Willams Garcia Speaking at KIPP
For Oakland public schools, the 2012 year was one of bold new initiatives, as well as widely protested school closings, of national awards for exemplar teaching and of people losing faith in the schools and thus enrolling their kids elsewhere.
As 2012 began, Oakland Unified School District had just begun to implement its new strategic plan that called not only for change in how it educates its 36,000 students, but "transformation," as Superintendent Tony Smith said.
Too many students were being left behind, he said, to continue business as usual. Too few students have been graduating from high school in OUSD, with its graduation rate of 59 percent. Kids have been coming to school traumatized by street violence. Absenteeism is a big problem among the youngest students and suspensions have been high among middle schoolers and high schoolers.
Oakland Unified's strategic plan is based on several broad goals. Chief among them is that OUSD should support the whole child, not just the academic side of a child. In this urban district where 70 percent of students qualify as poor under the federal reduced lunch program guidelines, students also need help with emotional, health and social well being. So this year the district began rolling out Full Service Community Schools where students - and often their families - could find help with health care, counseling and job training in addition to academics. Among the first of these to open in early 2012 was the McClymonds High School Youth and Family Center, where numerous community groups and health care organizations joined with the district in providing services. Others soon followed - school health clinics have been opened at 10 school sites as of year-end.
Another major goal of the strategic plan is to prepare all students to have the option to go to college. This means strengthening the rigor of the curriculum, particularly the high school one. College preparatory courses became the standard curriculum this year and AP classes were brought into schools that hadn't had them in years.
During the past year, OUSD also expanded its restorative justice and African American Male Achievement Initiative programs begun in previous years and began seeing the fruits of these programs in fewer suspensions and more kids making it to graduation.
But these initiatives cost money. While some of these programs are funded by grants and the Full Service Community School program is paid for mostly from Title I funding, they are being implemented at a time when OUSD's enrollment has been shrinking. From the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2012, OUSD lost approximately 1,700 students and had 36,260 students as of November, according to reports filed at the California Department of Education.
Declining enrollment means less money or revenue for the district, since the state of California distributes education funding on a per student attending basis. OUSD started the year with 750 fewer students than it had anticipated.
As the interim budget report came out, the new president of the teachers union observed that OUSD has fewer students and fewer teachers this year, but more administrators.
It was because of declining enrollment that Superintendent Smith and the OUSD Board of Education voted to close five elementary schools during 2012. Some of these schools had fewer than 200 students, but each had principals and buildings to maintain and six grades to distribute students in. The board decided to consolidate so it could use more resources on academics. It named the five schools for closure and gave parents the choice of any other OUSD elementary school as to where they could transfer their child.
But district administrators didn't predict the fierce loyalty families and teachers had to neighborhood schools. Protests ensued. Parents and students and teachers at Lakeview Elementary School occupied the campus for several weeks in hopes to get the board to reverse the decision. Parents from Santa Fe Elementary and others had a relentless presence at board meetings and one active Santa Fe parent campaigned to get a seat on the board. The families and teachers of Lazear Elementary School in the Fruitvale district went so far as to apply to become a charter school. The district turned them down - only to have that decision reversed by Alameda County education officials. So Lazear and its approximately 160 students left the OUSD district and became a charter, taking with it savings and students the district needed.
On the bright side in 2012, Oakland Unified was named California's most improved urban school district for the seventh year in a row. One of its teachers, I'Asha Warfield, is California's Teacher of the Year nominated by the state as a candidate for national Teacher of the Year. Additionally, Oakland's Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy was nominated as a National Blue Ribbon School Award, one of only four schools in Alameda County to be nominated for the prominent award.
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