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You Tell Us: Why Santa Fe Elementary School should not be closed

on October 10, 2011

My name is Peter von Ehrenkrook and I am currently a 5th grade teacher at Santa Fe Elementary.

I have to acknowledge that I am not worried about the Santa Fe teachers or staff. We will all have jobs in the fall, though some of us may be placed at less than desirable sites due to our public dissent.

In addition, I am not worried about our top performing students. They will be quickly assimilated into the local private and charter schools. Even Anna Yates in the Emeryville school district will turn a blind eye to home address issues if the child is a high performer.

My concern is for those children who are rejected by the local charters and private schools. Either their parents don’t have the savvy to get them in, or once they fail there, the charters and private schools send them back to us. This is often due to issues with low academic performance, erratic attendance, or behavioral problems. We always welcome them back and do the best we can to support them academically and emotionally.

We also do our best with children like the 13-year-old who came to me recently from a local private school knowing only 5 letters. They had passed him on year after year with A’s and B’s.  Or the English Language Learner who was dropped into my class last year the day before the CST. His family kept him out of another local school for over a month in protest over his being bullied, and only re-enrolled him when we opened our doors to him. This is what a real Full Service Community School does.

Nothing I have seen or heard from OUSD eases my deep concern about the future safety and welfare of our children in transition – those who are homeless, live with a grandma, or live with a relative who works nights.

These are real children I teach every day. They wander in around 10 a.m., since they have to get themselves up and walk from the areas near the old Longfellow or old Golden Gate sites. If you ask them to travel to Sankofa, or even worse to Piedmont Avenue, they may just decide it’s not worth the effort. They need a local public school they can walk to safely, and from which they can walk home safely at 6 p.m. after taking part in an after school enrichment program.

Until you can assure me our at risk students will be safe and their needs will be met, I will continue to rally public support against this closure.

Peter von Ehrenkrook is a 5th grade teacher at Santa Fe Elementary School in North Oakland. He has been a public school teacher in Oakland for ten years. He read this letter aloud at the School Closure Community Engagement Meeting at Santa Fe on October 6.


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  1. Drew on October 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Very good points!

  2. Ex-high perfoming kid on October 11, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    It’s interesting–to me—that Mr. von Ehrenkrook states he is not worried about his top-performing students. I was a high performing student (I read chapter books in Kinder, I loved homework, I practiced my instrument without being asked) in a public school that was “re-structured” and I got tossed into a much larger school, larger classrooms, a strange neighborhood (that was, actually, closer to my home but too dangerous my mother originally felt for me to spend my days).

    It completely derailed me educationally even though I got good marks and enjoyed school and had a good, comfortable amount of friends. But I was shy, quiet and used to an environment not hospitable to “bullies” and too small for them to hide. Thrust into the new school, I went completely inside myself and was too concerned about the day being over to pay much attention to academics. And I know they tried to prepare us with conferences and meetings. But I was a child; the adults explaining everything sounded like every adult on Charlie Brown. “Wamp, wamp wam waaaaaaaaaa!”

    I was scared of the new school because it was new and then because it ended up being scary (though since it wasn’t as bad as it gets, the district would never admit this). I never recovered and it wasn’t until, as an adult, I found a creative outlet that I fought my shyness with new situations and was able to pay attention to other things than my fears. School is something I never got into again. As an adult, I found education in private classes I paid for shuffling drinks in a bar. And I’m ok now. But, I know I would have done well all the way through if I had been allowed to finish at the pace I was used to and with the support group I had. I know people don’t carry their friends all through school, but we would have been going through the process together instead of being ripped apart (my single mother could not afford the alternatives my friends parents found, but she made too much money to qualify for real help for me-IOWS she could pay her rent).

    I’m not the only kid from my original school that fell between the cracks. It was right after Prop 13 and a lot of schools made changes for the coming budget deficit—a preemptive move that wasn’t even warranted yet!

    So don’t think those higher performing kids with active parents will “just be alright”. There’s no guarantees, but chance are a lot better they’ll be alright if they are left where they are doing well.

    Remember, Mr. von Ehrenkrook and everyone else: the wealthy will find a way. The lower income folks will qualify for aid—no one in this town watches out for those people who are still, just barely, hanging on to the middle rung of the ladder. No one.

  3. Leonard Raphael on October 15, 2011 at 8:17 am

    OUSD has always been a bad place for kids in the middle. The high performing kids or the kids with high energy or high income parents did fine. The learning disabled kids got decent schools. And some of the non disabled bottom performing kids had programs to help them to varying degrees of failure and success.

  4. Chris Vernon on October 27, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    What I can’t understand is why OUSD isn’t looking at closing Sankofa. Unless things have changed, there are fewer than 100 students there. Will kids at Santa Fe be sent there?

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