Few members of the public attended the beginning of Wednesday night’s meeting for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education. In a relatively empty room, the board heard a presentation from schools police chief Jeff Godown on arrests within OUSD schools and discussed budget priorities for the coming school year.
At 7:30, the empty room filled with parents, students and teachers arriving at a special meeting to support two schools up for charter petition renewal.
Staffers recommended the board vote yes on the revisions to the charter petition for KIPP Bridge Charter School, located in West Oakland. Many parents and students spoke in favor of the school and the school’s leader, principal Lolita Jackson, asking the board to vote yes on an expansion. The school currently serves grades 5 through 8, but the charter revisions will allow the school to expand its services to include transitional kindergarten to fourth grade.
“With this elementary school, we will be laying the foundation. We will be training our children in the community of West Oakland on how to study, how to learn, but most importantly, how cool it is to be smart,” said Michael Walker, parent of a fifth grade student at KIPP Bridge. “He’s actually doing well. He came in reading a little below his level, but they brought him up,” said Walker of his son.
A handful of people spoke against the expansion of the charter school. “I commend KIPP for what they’ve accomplished academically at the middle-school level, but what we need is to improve our public schools in West Oakland,” said Ben Tapscott, former head basketball coach for McClymonds High School.
Some board members expressed reservations about approving the expansion. “I’m very torn. However, I feel very compelled by the information around the lack of elementary school options that families in West Oakland are finding to be attractive, so I am going to support the schools expansion,” said Director Jody London (District 1). “However, I do this with grave, grave reservation. I assure you that I will never support, if I am still on this board, a KIPP High School, because I want the high school for West Oakland to be McClymonds.”
Director Jumoke Hinton-Hodge (District 3), who presides over the West Oakland district where KIPP Bridge is located, voiced her support for the expansion, but added that KIPP needs to continue to partner with McClymonds.
The board voted 6-0 in favor of the revisions to the charter. Director Shanthi Gonzales (District 6) was not in attendance.
In a continuation of the special meeting, the board heard a presentation on proposed revisions to the charter for Roses in Concrete Community School located in East Oakland. The existing school was originally envisioned as a dual language Spanish-English immersion program, and according to leaders, they provided dual immersion education from the beginning. However, they realized that the charter did not specify this type of programming and a revision of the charter is necessary to include that information.
School founder Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade said language immersion programs are necessary to help bridge divides between communities. In talking about a unified Oakland, said Duncan-Andrade, “we’re going to have to address the cultural divide that sits around language and the racial divide that sits around dual immersion.”
The board listened to the proposal, but did not take action on the item at the meeting.
During the superintendent’s report, Oakland School Police Department (OSPD) Chief Jeff Godown presented data on arrests and incident calls within the school district. In 2015, from April to October, OSPD officers arrested four students for school-related offenses and five students for non-school related offenses.
Public comment on the superintendent’s report centered largely on an incident that occurred at Fremont on January 8 in which OSPD officers restrained a 16-year-old student. The incident was captured by security cameras, and the student, Robero Canales, says officers intentionally pushed him out of the camera’s view.
A few members of By Any Means Necessary (B.A.M.N.), a local civil rights group that frequently organizes demonstrations on various issues, attended the meeting and voiced concern over what they said was systemic brutality and abuse of students by OSPD, particularly targeting Latino students as well the right to say the names of the employees involved at the board meetings.
“It’s easy to make [comments] when you have 25 percent of the information,” said Superintendent Antwan Wilson. “The board policy clearly states that if a student is a threat to himself or others or property we need to keep them safe.”
The board also discussed budget priorities for the 2016-2017 school year. Through the new “Defined Autonomy” process, by rating schools on a scale, the district plans to determine how much flexibility principals will have over spending. Through this process, the district determines how much autonomy schools have over their own budgets based on the performance of the school and the development and growth of the school’s leadership. Where the school ranks in those areas determines how much oversight the district has in how the school chooses to spend funds. A school that ranks as “high performance” with leaders that rank “exemplary” will receive the most autonomy over funding, while schools ranked as “low performing” will receive more direction from the district on how to spend allocated funds.
“It’s not a permanent thing. We want schools making decisions,” said Wilson, who explained that schools will be reviewed frequently throughout the year to determine how much budget oversight is needed.
The board also voted 6-0 to approve an exploration to see whether including a parcel tax measure on the November 2016 ballot is feasible. Wilson will report findings at the board meeting on April 27.