The People's School - Page 2

Oakland's Lakeview Elementary is seized and transformed by protesting parents

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Protests against school closures in Oakland evolved into the takeover of Lakeview Elementary.
PHOTO BY WENDY KENIN

Julia Fernandez, a high school math teacher, got involved with the effort to save the schools through the Occupy Oakland Education Committee, and her two children, ages 2 and 4, are enrolled in the summer school.

As a nine-year resident of Oakland, Fernandez says, the cuts affect her and her family. She's taking part in the demonstration partly "for my own kids," Fernandez said. She said the cuts "affect the school where my kids would go. It's likely that it's going to be closed or turned into a charter school."

"But the thing that motivates me the most is all these attacks that are happening against people," Fernandez said. She guessed that it was adversity of many kinds, not just school closures, that motivated many parents to join the protest and send their kids to the People's School.

"People are really upset about all the attacks that are being done on regular working class people. People are losing their homes, they're getting laid off, and now their schools are closing. It just seems like all these services, all these rights people should have, are being taken away"

MORE THAN MONEY

Organizers emphasize that the money saved seems paltry, just $2 million for five functioning schools.

"Think about it, this is not very much," Velasquez said. "And they're wasting almost $4 million to do these transitions to close the schools. They're spending more than the savings."

OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint confirmed that the savings will be "in the $2 million range," and that the total cost of the transition is about $3.7 million.

These expenses include about $117,000 one-time moving related costs and about $200,000 in staffing, including paying a transition director.

They also include $95,000 in transportation costs, which may not be one-time expenditures; they may "as needed for an additional year or more," Flint said in an email.

Meanwhile, about 1,000 students will be displaced by the move. Many will move to Grass Valley and Burckhalter, and these school's capacities will be expanded with portable classrooms.

"The promise that we made to students was that we would guarantee students at the closing school a place at a school that was higher performing than the one we were leaving. We were able to live up to that promise," Flint said.

However, there was a problem: "Most of the schools that perform in the top tier are already subscribed to capacity, so we had to expand the capacity using portables."

Will these high performing schools remain high-performing as an influx of new students show up at their doors in the fall? After all, Oakland has many more elementary schools than comparable districts, a result of the small schools movement, a policy adopted in 2000 that led to the closure of some larger schools, which were replaced by smaller ones. According to a study conducted by Brown University's Annenburg Institute for Education Reform, Oakland small schools are "safer, calmer, and more welcoming to families" than the schools they replaced.

But as private donations from those excited about small schools, notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, run out — along with federal and state money — Oakland may be reverting to larger institutions.

And as the OUSD sees it, that may not be a bad thing.

"To build toward the day when every OUSD school is a high-quality school, we need to concentrate our time, attention and resources in a manageable number of sites instead of spreading ourselves too thin," he said in an email. "Quality over quantity is the goal when we can't do both and the current financial environment prevents us from properly caring for 101 schools.

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