Friday, February 27, 2009

OUSD School Options: Holding Your Breathe

Today or tomorrow thousands of letters will arrive in the mailboxes of homes were many residents are holding their breathe to discover what local Oakland Unified Public School there child(ren) have been assigned to for kindergarten. It's a letter that seems to decide your fate. News that many have waited actively through visits, research and charm offensives for months, if not years, to receive. News that, you have to wonder, does it just come down to chance in a "lottery" or is it all about the squeaky wheel getting oiled? The same schools perceived as "good" are repeatedly sought after both by those that live in the neighborhood and those that don't, who are looking to parachute out of their school (whether it's failing or for other reasons including: safety concerns, poor facilities, racial/cultural make-ups, or even the lack of a PTA). So hundreds - maybe thousands - of families vie to get into: Hillcrest, Thronhill, Glenview, Montclair, Redwood Heights, Crocker Highlands, Kaiser and Chabot.

It's a process that seems more intense than trying to find a college. How do you go forward when some feel like $20,000/year for kindergarten is nearly and unavoidable necessity because of the public schools in our city? How do you pay for that if you are already maxed out with your over inflated (which is now deflating in our economy) rents and mortgages? It seems unjust that there you must fight so hard to get into a quality public school in a society that supposedly gurauntees us all the right to quality education. Of course in the end it all depends on where you live and if the caregivers of a child can or are able to fight for the better educational options for their children. The year we looked for kindergarten as a family, I felt like this whole process was a second full-time job that I took on. What about those that can't do that, don't want to, or won't? It this a question of entitlement? Is it an expression of middle class angst in our currect society? Is it a question of racial/class divide? Probably a little of all three.

Monday the assignement office of the district opens to hear appeals. It'll be crowded with unhappy and frustrated folks (
like last year: Trib Article). Will it be better or worse this year? Will even more Oaklanders that could afford the option of private school but no longer can in our continuing to emerge economic collapse be going public, thus swelling the number of kids looking for a spot? I also reflect that the month or two after the options announcement is when I hear the most people talking of possibly leaving to Oakland, fed up with the harshness and impossiblities they face here - loving Oakland, the people, the geography, the emerging social scene - yet not being able to overcome the discrepancies and failing aspects of our public schools. It's a great place to live, and if you're middle just might no longer be affordable or doable.


blgidney said...

I just learned that all City of Piedmont employees can enroll their children in Piedmont schools. Also found out that there are quite a few people who work for the city for just that reason. People took pay cuts when getting hired with the city so that they could get their kids into the PUSD. I'm glad for them but something feels wrong about not having decent quality local schools available to all.

I'm also a little glad that Laura and I will most likely not live close enough to Piedmont for that to be an option, because sometimes it helps to have situations support stances.

Monte said...

It's a tough call: priorities, priveleges, possibilities. On a certain level I think it comes down to you take what you can get. Which is whacked in terms of our culture, societal wealth, and supposed constitutional committments to equality and justice. Education - the problem of enrollment, etc. in urban settings like Oakland - and so many other issues (math, science, use of technology, teacher tenure, funding....) are so key and completely under the radar in terms of public attention and active problem solving. I fear it might stay that way until it explodes and everyone suddenly acts surprised.

As I post people are waiting in line in the rain outside the OUSD school assignment office, with their letters of appeal and paperwork in hand, waiting to get out of the wet and to fight for a different school. My thoughts go to them.