Emiliano Sanchez says that when he was a freshman at Fremont High School in 1977, the school was known as “Portable High” because there were a lot of temporary classroom buildings on the campus. Forty-three years later, after a 15 year stint as both a teacher and administrator at Fremont, Sanchez is now the current coordinator of the Oakland Unified School District’s Career and Technical Education Trades and Apprenticeships program.
During a recent press conference to unveil the brand-new Fremont campus, he recalled riding a bus to football practices at Greenman Fields and games at Curt Flood Field because the school didn’t have a full size field.
Now, thanks to Oakland voters passing Measure J in 2012, Fremont not only has a new football field, but a new gymnasium, wellness center, classrooms, science labs, and a recording studio as well.
At $133 million in total cost, Fremont was the largest project funded by Measure J, and it has taken eight years to complete. The project is not yet fully completed, but Principal Rosemary Rivera says that it will be by January 2021.
Rivera also says that the modernized, state-of-the-art campus has already helped the school increase enrollment by 100 students this year.
Several Fremont and district staff have credited former OUSD Facilities Director Tim White with not only putting the ambitious project on the Measure J project list in the first place, but also getting the project back on track after district leadership diverted funding away from it. Unfortunately, White did not live long enough to see the project through to completion; he passed away in November 2019.
“It’s been super emotional for me,” Fremont Assistant Principal Nidya Baez told Oakland Voices via telephone. Like Sanchez, Baez is a Fremont alum who has worked on the campus for the past decade. In 2011 and 2012, she organized students to advocate for the passage of Measure J.
According to Baez, a few years after Measure J passed, almost half of the funding disappeared, but the community rallied to advocate for their school site, and more importantly, district leadership changed. Additional funds were identified to move forward with a slightly different project than what had originally been envisioned.
At the recent press conference, School Board President Jody London announced that the project had been completed with the help of Measure B (the OUSD bond measure approved by Oakland voters in 2006) funding as well as Measure J.
Baez says that the site Facilities Committee has done a great job of advocating for the project for the past eight years, a struggle that has included keeping the needs and well being of Fremont students at the center of the process the entire time.
The campus has been completely transformed from an institution that resembled a prison, according to many, to a more welcoming learning space where students feel respected as soon as they enter.
School staff are inspired to do their part to make Fremont a place where Oakland families want to send their kids. “Everything inside the building has to be great too,” Baez said, adding that the academic programs offered at Fremont have to mirror the physical changes that have been made to the campus.
Fremont is particularly well known for its Media, Architecture, and Law and Public Service academies, as well as its focus on college and career readiness.
Sanchez, who served as Assistant Principal and then Principal at Fremont from 2005-2015, says that he prioritized recruiting fellow alumni to come back to the school as staff.
“When you got roots, you don’t get washed away in a storm,” Sanchez says about his efforts to recruit alumni back to the school.
Baez said that Fremont was once a school that many OUSD families did not want to send their kids to, but it is now a place where many OUSD alumni want to work.
Media Academy teacher Jasmene Miranda, another Fremont alumna, called the new campus “A school built on love and community.”
A representative from FOCON, Inc., one of the project’s contractors, said that a majority of the workers on the project were local residents, including some Fremont students who recently graduated from the school’s Architecture Academy.
OUSD has placed another bond measure on this November’s ballot. Earlier this month, Oakland voters approved Measure Y, a $735 million bond measure that can be used to transform other school sites in the district.