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OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson, silhouetted by a screen displaying questions for him from Santa Fe CAN, speaks to the audience gathered to ask to re-open Santa Fe Elementary School.

OUSD Superintendent hears pleas to revive elementary school

on November 21, 2014

As the rain fell outside the library at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, approximately 70 people gathered inside Thursday to hear one neighborhood organization’s plea to district officials to re-open Santa Fe Elementary School.

By 6:30 p.m. people filled the seats, leaving only standing room as Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) superintendent Antwan Wilson walked in to silence and anticipation.

“The man of the hour,” said Megan Low, a member of the Santa Fe Community Association and Neighbors (Santa Fe CAN) Education Committee.

The Santa Fe CAN Education Committee has been collecting signed letters to Wilson since August. Now Low handed Wilson the physical letters, in a manila envelope, to show him the neighborhood’s support for re-opening Santa Fe Elementary at its previous location.

“We think this is just the beginning of a conversation,” Low said as the meeting was wrapping up.

Several members of Santa Fe CAN presented arguments for reopening Santa Fe as an Oakland school after OUSD’s $1.75 million lease of the building to the Emery Unified School District (EUSD) expires at the end of 2015. The Oakland residents cited reasons such as safety, transportation, need for a community hub and neighborhood growth.

“I’m open,” Wilson said over a murmur of children playing in the balcony overlooking the library. “I hear your passion, and I appreciate your passion.”

The OUSD Board of Education voted to close Santa Fe Elementary in 2011, citing low neighborhood attendance. The three-year lease to Emeryville district is for the three-year period expiring at the end of 2015. Emery Secondary School is currently using the site, while its old site is under construction.

In a recent interview with Oakland North, Jody London, board director for District 1, said that in 2011, of the approximately 400 K-5 aged kids in the Santa Fe neighborhood, only about the 125 of them were attending Santa Fe.

“This was the data,” London said at Thursday’s meeting, adding that the decision to close Santa Fe was not easy.

But now, said Low and others supporting the re-opening of the school, the number K-5 aged children—the grades Santa Fe Elementary would serve if it was re-opened—has grown in the neighborhood.

“There are pregnant women walking around everywhere,” Low said, smiling to the crowd. “There must be something in the water. ”

Though no decision was made at the meeting, Wilson did speak about the new five-year strategic plan he had unveiled at the OUSD board meeting the night before. Part of the plan includes the call for quality schools, which allows community members to submit proposals for schools to be opened.

Wilson, echoing a point London made in a recent interview with Oakland North, said Santa Fe could not be re-opened at the expense of neighboring elementary schools. Enrollment increased at Sankofa Academy, Peralta Elementary School and Emerson Elementary School after Santa Fe was closed, London has said, allowing the schools to receive more per-pupil funding, and stabilizing their finances.

Wilson, citing his strategic plan, said the district could provide communities who wanted to open a school with help in writing a strong proposal.

One of the hardest things a school district does is close a school, Wilson said, and this is never a decision made lightly. He said he was impressed by the group’s presentation and that he looks forward to dialogue that could lead to a school in 2016.

“You can resurrect a school,” he said. “You can resurrect a community.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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