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Oakland's Burckhalter Elementary School and Sankofa Academy Remain Open - Tribune

Two Oakland schools escape closure
District postpones decision to close Burckhalter, Sankofa for another year

By Katy Murphy, STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 12/20/2007 06:19:56 AM PST

OAKLAND — Burckhalter Elementary School and Sankofa Academy will remain open through the 2008-09 school year. School district staff, who had originally recommended that they be closed, decided it would be best to postpone the decision for at least one year.
After hearing some of the community input and the remarks from the board, they sat down and decided to re-evaluate, said Troy Flint, the school district's spokesman.
Last week, during an emotional meeting at the district office, many speakers urged the district to keep the schools open. Many argued that the closures in recent years have disproportionately affected African-American families.
Sixty-one percent of Burckhalter's students and 92 percent of Sankofa's students are African-American.
A staff report on recent school closures supports the community's concern. Schools, which have been closed since 2003, were indeed located in predominately African-American neighborhoods, explained Kirsten Vital, community accountability officer for the Oakland school district.
Until the district re-examines its enrollment policies and the number of schools the district can afford to run, it would be too soon to make such decisions, staff said.
Sankofa and Burckhalter were targeted for closure because of low enrollment and declining test scores. If their test scores don't improve, they will be considered for closure in the future, said state administrator Vincent Matthews.
Sankofa, a small school in North Oakland, opened in 2005 following the closure of Washington Elementary School. Many of its problems during the first two years were attributed to the decision to open the school with a middle school. This year, the district decided to reorganize Sankofa and remove the upper grades.
Staff say the school has improved dramatically and that it has a marketing plan ready to go — as soon as they learn about its fate.
Board member Greg Hodge said it was about time that staff "addressed the issue of race and equity in the same breath."
"I think, as a board, we need to have some serious discussions about, with the resources that we have, how can we serve the kids who need us the most," Hodge said.
Laura Campbell, the after-school coordinator at Sankofa Academy, said she was shocked and "very, very, very happy" by the decision to keep her school open and the fact that the race and equity issue was cited as a reason for the reversal.
Campbell, who is white, said she was troubled by the pattern of closures in Oakland. "You'll never see a school shut down where students look like me — never, ever, ever."
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