Parents of young Oakland children will soon have another early childhood education option in the Oakland Unified School District. Next fall, the district plans to open an early learning center for infants and children up to age 5 at the site that housed Kaiser Primary School until it closed in 2019.
This move could be the start of an expansion of OUSD’s early childhood education program. Currently, the district has 28 pre-K programs, either in stand-alone sites or in elementary schools, which cater for children aged 3 to 5. The upcoming early learning center model in Kaiser, which will serve children from birth to age 5, is only available at another OUSD site: Burbank Kindergarten in the Millsmont district. It opened in 2010 and welcomed 195 students during the 2020-2021 school year, which is a drop of about 30 students from enrollment levels before the pandemic.
“We know we need to expand some preschool opportunities specifically in the Northwest region,” Christie Herrera, executive director of early learning for the district, said at a board meeting earlier this month. “Our goal is to really introduce two or three more hubs in the next five years. “
A state grant will provide between $ 500,000 and $ 1.1 million to support accessibility renovations to the school, which is located in the Hiller Highlands neighborhood. Officials chose the site for a variety of ideal features: it has 10 to 15 classrooms, all located on the ground floor, and it is closer for many families who are currently traveling to downtown Burbank. The Kaiser hub is expected to serve 150 to 250 students, including special and general education classes, as well as infant and toddler classes. The district will also partner with Head Start providers to provide free spaces to eligible families. OUSD’s early childhood programs offer sliding-scale tuition fees based on family income and household size.
The Burbank Diagnostic Center, where families can have their children assessed for learning or developmental disabilities, will also be moving some of its services to Kaiser to be closer to families in this area of Oakland.
“It’s really about providing that family experience from birth to age five before the transition to TK or kindergarten,” Herrera said in an interview with The Oaklandside. “It’s a one-stop-shop for families to meet their needs.”
She added that she would like to see future hubs in the Fruitvale area, one in deep east Oakland and at a site in central Oakland.
The decision to reallocate the Kaiser campus, two years after a controversial battle over the school’s future, sparked bittersweet feelings from some in the community. While some people are eager to see the kids on campus again and are happy that it is being used as a school, some of Kaiser’s former parents are also mourning the closure. Kaiser was at the center of the controversy in 2019, when the OUSD Education Council voted to close the school and merge it with Sankofa Primary School, now known as Sankofa United.
“I am delighted that they are using the school property for public school purposes and that it will not be used as a Accessory 39 offer to a charter school, or an extension of the private school that lives just down the street, ”said Susanna Hovland, whose child went to school in Kaiser and now attends Oakland Technical High School. “But it would be good for the board, and the district in general, to recognize the harm they have done and caused to the families who were in Kaiser.”
Hovland became involved in the campaign to prevent Kaiser from closing in 2011, when the school was on a list of schools planned for possible closure. After pushback from the school community, Kaiser was removed from the closure list and put on a list of schools to expand, a consideration that also meant eventually moving the school to another area of Oakland. It was a temporary victory.
In 2019, the district announced it was shutting down Kaiser and sending students to Sankofa Elementary School a few miles away. District officials cited a few families with school-aged children in the Kaiser neighborhood, and Sankofa being under-enrolled with room to grow up, as the reasons for the merger.
Because Kaiser had already been scheduled for a shutdown that ultimately didn’t happen, many parents were hoping it would happen again in 2019. It stung when they did, said Aiden Sutton, whose son was in second grade at Kaiser when school closed.
“The preschool learning center will feed into the system at some point,” said Sutton, acknowledging that one of the benefits of the Kaiser hub could be that these families stay in district schools when they are older. “But they should be doing something that really strengthens good faith in the Oakland School District. So many people were disappointed with the scholarly shenanigans (during the Kaiser debate).
“There are certainly families who are still very upset with the closure,” said Sam Davis, who represents North Oakland on the school board. “That’s a reasonable question: why would Oakland Unified close the campus one year and reopen it for another age group another year? “
The District 1 principal was elected in November 2020 and was not part of the board of directors that voted to close the school. Davis added that he accepted the decision to place the hub in Kaiser after hearing that it would include both special education and general education students, and that it would ease the travel that some families have to have. perform to patronize Burbank.
He also stressed the need for more child development centers in his district, which saw several centers are closing in 2010 and 2011, when the state cut funding for early childhood education. This includes the Piedmont CDC site, which is currently considered a permanent library location, while some of the other sites, like the old Golden Gate CDC on Herzog Street, are still vacant.
“I would love to see these campuses used for preschool. I hope the state provides more funding for facilities and early learning programs, ”Davis said in an interview earlier this month.
Earlier this week, the California legislature approved a budget this includes funding for transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, which could mean an expansion of early learning opportunities in OUSD. Currently, only children who turn 5 between September 2 and December 2 are eligible for Transitional Kindergarten, which is one year of school before entering Kindergarten. The budget is directed to the governor’s office.
Kaiser’s early learning center is slated to open to families in fall 2022. And when it does, Hovland said she will be there.
“It will be nice to see the kids on the playground again,” said Hovland, who lives in the Kaiser neighborhood. “I’m probably going to go out there and give my support and see if they need anything, like I did before when my kid was in school.”