It was standing room only at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education. The board approved the Central Kitchen project, KIPP Bridge Charter School presented materials for a proposed elementary school, and, after some discussion, the board approved a facilities use agreement with Lazear Charter Academy.
The purpose of the Central Kitchen Instructional Farm and Education Center project is to improve the quality of all OUSD lunches. In 2011, the Rethinking School Lunch Oakland study determined that a large factor affecting the district’s ability to provide quality school lunches was a lack of food preparation facilities within the district. The Central Kitchen project began as a response to that—located at the former Marcus Foster Middle School site, the education center will hold 60 students, and the kitchen and administrative offices will employee 52 to 74 staff. The site will also house a one-acre farm, used to help students gain a deeper understanding of gardening practices and nutrition. School meals are currently packaged in plastic and delivered to every campus, but the Central Kitchen model allows for more preparation to occur at school sites.
After a presentation focusing on the Central Kitchen, some commenters spoke in favor of the facility, saying it was necessary for OUSD students, many of whom receive free or reduced-price lunch, to have high-quality food. Sarah Doung, a junior at Oakland High School and a member of Hope Collaborative, an organization that partners with the district to improve the quality of school lunches, spoke in favor of the kitchen. “From our data, we’ve seen the amount of food being wasted because people don’t find it, like, appetizing,” she said.
“I am looking forward to us saving money and not having kids throw food in the garbage because it’s inedible,” said Director Roseann Torres (District 5).
Other community members voiced concern about both the aesthetics of the kitchen and the demolition of the original Marcus Foster school building. Some argued that the board did not inform the nearby community in West Oakland until the last minute. “This is classic American racism,” said Jeff Baker, who identified himself as a resident of West Oakland. “4,314 people live in that neighborhood and this district said not a word to them in 2010, ’11, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, about demolishing Marcus Foster School. That’s the issue.”
Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney (District 3) requested that the board take two weeks before approving the Central Kitchen project in order for community members to have more input regarding the facility’s design. “The plan,” said McElhaney “is not within character, scale, or scope,” of the surrounding West Oakland community.
“It is, in its current design, a fortress that is very interior … very similar to some other buildings that have been built in Oakland for the use of the building and not for the benefit of the community,” she continued.
The board voted 7-0 in favor of the Central Kitchen project.
The board also heard a presentation from members of KIPP Bridge Charter School. KIPP Bridge, located in West Oakand, currently serves grades 5-8, and its leaders are now seeking to open a school that will serve elementary students. “KIPP Bridge is doing a tremendous job at the middle school level,” said Superintendent Antwan Wilson. Elementary education, according to Wilson, has “not been the primary area for KIPP.”
Board directors asked about the demographics of the student body the new school will serve as well as the relationship between KIPP and the greater West Oakland community, particularly how KIPP Bridge works with other schools like McClymonds High School. For enrollment purposes, students living in West Oakland are given priority, according to KIPP’s plan, but school board vice president Jody London (District 1) commented that neighborhood priority is still low. According to London, before neighborhood is considered, students with a sibling in the KIPP Bridge program will be given priority, followed by students receiving free or reduced price lunches.
KIPP members had originally requested a renewal of its charter with OUSD schools, but wrote a letter to Superintendent Wilson on October 29 to withdraw the request, and plan to resubmit their charter renewal request next year. The charter expires in June 2017. There was no vote involving the KIPP Bridge charter or the proposed elementary school.
The board also voted unanimously in favor of a partnership with Lazear Charter Academy, a K-8 Education for Change (EFC) school in the Fruitvale. Under the agreement, a new facility will be built as an OUSD property, but will be leased from the district by EFC to house Lazear Charter Academy under a 40-year agreement. Several administrators, teachers, and parents spoke about the quality of the facilities at Lazear. The original building burned down, and was replaced by portables.
Gonzales initially raised concerns regarding the lease agreement with Lazear. “I’m not comfortable with a 40-year lease,” said Gonzales. “While I think very highly of the current leadership of the school, I think the school is doing great things, I don’t know who is going to be leading that school in 10 years, never mind 40 years.”
Members of local activist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) were also in attendance, protesting the district’s proposed special education policies. Public comments on non-agenda items were held at the end of the meeting, and members of the organization complained that moving the public comments later in the evening was unfair.