Parents, students, teachers and community members are struggling to understand exactly what the district has in mind for their schools after it announced the start of a “high quality” school redesign process at five Oakland public schools.
At issue are the futures of three of the district’s main high schools – Fremont, Castlemont and McClymonds – as well as Brookfield Elementary School and Frick Middle School in East Oakland.
District meetings to explain the process at several of the schools were attended by hundreds of teachers, parents and students. About 500 people reportedly attended the meeting last Thursday night at Fremont High, where students took over the meeting and denounced the district’s approach.
Outspoken community members and students are saying they do not care what test scores say – their schools are not terrible and not “failing,” but they need resources and support to help them build on their strengths. They say it is the school system that has failed them.
They especially do not want changes foisted on them they do not approve.
Already the subject of successive waves of failed changes over the past decade, they do not want the district again to rip up everything they have achieved by turning the schools over to charters or other outside organizations.
Many people in the community are also saying that they want to see dramatic improvements in the schools, which continue – despite the decades of school reorganization projects – to fail to meet the needs of many students, particularly Black and Latino students and English language learners.
A number of people have great hopes in the district’s new Supt. Antwan Wilson and the team of administrators he brought with him from Denver. But at the same time, they want to be sure the administration listens to and involves the community in whatever decisions are made about the future of the schools.
Responding to the angry criticisms, the district administration has admitted that it has not communicated well with the community and is seeking to clarify its intent.
“This is definitely not about more charters,” said Supt. Wilson in an open letter to the Oakland community dated Jan. 14.
“Our focus is on quality schools for every child –not on adding charters,” he wrote.
He wrote, however, that charters are welcome to apply to run the five schools. “Charters can and probably will participate, and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure this is a fair process for all,” he wrote.
“(But) the idea that an unsolicited, unsupported school proposal will come in and somehow take over your school is simply false,” he wrote. “I can’t express this more firmly.”
“We are also working closely with school and community-based site teams to ensure this process is not only fair, but also transparent by providing meaningful and authentic opportunities for these teams to collaborate with, provide feedback on, and offer ideas (on proposals),” he wrote.
Supt. Wilson wrote that whatever changes he recommends will have to go to the elected Board of Education for approval. “Our Board is committed to placing the needs of students as their top priority, and they care deeply about the voice of the community, including students, families, and educators most deeply impacted.”
Speaking at a McClymonds High School community meeting Tuesday night, district Chief of Schools Allen Smith said, “McClymonds will not close, and it will not become a charter,” repeating the statement three times for emphasis.
In a Post interview with the district spokesman Troy Flint, he said that guidelines for the school reform process will come out in February. “This is a general call for people who are invested in the outcomes of these schools” to produce proposals, he said.
In essence, this will be a competition between proposals. This is not an issue of charter vs. non-charter, he said. “We are agnostic on who should submit. We will look at the quality of the proposals and how they stand to benefit (each school).
The superintendent will decide on what he believes is the best proposal for each school, and will make a recommendation to the school board, which will make the final decision, Flint said.
Supt. Wilson has said the district will put up funds to help school sites develop and write proposals.