Parents Fight to Keep Kaiser Elementary Open

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Henry J. Kaiser Jr. Elementary School is the only public school in the Hiller Highland neighborhood, and it’s one of the schools Oakland plans to close. Parents have formed the Kaiser Advocacy Committee to argue against the closure. Photo by Zack Haber.

As Oakland’s School Board and Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell attempt to implement their Community of Schools Plan, which calls for closing up to 24 schools, many Kaiser Elementary School community members are frustrated.

The plan includes closing Kaiser’s campus to merge with Sankofa Elementary School, which is about a 4-mile drive away.

Though the district plan promises a quality school in every neighborhood, Kaiser is the only public school in the Hiller Highland area and has test scores that meet or exceed state standards at a 14 percent higher rate for math and about 7 percent higher rate for reading and language proficiency  above the state average.

“It doesn’t make any sense to close a successful school,” said Mellissa Korber, whose son is a third-grade student at Kaiser. She transferred  her child to Kaiser from a previous school because she needed after school care, which Kaiser provides for him.

Korber appreciates that the school has addressed her son’s emotional needs by providing services to help him with anxiety. She worries that transferring to a new school campus could be overwhelming for him.

Though Kaiser community members and leadership in OUSD have had two meetings about the closure, Kaiser community members say they have not  been allowed to ask questions or address their concerns.

When Johnson-Trammell attended the second meeting  Feb. 21, the first day of the Oakland teachers strike, she asked the attendees to break into small groups to provide feedback. Kaiser parents, teachers, and alumni insisted on asking direct questions and chanted “no breakout groups!”

But Supt. Johnson-Trammell refused to answer direct questions.

“We feel that school mergers and closures do not work,” said Kaiser PTA President Celeste Colbert Stanley. “We have not seen any evidence that when schools are merged they continue to grow and thrive.”

Frustrated with the district’s plans, Stanley and members of the Kaiser community have organized to stop them. Since the PTA is limited legally in what it can do to challenge district policies and plans, Kaiser parents have formed the Kaiser Advocacy Committee (KAC), which is looking into legal methods to stop the closure, showing up at school board meetings to question policy and reaching out to get more support from Oakland residents.

Many Kaiser community members wonder why the district is planning on closing their campus and what they plan to do with it.

“What’s happening to the school if Kaiser is closed?” said Stanley. “Is it going to go to a charter? Are they going to sell it?” Mike Hutchinson of Oakland’s Public Education Network (OPEN) is concerned about the long-term ramifications of selling public school buildings and land in Oakland.

“We cannot let the school board make permanent decisions,” said Hutchinson. “If they sell the property, it’s gone forever. If we have extra land, we should figure out the best educational use for that land.”

In order for the district to sell public school property, state law requires that their decisions be approved by a local 7-11 committee, which will have seven voting members and four alternates. Teachers, community members and at least one school principal have applied to be on the committee.

While the school board has yet to vote to close the Kaiser campus, they have informed Kaiser that they have recommended the campus’ closure, which would happen in the 2020-2021 school year.

OUSD Deputy Chief of Public Affairs Valerie Goode said 7-11 Committee would make the decision on the fate of the Kaiser campus.

“If the current recommendation to relocate Kaiser Elementary program to a new location is approved by the OUSD Board of Education,” Goode said, “then our 7-11 Committee would make a recommendation for future use of the current Kaiser site.”

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