No charter at Fremont High School

Only team to submit letter of intent for redesign is Fremont group

For three months, the Fremont community united to fight a plan by the Oakland Unified School District to possibly turn the 106-year-old school into a charter school. On Friday, many in the community voiced relief that charter companies would not compete for control of the school after all.

“This shows the kids that if you want something and go after it, you can get it,” said Vernetta Woods, whose daughter Zaria helped lead a student movement to get better communication with the school district about the plan. “You have to go about it orderly.”

Students and faculty first learned about the “Call for Quality Schools” plan the day before winter break in December through a letter from new Superintendent Antwan Wilson.

“Our process will involve proposals submitted by in-district teams initiated from inside or outside the identified schools, and/or established charter school operators,” wrote Wilson in his letter to OUSD families. Wilson promised the community that the district was not closing schools and that there would be no school takeovers.

However, hundreds of students, parents, staff and community members did not trust the district’s intentions and were outraged at the short notice of the plan. They rallied against the possibility of charters to take over the school in protests at community engagement meetings, multiple school board meetings and in meetings students demanded that district officials hold with them.

The school board was scheduled to vote in July to either hand the school over to a charter group or to allow another design from either Fremont or others in the school district to be used to recreate Fremont. Letters from groups that want to be considered to create a new Fremont were due March 12.

Fremont’s design team, the only one that submitted a letter of intent, now has until May 21 to finalize its proposal.

If Fremont’s design is approved in July, next year will be an “incubation” year to work out details. The newly designed school is scheduled to open in August 2016.

The district offered a second timeline that would delay the new school from opening until 2017, but a group of about 60 teachers, students, parents and community members voted to keep the first timeline during a meeting Feb. 23.

Among the reasons for the faster timeline was a feeling that it was better
to build on the momentum that Fremont had established in making sure a charter company did not take over the school. Many also said they felt that construction of a new facility needed to begin sooner rather than later and that a delay in the process would push a promised $135 million new building off even further.

McClymonds High School, Castlemont High School, Brookfield Elementary School and Frick Middle School also were threatened with possible conversion to charter schools because of enrollment, test scores and other factors.

Wilson started as superintendent in July and was hired to help bring change to priority schools in Oakland. He implemented a similar plan in Denver in 2007, and some of those schools became charters. Many at Fremont feared the same would happen in Oakland.

About 600 students, parents and community members students attended a Jan. 8 meeting that was designed for them to learn more about the plan from district officials and to write questions on index cards. However, many in attendance were upset that the district waited so long to tell them what was going on and that the meeting was set up for district officials to answer only the questions they wanted to.

Students were so angry, in fact, that they decided to take over the meeting and demand the district officials follow their agenda rather than the other way around.

“The reality is that we didn’t know about these ‘community engagement’ meetings until the last week before break; this is not a transparent process,” senior Carmen Jimenez said as she took the mic.

Jimenez serves as a student director on the school board but has been active in the protests against the school board’s plan to request proposals from outsiders.

After Jimenez and other students made demands, some students shouted from the audience, “Where’s Antwan Wilson? Why isn’t the superintendent here?”

School district officials, including five Chief of Schools Allen Smith and Chief of School Improvement David Montes de Oca, explained that they were representing the superintendent.

Wilson, in a March 9 response to the Green & Gold, said he had made plans to be at the Jan. 8 meeting but had family issues and could not attend. He wrote that he planned to visit the school before Spring Break.

Some supporters of Wilson complained over the months that Fremont students were not respecting him or other adults during meetings about the plan. A local chapter of the NAACP complained that a student had been disrespectful to Wilson by calling him by his first name at a school board meeting.

However, in the e-mail response to the Green & Gold, Wilson rejected that idea.

“I believe in the students at Fremont and do not feel disrespected by them,” Wilson wrote. “I believe that many students were led to believe that I want to close their school and fire all of their teachers. That is completely false.”

However, he wrote, “I do not believe that students were always encouraged to be respectful. That was inappropriate,and I believe we can do better by our stu- dents.”

Wilson visited Fremont twice last week.

Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Valencia contributed to this article.