Students, parents and teachers at Roots International Academy in East Oakland are reacting with shock and determination since learning right before the holiday break that their neighborhood middle school will be closed in June.
Responding to Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Kyla Johnson- Trammell and her staff, who held a meeting at the school on December 18 to announce the closing, an eighth-grader at the school wrote a letter to the superintendent, accusing the district of “destroying/interfering with our education and our relationships with our teachers and peers.”
“You (aren’t) closing Roots about equality,” the student wrote. “It’s about money, the money you are supposed to provide, but you are not providing. You provide (it) for CCPA and OUSD schools in the hills.” CCPA is the better funded school that shares the campus with Roots at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard.
The district has already closed 15 schools in the last dozen years or so. Once the justifications were no longer needed, nobody mentioned anything about the closings saving any money, improving the quality of the remaining schools nor the poor test scores of many the charter schools that replaced the public schools.
One teacher at Roots told the Oakland Post that she does not buy the arguments she has heard that Roots is a failing school. District officials and local charter school proponents frequently justify school closing based on statistical analysis of test scores.
“We don’t feel it’s a failing school,” she said. “They’re displacing a community, a community that is often overlooked and underserved.”
More resources go to favored schools than those that are neglected, which can be seen at the school next door that shares the campus with Roots, according to the teacher. The other school even has water fountains that work better, she said. “You can see the difference in how they’re served by the district.”
Speaking on “Education Today,” a program on radio station KPFA 94.1 FM, Roots parents Addy Rios and Silvia Ornelas explained what Roots means to them and their children.
“For me as a parent, it was devastating,” said Rios. “My kid still doesn’t comprehend or doesn’t want to believe (it).”
She said her son is doing well at the school. “It’s a good school. With the help of us, the parents, he is doing really good (in) his classes, with his teachers and his classmates,” Rios said. “I don’t understand why they are saying that it’s going to be closed because it’s not doing good. We asked questions, but just don’t have an answer.”
Ornelas said Roots has been a great fit for her daughter. “It’s a smaller school (than her previous school) where she didn’t get the necessary attention. With her teachers at Roots, all the staff is so committed to every single student who walks through those doors.”
In the mornings, she said, the teachers and staff members “greet the kids with a high five, a hug, a handshake, a smile on their faces. Every single child feels accepted at Roots.
“The school district is trying to take it away from our kids.”
Rios said the real reason for closing of schools in Oakland has to do with “money, gentrification.”
“They’re going to sell the (schools) to build housing, which is going to be very expensive, for the techs and everybody (who) is going to come and replace us and push us out,” she said.
The message they are giving to the kids is that they are no good, that “they don’t deserve education, they don’t deserve to have a public school,” said Rios.
The parents said there is no community engagement: nobody is listening to them, not the superintendent, not the school board, not even Shanthi Gonzales, who is supposed to represent Roots families on the board of education.
At the December 18 meeting, Gonzales said she supported closing Roots but would not answer the parents’ questions or even look directly at them, according to the parents.
Added Ornelas, “This is a public school – it is not privately owned. t’s not funded by billionaires. They need to answer our questions before taking such drastic measures. “
According to a message on her email account, Boardmember Gonzales is out of the country and not available for comment until late January. Questions emailed to the district were not answered because most staff are on holiday break, according to OUSD Communications Director John Sasaki.
In an email newsletter dated December 30, Supt. Johnson- Trammell said, “The effort to re-imagine OUSD relates directly to the work we are doing to address the Community of Schools Board Policy, which is moving forward towards a right-sized district with the aim of offering a high quality school in every neighborhood…In order to right-size, changes will be made that will be challenging.”
The Roots community is are asking for people to attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5 p.m., at La Escuelita Education Center, 1050 2nd Ave. in Oakland.