Board votes to consolidate Kaiser and Sankofa

Wow, that was a rough meeting. The Board voted last night to consolidate Kaiser and Sankofa next fall at the Sankofa campus. Unfortunately, they did not even consider a proposal which started coming together over the past two weeks, to consolidate Peralta and Sankofa at the Sankofa campus, and move Kaiser's program in its entirety to the Santa Fe campus. When I last wrote on this issue, I did not think this option was physically feasible due to Sankofa's current size, but OUSD's FAQ from last night's meeting (see p. 8) states that by adding three portables to the Sankofa campus, they could enroll a total of 456 students (including the two existing Special Day Classes), at a one-time construction cost of $800,000. That would be enough to hold the combined student population of Peralta and Sankofa, assuming there was a small attrition rate as there usually is in any consolidation.

This was a failure of imagination by OUSD staff and the Board, to consider an idea which had significant community support. I'm not saying it would have been an easy process, and it would still have involved a lot of pain for the Kaiser community to move, but the District would have had much more support from some of the local parent activists who would have felt heard. This proposal would also have met the demand of Sankofa families to stay put on their campus. (I wish I could have been more involved in advocating for this proposal, but I was out of town for a family emergency all of last week, so I've been out of the loop.)

There was some concern from staff and some board members that this alternative proposal would (a) have required more community engagement time, and (b) might siphon families over time away from Emerson and Hoover to the Santa Fe campus. However, the additional community engagement time would have been worth it given how terribly the decision they did make is going over. And the same board members who were so concerned about the effect on Emerson and Hoover proposed and passed an amendment last night, instructing OUSD staff to look into reopening Santa Fe in 2021, when its effect on Emerson and Hoover would presumably be the same. So that amendment was either disingenuous or incoherent.

I think that a reopened Santa Fe campus would draw in lots of families from the 'school desert' of northwest Oakland (over one square mile of dense residential area with no public schools, from MLK and 580 to the Berkeley and Emeryville borders), greatly reducing its impact on Emerson and Hoover Schools. Many of the families in this school desert have gone out of district, finagling a spot in Berkeley or Emeryville schools, private school or charters (there are 3 charter elementaries in that square mile). And to me this proposal was well worth the risk, given the bigger likelihood that many Kaiser families will now look into out-of-district options - this has been an ugly process that has reinforced a lack of confidence in OUSD. So I wish there had been more effort made by staff and the Board to explore this option.

Everybody is still recovering from last night's meeting, so it is hard to think about next steps yet, but one priority is for some healing to happen between Sankofa and Kaiser families. I will do my best to introduce involved parents from both campuses to each other, and I hope everyone will do their best to make the merger, however badly thought out it has been so far, successful in the future.

The Board also voted to consolidate SOL and Frick next year, a less controversial decision (although many speakers from the public, the vast majority of whom had never been to either campus, felt entitled to speak out angrily against the merger last night). I have long been involved with SOL and am teaching in their afterschool program again this year. I know families are glad to be moving to a larger location from their very cramped site, and staff and families at SOL are looking forward to doing the work of forming relationships with Frick families and staff. This will be hard work due to the rushed timeline of the merger, but I believe they are up to the task.


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