Parents petition Oakland to reopen elementary school
By Doug OakleyOakland Tribune
POSTED: 11/23/2014 12:00:00 AM PST0 COMMENTS
OAKLAND — A baby boom and influx of families to a West Oakland neighborhood has residents there pushing the school district to reopen Santa Fe Elementary School, which was closed in 2012 amid budget problems.
“We ran a survey last spring and came back with some pretty big numbers as far as babies and children in the area,” said Megan Low, a parent and member of the Santa Fe Community Association. “A lot of new families are coming into our neighborhood from San Francisco where they are getting priced out of housing.”
Santa Fe Elementary is on 54th Street between Adeline and Market streets. It’s currently being used by the Emeryville school district while it builds a new K-12 school. Families in the Santa Fe area who want a school nearby now have to go more than a mile away to either Sankofa Academy on Shattuck Avenue or Emerson Elementary on Lawton Avenue.
Both those schools require kids in the Santa Fe area to cross busy streets like Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Shattuck and Telegraph avenues to get to them.
On Thursday night about 100 residents and their children met with Superintendent Antwan Wilson to show him data they collected on the increase in children in the area and to tell him about their hardships in getting to other schools.
“I am open and I appreciate your passion,” Wilson said. “And I am impressed with your thoughtfulness and enthusiasm.”
Wilson told the crowd they can partner with Oakland educators to formally petition the school district to start a new school in a new process he will unveil in late February.
“It’s an invitation to come forward, a process to ask for a new school called the request for quality schools,” Wilson said. “The idea is that reviews of the requests would happen and then the school board would approve it before the end of the school year. Any options that are approved have a full 15 months before a new school would accept new students.”
Wilson said there is no “magic number” of children in an area that must be verified to open a new school.
“What it comes down to is ensuring that we are not going to unintentionally hurt other schools so that they are not successful,” Wilson said. “I need to understand what losing families at those schools would mean.”
The community pain of losing Santa Fe Elementary school in 2012 was evident in the crowd. Leslie Cleaver-Wood, president of the Longfellow Community Association, said Santa Fe was closed just as her son was entering kindergarten.
“It sent us into a tailspin,” Cleaver-Wood said. “Santa Fe is less than a half-mile from our house, but now we have to walk or ride our bikes over a mile and cross all these busy streets. Having a K-8 school in our neighborhood would be ideal for us.”
School board member Jody London, who attended the meeting, said closing Santa Fe was part of a process in which the district “closed a portfolio of schools to close a structural deficit.”
“We had 400 school age kids living in the area and maybe 100 choosing Santa Fe,” London said. “Parents were taking their kids to other schools. We didn’t see the numbers in favor of keeping the school open. I know it was not a popular decision. But your group did not exist at that time and I’m delighted to see this level of interest.”
Low said her group went door to door in the Santa Fe neighborhood and distributed 1,500 postcards and received 257 back that showed 83 children in the age range of a K-5 school.
“When we looked further through real estate websites into the other neighborhoods that this school would serve, the numbers get really big,” Low said. “The Golden Gate neighborhood has 600 children up to 9 years old and the Longfellow neighborhood has 553 kids up to age 9. The school district keeps telling us we need to have 300 to 400 kids minimum for the school to be viable, but our hunch is they are not accounting for growth as much as we are seeing.”
When a new apartment building called MacArthur Station at the MacArthur BART station opens in the spring with 90 units and a total of 624 by 2021, even more families will be in the area, speakers at the meeting noted.
Wilson’s new chief of schools, Allen Smith, told the crowd Thursday night that in order to open a new school, the district needs to have a “rock solid plan.”
“We have to be very intentional about the school choices we are going to make,” Smith said. “This is going to be a lot of work.”