Roots Families Heat Up Fight to Save Their Neighborhood School

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Student athletes at Roots International Academy at 66th Ave. and International Blvd.

Student athletes at Roots International Academy at 66th Ave. and International Blvd.

 
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.
 

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