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Charter school supporters propose new school in Fruitvale neighborhood

on September 15, 2017

During an Oakland school board meeting that lasted until a little after 11 p.m. Wednesday night, a new plan for school facilities and a proposal for an additional charter school were major topics of discussion.

Over 20 students, parents and faculty members came to the meeting to propose a future charter school called Latitude High School 37.8. The name refers to the coordinates of the Oakland region. The group’s desired location for the school on 29th Avenue, making it a neighbor to the already-existing Epic, a charter middle school in the Fruitvale area.

According to Latitude’s website the proposed charter school curriculum would combine community-based experiences with a core academic curriculum. Instead of having traditional classes, students would be enrolled in three main studios. The humanities studio would allow them to study as journalists, historians and ethnographers and encourage them to use multimedia, writing and speech. The math studio would focus on math, science, and visual data skills. The design studio students would focus on the engineering, designing, and architectural professionals. Students would build and test prototypes.

“Our model gets students out of the six-period day schedule,” said founding principal Lillian Hsu, “and allows them to tap into their genius.”

Current Epic eighth grader Thanhthanh Nguyen addressed the board about her excitement for the possible new school. “I want to go to Latitude because I can learn at my own pace—when I want and what I want. Traditional high schools do not give me that choice, but Latitude does. We need Latitude to reach our dreams and Latitude needs you to make that happen,” she said.

If approved, Latitude 37.8 would open in August, 2018. In an email after the meeting, Hsu said the school would accept 50 students within the first year and gradually go up to 400 students in the following years.

The discussion about a possible new charter school did not excite everyone. During the public hearing, a longtime McClymonds High School supporter, Ben Tapscott, expressed his frustration. “They are closing public schools, but turn around and open charter schools. This is a disgrace,” he said. At the meeting, Tapscott passed around a list of Oakland public schools that closed in recent years.

The last set of school closures was in 2012, when the district closed five elementary schools.

The board’s student director, Gema Quetzal, also expressed concerns about the proposal of an additional charter school. She asked Hsu about the pending location. With another charter school close by, she asked, why not move the location to another neighborhood?

“The schools in the area have large wait list,” Hsu responded. “They aren’t able to accommodate all the students who apply.”

The board did not discuss the proposal and did not vote on the matter. The board will make a decision in November.

Joe Dominguez, the district’s deputy chief of facilities and planning, and deputy chief Valerie Goode presented a new program called “The Blueprint for Quality Schools.” The plan’s purpose is to provide students with the resources, schools and programs they need to prosper.

Goode said a goal of the blueprint is “taking the hopes and dreams of the community and meeting that with that data and creating the community of the future.” According to the presentation, prioritizing upgrades to buildings and programs and changing configurations of schools and central offices are possible options. Expanding, merging or closing schools are also elements listed within the blueprint.

Goode also announced the assembly of a citizen advisory body, known as the Blueprint Advisory Group. Over 50 students, parents, administrators and more will provide feedback on the blueprint. The district is also hosting a series of public events called “community dialogues” to gather feedback from Oakland residents.

Attendee Mike Hutchison disagreed with ideas in the presentation, particularly the possible closure of more schools. “The community wants a high-quality school in every neighborhood. What most families want in Oakland is a public elementary school that they can walk to, not this,” he said. “We all know what happens when we close a public school. We know a charter school is going to move right in and replace it.”

The next public community dialogue is Saturday, September 16 at McClymonds High School. The meeting begins at 9 a.m.

The board will receive the official blueprint in late January.

In other board business, both LaRavian Battle and Stephanie Taymuree were awarded the 2017-2018 teacher of the year award. Battle is a teacher Electronic Learning Program teacher at Sojourner Truth ISP/ELP while Taymuree is a Technology and Augmentative Communication for Learning Enhancement (T.A.C.L.E.) teacher at Redwood Heights Elementary. Both have qualified for the national teacher of the year award, and received a flower arrangement and a plaque.

The next school board meeting will be on Wednesday, September 27.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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