In an interview this week, Oakland Board of Education member Jumoke Hinton Hodge challenged some of the assertions made by public schools’ advocate Ben “Coach” Tapscott in a recent Oakland Post article, in which he said the school district is “dismantling” public schools in West Oakland “piece by piece.”
Hodge, who represents District 3, says she respects Coach Tapscott as a community advocate, but “to say that nothing is happening in West Oakland, to say there is a conspiracy, is just not true.”
“What was disturbing was while there’s a lot of change you may politically or ideologically disagree with – charter schools or other things – you can’t throw the whole system out,” she said. “You can’t say that it’s being picked apart. In fact, there are elements of it that we’re enhancing.”
Hodge said the district has been making a lot of investments in West Oakland schools in STEM curriculum, which have involved Bechtel and other companies, in programs that teach coding, robotics and engineering.
The district is also still supporting West Oakland Middle School (WOMS), developing a coding academy, she said. “It’s not that the school does not have the core things it needs to improve”.
She said she is involved in developing a sports academy at McClymonds High, with a focus on girls’ athletics, which would start in about two years.
“We have a lot of improvements” that still need to be made, “but you see the results of some of the investments come to fruition,” she said.
“We’ve planted some wonderful seeds in West Oakland,” said Hodge.
The district has never proposed to close McClymonds, though it has offered the school as a site to “co-locate” a charter, she said.
At the same time, she recognizes that her district – West Oakland – is the center for a lot of the changes that are going on in the city.
She acknowledged that families are impatient with the rate of change in the school district. “We have incrementally been doing a lot of things. (But) parents are tired of incrementalism. They want to see something different.”
Hodge said Tapscott is mistaken that the district closed six West Oakland schools and two schools in North Oakland in the past six years.
“This is not true,” she said. “The schools listed were closed over the last 20 years, not six years.”
The schools in question include:
- Marcus Foster Elementary School closed by State Receiver Randy Ward in 2004, along with four other schools: Burbank, Longfellow, John Swett and Toler Heights;
- Lafayette, which was merged and eventually closed this year;
- Lowell and Cole merged and eventually closed;
- Hoover Middle and Marcus Foster Middle both closed in the 1990s;
- Sankofa Middle School closed in 2016. The elementary school still exists.
- Santa Fe closed in 2011.
She said the district has never discussed closing McClymonds High, though the district has approved placing charters at McClymonds that were considering “co-locating” there.
Hodge said that people have “painted” her as a “privatizer.”
“I’m for high quality schools. I don’t care about the delivery system,” whether they are charter or traditional public schools, she said.
The district is supporting both charters and excellent programs in traditional schools, she said, so that families will have options.
“You will see people come from far and wide” to send their children to schools in West Oakland, she said.