At Wednesday night’s school board meeting, parents of Oakland students expressed dismay over construction delays at Glenview Elementary School. The board also discussed retaining the district’s online enrollment system and listened to a presentation on expansion of services for students who are learning English.
More than 20 concerned parents, some with young children in tow, spoke in support of a motion to approve a contract to finish rebuilding Glenview Elementary. The project to raze and rebuild the school was announced in 2014, with initial plans to have the building ready for the 2018-19 school year, according to the Glenview Project website. Joe Dominguez, deputy chief of facilities and planning, said the project made it through the demolition and grounds preparation phases on time. But progress was delayed after a new law passed in January requiring that the district go through a competitive bid process before negotiating a construction contract. Glenview Elementary is now expected to reopen for instruction in January 2020.
During reconstruction the school is temporarily located on an interim campus at Santa Fe Elementary School, almost five miles away. Parents expressed frustration with the extended timeline and the long commutes, and said that families having to travel far away from their neighborhood had resulted in a lack of community feeling.
Second grade parent Melissa Hicks said that having the school so far away from their neighborhood has caused her family to feel disconnected from other Glenview families. “We’ve lost that sense of community.” She continued, saying that although the bussing experience has given her daughter more independence, she “wants to be walked to school.”
Claire Blaney, whose child is a first grader at Glenview, said she felt the district was not forthcoming about delays. “It’s not just a failure of the project, it’s the lack of transparency that prevented us from making informed decisions,” she said. She said she decided to enroll her daughter at Glenview with the expectation that “there was no way this would go beyond two years.”
“You wonder why people don’t stay at Oakland public schools? This is why,” she said to the board.
After hearing parents’ concerns, the board voted unanimously to approve the contract.
Following the vote on the construction contract, the board approved the motion to extend a software service agreement with SchoolMint, a San Francisco-based technology company that currently provides the district with an online school finder that allows families to locate schools in their area based on neighborhood and grade level, and a an electronic school application.
Chief Technology Officer Susan Belk emphasized the importance of continuing the contract with SchoolMint in order to streamline the enrollment process. She said having an updated system would “provide a better experience for families.” Currently, families can find school options through the online system and apply, but the actual enrollment still requires paperwork by the parents and by the district. This can prove challenging for families if both parents work and cannot go to an enrollment office during business hours.
Board members were concerned with the cost, close to $600,000 over the course of the two-year contract. Student board director Gema Quetzal suggested using a free version of the software as an alternative.
Belk responded that changing providers for the online system would cause service gaps. Using an open source software, though free, might incur high maintenance costs and the quality could be unreliable, she said. She said that spending the money on the online system would make the process easier in the long run, calling it a necessary expenditure in order to “bring our enrollment tools into the 21st century.”
The superintendent’s report followed with a presentation by Nicole Knight, the Executive Director of the English Language Learner and Multicultural Achievement Office, on expansion and improvement of the English Language Learner (ELL) program. She focused on how to best serve the large number of newcomer students in Oakland high schools—students who have recently arrived and do not speak English—who require special support. These students are more likely to be older, to have adult responsibilities and to drop out after the first year, Knight said.
Knight outlined a four-pronged approach to improving programs for these students as well as Long Term English Learners (LTELs). Priorities included better preparation for instructors, improved mental health and case managed support for students, and developing a proposal for increased dual-language enrollment schools.
Other board business included a financial services division presentation by Troy Christmas outlining necessary adjustments to the adopted budget; the passage of the resolution to allocate G1 Parcel tax funding to authorized charter schools; and a short presentation outlining a recent study on district food purchasing policy.