Will History Repeat Itself? School Closures and What We Need to Learn from the Past.

Dear Oakland Community,

Since the passing of the Community of Schools policy1Oakland leaders advocated for an implementation of the policy that would improve student outcomes and create enduring change. We encouraged the school board and superintendent to make hard decisions to get to the right number of schools so that we increase access to a high-quality education.

At the same time, we are concerned about how the Community of Schools policy is being implemented. School closures are painful and disruptive. They should only happen when a clear plan exists for each and every child impacted by the closures to get access to a higher-quality school. Read on for our concerns, lessons from the last time OUSD closed schools, and our demands for how OUSD must move forward. 

Our Concerns:
Last fall, 1Oakland leaders spent thousands of hours learning best practices to share recommendations for implementing the Community of Schools policy. While we appreciate OUSD’s data-driven efforts to project future enrollment in our city, we are worried that clear goals and a specific plan for how student outcomes will improve have not been communicated. Actions are being taken without transparency or meaningful community input. 

We Must Learn from the Past
We have been here before. In 2011, OUSD restructured the district to “expand quality and release resources” and closed 5 elementary schools. The district communicated the purpose of the closures, to implement a Full-Service Community District model “focused on serving the whole child, eliminating inequity, and providing each child with excellent teachers every day.”

The process was challenging and many lessons were learned. We obtained a draft internal report, prepared for OUSD leadership with lessons learned from the restructuring process. The report’s goal was to “understand the implications of these findings for future practice.” Central themes of the report were that the closures were not decided by a clear quality metric, there was little transparency, and that community engagement was a critical missing piece of the process:

There appeared to be confusion around whether or not the definition of quality in the Strategic Plan informed the school closing criteria.” -Page 28

“One OUSD employee voiced… ‘if we had understood the process and analyzed it [with the community], some of these issues would have surfaced [ahead of time].’” – Page 19

The report ends with 5 important recommendations. Click below to read them:

We recognize that OUSD is facing internal and external pressure, including teacher contract negotiations, implementation of State Relief Bill AB1840, and budget cuts.

OUSD is facing these challenges while also moving forward with identifying school closures and consolidations and completing a citywide map of where schools should be located. It is important that OUSD leadership refer back to this report and listen to these community voices, lessons learned, and recommendations to adjust their plans.

Our Demands
On December 11th, 1Oakland hosted a packed room of more than 100 community members to be in conversation about the district’s Community of Schools workplan. At the event, we heard about the workplan from OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. We heard participants share that the first and most critical step was for the district to define school quality for all schools, district, and charter, and to develop a plan to ensure all families have access to a great school.

A week after our event, OUSD announced the planned closure of Roots International Academy. The announcement and process for the closure does not reflect our feedback or lessons our community learned from closures in 2011.

Given our concerns about the closure and citywide map we have four demands with the first one being the most essential:

o    Define Quality First: Prioritize identifying a definition of a quality school for all public schools by building on the School Quality Review. We cannot increase access to quality without a shared definition.

  Clear Goals and Plans: Once you determine a definition of quality, develop and communicate goals to measure your progress. Create clear plans for how we will increase the number of quality schools serving students.

o    Meaningfully Engage Community: Invite teachers, principals, and families to identify strategies to develop the conditions to increase quality in neighborhoods where it is not currently accessible and stay the course in implementing these plans.

o    Transparency: Honestly explain your actions to school communities and the public. How we will get to quality? What are the trade-offs? What do we lose, what do students gain?

What do you think?

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