Despite protests and pleas from students, teachers, and parents who marched eight miles from the East Oakland Community High School in the Oakland hills to the Oakland Unified School District Administrative headquarters Wednesday afternoon, OUSD State Administrator Kimberly Statham ruled Wednesday night that she was following her staff’s recommendation to close the school.
With the Oakland Unified School District under state control, Statham has the sole authority to decide whether or not the school will be closed.
The school closing will take place at the end of the school year in June. Because of OUSD’s open enrollment policy, students currently enrolled will have the opportunity to enroll next year in any high school in the district that has the room to accommodate them. With many of the district’s high-choice high schools already at capacity, however, students currently at East Oakland Community will be “defaulted,” according to district representatives, to the high school in whose attendance zone they live.
East Oakland Community is a district-operated small school housed in the school building on Fontaine Drive above 82nd Avenue formerly occupied by Kings Estates Junior High School. It is within a short walking distance of Castlemont High School on MacArthur Boulevard.
On Wednesday afternoon, more than 150 marchers left the school to walk through East Oakland to present their concerns to Statham at Wednesday night’s administrator/trustee meeting. Marchers held signs reading “Give Us Time To Shine In Oakland,” “East Oakland Schools Deserve District Support, Too,” and “Keep EOC Open.”
Included in the marchers was OUSD trustee Noel Gallo, carrying an American flag in one hand, who told marchers at a pre-march rally on the school grounds that “I am here because I believe in you. All of our schools should join you to demand better education for our district. You have the right to be here. You have the right to have quality schools. That right is guaranteed in the Constitution.”
One of the organizers of the march, Abundant Life Ministries minister Rev. Zenzile Scott, the parent of a 10th grader at East Oakland Community, said that “this is a school worth saving. I really love this school. My child has only been here six weeks, but already, she is thriving at this school. I’ve never seen her be a part of something like this in the schools before. Something special is happening within these walls.”
A leaflet passed out during the march by march organizers said that “we want more time and support to build on our strengths, to address our weaknesses, and to become a great school.”
In its recommendation to Statham at last week’s administrator/trustee meeting, OUSD staff members cited several reasons for recommending East Oakland Community’s closure, including what staff called the “largest drop in [California Standards Test] scores in the district” in the past school year and what staff called a “very low” California High School Exit Exam passing rate in both math and English. In addition, staff said that students at East Oakland Community “are not offered the appropriate coursework to graduate and attend a four year university and that “student transcripts are inaccurate and student schedules do not reflect district course sequence.” Staff also said that enrollment at the school is down, and that ‘long-term enrollment projections show a continued decline within the Castlemont attendance area.”
OUSD Public Information Officer Alex Katz said by telephone that the district feels “it is always a very serious decision to close schools” and that “where it was possible, the district has intervened in other situations to begin to bring schools up to state standards.”
Commenting on student and teacher presentations at Wednesday night’s meeting to keep East Oakland Community open, Katz said that “it is impressive to see kids enthusiastic about their school, and it is really powerful to see teachers so committed to their school, as well. But at the same time, the district has a responsibility to make sure that kids graduate.”
Katz said that two-thirds of the junior class at East Oakland Community “are not going to graduate” because they will not be able to obtain the full credits required by the State of California. “The district is not blaming the teachers for that,” Katz said. “There’s no lack of effort or ability on the part of the teachers that caused this.”
But Katz said that while “there are a lot of positive things going on in the program” at East Oakland Community, “you have to have academic standards that are real and that the students and the parents can count on, and the students have to have the opportunity to get the credits that they need to graduate.”
Katz said that in giving her reasons for the closure, Statham told school supporters on Wednesday night that “the district shares the responsibility for not making the school work and for not living up to the proper standards for the last few years.”
East Oakland Community was one of four schools Statham ordered closed at Wednesday night’s administrator/trustee meeting. The other school closures are Kizmet Middle, Merritt Middle, and Sherman Elementary. Housed at Merritt Community College, Merritt Middle is being closed, according to the staff report, because Merritt College “has decided to end the Memorandum of Understanding with OUSD to use the facilities space for other purposes.”
At a press conference held shortly before the administrator/trustee meeting, the Oakland Education Association announced its opposition to the closures. In a prepared statement, OEA President Betty Olson-Jones said that “these closures and the threat of more to come speeds a continuing downward spiral of instability in the district. If the district succeeds in closing these schools, it will have a devastating impact on our students.”
Olson-Jones questioned why Sherman Elementary was being closed when “it is only now being wired for internet access, after years of requests by staff had been ignored. Why now? We have to wonder: Does this mean the school is being upgraded so that it can be contracted out as a charter school?”
In its Feb. 28 recommendation, OUSD staff said that Sherman was being recommended for closure because of “significant decline” in California Standards Test scores in the last two school years, that “current reform efforts are insufficient to provide the accelerated academic achievement for students,” that there has been “significant enrollment decline” at the school over the past five years, and that “long-term enrollment projections indicate a continued decline over the next five years.”