Oakland Enrolls Executive Director Lisa Gibes de Gac shares the need-to-know information about Oakland public school enrollment for the 2021–22 school year.
With school enrollment season now open, what’s the most important thing for families to know right now?
The biggest thing right now is to explore your options. There are lots of them — over 120 different schools in Oakland, both charter and district. That’s a lot to consider, and we’re here to help. But the biggest thing is getting your applications in by February 5. That is the deadline for the on-time application period, which means that if you get your applications in by February 5, you will be a part of school lotteries, which is your best shot at getting into the school of your choice. So that’s the number one thing, that date: February 5. We want it to be in everybody’s minds, we want everybody to know it, and to take action.
What can families do to ensure the best possible school for their child?
We know that there’s no one school that fits every single child. I think the biggest thing to be thinking about is ‘what’s most important to you, what’s most important to your child?’ What types of programs do you think would be best for them? Are you looking at a school that needs to have a before or after school program? Are you looking to keep your kid in one school from K-6? Are you looking for something that is geographically close to you? There’s a lot that might matter to a family. And there’s no one right answer there.
You really have to think about what’s most important to your family, and then research your options. You can do that through oaklandschoolfinder.org. You can access information about all Oakland public schools, both charter and district schools.
You can also reach out to a school, see what they look like on social media, check out their website. There are a lot of schools who are offering virtual school tours right now. You can actually access those through oaklandschoolfinder.org, (look at school events, there’s a tab on the menu). That’s another really great way to find out about your options. There’s no one right way — these are some top ways we have found to be most helpful to families.
What’s your advice, for families who are transitioning, on how to learn about and then select a new school?
I’m gonna keep talking about oaklandschoolfinder.org because that’s really the place to find a lot of really great answers. When you’re on the website, you can search by your address and literally see what’s close to you. You can also search through a guided search by grade, which takes you through questions about things that you might find valuable about a school — maybe a bilingual program, before or after school program, sports, etc. to help narrow down the list of potential schools.
If you click on any one of those schools, you’re going to find a whole wealth of information: how many kids actually go there, the size of the school, the grades they serve, demographic information.You can also see academic performance.
One caveat I want to share is that due to distance learning, state tests did not happen to measure performance across math and English and reading. So the data this year is about a year out of date. But we still want families to have access to that because we think it’s a valuable measure to see how a school is serving kids. You can look at language, reading performance, math, the suspension rate, graduation rates, absenteeism — there’s a lot of different data to explore that will help give you a sense of different schools and options.
If you’re in one of those transitioning grades — where you’re no longer going to be attending the same school you’ve been going to for last few years. (If you’re from pre K, into transitional kindergarten or kindergarten, or from fifth grade going into middle school, or from eighth grade going into high school.) These are all really important times to think about what you are looking for in a school. We’re here to help you figure that out.
How can families safely tour new schools this year?
Some schools are getting creative and offering virtual tours. When you go to oaklandschoolfinder.org, look at the school events tab and you can see which schools are offering tours. Not every single school is offering one right now. If you’re not seeing the school you’re interested in, reach out to them directly, whether via social media, or find their email address or phone number on their website.
Everyone’s got a lot of their plates right now and there isn’t a whole lot of time. If you if you have a minute, try and give the school a call and see if they’re offering a tour, or if they’d be willing to connect you with an administrator, teacher or student to talk about their experience. A lot of schools have been coming up with really cool videos, which can be really great ways to get to know a school without actually going there. Check out their social media channels and website, too.
A lot of families have come to us asking about what to do or ask on a school tour. We developed a resource this year to help families with school tours. It’s translated in English and in Spanish. If you need it in an additional language, we can also help with that. It’s a checklist of questions for you to consider asking, (it doesn’t mean to include every single question you might consider) a start to help you think about what you might ask or look for.
Anything new or different this year that is important to note?
There just aren’t as many opportunities to physically see a school this year. The other big thing is that we don’t know what reopenings are going to look like. As of right now, every school — all public schools, both charter and district — are still closed. There are so many questions about reopening. Schools are working diligently to figure out how they can safely reopen for families. In the coming months, keep an ear out for updates.
I know families are thinking about this as they’re applying for next year. We understand that is a difficult thing to do. It’s a leap of faith. With that said, we want to be sure that you have options. So we’re encouraging families, even though it’s still a big question mark, to get those applications in. Give yourself options — your kid’s going to have to go to school next year, regardless, so we don’t want you to be left without a spot somewhere. By applying, you’re not committing anything. You’re not agreeing to go there. In March, when you have your offers, we’ll hopefully have a little more information about what next school year is going to look like. For now, you don’t have to do that yet. You just have to apply.
How has COVID impacted how Oakland families are enrolling their children?
The number of applicants we are seeing is still pretty high. There are a lot of families applying right now. Families are letting us know they’re not letting all of this uncertainty stand in their way of securing school options for their kids. We’re encouraging families to continue to apply and get the word out to their family and friends, as well.
Since there aren’t the community events happening right now — no festivals, back-to-school events at the beginning of the year, etc. — all those opportunities to see people and share information and talk have been snatched away from us. It’s one more casualty of this really difficult time, disrupting how families usually prepare to enroll.
What are the important dates for families to be aware of?
February 5 is the big one. Applications are currently open, so get them in. Remember that it’s not first come, first served. As long as you get those applications in by February 5, you’ll be entered into lotteries for those schools. With that said, don’t forget! We know the holidays are a very busy time. Take the time to set a date on your calendar, make the time to research and to submit.
After February 5 — once you’ve applied — there’s a bit of a wait and you’re not going to hear anything until March 11. That’s when all the lottery results are released to the public. You will then be able to see if you received offers from any of the charter schools you applied to, as well as any OUSD schools you applied to. If you receive an offer to a school, then you have two weeks to determine if you want to accept any of those offers. If you don’t receive an offer, you will be placed on the school’s waitlist.
March 25 is the deadline to accept those offers. So that’s three big dates. But the most important one is February 5: get those applications in.
Anything else that is important to note?
The biggest thing is that we are here to help. We know this process is not easy. It takes some work. So if you need any support — if you have questions about the enrollment process, about the deadlines, if you need us to submit the online application on your behalf — let us know. We can submit applications on behalf of families over the phone. We can answer questions for you, and you can call or text us at any time: 510–454–9360. We offer multilingual support. Spread the word to friends and family, and make sure that everybody you know has a school to go to next year.