During a recent community meeting at Brookfield Elementary school, Oakland Unified School District’s Director of Continuous Improvement, Jen Corn, let parents know that the district’s enrollment system will not allow them to enroll their children at this school for next year. Her rationale: Brookfield and five other public schools are slated to be closed in June.
Brookfield, Grass Valley Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy, Horace Mann Elementary, and RISE Community Elementary are scheduled to close in June. Hillcrest K-8 is also scheduled to lose its middle school program.
Those moves were a decision made by last year’s school board, a board that included three board members who did not seek re-election in November: Gary Yee, Aimee Eng, and Shanthi Gonzales.
However, Oakland voters made an important decision in the November election. Two of the three school board races up for grabs were won by candidates who voiced opposition to closures. Incoming board members Jennifer Brouhard and Valarie Bachelor will join current board members Mike Hutchinson and Vancedric Williams to form a new board majority that will have the power to prevent the closures.
During the November 30 board meeting, Director Hutchinson introduced a resolution to rescind the scheduled closures, and that resolution will be discussed and possibly voted on by the new board in 2023.
A Tight-Knit Community at Brookfield
“Everybody in my family went to Brookfield,” said Tutherukhonsuhotep KingdomX, who has lived in Brookfield Village his entire life. He is a seventh generation resident of the Deep East Oakland neighborhood nestled along the East side of the 880 freeway.
KingdomX is the proud father of two eighth generation Brookfield Elementary students. Four months ago, his wife gave birth to a son whom he hopes will be a future Brookfield student.
Earlier this year, he became more active as a parent on the Brookfield campus in the wake of the OUSD school board’s decision to permanently shutter the school at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
KingdomX told Oakland Voices that losing a neighborhood school is worse than losing a job, because you can get another job. “When you say a school is gonna close, that’s traumatic,” said KingdomX, who added that he felt the need to step up in defense of the school community. “It’s very traumatic for the families.”
KingdomX’s job prevents him from being available to take his kids to and from school every day, but having a neighborhood school and parents who still live nearby makes that challenge a little easier to deal with. He told Oakland Voices, “It takes a community to raise a child, and we have that at Brookfield.”
Oakland’s Most Vulnerable Families
According to the district’s data from last year, 90.9% of Brookfield’s students were low-income, 23% had disabilities, and 49% were English learners. There were at least seven native languages spoken by Brookfield families.
The Brookfield community has long been Black and working class, but there have been significant demographic changes during this century. At 197 students last year, Brookfield’s total enrollment is less than one third of what it was before the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, when it had 602 students.
The Black student population at Brookfield has been hit particularly hard. Since the state takeover, Brookfield Elementary has gone from 360 Black students to 42 Black students. Black students used to comprise 60% of Brookfield, but now account for only 21% of the student population.
The school’s Latinx student population has also been cut in half over the past ten years, but as the majority ethnic group at the school for the past 19 years, its percentage of the total population hasn’t changed much.
Declining enrollment is one of the primary reasons the school board voted to close Brookfield and the other schools. Declining enrollment is not a phenomenon limited to Brookfield, but Brookfield is a great case study in what has transpired in OUSD this century, especially under the school board of the last decade.
While overall enrollment in OUSD schools declined by 2,441 students since 2013 (a 7% decline), the Black student population in OUSD saw a loss of 3,650 students (a 33% decline) in that same time period.
Charter schools have seen an increase of 153 Black students (a 6% increase) in that time. Census data shows that the overall Black population in Oakland decreased between 2010-2020 by 14%.
The Latinx student population in OUSD has grown slightly since 2013, increasing by 8% (1,136 students). However, charter schools have seen a 27% increase (1,889 students) in that time, which coincides with the 28% growth in the Latinx population in Oakland from 2010-2020.
While overall enrollment in the district has been declining since 2014, the number of students with disabilities in OUSD has grown by 34%, going from 3,832 to 5,119 students. The percentage of the overall student population that have disabilities has also grown, going from 10% to 15%.
A Good Learning Environment
Two of Vanessa Gutierrez’s children go to Brookfield, and she has another elementary-aged child who attends Grass Valley Elementary up in the hills because there is no program for students with mid-to-moderate disabilities at Brookfield.
After noting that OUSD doesn’t provide busing for students with an Individualized Education Plan, which two of her four children have, Gutierrez admitted that she gets emotional when she thinks about the prospect of her neighborhood school closing. “I feel like crying,” Gutierrez told Oakland Voices.
“I love it there. I’ve never had teachers as amazing as the ones there,” Gutierrez said, adding that she is impressed with her two children’s reading skills. “Brookfield has some of the best teachers, to be honest.”
The Brookfield campus also has a brand new Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math laboratory that was created with the help of a $100,000 grant from the NBA Cares program.
There has also been discussion about a new soccer field and a “green” plan for the campus.
“There’s some beautiful things in the works,” KingdomX said. He also feels that Brookfield is a good learning environment for his children.
Both parents also agree that the school is a safe place to send their children, and share a fear of having to send their children into another neighborhood.
“I don’t feel comfortable sending my kids to another school,” Gutierrez said. She noted that there have been two shootings this year at the nearest public elementary school.
KingdomX, who has generational ties with many of the families in Brookfield Village said, “I’ve never lived in any other neighborhood.” He told Oakland Voices that he has the family resources to homeschool his children, and would go that route rather than send his children out of the neighborhood.
Competition For Students With Local Charter Schools
In the past two decades, charter school enrollment in Oakland has grown by over 1,009%, peaking at 16,991 students in 2020. Charter school enrollment has declined slightly from 2020-2022.
Of the 15,626 total charter school students in 2022, 19% were Black, and 58% were Latinx (compared to 21% and 45% respectively in OUSD).
Aspire was one of the first charter school management organizations in history. Ninety-seven percent of Monarch’s students are Latinx, and less than 2% are Black. Since opening in 2000, the school’s total enrollment spiked in the wake of the state takeover from 2004-2006, but has otherwise remained relatively constant over the past two decades.
Lighthouse started in 2002, and has grown from 82 students to 531 students as of last year. Cox Academy started in 2005, and has actually declined in enrollment by 24% in that time. Lodestar started in 2016, and was located in Fruitvale near the Dimond district until 2018. Its enrollment has grown 286% over the past seven years.
Since 2005, when Aspire Monarch, Cox Academy, and Lighthouse have all been in operation, Brookfield has experienced a 60% decline in enrollment. Though it’s hard to prove the decline in Brookfield students is caused by the increase of enrollment in the charter schools, the data seems to suggest a connection.
In addition to Brookfield competing with charter schools for students, OUSD has made five different Prop 39 offers to co-locate a charter school at Brookfield in the past four years. Even when Prop 39 offers are not accepted by a charter school, the process can be disruptive to a school community because families aren’t sure about what will happen at their children’s school the following year.
“The Community Was Empowered”
Both KingdomX and Gutierrez were at the community meeting at Brookfield in early December where Corn and OUSD Network Superintendent Monica Thomas, who was listening in via Zoom, were encouraging families to enroll in another school for next year.
A powerpoint slide projected during the meeting listed three options for the parents in attendance: wait, submit an application now, or submit an application.
Participants in the meeting pushed back on the narrative that Brookfield will close at the end of the year, forcing Thomas to appear on the Zoom feed to address the criticism. She listened to the concerns of the parents, and appeared to be taking notes. In the end, both she and Corn acknowledged that waiting to enroll until after the January board meetings was a sensible strategy.
“I think it went cool,” KingdomX said. “The community was empowered.”
“I loved it,” Gutierrez said.
The school board resolution to potentially stop the six school closures at the end of the school year, including Brookfield, could be discussed and voted on on January 11th or 25th. Families have until February 10 to enroll their children for the 2023-2024 school year.
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Disclosure: Tony Daquipa volunteered for School Board Director Mike Hutchinson in 2020.