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OUSD board member Jody London listens to Kaiser family concerns after the meeting was adjourned.

OUSD meeting turns into emotional protest

on September 21, 2011

An OUSD facilities board meeting turned into an emotional protest Tuesday afternoon when parents, faculty and staff from Kaiser Elementary School showed up unannounced, rallying to keep their school open.

A protester asking, “What will you do with the property if Kaiser is closed down?” was the only question that hinted at the agenda of the scheduled bimonthly meeting of the facilities committee.  This group, consisting of board members Alice Spearmen, Jody London, and Noel Gallo, attends to the district’s infrastructure, including development, renovation, and the leasing of property.

But this week, distressed Kaiser parents looked at the OUSD board’s calendar and saw another chance to protest the inclusion of their school’s name on a list of schools targeted for closure.   “Facilities meeting @ 4:30 tonight at OUSD. Come one, come all!” was one message posted on “Oppose Kaiser Elementary Closure,” a Facebook group with 80 members.

Parents passed the word through Twitter and a Yahoo parents’ group, too, and by the time board members arrived for their meeting, protesters were already filling out OUSD speaker cards.

“We explored all of the schools in our neighborhood and didn’t feel they would make a good fit for our family,” Kaiser parent Kirsten Foley told the panel. “I’m coming to you today because I have not had any clarification from the district that if this school is closed an identical or similar opportunity for my kid will be available.”

Joanna Fraguli, a West Oakland resident, told the board members Kaiser had provided support her family needed.

Joanna Fraguli, a West Oakland resident, told the board members Kaiser had provided support her family needed.

Foley began to cry.   “Our concerns were that Zindzhi [her daughter] would be the only kid like her. The only biracial kid. The only kid with two moms. The only kid who had one Caucasian parent,” she said. “Glenview is full, Sequoyah is full. Where will we send her?”

The line of protesters waiting to speak continued to grow. Joanna Fraguli, a West Oakland resident in a wheelchair, told the board members Kaiser had provided support her family was unable to find in other schools.   “I have a physical disability,” she said. “My partner and I chose to build our family through adoption. As a white woman parenting an African American daughter who heard comments like ‘You’re such a lucky little girl,’ ‘You are so inspirational,’ ‘What happened to your real mom?,’ ‘Are you white?’ We chose Kaiser because of the strong supportive community. My child was not a diversity token. Though I’m a physically disabled mom I’m treated with respect.”

“My spouse and I have two children,” said Zeus Leonardo, a professor of education at UC Berkeley. “Our kids are tri-racial—Filipino, black and Jewish. We had options, including private schools, but wanted them at Kaiser.”

Many protesters made a point of distinguishing their neighborhoods from the comparative affluence of the Oakland hills. “My four children share one bedroom,” said Leora Barzell-Weber. “We are flatlands. School district number seven.”

The protesters repeatedly reminded board members that many families go out of their way, with carpooling and regular text messages, to bring their children to Kaiser.  “Is it elitist to drive kids, predominantly black, to a place they don’t live?” Christopher Malone, whose daughter Lily goes to Kaiser, said after the meeting.  “Or is it elitist to say those children should not be up there in the North Oakland hills?”

Malone said he is willing to pay for a structural engineer to evaluate the school building in order to see if it can handle 150 more students.  Kaiser now contains kindergarten through fifth grade. An expansion would increase that to eighth grade.

The OUSD, whose board members have the final vote on closures, is arguing that there are too many schools in Oakland’s district to maintain a high education standard.

Other Bay Area districts have far fewer schools in relation to their overall number of students. San Jose Unified has 52 schools for 32,000 students; Mount Diablo Unified has 55 schools for 34,000 students. Oakland has 101 schools for just over 38,000 students.

Although the OUSD released a list that included two middle schools, Frick and Claremont, for possible closure, they will not be the first to go.  Ahead of them on the possible closures list are eight elementary schools—Marshall, Burckhalter, Lakeview, Santa Fe, Kaiser, Lazear, Maxwell, and Sobrante.

Although the final announcement won’t be known until mid October, the first trial will take place in seven days. According to the board, they looked at numerous factors when deciding on what schools to close—enrollment percentages, building capacity, school performance rank, population density around schools, newly built school locations and the number of neighborhood students attending each school.

Kaiser is a school in high demand, usually with an enrollment waiting list. The school’s enrollment data for 2009-10 totaled 275 students with an average daily attendance rate of 97%. Its black population totaled 47% from 2009-10. Latino’s made up 4% of enrollment, Asians 11%.

Last year, black students at Kaiser were above district average for the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Report, earning 816 out of 1,000 points.

After the line of protesters dwindled, many of them finding seats, board member Noel Gallo addressed everyone. He described visiting other schools on the closure list.  “Those parents are engaged,” he said. “There not showing up here at every meeting, but they are meeting.”

A student at Kaiser prepares to leave with her mom after the protest.

A student at Kaiser prepares to leave with her mom after the protest.

Gallo and other members of the board said they want to preserve Kaiser’s program, but move it to a different part of Oakland.

“Only 10% of the students live in the attendance area,” Gallo said.

“So keep the hills white! Is that it?” a protester yelled.

“How about folding your program into another school?” Spearman asked.

“No way! No way!” repeated the crowd.

“I don’t appreciate you coming down to the committee meeting,” Spearman said.   “I’m not going to lie to you.”

She leaned forward in her chair. “I’m not running for city council,” Spearman said. “I don’t have to lie. From where I sit, whether you say ‘no way’ or not, somebody’s going to make a decision.”

Protestors continued to shout, and Gallo had heard enough. “I’m adjourning the meeting,” he said.

“Why not merge Emerson onto our campus!” yelled a protester from the audience.

“Because a lot of them can’t haul up to Kaiser,” said London, who had left the panel and entered the public seating area. “I have a problem with a school where 26 students of the neighborhood attend.”

“Given the tone here at this meeting, an expansion plan seems useless,” said Christopher Malone after Gallo’s abrupt announcement.

Surrounded by Kaiser families, London continued to listen to their concerns, but remained firm.

“You’ve heard what I’m willing to offer,” she said. “There’ve been three committee meetings this week and you’ve been at every one. We need to relocate the school to a site more accessible to the population. Some schools are going to close. No way around that.”

The first hearing will be held on Tuesday, September 27, although the location has not been confirmed: “I’m pushing for it to be held upstairs [in the Paul Robeson Building],” London said. “There’s been talk about changing the location, but everyone knows how to get here already. ”


  1. OUSD Mom on September 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I didn’t know Kaiser was slated to close – is it because the facility isn’t acceptable or because only 26 kids form that district actually attend the school? If the local district kids don’t go to Kaiser where do they go? The disparity between schools in Oakland is a big problem, but Kaiser has a great reputation and a waiting list. Why are they closing a school that has overall community and parent support? Would love to get some clarity – this article was just a little unclear on what the school board plans to do with the students of the schools that close if the rest of the schools are already at capacity…

    • Trish Gorham on September 22, 2011 at 6:26 am

      The ONLY criteria the district is using as a justification for closing Kaiser is that the majority of our students live more than 1 mile from the school. That’s it.

      Does London really believe her nonsense that parents living in Temescal “can’t haul their kids up to Kaiser”? They “haul” their kids to Peralta every day. By car.

      She can’t play any other elitist card against Kaiser, so she rails that we discriminate against families that don’t have cars. Really? And she’s supposed to be representing this school in her district??!!

      The closure of the most fully integrated elementary school in Oakland will force most of our students back to segregated schools.

      Once again, OUSD opens itself up to disdain by any logical thinking person.

  2. Ergh on September 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    The only way we are going to get out of it now is to blow up the current system, save for the few schools that have been managed effectively, and where all of the parents are engaged in their children’s educational process (yes, those will be more hills schools than flatlands, because hills parents contribute more of their own money to their childrens’ education), and start over. The plan on the table will accomplish that goal.

  3. KaiserParent on September 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Thank you so much for reporting on this. As a Kaiser parent I was also in attendance at the meeting. I appreciate how candidly you laid out the issues. Kaiser is an incredibly diverse school both racially and by family type. Kaiser parents come from every neighborhood in Oakland. I say the neighborhood IS using the school. Isn’t Oakland our neighborhood? Can we expand our idea of neighborhood just a little bit to include our whole wonderful city? Why close a school just because the students come from our whole town? Oakland may have too many schools, but Oakland does not have too many high performing schools, and it certainly doesn’t have too many diverse high performing schools. Oakland should not close schools that work!

  4. Michael on September 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    it never ceases to amaze me how hard the district works at alienating parents and giving them reasons to leave the district. The merits of the closures aside, there is no reason for a trustee such as Alice Spearman, herself a former parent activist, to talk to parents like that. Does she forget who she works for?

  5. Kaiser Teacher on September 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    We, the teachers of Kaiser School, were shocked and saddened to see our school on a list generated by a set of criteria adopted by the OUSD school board. We understand that this list is an initial step in a process being implemented this year to close schools. Closing Kaiser School—one of the four most successful schools in the entire district as regards African American achievement—would be an egregious error that would harm our school district both fiscally and academically.

    Kaiser is a school where kids can be who they want to be. We are a welcoming environment for mixed race families, two-mom families, two-dad families, immigrant families—if you have a family that wants to be a part of an appreciative, accepting community then Kaiser is the school for you. A glance at our excellent ratings in the area of student safety on the “Use Your Voice” surveys from previous years will confirm this. Don’t tell the parents at Kaiser that we can close this school and offer them an equivalent program at another school because it isn’t true and they know it.

    Kaiser is a cost-effective school. Every year we get our ADA (Average Daily Attendance) money from the state and every year we finish in the black. OUSD implemented Results-Based Budgeting in 2003-2004, a program under which the central office keeps some of the money and then the school gets what it’s allowed to spend and the principal and School Site Council have to figure it out. It isn’t always easy but we have figured it out, unlike many other, larger schools that have had to be bailed out by OUSD. Since this is the case, how can we be labeled as not economical, or as too small to be cost-effective?

    Kaiser is a diverse school. Kaiser School’s student body breaks down as follows: 16% multi-racial, 35% African American, 27% White, 10% Latino, and 10% Asian. Kaiser shows what a truly diverse, integrated school can achieve. We are not a flatlands charter school that imposes militaristic discipline that no middle class parent would stand for. We’re not a hills school with token minority representation. We are a school that demonstrates what Oakland can achieve when all are included, when all are welcome.

    Kaiser is one of the top 4 African American public schools in Oakland. Only four schools have an African American student population over 33% and an African American API over 800. Kaiser School is one of them. Admirably, OUSD is trying to make the achievement of young African American men a priority. Keeping Kaiser School open would be one of the most effective ways to sustain African American male achievement in the short-term.

    We understand that the list that has been generated is only a preliminary list at this time. The criteria applied resulted in several surprising names (not only Kaiser’s) on the list for possible closure. We hope and we trust that the OUSD school board, upon your recommendation and with your support, will take another look at the criteria applied, and remove schools that have a proven track record of success from the list for possible closure.

    OUSD are now making pretty clear noises about moving our school rather than closing it. Unfortunately, this is neither practical nor acceptable. It is simply closure by another name. We would be combined with another school that would have their own strengths, weaknesses, program, staff, and their own set of things on which they are focusing. According to facts shared with the teachers by OUSD staff at a meeting after school yesterday, if 80 students left OUSD after Kaiser was closed or consolidated with another school, this would entirely offset any savings to the district. This is the worst kind of business-model school governance. It looks like it might make sense if you look at teachers, families and students as cogs and widgets, but we all know that a school is not a business, and neither is a school district.

  6. Leonard Raphael on September 22, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Interesting that the Kaiser teacher says the school is considered “profitable” using the district’s own measures. What does Ms London and Spearman say to that?

    I could imagine that’s true if Kaiser has an amazingly high attendence rate compared to so many Oakland elementary schools.

    The out of district issue is a red herring: stand outside Emerson and count how many kids come by school bus and car, vs a handful who walk.

    For it’s success alone, it should be kept open as a model for other schools.

    -len raphael, temescal

  7. […] issue has become so contentious (a protest took place four days ago) that Tuesday’s meeting has been moved to Oakland High School on MacArthur Boulevard at 5 pm […]

  8. […] teachers and staff rallied to keep their school open. They attended every school board meeting (and one facilities meeting) on OUSD’s calendar. It worked, apparently, and now that Kaiser is off the closure list, other […]

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