In late August, Aja Wilson’s schedule for her junior year at Oakland Technical High School was set. A student in Oakland Tech’s health academy, Aja was excited to be placed in honors chemistry. But just days before the first day of school, she learned that an unanticipated influx of students at Tech meant there was no longer room for her in the class.
Aja’s story is one of many, as more than a week after the official first day of school, administrators at Oakland Tech continue to struggle to place students in classes.
“Oakland Technical High School has exceeded its enrollment expectations,” said Joshua Fuchs, assistant principal at Oakland Tech. “Due to the increase in enrollment numbers, we are experiencing challenges in getting classrooms balanced per the OEA contract.”
The high enrollment at Oakland Tech has cost some students placement even in classes for which they were pre-enrolled last spring. “She’s taking regular chemistry now instead,” said Aja’s mother, Trish Wilson. “With everything that’s happening, I’m just happy she got placed in any chemistry class.”
Tech is widely regarded as one of Oakland’s highest-performing and most academically challenging public high schools. During the 2008-2009 school year, Tech recorded an 86 percent graduation rate, as compared to the district’s 69 percent average. While Oakland Tech’s Academic Performance Index (API) sits at 643, below the district average of 695, the increase from the 2007-2008 average of 621 is notable.
Oakland schools spokesman Troy Flint said Tuesday that he believes Tech’s booming performance has not only attracted students from other high schools in the district, but also students from local private schools. “The test scores are improving at Tech,” said Flint. “Oakland Tech is becoming a name brand.”
Wilson, who lives in Oakland’s Skyline area, said she opted to send her daughter to Tech because of the school’s academic reputation. “Skyline High School would have been closer, but we wanted Aja to be challenged,” Wilson said. “We’ve found that Tech offers a rigor that she may not get at other schools in the district.”
In the Oakland Unified School District, students apply to attend the district’s public high schools through an options enrollment process. The process, which begins the winter prior to the start of each academic year, lets students rank their top three school preferences. If space permits, all applicants are granted admission to their school of choice.
Students are notified of their school placement in March, and must register the week prior to the start of classes to retain their placement.
But even with this process in place, OUSD was blindsided at the start of the school year by the enrollment numbers. “We got our first hint about the number of students enrolled during registration, “ said Flint. “But, the numbers are never really clear until the first day of school when students show up.”
Oakland Tech enrolled roughly 1,700 students during the 2009-2010 school year. While exact enrollment statistics for this school year have not yet been determined, the increase in students appears to be in the hundreds. “In the ninth grade alone, we have over 100 students more than we anticipated,” said Susan Purbaugh, a ninth grade counselor at Oakland Tech.
Administrators at both OUSD and Tech are taking strides to ensure that all enrolled students can be accommodated. “To meet the needs of our students, we are looking at making changes to our master schedule,” said Fuchs. “A benefit to the increase in students is the ability to hire two additional teachers to alleviate some of the stresses.”
Flint could not confirm when new teachers will be hired, and said that while the district looks into hiring more teachers, some classes at Tech will be overcrowded. “There are certainly more students in some classes than we would like,” he said. “But no student will be in overcrowded classes for the entire day.”
Nora Mitchell, president of Oakland Technical High School’s PTSA, said she is confident the issue will be resolved in the coming days. “I know the administration is working really hard on fixing the problem,” said Mitchell. “I haven’t forced the issue with the principal.”
Despite this year’s enrollment issues, Flint said he believes Tech’s situation is an isolated occurrence, and that the district does not have any immediate plans to change the options enrollment process. “Oakland Tech is experiencing the most notable enrollment situation,” he said, adding that, for next year, “we will take a look at our projections and be a little bit more proactive in terms of student placements.”
Still, not everyone is confident the enrollment issue will not reoccur in years to come. Wilson worries about her seventh grade son’s prospects at Oakland Tech two years from now. “My husband and I are definitely concerned he will have trouble getting in now,” said Wilson. “Oakland Tech is a gem in the school district. The word is out.”
Update September 8, 1 pm:
OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint said Wednesday that, as of last September 1, enrollment at Oakland Tech was at 1,690 students. This number exceeds Oakland Tech’s projected enrollment of 1,589 by 101 students.
The school district makes enrollment projections using historical grade progressions. “Based on the day three count, it appears Tech is over in ninth and tenth grades,” said Michael Bonino, OUSD student assignment coordinator. “More students moved from ninth to tenth this year than had in prior years.”
OUSD has begun the process of hiring two additional instructors—one to teach chemistry and another to teach both English and history. “We are doing everything within our power to expedite the necessary appointments,” said Flint. “In all likelihood, finalizing the process will be more a matter of weeks than days.”