Simply put, we are spreading our resources too thin. Maintaining the status quo will not improve outcomes for our students.”

Making changes to how our schools are organized is going to be hard, but failing to make changes to better serve all students will be even harder. The research shows: students in closing schools MUST be placed in higher-performing schools in order to have the negative impacts of the transition be worthwhile. 

Keep your eyes out for the next school board meeting September 11, where according to the Board Meeting Yearlong Agenda, the Board will:

  • Adopt Blueprint Cohort 2
  • Report on the “close of books” for 2018-19 Unaudited Financial Actuals and budget revision
  • Report out facilities bond polling results

Join the conversation about this school board meeting on Twitter using the hashtag #oaksbmtg

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