MLA's Safety Patrol works to ensure that students arrive safely at their expansion location on the Sherman Campus in Maxwell Park.
I want to use this blog post to share some of the recent changes in District 6 schools. We have made some big moves to expand and improve school quality in District 6, and there are more to come. The Blueprint for Quality Schools is controversial because many in the community do not believe that the changes we are making are necessary.
I have supported most of the Blueprint changes because we have to improve school quality, and expand it where it already exists, in order to address the trends that have plagued OUSD for the last 20 years, such as:
- Declining enrollment that has resulted from insufficient quality school options,
- Inadequate staffing and program options at underenrolled schools,
- Persistent budget cuts as a result of declining enrollment, and
- High teacher turnover, resulting from low salaries relative to nearby school districts (high turnover is a complex problem, but low salaries are definitely a contributing factor).
The Blueprint for Quality Schools is helping us to address these issues by expanding quality where it already exists and building on the strengths of schools that have room to grow academically. Bringing back some of the 18,000 students that have left OUSD in the last 20 years will allow us to better staff schools and better retain teachers, but bringing families back requires us to build and expand quality school options.
CUES and Futures merger. One of our first Blueprint decisions was to merge two elementary schools on the Lockwood campus on International Blvd under the leadership of a strong Principal, Shelley McCray. This move has allowed us to better staff this program and bring more rigorous academic standards to all the students on the campus. There is also now more collaboration between the merged school, Lockwood, and the 6-12 school on the same block, Coliseum College Prep Academy, which is helping to better prepare our elementary school students and ensure a more smooth transition to middle school.
Expansion of Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA); Closure of Roots International. CCPA has the highest graduation rate of any high school in OUSD, with a strong system to ensure that students are engaged in learning year-round (including over the summer). When students leave CCPA, nearly all of them go to college and they leave with money in hand, usually. CCPA provides great supports to help students to apply to college, apply for scholarships and prepare for college. The college-going culture at CCPA is unusual among flatland high schools in OUSD and I am proud of our decision to expand CCPA so that more students have access to this quality program.
Expanding CCPA required us to close Roots, which was a struggling school, because we did not have the funds to build CCPA a new building. In the future, we will need to address their need for additional space, but they have enough space for the next couple of years. Roots teachers and staff were very dedicated to their students and their school, and the closure was traumatic for them and their students. It was the hardest decision I've made on the board, and I believe it was the right one. Many Roots students were able to transition into CCPA, including their special education students. Other students are now attending Elmhurst United or other area middle schools.
A mural being painted at the Sherman campus featuring MLA's famous tiger.
Expansion of Melrose Leadership Academy (MLA). Melrose Leadership Academy is one of the strongest elementary schools in East Oakland (and it's a dual immersion school, providing instruction in both English and Spanish), and the board decided to expand the school onto a second campus, at Sherman Elementary school. The expansion has allowed MLA to expand their early grades (TK and PK) and to continue their work to increase the diversity of the school community, which has changed rapidly as the Maxwell Park neighborhood has changed demographically. You can see pictures above of our MLA Student Safety Patrol and the new mural at the Sherman site. Just like with CCPA, we need to both modernize MLA's building, as well as expand the site so that they can eventually all be reunited on one site. I am hoping that both of these projects will be included on the bond project list for the November 2020 bond measure.
Merger of Frick Impact Academy and Oakland School of Language into Frick School of Language. Frick Impact Academy (FIA) and Oakland SOL Middle School are two small middle schools in District 6, serving some of our highest-needs students, including large numbers of newcomer, homeless and low-income students. This merger and the redesign process brings some really strong staff teams together and will allow all students to have the chance to become bilingual during their middle school years, which is a way to recognize and value a strength that many Oakland students and families bring to our schools, and sets students up well to learn a third language in high school. Additionally, Frick has many elective and enrichment programs and athletics that Oakland SOL students will benefit from. I am so excited for the new school and the richer experience students are going to have.
During my time on the board, several other District 6 schools have made great academic progress, outside of the Blueprint process: Skyline High School, where the graduation rate has increased dramatically, Burckhalter and East Oakland Pride Elementary schools and Greenleaf K-8, all of which have continued to make academic gains in Math and ELA, while decreasing suspension rates for students. In general, District 6 schools have made great strides in the six years I have been on the board.
However, we still have several elementary schools in District 6 that are struggling academically and where enrollment continues to decline. When the board takes up Cohort 3 of the Blueprint in the fall, we will start to tackle this issue. All the options are on the table, and some schools will be redesigned and others expanded, while others will be merged or closed. I will share more about the next phase once the impacted school communities have been engaged.
These changes have been hard for the school communities involved, and they will continue to be hard, but they are critical moves to expand quality, which is the only way we can change the negative trends that are undermining the stability of our school district.