School board considers options for proposed enrollment policy

School board directors discuss potential changes in the district's enrollment policy.

School board directors discuss potential changes in the district's enrollment policy.

The house was packed for the Oakland Unified School District board of education meeting on Wednesday, as district officials presented a plan for improvements to the student enrollment system, Lance Jackson updated the board on the Central Kitchen Project, and the Oakland Athletic League (OAL) presented a progress report from the athletic department.

Yusef Carrillo and Charles Wilson presented information on current enrollment policies and proposed updates to the enrollment system. Today, there is one enrollment center serving all OUSD schools. Parents must also apply to charter schools and OUSD schools separately. “Given the geography of Oakland, it leaves remote communities underserved,” said Carrillo.

According to Wilson, instability in student enrollment is a challenge to the district, and further complicated by the current system. “We don’t know where these kids are going to be going,” said Wilson. For example, he said, “Piedmont [Elementary] was scheduled to have a certain number of kids. Their parents said they were coming. But the day came for school to open, there was a significant shortage of kids.” According to Wilson, the students who did not enroll had charter acceptances the district didn’t know about. “We almost had to consolidate a teacher there,” he said, using the district term for dismissing a teacher.

This fall, the district offered a survey asking families to give feedback on the enrollment system. Of the 450 parents surveyed, 73 percent said they would prefer using only one application to apply to all OUSD schools.

The district is currently considering updating its system. Under the proposed change, the district would shift to a single application for all schools, possibly including charter schools in a system called “common enrollment.” The district would create an online and paper-based “school finder tool” through which parents could research and compare schools and programs offered.

Carrillo and Wilson presented two plans: Option A and Option B. Option A does not change the prioritization structure for enrollment. Currently, students with siblings in a school receive first priority during the enrollment period. Students who live in the surrounding neighborhood receive second priority, with Oakland residents receiving third, and non-residents receiving fourth respectively.

With Option B, students with siblings and students living in a school’s neighborhood would receive first and second priority, but students attending a “feeder pattern” school receive third priority. According to staffers, this would incentivize families to keep students in the district for middle school—the OUSD sees a sharp decrease in enrollment of sixth grade students.

While no consensus was reached on the preferred option, board members posed many questions to Carrillo and Wilson regarding the plan. “I’ve asked several times, and haven’t received any information on how we expect this to affect our enrollment in OUSD schools,” said Director Shanthi Gonzales (District 6), who said she was concerned that enrollment could possibly decrease.

Many members of the public expressed concern that a common enrollment system would serve the interests of charter schools, while others argued that the policy will not get to the root of the problem: equal access to quality schools in all Oakland neighborhoods. Several referred to a recent San Francisco Chronicle article which stated that the effort to move to a common enrollment model will be funded in part by Educate 78, a non-profit that focuses on improving access to quality schools, including charters. Those who voiced opposition argued that the if the district adopts a common enrollment model, charters will benefit with increased enrollment.

Others complained that the survey was not effectively executed and did not provide accurate data. “There were 500 respondents to the survey,” said a parent of a Melrose Academy student. “I’m very computer savvy, and I was unable to figure it out.”

“I do think a subsequent survey is necessary,” said Director Nina Senn (District 4). “I want to make sure that we’ve quality controlled it to make sure it is working properly.”

The board did not vote on the proposed enrollment policy. Common enrollment will be discussed again in January.

Lance Jackson, interim deputy chief of facilities planning and management, presented updates to the Central Kitchen project. Approved by the board on November 4, the Central Kitchen will be constructed on the former Marcus Foster school site in West Oakland in an effort to bring fresher food to OUSD lunchrooms. Jackson said after the last board meeting, at which some members of the public commented that the design for the building was too tall and the colors were unappealing, the superintendent asked Jackson to get community feedback and refine the design by the next board meeting. According to Jackson, the new building in the original design is “significantly lower in height than the existing building.”

A few people commented on the lack of community involvement in both planning and designing the project. “We are very supportive of the idea of what you’re trying to do concerning the central kitchen, but this is a totally inappropriate space for this,” said Madeline Wells, a West Oakland resident. “The school site has been a school site since 1892,” she continued. “School grounds are irreplaceable, and should be preserved.”

The kitchen is expected to be operational by 2018.

The board also approved a proposed partnership with Union Bank to open a student branch at MetWest High School. The branch will be fully functional, and OUSD students will serve as interns. In order to intern, students must meet certain requirements, including providing three letters of recommendation and maintaining the grade point average required of all students who participate in OUSD athletic programs.

Board president James Harris asked about the fiscal effect of the partnership. When he was informed that the entire project is already fully funded, some members of the audience clapped. “I think that ‘no cost’ got some applause, too,” said Harris

Later, athletic department staffers presented information on the progress of the Oakland Athletic League (OAL). This year OAL increased student player participation in athletic activities by 34 percent. Presenters from the committee updated the board on changes in programming, facilities and uniforms within OUSD athletics. District staffers also presented updates to the LCAP and proposed budget for the 2016-2017 school year.

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