In a genre of architecture where squat and boxy seem perpetually in vogue, Cragmont Elementary School is a resplendent, 45,000-square-foot, $8 million exception. Nested into a hillside on Regal Road, Cragmont frames views of San Francisco Bay.
Between the bay and the hillside, however, sits San Pablo Park, a neighborhood that is home to most of Cragmont’s African American and Latino pupils. Nearly half of the school’s 450 students are from these two demographic groups. Forty percent of the students are white, and many live in the school’s surrounding neighborhood where the median household income is roughly three times that of San Pablo Park.
“People say it’s the school for rich people up on the hill,” third-term PTA president Ann Williams, said regretfully. Williams’ son Henry is a Cragmont third-grader.
While many parents, like Williams, volunteer regularly in classrooms, attendance at monthly PTA meetings has steadily waned. Almost entirely absent are Cragmont’s African American and Latino parents.
Clearly it’s harder for working-class parents to make time for PTA, but the problem is generally seen as more complex.
“The issues the PTA addresses really are not the same issues that concern our kids,” said Vikki Davis, an African American mother who served with Williams as PTA co-president while her son attended Cragmont. “Our issues are, why are our kids failing, the disciplinary problems at the school.”
Williams said her pet projects this year will be fixing the acoustics in the lunchroom where after-school meetings are held and getting more balls and Hula-Hoops on the playground.
She said she regrets that Cragmont’s agenda centers on “upper-middle-class white people’s interests. That’s what it’s going to be if that’s who shows up.” Neither woman knows how to solve this dilemma. An experiment with holding every other PTA meeting near San Pablo Park failed to draw a more diverse crowd.
Jason Lustig, Cragmont’s principal for eight years, said he wants to get more African American and Latino parents involved in the school. But at the same time, he said, research shows that the diversity of parents involved in an elementary school does not greatly affect its student achievement.
He also said that Cragmont made significant leaps in the Academic Performance Index because of minority students’ improvement.
Davis, however, said that minorities’ API improvement should be viewed relative to the entire student body. While it’s narrowing from past years, there was still a significant gap between white and African American scores at Cragmont in 2003. And Hispanic and Latino students’ scores actually decreased slightly from the previous year.
Such a discrepancy, said Davis, is a problem for everyone. “Do you think your child is doing well in the classroom when other children are not doing well? And what social message is that sending them?” she asked.
Williams said, in response to the issue, “The school feels they’ve addressed it, [that] the basics are covered—we have diversity, we have programs for this, programs for that.”
Seated one afternoon at a café on Shattuck Avenue, Williams describes Cragmont’s annual African American Heritage Festival, an elaborate night-time event with exceptional parent attendance. “That evening is so culturally encouraging—to everyone,” she said. “There is so much culture to mine in our schools and our community.”
Cragmont, Williams said, still has room to grow. “But I feel, there’s a deeper experience possible.”
“I think Ann finally got it, because we really became friends,” Davis said. “And if we get one person at a time to ‘get it,’ that means a lot to me.”
This is the sixth in a series profiling the Berkeley elementary schools. The reports are written by students of the UC Berkeley Journalism School.