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A tale of two schools—what merging Kaiser and Sankofa says about the state of OUSD

on December 18, 2019

During a recent Saturday barbeque at the Bushrod Recreation Center in North Oakland, Dana Garrett, a mother of two, sat in the shade next to an amicable man who was tending to hotdog buns and hamburger patties on a grill. She smiled as she glanced over at the dozens of children playing in the bright November sun. These children, representing two different schools—one enclosed by Bushrod’s ample recreation area, the other somewhere amid the spread of homes in the hills to the east—will share a single campus by next fall. “I believe that once the kids get to know each other, it makes it better and more relaxing for them once they get into the school,” she said.

Garrett’s children attend Sankofa Academy, a kindergarten-fifth grade public school. Had it been a weekday, from where she sat she might have heard the sound of the school bell and seen her children out on the playground. And the man tending to the barbeque? His daughter attends Henry J. Kaiser Elementary, a public school in the Oakland hills. The barbeque was one of several community events attempting to salve some of the tensions amongst parents and staff as the schools begin to merge after a fractious public debate.

On September 11, the Oakland Unified School District’s board voted to close Kaiser and merge its student body and teaching staff with those already at Sankofa, to the dismay of Kaiser’s vocal supporters. The unanimous vote to close a high-performing school with a diverse student body and merge it with a school that has struggled with academic achievement set off waves of protests that have disrupted the board’s weekly meetings, and led to tense altercations between parents, school officials and district police officers. And it’s not the first standoff like this. Last year, despite vociferous protests, the board voted to merge two schools in East Oakland—Elmhurst Community Prep and Alliance Academy—as part of a broader plan for school closures. In January, the board voted to close Roots International Academy, a struggling school in East Oakland, despite heartfelt pleas from its supporters. And during their February strike, the teachers’ union pressed for a moratorium on closures as part of their negotiations with the district.

This wave of closures and mergers comes as the aftermath of the “small schools movement” of the early 2000s, when district policies supported the creation of 45 schools to address overcrowding and poor school conditions in the East and West Oakland flatlands. But the proliferation of small schools coincided with an influx of charter schools. These are public schools that have greater autonomy in operations, including their missions, budgets and curriculum, although they are still subject to school board review. Like district-run schools, they receive public funding based on the number of students they enroll, but many are also supported by private organizations. As more students switched to charter schools, demand for public schools dropped, leading to under-enrollment at many of those smaller campuses.

OUSD officials are now pushing forward with a plan they say will better consolidate their resources: They will close some underperforming schools and merge them with others. “The Blueprint for Quality Schools,” implemented in May, 2017, as part of the district’s broader “Citywide Plan,” originally called for the district to close or merge up to 24 schools over the next three years. But the plan has been controversial.Opponents say that closures disproportionately harm low-income students of color, and allege that the closures are part of a broader district plan to replace them with charter schools. District officials and their supporters say that there is not enough money to support so many campuses during an era of declining enrollment.

Throughout the fall, tensions over the Sankofa/Kaiser merger erupted at school board meetings as members of the newly-formed Oakland Is Not For Sale Coalition repeatedly rushed the podium in an attempt to take over the meetings. The board members’ response was to relocate to a committee room, where they would continue the meetings through a live video feed as protestors occupied their empty seats on the auditorium’s stage. During a meeting on October 23, school police officers arrested 6 protestors who had attempted to rush the stage.  

The barbeque at Bushrod Recreation Center was meant to give Kaiser and Sankofa families a chance to meet face-to-face, away from the charged school board meetings. Ken Angelo, whose daughter Elodie is a first grader at Kaiser, said he had brought her to a previous community event, a movie night hosted at Sankofa. “It’s tough,” Angelo said, reflecting on the community-building effort as he tended to the hotdog buns and hamburger patties. When it comes to helping build a more cohesive school culture, he said he had very little faith in the district. “I think if anything positive is going to come out of this, it’s going to be because of the hard work of families coming together to build a school,” he said.

Derrick Wesby, sporting shoulder-length dreadlocks pulled back behind his head, was cradling his young son with one arm. Wesby, the after-school program coordinator at Sankofa, has been working there since it opened in 2004. Initially, he said, there was apprehension among Sankofa staffers and families about the perceived differences between the two schools’ cultures. A “hills” school merging with a “flatlands” school reflects a deeply-entrenched geographic divide that has long defined differences in race and class—and therefore opportunity—within Oakland. Now, he said, “I feel like it’s a good thing.”

“I think if we do it right, take our time, and really think of the kids as the number one goal, at the end of the day, we can do it,” he continued. “And it would be a successful plan and dream.”

Wesby said that after the September 11 vote, many in the Sankofa community were unaware of how to obtain information about the merger—and he wasn’t the only one to criticize district officials for a lack of communication. “I think it’s a short-sighted, bad decision to close Kaiser,” said Laura Tenenbaum, the parent of a Kaiser third grader. “I think it was done really poorly. There was no community input.”

Derrick Wesby, the after-school coordinator at Sankofa Academy, at the community barbeque at Bushrod Recreation Center. Photo by Brett Marsh

Tenenbaum said she was dismayed that the board had voted to close a successful school in order to solve what she said was the longtime neglect of Sankofa. Still, she said, since the merger was going to happen, she wanted to help build relationships between the two schools. “I’m really happy to have this barbeque and build community,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with the Sankofa families and making this a successful school for everybody.”

One parent, Reginald Mosley, said he didn’t understand why so many Kaiser parents were making such a fuss about the merger. Mosley, a prospective Sankofa parent who was at the barbeque with his two children, was blunt in criticizing the parents who have been taking over school board meetings. He feels that a school’s location matters less than the efforts of parents to support their school community through volunteering and building relationships with staff. “You shouldn’t be locked down to a building,” he said.

*****

Hiller Drive carves a serpentine route up a steep hillside adjacent to a busy freeway tunnel. Knee-high signs stating “private drive” line both sides of the street, off of which rows of beige, balconied townhouses pivot west like sentinels, taking advantage of the striking, unobstructed bay vista. The diminutive stump of Alcatraz is framed perfectly between the duel spans of the Golden Gate Bridge; Lake Merritt and the downtowns of Oakland and San Francisco glitter in the late afternoon sun. A few runners huff and puff up the street, while drivers in sedans briefly pull over next to the sidewalk and take camera-phone shots of the striking panorama in the softening light.

At its crest, Hiller Drive makes a sharp turn, then descends in a straight path back down to Tunnel Road, which runs parallel to the freeway. On a small cul-de-sac below the Highlands Country Club and at the lower end of this steep grade is Henry J. Kaiser Elementary. The school’s lofty location is hard to ignore.

Next to Kaiser’s entrance is a handmade poster that reads: “We [heart] Kaiser. Kaiser Stays.”

Kaiser’s supporters have criticized district officials for choosing this school for closure, saying that it bridges Oakland’s stark class and racial divides. Only 20 percent of its students are residents of the surrounding neighborhood; the rest come from as far as East Oakland, below the 580 freeway, which cuts across the city like a fault line and serves as a demarcation line of class and race. Kaiser’s students represent a broad demographic mix: 36 percent are white, 20 percent are African-American, 16 percent are Latino, 8 percent are Asian-American, and 12 percent are reported as “multiple ethnicity.” “Kaiser has this history of bringing people together from all over the city,” said parent Ken Angelo.

On the academic front, it is one of the best-performing elementary schools in the district. In 2019, 67 percent of Kaiser students met or exceeded state standards in English language arts, while 70 percent did the same for math. These results are based on scores from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, which is a state-mandated exam.

Rebecca Bingham claims with a hearty laugh that she is the only person who has moved to Oakland for its schools. The mother of seven (six of whom are adopted and have special needs) recently moved with her family from Burlingame to Oakland. Her youngest daughter is a second-grade student at Kaiser. For Bingham, the school’s academics weren’t its only draw. “We were able to get into Kaiser at the end of last year,” said Bingham, “and immediately I could see that there was an enormous sense of community at Kaiser that we weren’t seeing at most the schools that our kids go to.”

“Parents were very involved, and the teacher was very hands-on. I mean things like, the parents bringing snacks every day. You know, every week fresh flowers were coming in,” she said. “It was clearly a group of people and teachers who prioritized those little touches. It didn’t feel like the whole building was burning down.”

Kaiser was founded over half a century ago and survived the 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm. But now, its fate is sealed. Next fall the building will be one of five educational facilities that the OUSD will no longer use. Many of Kaiser’s supporters, and even some school board members, have wondered about what will be done with the campus. At a school board meeting on November 13, Director Roseann Torres (District 5) grilled the school district’s Deputy Chief of Innovation Yvette Renteria on the lack of information about what will happen to the building. “That has also not been displayed or explained or anything,” Torres said. In response, Renteria said that her staff had not yet determined a course of action, but that one would be coming soon.

For Bingham, her initial reaction to the closure was confusion. “To have a school doing so well, doing as well as Kaiser does, and to decide that you’re going to close the doors when there were other options, was really disheartening,” she said. “And I think for a lot of families, especially a lot of teachers, it was a real gut punch.” At Sankofa Academy, a few miles down the hill from Kaiser, there is an underlying concern about how the school will successfully absorb more than 200 new students, teachers and staff. Sankofa’s two-story custard-yellow façade, with its red trim windows, fits comfortably within the broad swath of parkland around the neighborhood’s recreation center. Row after row of Craftsman and California Bungalow-style homes line the surrounding streets. Modest, two-story apartment buildings are tucked in here and there.

Though the Bushrod neighborhood is diverse, with a plurality of white residents, Sankofa’s student body is predominately African-American. According to district data, 71 percent of Sankofa’s students are African-American, 11 percent are Hispanic, and only 3 percent are white; 90 percent of its students come from low-income families. Sankofa’s student body has struggled with tests that measure achievement in English language arts and math, with fewer than 20 percent of students across all grade levels meeting or exceeding state standards.

The word Sankofa, in the Twi language of Ghana, means “Go back and get it.” It fits neatly with the larger aphorism of the country’s Akan people: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” Visually, Sankofa is often represented by a bird whose feet face forward and whose head is turned backward. The symbol has been adopted by African-American communities to represent a need to reflect on the past to build a better future. Sankofa Academy’s insignia features a blue version of the bird in that same pose. The name and the insignia were chosen to represent the idea that reflecting on past experiences, and having a nurturing community, fosters students who are thoughtful, self-determined, and responsible.


*****

Sankofa was founded during the 2004-05 academic year, in an era when educators saw large educational facilities as lacking a nurturing sense of community and leading to poor academic outcomes. It was the culmination of several years of self-examination, starting in the late 1990s, when OUSD staff had begun to look hard at solutions to a number of problems: low academic performance, overcrowding, and high teacher turnover.

According to the National Equity Project, and using Academic Performance Index (API) data, in 1999 district-run schools in the flatlands received the lowest ratings possible on student literacy and math skills, two often-cited barometers of a school’s success. And the most coveted schools, heavily concentrated in the hills, were smaller and mostly served white students.

For example, according to figures provided by the California Department of Education and posted on OUSD’s website, in the year 2000, Hillcrest Elementary, in the upscale Upper Rockridge neighborhood, had an enrollment of 269 students, the majority of whom were white. Nearby Montclair Elementary had similar demographics, with 354 students enrolled that year. But this contrasted heavily with schools like Fruitvale Elementary, in a historically Latino neighborhood, which had 727 students that year, almost all African-American, Latino, and Asian-American. Hawthorne Elementary, which is now closed but was in the same neighborhood, was an even more egregious example of enrollment disparities, with 1,426 students, over three-quarters of whom were Latino.

At this time, a movement towards smaller schools was growing nationwide, and advocates felt that the achievement gap directly correlated with overcrowded facilities. Dennis Chaconas, who served as the OUSD superintendent from 2000 to 2003, remembers the impetus for smaller schools well. “When I came to Oakland, I saw a large dropout rate, large numbers of complaints, large numbers of safety issues, and overcrowded-ness in the district,” he said.

Chaconas recalled 12 schools that each had more than 1,200 students enrolled. Because they were over capacity, these schools had multi-track year-round schedules, which meant that not all students were in school on the same days. In a four-track system, for example, one track of students would leave for vacation every 20 days, while the other three would remain in attendance. “And there was not a new school that was built below the MacArthur Freeway in years,” Chaconas added.

Longtime school board members Gary Yee (District 4) and Jody London (District 1), who both served during the small schools era, declined to comment, instead directing interview requests to David Silver. In the early 2000s, Silver had taught at the now-closed Hawthorne Elementary. Today, he’s the director of education for the Oakland mayor’s office.

Silver said that the huge disparity in student achievement, quality of school facilities, and institutional support between the hills and flatlands schools was the impetus for smaller schools. “In the late ‘90s, a bunch of families got together from the flatlands that were organized largely from OCO, Oakland Community Organizations, to look at this issue of equity in schools,” said Silver. They looked for inspirational examples in similar urban districts throughout the country and found the “small schools movement,” also known as “small learning communities” or “schools-within-schools.” Using an example set by New York City, these advocates proposed creating schools of between 200 and 500 students. With more individualized attention from teachers, they believed, students would succeed. And, they felt, schools could be better tailored to community needs.

“One of the key parts of the small schools movement was autonomy,” said Silver, which encompassed everything from a school’s curriculum to its budgeting, staffing, and facilities. “That said, autonomy would be somewhat connected to accountability,” he added, explaining that the more a school’s student body achieved, the more flexibility administrators and staff would have in running it.

Latching on to this budding movement, in 2000, the district, under Chaconas’ leadership, enacted the New Small Autonomous Schools policy, which led to the creation of 10 schools over the next three years. They ranged in size from 250 to 500 students, depending on grade level. Their administrators had control over their curriculum, instruction, and assessment, so long as these aligned with state and district standards. Priority enrollment would be given to students from underperforming and overcrowded schools, and the student body had to reflect district demographics.

Struggling schools like Castlemont High School in East Oakland were broken up. From 2004 to 2012, the school was quartered, housing three additional small schools in what was called the Castlemont Community of Small Schools. Others, like Ascend Academy, a kindergarten-eighth grade public charter school serving mostly Latino students, were built from the ground up. Sankofa Academy, founded in 2004, occupied the building previously home to Washington Elementary School, which had closed the previous year due to declining enrollment and academic performance. (The former school’s name is still carved onto one side of the Sankofa property.)

Chaconas said that by the time he left his position in 2003, the district had reduced the use of the multi-track system, relieved overcrowding, and improved teacher retention. From 2004 to 2009, according to an Academic Performance Index (API) assessment, Oakland was California’s most improved urban school district. OUSD officials noted this change in their Impact Assessment results, a report that measured API test scores from 1999 to 2009. The report, based on the results of a survey administered to students, staff, families and community members during the 2006-2009 academic years, also noted increased academic rigor and cleanliness of the classroom environment as elements of overall satisfaction with the school district.

Reflecting on the gains made during this period, Chaconas said, “I think we were able to make the district more responsive to kids’ and parents’ needs.” And although he credits small schools for some of the improvements during those years, Chaconas insists that other factors contributed. The district, he said, also filled teaching vacancies and put more emphasis on a coherent curriculum. “We gave disenfranchised parents more options and choices to come to our school system. And we got teachers to help design those schools. And I think their enthusiasm helped parents to have more confidence and to be more committed to the public school system,” he said.

Silver, citing the improvement in district API test scores from 1999 to 2009, also believes that the small schools movement made significant gains in closing the achievement gap. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is that kids, regardless of zip code, are achieving at higher levels,” he said. “The small schools movement did not stall that, but it helped move it in the right direction.”

But looking back, not everyone thinks the proliferation of smaller schools fixed the achievement gap. Chaz Garcia, a vice president of the Oakland Educational Association, the local teachers’ union, supported small schools in the early 2000s. “At the time it seemed like a great idea. But in retrospect, it got us where we are now,” she said.

Garcia said that while small schools led to some improvements in student achievement, co-locating several schools on the same campus sometimes led to conflicts, because the staffs were not given enough time and support from the district to design and carry out a plan for how to cohabitate. “Unfortunately, the way that the small schools were rolled out created a great division at schools that shared their campuses, in most cases,” she said.

Garcia also said that this lack of support also exacerbated high teacher turnover, and has negatively affected student outcomes. “I really feel like one of our biggest struggles over the years has been retention,” she said, “and that retention piece is directly related to academic achievement.” Today, she’s worried that a lack of support, and the subsequent pressure on staff, will continue with the current wave of school closures and mergers. “There’s not enough time to even plan to create a school and set it up to be successful,” she said.

*****

In 2019, Oakland’s small schools have a different problem: empty seats.

Although total enrollment in Oakland schools has stayed fairly consistent over the last 20 years, the proportion of students in district-run schools has shrunk as more students switch to charter schools. According to OUSD data, for the 2000-01 academic year, total enrollment in the district was 54,863. A little over a 1,000 of those students were enrolled in charter schools.

For the 2018-19 academic year 53,391 students were enrolled, but by then, 16,867 of those students were enrolled at charter schools. 

In a presentation to the California Department of Education in April, OUSD staff reported that as of the 2017-18 academic year, 27 percent of its students attended charter schools, the highest percentage of any district in California.

State funding for school districts in California is based on students’ average daily attendance. So for every student in Oakland who transfers to a charter school, the school district loses money.

But even if enrollment and state funding drops, the district is still responsible for fixed costs, such as the expenses of maintaining campuses and keeping them staffed. In a community letter published in February called “A Citywide Plan for Oakland Schools,” Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell outlined what the loss of students has meant for campuses that now do not have enough students to fill them: “Enrollment is flat and family living patterns are changing in various communities across the city. Currently, 11,000 seats are empty across our District-run schools and the current cost of buildings, utilities, and staff is not sustainable in the long term. This hinders our ability to deliver the highest quality education to every student. As a result, we have significant financial issues that must be addressed.”

So, nearly two decades after the small schools movement received OUSD’s stamp of approval, the pendulum began to shift in the other direction. In 2017, OUSD officials implemented the “Blueprint for Quality Schools,” a district-wide plan to reconfigure resources. The plan called for closing up to 24 under-enrolled and low-quality schools. (According to a November 13 letter to the community from Johnson-Trammell, that number is now down to 13).

The district has since identified schools that are under-enrolled, academically under-achieving, or both, and divided them into “cohorts” based on the academic year of their slated closure.

In January, the school board voted to close Roots International Academy as part of “Cohort 1,” which also included the merger of Elmhurst Community Prep and Alliance Academy. It was a galvanizing moment as Roots families, teachers and community organizations, put pressure on OUSD officials to stop the closures. Had the school district invested more resources into Roots, protestors at school board meetings argued, the school would have made greater gains and not have been slated for closure.

Further exacerbating tensions was the week-long teachers’ strike in February. The strike centered on teacher salaries and retention, and classroom size, but the issue of temporarily halting school closures emerged as a major bargaining chip as the strike drew to a close.  

Kaiser and Sankofa, the next to merge, are part of “Cohort 2.” So are Frick Impact Academy and the School of Language (SOL). A decision on which schools will be part of “Cohort 3” is still pending.  

Superintendent Johnson-Trammell did not respond to repeated requests from Oakland North for comment on the merger of Sankofa and Kaiser. But in August, her office published a letter from OUSD Deputy Chief of Innovation Yvette Renteria recommending the merger. The letter outlined the reasons behind the recommendation: the low number of students living in Kaiser’s attendance area, and the small size of the facility, which left no room to accommodate more than its current 268 students. Sankofa’s campus, in contrast, had 189 students enrolled in a facility that could support 336. “By merging the Kaiser and Sankofa programs in a location with a larger school, closer to students, and with better transportation options, we are increasing the number of students who have access to a quality program,” Renteria wrote.

The merger’s main opponents, activists from the Oakland Is Not For Sale coalition, did not respond to interview requests. But the group has confronted school board directors at public meetings, arguing that school closures are harmful for students, and that the district’s hoped-for long-term benefits—saving money and creating more equitable schools—have yet to be proven.

As tensions have boiled over, OINFS has directed its ire towards what they say is the use of excessive force by district police officers in their handling of the protests, as well as the district’s tepid response to those protests. On the coalition’s website, they promise: “We will continue our disruptions of school board meetings until our demands, which include a moratorium on school closures until the summer of 2022, are met.”

OUSD school board members Jumoke Hinton Hodge (L) and Roseann Torres (R), react to protestors at a meeting on November 18. Photo by Brett Marsh

But some analysts who are less personally connected with the ongoing merger have also questioned whether closures improve student academic achievement and equity. A research-based report from Chalkbeat, a national education news website, shows mixed results on whether school closures improve access to quality schools. In many places, the report noted, closures have hurt students academically; in some others, they helped. In another report, based on data from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO), an educational research institute at Stanford University, both district and charter school closures appear to disproportionately target low-income students of color.

And a study on school closures in Philadelphia from the Economics of Education Review, a peer-reviewed academic journal, concluded—unsurprisingly—that the quality of the school that the students end up moving to affects their academic success. For Kaiser parents, that’s germane because their school has higher test scores than Sankofa.

Chaz Garcia, of the teachers’ union, has cautioned that when a merger occurs too fast, and on too large of a scale, it causes unnecessary disruptions for everyone involved. “It’s a very quick process that’s not as thoughtful,” she said of several ongoing mergers. She cited the example of Frick Impact Academy and the School of Language (SOL), two East Oakland schools that the board also voted to merge in September. “They’re incubating now. And they’re supposed to be teaching right now and planning for next year, whereas previous cohorts went through a year and a summer of planning,” Garcia said.  

Thomas Maffai, the director of policy and advocacy at GO (Great Oakland) Public Schools Oakland, an organization that focuses on public education policy, said that he is concerned that certain school quality metrics, particular academic growth data, are not being factored into school merger decisions. “I would argue that certainly [academic] growth data is an important measure of quality that the district should be considering as they’re making merging decisions, expansion decisions, any sort of footprint decisions,” he said.

He cited the OUSD’s participation in the CORE Data Collaborative, made up of 8 public school districts throughout the California that share data on student academic performance growth, as well as high school readiness and social-emotional skills. All 83 of Oakland’s district-run schools and the majority of its public charter schools participate in the collaborative. Although the collaborative does track growth data, it is not clear how it influences OUSD’s decision-making, Maffai said.

On the other hand, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) scores, the statewide standard measure of student proficiency on a year by year basis, are not tracking student progress over time. But these test scores have been used by OUSD officials as part of their decision-making process. 

For former superintendent Chaconas, there’s another aspect to the problem: The district is not getting enough Oakland kids to attend public schools. Instead, their parents are choosing to send them to charter or private schools. “The question I have before we start closing schools is: ‘What do we need to do as a system to increase the enrollment of kids that are choosing to go alternate paths?’” he asked.

Maffai said that neither he nor his organization had a stance on any particular merger decision. But he did offer this thought on Kaiser’s merger with Sankofa: “My hope would be that the district is intentionally investing in the process to navigate what is a really difficult transition and attending to building a new culture across these two campuses in a way that would effectively expand the high quality programming at Kaiser.”

And he said he is concerned about the district’s support for the staff and principals who already have full schedules, and are now tasked with preparing for the merger. “Managing the transition ends up being a second full-time job for principals,” he said. “If the district is deciding that this is the direction that they need to go to stay fiscally viable, they also need to invest the resources in effectively helping communities make those transitions.”

*****

Dennis Guikema, the principal of Kaiser Elementary, has lived a three-minute bike ride from Sankofa Academy for the last 26 years. Next fall, he will take over as acting principal of the merged campus. On Fridays, he rides his cargo bike over, where he’s been meeting with Denise Saddler, the interim Sankofa principal, to discuss the merger between the two schools as part of what is known as the “Merger Design Team.”

On one Friday late last month after regular school hours, the halls and classrooms of Sankofa are bright and airy. A handful of students who are waiting for their parents sit under a mural featuring Sankofa’s name and a savannah scene of tribal leaders, an elephant, a lion, and two warriors clutching spears. Guikema gives a chipper greeting to Derrick Wesby, who is making his rounds after school.

Saddler was not available for an interview with Oakland North, and Guikema declines a reporter’s request to attend the design team meeting or a campus tour for prospective parents. But he does sit down for an interview to outline the design team’s work.

The team is composed of 14 people: Guikema and Saddler, three family members from each school, and three staff members from each school. Both the staff and family representatives were selected through a balloting process and a personal statement. “We’re not really trying to sell anybody on this,” Guikema said, “but we’re really trying to share very transparently what it is that we’re doing.”

Guikema said that there are a number of challenges that the design team hopes to address, with of the most difficult being the personal effect of the merger. “For those who are in the Kaiser community, this has been a really hard change,” he said. “That school’s been there for over 56 years. It is a school where many of the staff have worked for years or even decades, educated their own children, and really have a strong sense of community.” He described Kaiser parents as being at various stages of what he called “the grieving process,” and he praised events like the recent barbeque at Bushrod Recreation Center as a way for families to get to know each other.

That said, he feels he needs to be pragmatic. “The fact is, there’s going to be a change for next year,” he said. “And how we show up and what we’re prepared to do to prepare for next year is going to make a significant difference in the lives of the children who are going to be in the school.”

Other, more technical concerns the design team will address include what to call the school—Guikema said the school’s placeholder name, pending more community input, would be Kaiser-Sankofa)—and how Sankofa’s facility would absorb the influx of another student body. He said that he was confident that Kaiser’s students would comfortably be integrated into Sankofa’s large facility. “The current Sankofa space has 16 classrooms,” he said, 12 of which would serve as general education classrooms. The library would also potentially be used as an interim classroom space, he added. 

To further ease facility constraints, Guikema said that there is a plan for the construction of three portable classrooms. These new structures, he said, would give additional space for growth, as well as for the music and art programs that are already active at Kaiser.

Prospective parents can also come to information sessions at Sankofa. Four are scheduled for January and one the first week of February. Parents can meet with Guikema, view the school facility, and ask questions. Guikema said that some of what he calls the “nuts and bolts” questions from parents have influenced how the design team sees its challenges to address: questions about enrollment numbers, facilities, the after-school programs, and whether the rich arts and music programs would continue. “These are top-of-mind questions for folks,” he said.

“The fact is that every single person that we’re talking about, no matter what their perspective or current experience, they care about kids,” Guikema said. “All of our teachers do. Our family members obviously do.”

After a few more words, Guikema gets up from his chair, and heads back to the office to meet with the rest of the design team about their schools’ common future.

1 Comment

  1. OaklandNotForSale on December 18, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Mr. Marsh,
    Oakland Not For Sale would be happy to comment on this situation.
    Please note that as a starting point, ONFS is a coalition of teachers, students, families, and community members supporting public education in Oakland. ONFS formed in response to the unnecessary, short-sighted, and poorly handled school closures in Oakland, and it currently includes representatives from around 20 Oakland school communities. But our demands also include stopping the construction of an unnecessary juvenile detention center, stopping the growth of charter schools, and allowing public oversight of the OUSD budget.
    OUSD promises to close more schools in its yet-to-be revealed Cohort 3, and we are all impacted by the board members’ poor decisions, many of which serve to expand the influence of the billionaire-backed charter school industry.
    Readers, we encourage you to join our movement. Go to OaklandNotForSale.com.
    Mr. Marsh, we look forward to hearing from you.

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