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Getting to Golden Gate for school

on May 12, 2010

A number of people interviewed for the Learning in Golden Gate project said that many of the 1,100 students attending Golden Gate neighborhood schools* do not live in the area. To see where students were coming from we collected the zip codes of students attending the three Golden Gate neighborhood schools: Berkeley Maynard Academy, Civicorps and Santa Fe.  We then mapped the zip codes (see above) so that we could see the population density of enrolled students per zip code.

Our results showed that only 39 percent** of students attending school in the Golden Gate neighborhood live within the bounds of the 94608 zip code that covers Golden Gate, a sliver of Emeryville and a small portion of West Oakland (see map for exact boundaries).  When neighboring Oakland zip codes (94607, 94609 and 94612) are included the figure goes up to 59 percent. Overall, about 33 percent of students who attend school in Golden Gate travel there from over 3 miles away.

Santa Fe Elementary, the traditional public school in the neighborhood, has by far the most local students, with 86 percent coming from the Golden Gate zip code or one of the three bordering zip codes.  Principal Carol Johnson said she finds that students who spend two years or more at Santa Fe begin to make academic gains more quickly than students who move each year, so the school staff tries to convince parents to keep their kids at Santa Fe even if they move to a different neighborhood or town.  A California law allowing school choice across districts and town lines makes this possible.  Still, only about one percent of Santa Fe students attend the school from addresses outside Oakland.

If you count students living in the 94608 zip code and those living in the three bordering zip codes, both charter schools have significantly lower percentages of local students—36 percent at Berkley Maynard and 51 percent at Civicorps—and pull students from all over the North and East Bay. According to Civicorps’ list of zip codes, 33 percent of its 199 K-5 students live in the 94608 zip code and 70 percent live in Oakland. Currently only 26 percent of Berkley Maynard’s 451 K-7 students live in the 94608 zip code, and only 53 percent live in Oakland.  Berkley Maynard even lists one student who travels from Fairfield, CA every morning to attend school there.

Berkley Maynard’s principal, Christine Landry, said that the school gives admission preference to local students but that part of its charter is to accept students from anywhere in California. Admission to Berkley Maynard or any charter school in Oakland is based on a lottery system and no public school student can be turned down due to their grades, past behavior problems, or for any other reason.  The application form, available on every charter school’s website, asks only for basic registration information like name, grade level, address and parent/guardian information.

When we interviewed Golden Gate residents, many told us that the neighborhood’s population was aging and that a majority of residents were retired.  According to the 2000 census, the median age of people living in the 94608 zip code is similar to that of the United States—35.5 years of age.  However, it is important to note that the census numbers might not represent a story we frequently heard: Children living in Golden Gate are often staying with their grandparents.  A neighborhood in which school-age children live with their grandparents might result in a low median age, even if there are fewer 25-45 year-olds living there than in most neighborhoods.

Since there are three schools in the area, offering upwards of 1,000 spots for elementary enrollment, any K-5 student living in Golden Gate has the opportunity to attend a school in his/her neighborhood. However, we heard many stories about young families moving to the neighborhood but not sending their children to the local schools. We did not see direct evidence of this, but we had no way to verify it without concrete data isolating the number of new families to determine if they had children and where they were sending them. We do know that there are more enrollment opportunities in Golden Gate schools than there are local attendees: The three schools serve approximately 1,100 students and only 436 of these children live in the Golden Gate neighborhood.

What does this mean for the neighborhood?  How does this change the way that the community forms around schools?  Does this change the sense of community for those who live there?  Why has Golden Gate become such a hub for elementary schooling?  We’d love to hear your perspective—please join in the conversation below!

*All numbers include sixth and seventh grade students who attend Berkley Maynard.  All other students are in grades K-5.

**All percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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