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Comment: Be true to your school

Submitted by on 1, March 12, 2010 – 5:45 am14 Comments

I was sitting through another school board meeting a month ago, just minding my own business, when I got some disturbing news. Apparently, the elementary school my child attends is bad.

From her perch on the dais, School Board Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer all but accused the school of draining away the district’s cash and with it, the hopes and dreams of thousands of other less fortunate Alameda schoolchildren, because it is small.

“You can educate kids better at schools that are larger than 280 students,” Hererra Spencer said. “The student population is more socioeconomically diverse. It’s the best way to have equity.”

About a week later a local blogger, interviewing me about a totally unrelated subject, posed this question:

Can you confirm – 1 or 2 of your children attend Franklin School?

And then, just the other day, I got a copy of this blog post from another local critic of our schools:

The most familiar agenda is “maintaining neighborhood schools” — keeping under-enrolled schools open rather than merging students from, say, the Gold Coast’s Franklin School with a different ethnic and socio-economic population in the West End. Code language for “separate but equal,” or de facto segregation.

For most of the time I have lived here, I have heard the whispers that Franklin is a private school for kids in the Gold Coast. The way the school has been described, you’d think its students were traversing marble hallways, eating organic lunches prepared by Alice Waters and grooving to live concerts by the Dave Matthews Band during Monday assembly in advance of a day of accelerated learning courses taught by Harvard profs via personal broadband connection.

But when my child started school there last year, what we got was a building that’s in such bad shape that it just might fall over if you sneezed too hard fronting a dinky play yard that contains not a single blade of grass, where I often observe my child and others sitting in the rain during Monday assembly or running around in the rain during physical education, because the building doesn’t have the indoor space for either.

The school has one rubber play ball for each class at recess. We have a principal who splits her time between our school and the district office. Special ed students receive distraction-free services in the school’s charming basement. The kids (in my child’s class, at least) access PTA-purchased computers in the school library just once a week.

Somehow, “Franklin” has become code for “exclusive,” a convenient epithet for people seeking to stoke the dying embers of the class wars in Alameda to score cheap political points. But in reality, our kids get the same basic education as everyone else, and not a lot more than that. Yes, Franklin is small. But its size doesn’t make it any less diverse than larger schools in Alameda or grant any benefits those schools don’t get.

When the district was putting together its master plan last summer, families told them loud and clear that they wanted to keep their neighborhood elementary schools. But I doubt it’s the aging buildings they want to save. I suspect it’s the community contained in each of those buildings that parents are desperate to protect – not to deny some nebulous “other,” but to hold close the friends we’ve come to know, the villages that help us raise our children. And at a time when we are challenged to provide even the most basic educational services, that’s the one thing we’ve got to hold on to.

If there are inequities in the services provided in our schools, let’s work together to find ways to address them by making things better for everybody instead of just looking for a scapegoat.


  • Lauren Do says:

    Thanks for this Michele. I’m not in the Franklin attendance zone, but have been super uncomfortable with the characterizations of Franklin as some money-sucking elitist enclave.

    According to the latest demographic report, it looks like Franklin is fully enrolled meaning that it is maximizing its space and resources, which is what we want, no?

    Also, if one looks at the demographic breakdown, the ethnic make-up of Franklin is fairly similar to that of Otis Elementary. Although Franklin has less Asian kids but more African American, Latino, Filipino, and Multi-ethnic students. And the percentage of kids receiving free and reduced priced lunches are relatively similar between Otis and Franklin.

    So, is it easy to make Franklin the poster child of the problems of AUSD because it lives in the middle of the Gold Coast? Absolutely. Is it indicative of the problems? Absolutely not.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    DEJA VUE!! Franklin and Paden were closed decades ago due to declining enrollment, dwindling dollars. Nothing was done to change the fundamental unfair and unequal manner in which ADA is computed. As a result Alameda and Oakland get less per student that Dublin and Pleasanton. Both serve more difficult and cost consuming populations due to socio-economic diversity not shared in all other districts.

    AUSD’s solution was to pinch pennies, pass parcel taxes and continue electing officials that didn’t care enough about our children to change the antiquated formula for ADA. After both re-opened the money situation returned and the district is once again facing a lack of funds. Those who do not learn form history are doomed to repeat it.

    Instead of seeking a parcel tax, why not kick out any elected official that will not fight for equal funds for each student?

    And by the way when Franklin closed, REDWOOD DAY went in and was a wonderful school and neighbor. Put out a much better education than AUSD. I was delighted, though had to work longer hours to pay the tuition.

  • Frances says:

    AUSD hasn’t changed the ADA that the state gives us not because they don’t “care enough about our children” but because they don’t actually have the power to change it. AUSD has been “fighting” at the state level and working on political and legal strategies to address the inequitable funding from the state, but these will take time to be successful. The larger issue is the overall lack of funding by the state and the refusal of a minority of voters to let the majority assess the taxes that we recognize the state requires to provide the services we need. The district’s problems are not due to the re-opening of Paden and Franklin schools, and they won’t be solved by closing these or any other schools. The best short term solution is to pass the parcel tax. Apparently a feeling of “deja vue” is not the same as an accurate understanding of history.

  • Pogue Mahone says:

    This is such a joke. Isn’t omeone just a tad bit in denial?

    This is of course hearsay, but here goes. Several or so years ago a long time school district employee who worked at my child’s school as an administrator, who has lived here for years and who’s children went to district schools and who is much more familiar with the history and politics of Alameda schools than I, told a very small group of us “off the record” that Franklin is a defacto private school and the parents there have little or no idea of the profound issues confronting the west end schools and frankly that most do not care. I have been told by him and others of the extreme lengths some Alameadens go to in order to avoid “those schools” in the west end. As of late I have heard that the buzz at Franklin in regards to the possible closing scenario and avoid mixing with “those schools” is to move in portables to cover what little play space now exists and petition to use Franklin Park as a play yard and redraw district lines. Why not? That sounds totally reasonable…. NOT! When pressed about the redrawing of neighborhood lines it seems that of course Lum children are the preference to “take in”.

    In a school with many socioeconomically disadvantaged students who often need stability and long term relationships with positive, mentoring, role models you would think that stability in retaining staff at such sites would be a sacred cow but for some reason it seems there was/is a revolving door of faculty at Washington and other west end schools that I know does not occur at Franklin and certain other schools. I know specifically of a music teacher who was forced to leave Washington and was brought to tears when speaking on this issue. How anyone can pretend that that school, Franklin, is anything but an outdated relic on many levels is beyond me.

    By the way,The reason it seems the “neighborhood schools” chant was/is so loud is because most of the people/families who attend and involve themselves in master plan meetings are upwardly mobile professional helicopter parents who either can take the time off or have a stay at home parent. For the most part it is not the single mom on assistance, it is not the two parents who work multiple jobs, it is not the immigrant family struggling with the myriad of problems presented by a new culture, country, and language, it is not the homeless family living in transitional housing at The Point. It is easy to be bourgeoisie and claim otherwise and pretend your neat little world has nil effect on the outside and the “other” but come on now, I thought you were supposed to be some kind of a 2.0 age, objective, journalist.

    Whether you chose to admit it or not “neighborhood schools” + sibling preferences = passive exclusion, exclusivity and for some, hypocrisy.

    • Pogue,

      Thanks for chiming in. Here’s my question: How would closing Franklin fix the problems you cite? The last time Franklin closed, it turned into an actual private school. How does that help the kids you’re talking about? My concern here is that if you start closing schools and offering parents nothing in return, they’ll leave the district. Which will then have less money to educate kids who may not have those options. This is the impact I fear my “neat little world” would have on the “outside” and the “other” if you started closing schools, because as you pointed out, people are very, very attached to these schools. And I am not convinced that closing them – or attacking people for sending their kids to them – will save money or level the playing field for anyone.

      In all honesty, many of the families I know are really starting to wonder whether they should stay in California, and with all due respect to our teachers, the quality of the schools is the main reason. And I think these are the issues the district and the school board are wrestling with when they talk about what to do next. I think they are making efforts to create the choices that parents want – choices which apparently existed in this district at one time. So another question: What would you do, and what do you think would be the results of those actions?

  • dave says:

    Franklin is as public a school as any other in Alameda. Students living in its zone are entitled to attend, subject to capacity limits & rules, exactly the same as any other school in the district. Franklin students receive the same state funding as others, it doesn’t come in specially marked envelopes with bonus amounts. The facilities are of same (and arguably weaker) quality as others. Franklin has been at or over capacity for a few years, even holding lotteries for limited slots, and yet the district has not built potables there as it did elsewhere last year. Your years-old hearsay does not change these facts.

    As for the relative advantage that Franklin students might enjoy over the hardscrabble examples you cite, Franklin parents going the extra mile is their choice, and as much as it helps Franklin students, it does not harm other schools. Indeed, considering the extra efforts put in by Franklin parents on behalf of the entire district (high turnout for parcel taxes, etc) their efforts clearly benefit the other schools you cite.

  • Pogue Mahone says:

    In all fairness this is supposed to be an editorial so please disregard the objective journalist comment.

  • Steve says:

    My children are no longer of school age. When they were, we moved multiple times into (and out of) California and they had the “opportunity” to attend new schools and make new friends. All things being equal, I preferred that they attend schools that captured the ethnic diversity of the area in which we lived. Regrettably, all things are seldom equal. Often, the schools that were more ethnically diverse lagged in the area of educational achievement. In such cases, we always opted for the school which had the higher educational achievement.

    As young adults, my children are fully functional in the ethnically diverse community we have here in Alameda. Somewhere along the line, they were able to pick-up whatever skills they needed in this area. However, had they not learned their reading, math, language, etc. skills, I think that they’d be hard-pressed to make up for lost ground now.

    We shouldn’t fault parents who try to attain the best education for their children, especially when these parents are willing to keep their kids in the public school system.

  • Terri says:

    In response to Pogue’s comment, “that Franklin is a defacto private school and the parents there have little or no idea of the profound issues confronting the west end schools and frankly that most do not care. I have been told by him and others of the extreme lengths some Alameadens go to in order to avoid “those schools”

    The “some Alamedans” this well-connected person spoke of are everywhere in Alameda, Franklin and elsewhere. Pogue or his/her friend don’t obviously know about the 29 families from one Franklin class that chose to send their kids to Chipman, one of “those schools”. Nor do they know about the parents from Franklin that are on the Board of the new Alameda Academy Charter school and have worked tirelessly to start the charter.

    I agree with Michelle, it’s about the familial connections you make. We have them both at Franklin and Chipman, and we don’t want to give either one up!

  • Jon Spangler says:

    Pogue M.,

    I am tempted to call your comments on Franklin School cheap shots, although I presume that your intentions are honorable. They certainly are not accurate overall, as they represent outdated stereotypes more than reality.

    I volunteered for three years at Franklin School (2003-2006) and can attest to its non-enclave status. There were kids from a wide variety of ethnic and income groups since the attendance area extends far beyond Franklin’s location in the Gold Coast neighborhood. And I saw a fair amount of staff turnover, student discipline issues, and other indications that Franklin’s students and families look a lot like the rest of Alameda’s. (Including their unemployment levels in this market.) Perhaps you were thinking of Piedmont instead?

    One of the major advantages of keeping Franklin open is the presence across the street of Franklin Park, which makes the paved school yard somewhat less oppressive and limiting, but the school district does not have the right to take over a public park. Parks are in short supply in Alameda, just like school funding and–apparently–accurate assessments of neighborhood schools.

    I suspect that the school administrator that you refer to was expressing a personal bias and not being “objective” in his assessment of Franklin School. He could not have made his statement “on the record” because the facts did not and do not back him up: that is why he said it “off the record.”

    We need to maintain our neighborhood schools–all of them–in order to encourage kids to walk and bicycle to school instead of being driven every day. Closing Franklin and other neighborhood schools will only increase Alameda’s carbon footprint, which will make the lives of the kids now in elementary school even worse later on, in addition to how much they will all suffer sooner from a lack of school funding.

    Please vote YES on the parcel tax; we will even though we do not have any children of our own.

  • Pogue Mahone says:

    Have you read the actual charter document for the Alameda Academy Charter school? The part about how the board is appointed? The founding board – consisting all of friends, buddies, etc. – gets to appoint new members, and so on, and so on. Nobody is elected, all appointed by the board, ensuring they keep it under lock-step control.

    Who would send their kid there knowing they could never influence who is on the board?

    Nepotism, The Fiefdom and status quo alive and well, hurray!

  • Michele Kuttner says:

    I feel the need to chime in and add my support for the staff and parents at Franklin School. Keep your chins up and bravo for the hard work I know you all do. I am a teacher at another elementary school and a parent of kids in AUSD public schools. I know a few of my fellow educators at Franklin and I believe that quite a few of them were handed pink slips last month. I also know that my little 2 BR/1 BA house is worth as much as it is mostly due to the fact that it is a few blocks away from another smaller neighborhood school. There are many people who believe bigger schools are a better use of district funds. But, they should look at the big picture and remember that neighborhood schools keep home values high.

  • Hugh Tebault says:

    As a graduate of Franklin and AUSD schools – and having a mother who also had graduated from Franklin – I have a multi-generational insight into Alameda Public Schools.
    The mis-management of public education, largely by a progressively focused NEA/Teacher Union is reaping the results of their actions.
    Alameda has neighborhoods, and schools are in neighborhoods. Don’t get mislead by the “We have to control more lives and actions to fix society” crowd. Alameda should remain proud of what ALAMEDA does. Your elected representatives should work for YOU. The results of a public school should be to prepare our children for their success – not to be a social experiment.
    The worst thing to do is pump more money into a badly managed business. IF AUSD is failing, that is sad – but AUSD staff has done this themselves. The elected Board of Education has little real control over the employee union dictates – and the dictates of Sacramento/Washington D.C. Long ago, before public unions, the citizens actually ran their own schools – not now. Very sad.

  • dave says:

    Alameda schools are not failing. Even during a serious funding crisis AUSD has improved its API scores. In the business world, an entity that improves results while under severe pressure typically receives more capital, not less. Success under those circumstances indicates superior execution ability.

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