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March 15, 2005

Open Homes

Oakland Parents Not Yet Won Over to New Charter School By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

One day before the cutoff of local registration for Golden Gate Elementary Charter School in North Oakland, only 60 percent of students’ families had signed their children up to attend the new school.

Some parents say they are skeptical about the new charter program and have registered their children only because they felt they had no other good options.

State-appointed Oakland School Administrator Randolph Ward announced earlier this year that he was closing the San Pablo Avenue school as an Oakland Unified School District-run facility because of lagging attendance rates and a drop in the school’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores.

The school, which is 90 percent African-American, sits between 62nd and 63rd streets near the Berkeley border. Gold en Gate has been turned over to a charter school run jointly by UC Berkeley and the Oakland-based Aspire Public Schools nonprofit organization. Entrance to the new school is by application, with UC Berkeley announcing in a press release earlier this year that first priority for acceptance would go to students currently attending Golden Gate.

Golden Gate parents were given until today (Tuesday) to exercise that option.

On Monday, outgoing Golden Gate principal Katherine Hunter-Hendon said that of the 140 students not graduating from the elementary school this year, only 85 had registered to attend the charter school. She said she had no idea how many of the remaining students would attend Santa Fe Elementary on Market and 54th streets—the nearest OUSD school—and how many might simply leave the district to attend schools in other areas.

Two Golden Gate parent volunteers said they were not satisfied with any of the choices, and feel that the district should have done more to save Golden Gate as a distr ict-run public school.

“Golden Gate has been a good school,” said School Site Councilmember Laura Tallie. “The teachers were good. The principals were good. They served my children well.”

A 30-year neighbor of the school, Tallie has already put two children through Golden Gate, including a daughter who is now 29. Her third child—a foster son currently in the second grade—has been reluctantly signed up for the charter school. She said her main reason was “so he can eventually walk to school by himself.”

“I’m not totally for the charter school, but I’m accepting it,” Tallie said. “It’s better than having no school here at all. If they just padlocked the doors, then it would probably be vandalized.”

Tallie said that she had attended two of the meetings h eld by Aspire to describe its new program and though “it sounded good, you never know what it’s going to be like until the program is in place and the staff is there. It will take some time to see exactly how it will work out.”

Joyce Blackwell, a grandmo ther who volunteers at Golden Gate, was more blunt.

“First of all, I think [closing the public school] is ridiculous; it’s awful,” she said. “I’m sick about it. I’m heartbroken. I don’t understand why it’s taking place. I’m just not pleased at all.”

Bla ckwell, who put her daughter through Golden Gate and now has a fourth-grade granddaughter at the school, also said the only reason she signed her grandchild up at the charter was the proximity.

“It’s a nice little walk over to Santa Fe,” she said. “You’d have to go up Alcatraz to Sacramento, and then over to Market Street, and across Stanford and Adeline, I think. I’m not comfortable with her traveling all the way over there. I don’t have a car, and I can’t walk it. I registered because I felt I had no o ther choice. We’re close enough to Berkeley to send her to school there, but you have to get a permit to transfer to Berkeley, and it’s tough as nails to get one.”

Blackwell also expressed concern that there would have been no real security in sending he r granddaughter to Santa Fe.

“Suppose Mr. Ward decided to close Santa Fe next year, just like he closed Golden Gate this year?” she asked. “Where would I send her, then?”

Picking her words carefully, second year principal Hunter-Hendon said, “I need som e clarification” why Golden Gate was closed by Oakland state administrator Ward despite only a one-year drop in its AYP score.

“Our scores were up 80 and 50 points for the year before,” she said.

Golden Gate is not part of the 13 Oakland schools schedul ed to be reorganized by Ward under the federal No Child Left Behind act after four years on the federal “identifying program improvement” list.

“I would have felt better about the closure if we had been on that list,” she said.

And Hunter-Hendon said th e 35 student school enrollment drop from last year to this was partly the fault of the district’s not doing more to encourage students to transfer to Golden Gate.

Last year, when the district closed the nearby elementary schools of Marcus Foster and Long fellow, Hunter-Hendon said that Golden Gate was not put on the district’s “redirect list” steering students to that school, even though the district knew at the time that Golden Gate was experiencing declining enrollment.

“If many of the Foster and Longf ellow students had been redirected here, we would not be having the enrollment problem,” Hunter-Hendon said.

She also said that Golden Gate was inexplicably not initially placed on last year’s district list of available schools during the district’s open enrollment period. “We got that corrected and we were put on the list,” she said, “but it was too late to do much good. A few students transferred over, not enough to make a difference.”

Hunter-Hendon blamed the declining school enrollment on a change i n the community’s demographics as well as competition from a district-sponsored charter school.

“A lot of people are moving into the neighborhood who don’t have school-age children,” she said. In addition, she said, a charter school on nearby Alcatraz Av enue opened by the East Bay Conservation Corp “took away some of the students that we had.”

She added that the Golden Gate closure as a public school is having a disruptive affect upon her staff as well. The nine teachers at the school were “originally t old they would be placed first by seniority into other Oakland schools,” she said. But with the pending conversion of 13 other Oakland schools into charter, “there could be some bumping of our teachers down the list.” She called it “a possibility” that some of the present Golden Gate teachers could lose their jobs. Hunter-Hendon herself will have to apply for a new position if she wishes to remain with the district.

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