The board is about to vote on Cohort 2 of the Blueprint for Quality Schools. Cohort 1 included a merger or CUES and Futures, a merger of Elmhurst and Alliance and the closure of ROOTS and expansion of CCPA. The Superintendent's recommendations for Cohort 2 (as presented last week) are:
- To merge Oakland SOL Middle School and Frick Impact Academy on the Frick campus.
- To expand Melrose Leadership Academy (K-8) to the Sherman Elementary campus in order to accommodate their growth in enrollment.
- To merge Kaiser Elementary with Sankofa Elementary on the Sankofa campus.
Though I have concerns and disagreements about approach for North Oakland (I shared at last week's meeting that I think we will be more successful merging the North Oakland schools on the Santa Fe campus and including Peralta, given that a group of Peralta parents have expressed willingness to make a merger work, while Kaiser parents are vehemently opposed), the fact is that OUSD used to have 15k more students than we do now, with nearly the same number of schools.
I didn't vote to open any of the charter schools that now exist in Oakland, but because I am part of the board, I am jointly responsible for addressing the impact of the loss of enrollment that has resulted, and this Blueprint work is part of how we are doing that.
Everyone dislikes the budget cuts, staffing shortages, and teacher strikes that have been part of OUSD's recent history, but in order to get away from that cycle of cuts and underfunding, we have to do something different.
Reducing the number of sites so that we can better resource the remaining ones is part of the strategy (which has also included layoffs in the central office, improving our facilities rental process to generate more revenue, launching Saturday school this year to recover funds from the state for missed days of school, reducing the number of contracts/consultants and soon, changing key vendors to cut costs).Everyone in the community wants to stop the cycle of dysfunction and chaos in OUSD, me especially. Doing that requires us to stop spending money we don't have, and reducing the number of school sites is part of that equation.
The other reason for the school changes is to focus on expanding access to OUSD's quality school programs, both by improving school quality (which is happening at many District 6 schools, including Burckhalter, East Oakland Pride and Futures), and expanding access to existing quality schools, which we are doing with the expansions of CCPA, MetWest, Melrose Leadership Academy, Elmhurst and others. The reason that school quality matters is that it drives enrollment (which in turn determines our budget) and allows us to better compete with the variety of options Oakland families have: charter schools, private schools and schools in other districts.
Unless we can offer a quality OUSD program in every neighborhood, we are going to stay stuck in the cycle of bleeding enrollment and losing revenue, leading to budget cuts, understaffing, strikes, etc.
The mergers and other changes we are going through are painful, but they are temporary, and necessary in achieving our goal of a stable and thriving district.