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Parker Elementary

At town hall to keep OUSD schools open, it’s a race against the clock

on March 15, 2022

Around 60 people attended a town hall meeting Monday at Parker K-8 to discuss ways to save that school and six others that the Oakland Unified School District board has decided to close in the next two years. 

Most of the parents, teachers and students at the meeting were from Parker, which is set to close at the end of this school year, and  La Escuelita TK-8, which will lose its middle school grades in 2023. A divided school board voted on the closures Feb. 8 after hearing emotional testimony, mostly from children pleading to keep their schools open. The board affirmed the decision with a vote 10 days later. Since then, the community has held marches, rallies, protests and hunger strikes in an attempt to reverse the decision. 

“For this school to close would mean basically our kids are being uprooted from this community that they’ve built from the only school in the neighborhood,” said Azlinah Tambu, one of the organizers of the town hall and a mother of two Parker students. 

Tambu facilitated one of the three breakout groups at the session. Her group focused on plans for a March 26 rally. Another group, organized by Gregorio Gutierrez, a history teacher from Westlake Middle School, talked about plans for an April 13 teach-in that will be open to the public and touch upon OUSD’s school closure history and how the closures tie into gentrification. The session will be held at Community Day School, an alternative program that gives students a second chance at an education. Community Day is the only other school that is set to close this year. 

The third group also examined ways to counter the school board’s action.

Kira Allen participated in the town hall because she understands how difficult school closures can be to families and neighborhoods. Her family had close connections to Kaiser Elementary School, which the board closed in 2019.

“Schools represent more than just their children’s education, although obviously that’s the most important,” Allen said, “but the heart of a community and the community’s memories.”

Hillary Chen, a Parker teacher for the past year, said she has grown attached to the kids and the staff. “It is pretty upsetting,” she said. “It’ll be hard making those bonds again.”

The board proposed the closures in January as a way to reduce the budget and capture a $10 million incentive offered by the state to OUSD and other districts that are paying off emergency state loans. Weeks later, it voted on the closures, which will include Horace Mann, Brookfield, Carl B. Munck, and Grass Valley elementary schools and Korematsu Discovery Academy at the end of the 2022-23 school year. Hillcrest K-8 then will lose its middle school grades. Rise Community Elementary and New Highland Academy, which currently share a campus in East Oakland, will merge.

“Each day that passes, we’re getting closer and closer to these schools closing,” Tambu said. “That’s why we’re in here doing this right now.” 

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