sign on top of chairs in the library
A sign lays on top of stacked chairs in the Oakland High School library. Credit: Pete Rosos

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Wednesday was the last day of school for students in Oakland Unified School District, but the school board’s work for the year is far from over. 

By the end of June, the board will need to finalize the current year’s budget, adopt a new budget for next year, and appoint a new board member in District 6 to replace Shanthi Gonzales, who recently resigned.

Wednesday’s school board meeting was sparsely attended. Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell was absent while attending a graduation ceremony, Board President Gary Yee stayed at home while recovering from COVID, and District 5 Director Mike Hutchinson left the meeting early to protest the permanent closures of Parker K-8 and Community Day, which held their last day of school Wednesday. 

The remaining five board members were left to tackle a packed agenda that included a plan to expand transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds, a report on the Measure N parcel tax, presentations about the special-education budget, the naming of a newly merged school, and a vote on charter school facilities.

OUSD moves closer to universal TK

Christie Herrera, OUSD’s executive director of early learning, presented an update on the district’s plan to expand transitional kindergarten, an optional grade level for children who turn 5 between September and December, narrowly missing the age cutoff for kindergarten. The gradual expansion of TK at OUSD and in other California districts is being supported by a $2.7 billion multi-year investment by the state. By the 2025-2026 school year, all four-year-olds in California will be able to enroll in TK, regardless of when their birthday falls.

The biggest hurdles for the expansion in OUSD are expected to be teacher staffing and classroom space. To accommodate the additional students, OUSD has applied for a nearly $500 million grant to put towards upgrading its pre-K, transitional kindergarten, and kindergarten facilities.

“What we’re seeing in other large school districts that have implemented universal TK, like San Diego, is they brought TK into their early-childhood sites,” Herrera said, referring to the district’s Early Childhood Education, or “pre-K” programs. “So you could look at creating hybrid classrooms, having pre-K and TK together.”

Across the state, 10,000 to 12,000 new teachers could be hired, according to EdSource. Beginning in August 2023, transitional kindergarten teachers will also need to have completed coursework in early childhood education, in addition to the credential they already have.

Oakland Unified currently serves about 585 students in transitional kindergarten. Next year, that number is expected to increase to around 800 students, and the following year to roughly 1,200 students. In the fall, OUSD will be adding five new transitional kindergarten classes at Oakland Academy of Knowledge, Korematsu Discovery Academy, Bridges Academy at Melrose, Sankofa United, and Kaiser Early Childhood Center, which was previously an elementary school. 

The OUSD board also voted for the first time to adopt a transitional kindergarten curriculum recommended by a committee made up of educators, administrators, and a researcher. Implementing the curriculum will cost OUSD about $350,000. 

Measure N

In Superintendent Johnson-Trammell’s absence, OUSD’s superintendent of high schools, Matin Abdel-Qawi, spoke to the board about Measure N, a 10-year parcel tax that raises about $12 million per year for career and technical education teachers, college counselors, internship coordinators, field trips, and other real-world experiences for students. Measure N also supports the district’s academic pathway program, which give high schoolers training and exposure to professional fields like law, public health, education, and the visual arts.

In April and May, 1,800 seniors from 10 OUSD high schools presented final projects addressing a problem in their school’s selected field. Jasmene Miranda, an alumna of Fremont High School who is now the director of the school’s media academy, spoke about how Measure N has helped the school hire more case managers and reach more students. 

“Prior to Measure N funding, there was a serious inequity across many of the high school campuses,” Miranda said. “Yes, we have [career and technical education] pathways, but there wasn’t enough funding to reach everyone.”

The board is expected to put Measure N on the ballot again either this November or in 2024. Some officials, like Director Mike Hutchinson, think the district should find a way to support OUSD’s pathways using its own budget, instead of relying on a special bond that needs voter approval. 

Other portions of the superintendent’s report, including proposals for how to repurpose the buildings of closed schools, weren’t discussed and may come up at a future meeting.

Increasing opportunity for special education students

Jenn Blake, OUSD’s executive director of special education, presented the budget and service plan for her department, which has a budget of about $125 million, the bulk of which is local funding. Federal and state funding account for about 6% and 23% of the special education budget, respectively. 

One focus area for the department is increasing support to students transitioning into adulthood, including establishing a paid internship program. Encouraging more special education students to enroll in OUSD’s academic pathways is also a priority, Blake said. Pathway enrollment for students with mild to moderate disabilities has been increasing, but enrollment rates for students with more severe needs can improve, she said. 

School closures

Wednesday was the final last day of school for Parker K-8 and Community Day School, which will both be permanently closed this summer. La Escuelita, previously a K-8 school, will become an elementary school. Director Mike Hutchinson, who has been opposed to school closures for more than a decade, left Wednesday’s meeting early to protest the closures. At the same time board members were meeting, a group of families gathered at Parker and said they plan to live and sleep at the school until the board reverses its decision.

As part of OUSD’s closure plan, RISE Community School and New Highland Academy in East Oakland will be merged into one school this year. The board on Wednesday approved a new name for the merged school, Highland Community School.

Next year, five more schools will close: Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy, Grass Valley Elementary, and Horace Mann Elementary. Hillcrest K-8 will shrink to an elementary school. 

Cox Academy seeking renovation funds

The board on Wednesday approved a request from Cox Academy, a charter school, to apply for state funds that would allow it to renovate its building. Cox Academy is on OUSD property and shares a campus with REACH Academy in East Oakland. The state grant, if received, would provide half of the funds needed to renovate the campus, and the school would have to provide the remaining amount. 

Board members raised questions about whether the campus upgrades could benefit both Cox Academy and REACH Academy students, but the state funds would be restricted to improvements on the charter school’s side of campus. Board directors also questioned whether OUSD could reclaim vacant space from Cox Academy if the school’s enrollment drops. Kelly Krag-Arnold, the new director of the office of charter schools, added that her office could look into establishing enrollment minimums for charter schools to occupy OUSD facilities. 

Updating OUSD’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP)

District leaders gave a report on where OUSD would be investing more heavily next school year based on the LCAP, a plan that California school districts create every three years to address student outcomes. For the 2022-2023 school year, the OUSD LCAP will be adding specific support for Black students, English learners, and homeless students. 

The district LCAP, which was developed in 2021 and runs through 2024, has five main focus areas: college and career readiness, closing the equity gap, student and family engagement, high-quality and diverse staffing, and resources to address COVID-19.

The LCAP parent-and-student-advisory committee meets once a month to monitor the district’s progress on those goals. The meetings are open to the public and take place virtually. 

Important dates and upcoming OUSD board meetings

Next week, the board is holding a special meeting on June 1 to review the current year’s budget and projections for the next few years. The last interim report was in March, and Lisa Grant-Dawson, OUSD’s chief business officer, shared that projections for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years show surpluses of about $4 million and $9 million, respectively, in the unrestricted funds. 

The board has three regular meetings remaining before it breaks for the summer: on June 8, 22, and 29. At the June 8 meeting, district staff are expected to bring forward a resolution on reauthorizing the Measure N parcel tax. The board could vote to place the tax on this November’s ballot or wait until 2024. 

On June 14, the board will have a special session to review applications for the vacant District 6 seat. Former board director Shanthi Gonzales stepped down from her position on May 2, and the remaining directors voted to appoint someone to serve the rest of her term, which ends January 2. Those who are interested must be 18 or older, live in District 6, and be a registered voter to apply. Completed applications are due at 5 p.m. on June 1 and should be emailed to BOE6Vacancy@ousd.org. We wrote last week about what that job entails, and how to apply.

Wednesday’s meeting ended on a somber note, in memory of Jim Mordecai, a longtime Oakland educator and activist, who died earlier this month. The meeting was also closed in memory of the victims of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, where a gunman killed 10 Black people in a grocery store on May 14, and Uvalde, Texas, where on Tuesday a gunman ambushed an elementary school and killed 19 students and two adults

Ashley McBride reports on education equity for The Oaklandside. She covered the 2019 Oakland Unified School District teachers’ strike as a breaking news reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. More recently, she was an education reporter for the San Antonio Express-News where she covered several local school districts, charter schools, and the community college system. McBride earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, has held positions at the Palm Beach Post and the Poynter Institute, and is a recent Hearst Journalism Fellow.