Part of what makes Oakland great is how our city celebrates equity and diversity.
But there is a major part of public education in our city that does not fit with our values: the way families find and enroll in Oakland’s public schools.
The current process is unfair, disproportionately disadvantaging parents who work multiple jobs, have children with special needs or are new to the country. These parents often lack the time and resources to navigate the complicated system to find their child’s “just right” public school—something every student deserves.
As a parent of two Oakland Unified School District students, one current and the other a graduate, I’ve experienced the difficulty of school enrollment.
Fortunately for me, I have the time, resources and patience to visit schools, learn their unique approaches to learning, and fill out the separate applications for top choice. Yet even for me, the process could have been easier and more informative.
I’ve spoken with many families who are left behind by an outdated and unfair enrollment process. They are puzzled about where to even begin.
How, where and when do I apply?
Why are there so many applications and deadlines?
How can I compare public schools and find the one that offers a focus on science and technology, or a vibrant arts program, or is simply close to home?
And how I can make sure schools are being matched to students in a way that is open, fair and does not allow some families to “game the outcome” at the expense of others?
These are fair questions that many families here in Oakland are asking.
But there’s good news—we now have an opportunity to make the school finding and enrollment experience simpler, accessible and fair, so that it works for all Oakland families.
Right now, many conversations are happening around Oakland between parents, public school leaders and community members in an effort to reimagine and improve public school enrollment in our city. In recent months, I attended and contributed to several meetings around the city myself.
I urge you to attend these meetings, too, and raise your voice—it is the only way to make sure the new enrollment process reflects the needs of Oakland parents and families.
Our city and school leaders need to hear from people of all races, religions, income levels and backgrounds about their experiences with school enrollment and thoughts on how we can make it better.
Improvements to finding and enrolling in Oakland public schools will only reflect our city’s values of fairness and diversity if the diverse families who make up our city are willing to speak up.