Ever since the Edward Shands Adult School closed its doors in 2010, Oakland Unified School District has held its adult classes at various school sites, community centers, and churches across the city. Now the district’s adult education programs again have a home of their own, at the former Parker K-8 campus in East Oakland.
Just last summer, Parker was the site of a controversial protest and occupation by community members aimed at keeping the nearly century-old K-8 school from closing at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. OUSD leaders had moved to close the school as part of a larger plan to cut costs by shuttering several under-enrolled elementary schools. Parker closed, despite the protests. But the school board agreed in October to use the building for Oakland Adult and Career Education (OACE) programs, following weeks of conversations with residents from Parker’s East Oakland neighborhood about how OUSD and Parker could best serve the community after the school’s closure.
Since January, OACE has been holding classes in the building four days a week, and registration is currently open for high school credit recovery, diploma, and GED courses, citizenship classes, math for the trades, computer literacy, humanities, and a flooring apprenticeship. OUSD has also been taking proposals from community organizations that want to offer services there, like health care, counseling, and housing assistance.
“This is a great opportunity for adult education in this community,” said Kim Jones, the OACE director. “We really want to make this a community school. It’s a dream of mine—I grew up with a single parent, I was a high school dropout and a homeless adult and that whole route. I came to Oakland, got a GED, and now I’m the director, so that’s where this passion comes from to do these things.”
Jones, in his third year as director, has high ambitions for the new adult education school at Parker. Beyond offering a central location for courses in family literacy, English as a second language, math for the trades, computer literacy, apprenticeship training, and high school credit recovery, the size of the Parker site means OACE will also have classrooms designated for childcare, so parents coming for classes can bring their kids. Jones also envisions using the kitchen and cafeteria to provide meals for students and families, and as a training space for jobs in the food service industry. OACE also offers career training in banking, cybersecurity, and flooring.
Jones is working to certify Parker as a test center, where people can take high school equivalency or GED exams, apprenticeship tests, and citizenship tests. The school auditorium will also be used for teacher development activities and as a gathering place for community and cultural events. Last month, OACE held recruitment and registration events at Parker, where prospective students could hear about course offerings and even drop in on a class.
“[OACE] has always been in this community since Shands was on 73rd [Avenue] across from Eastmont Mall. Being back in this area will hopefully bring back some of our adult basic education students—students that need help with their GED or need to get a high school equivalency or get their high school diploma, or just to learn basic math or basic English,” said Chandra Kendrix, the department’s office manager, who has been with OACE since 2006.
“We want to let folks know that we are back here on this side of Oakland and we have classes that we can offer to this community.”
A long history of adult education in East Oakland
Oakland Unified’s adult education program was one of the first to be established in California in 1871, to provide basic and secondary education to adults, immigrants, high school dropouts, and others. The Oakland Adult Day School, formerly located at 2455 Church Street, opened in 1964, offering courses like high school math, science, and history, business classes like typing and bookkeeping, and English and citizenship classes for immigrants. Edward Shands served as the school’s principal from the 1970s until his death in 1982, after which the school was named in his honor.
Asbestos closed the Edward Shands Adult School temporarily in 2004, and in 2005 money issues began threatening the future of adult education in Oakland. In the late 2000s, adult education was gutted at the state level, and Edward Shands shuttered for good in 2010. In 2021, the OUSD school board voted to lease the Edward Shands building and the former Tilden Child Development Center to create mixed-use developments in their place.
“It was a real loss to East Oakland when we lost Edward Shands,” said Sam Davis, the District 1 school board director who previously taught English as a second language and family literacy there. “I hope this can be fiscally sustainable,” he said of the new center at Parker. “We had adult education and we lost it because we couldn’t figure out how to sustain it financially. But it’s a tremendous need in the community and I hope we can find a way to get the community as a whole to support it.”
Since the closure of Shands, OACE has had an office at McClymonds High School, and held family literacy classes at school sites across Oakland, and other classes at churches, public libraries, Laney College, community centers, and online.
About 1,000 students are currently registered, and 700 of those are actively taking classes, which are free.
In Marcie Boyd’s intermediate English class on Parker’s second floor, Maria Suarez practices her English with classmates who each want to become fluent in English to open career doors, or to be able to communicate better with their children’s doctors, teachers, and other caregivers. Suarez, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico 20 years ago, wants to become a nurse, a profession where she said there’s a need for more bilingual people.
“My passion is to help other people and service the community,” she said. When another student had trouble seeing the white board in class, Suarez took her to the optician to get glasses.
Down the hall, Linda Uddyback teaches students working towards the high school equivalency exam. She’s been with OACE for five years and teaching adults for two decades, including 15 years teaching in correctional facilities.
On a recent Monday morning, she offered her students tea or bagels freshly toasted from a toaster oven she keeps in the classroom. Her classes previously took place at Allen Temple Baptist Church. Uddybeck appreciates that she can keep up with her students once they’re done with her class, and students often take other classes or get placed in apprenticeships through OACE once they have their high school diploma or GED. When she taught in corrections, Uddybeck said she often lost contact with her students once they left.
“Since all the teachers are together now [at Parker], there’s more of a sense of community and support that we all get from each other,” she said.