Oakland’s Newest School, And What it Signals

Great news for Oakland families in the OUSD Board approval of Oakland’s first new school in response to its call for quality schools, the district’s internal school development process.  The newly approved School of Language (SOL), a dual language program, fills a key gap in the bilingual pipeline.

OUSD has made huge strides in its services to English learners and bilingual pathway development has been an effective part of that.  The district now has five K-5 immersion programs and one K-8 program, but no stand-alone middle school dual language programs.  And parents are clamoring for one.  SOL at least partially fills that gap.

Districts need to strategically plan schools and innovate

It’s heartening to see the District thinking more strategically about the students and the school model needs.  I come from years of work in NYC where the District had a very active school incubation department—the Innovation Zone (I Zone) , and came up with some great models and replicated them.  Many of the hot educational trends came from or grew within the NYC DoE—Teach to One, early college high schools, career pathways—NYC DoE was ahead of the curve.

OUSD had its moment during the New Small Autonomous Schools, but seems to have mostly stalled, until now, in terms of innovative school creation, but there are costs to this new birth.

Too Many Schools in Oakland?

Oakland has a crowded field of schools—many observers, including several OUSD Trustees, would say too crowded.  By many measures Oakland probably does have “too many schools.”  And as we struggle with meeting district enrollment targets which are essential to meeting revenue goals, another school means slicing the existing pie a little thinner.

Or, it means expanding that pie by drawing from the 13,685 charter school students or the 17,572 students who presumably go to private schools but don’t show in charters or OUSD public schools.

Or it means closing or reducing the size of existing schools.

And as one middle school was birthed, another died, or was “consolidated” as the lingo goes. Sankofa, which was a K-8 receded to a K-5 by split vote of the board.  I don’t know the particulars and there usually are two sides to these stories, but the data case around low enrollment and low achievement for Sankofa Middle seemed clear from the one side that was presented.

These are the hard questions Oakland Unified will need to deal with, finances will be flat at best, district  enrollment while high for recent history will be under pressure from private schools and charters, and we have changing students and changing needs, and we need changing schools and school models.

Not Enough Great Schools

We may have too many schools in Oakland, but we don’t have enough great ones, particularly in the Flatlands.  Approving SOL is the right decision.  And I hope we see more strong responses to the district’s strategic needs and the call for quality schools.

This needs to go hand in hand with an increasing ability of the district to support community based school development.  Which means creating practical conditions for schools to be innovative and successful, and working with communities so that transformation at existing sites is done with community and not to it.

There are a lot of good things happening in Oakland schools, and SOL is one more potential flower in a patchy and uneven educational garden.  Every garden needs a turning of the soil, and as season’s change, some weeding and planting.

But it’s on us to make it a community garden, and be active informed, stewards, and deciders. Too long we have been more acted upon than actors, being fed whatever is served, or getting the leftovers from someone else’s feast, while we have all the raw materials for greatness in front of us.

What do you think?

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