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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Will New Emeryville Families Choose The New Public School?

Public vs Private
Two Tiered Education In Emeryville?

Left unsaid during last month's contentious deliberations over the resident generated appeal of the Esquela Bilingua Internacional school is how the newly approved private school will impact our public schools.  Concerns over excessive traffic, noise and improper land use were bandied about at the May 19th special council meeting with neighbors registering legitimate fears of Triangle neighborhood quality of life reductions but the most impactful eventuality is the likely hood that this new private school, right across the street from the soon to be built publicly financed new school, will draw much needed Emeryville middle class students away from the public school.  
Is a two tiered education system looming in our future?

This possible encumbrance on efforts to improve the schools comes at an inopportune time; just as a head of steam has been built.  Emeryville residents have stepped up to the plate and they have shown a willingness to go the extra mile to build a public school district here we can be proud of as evidenced by last November's Measure J $400 million bond and the twin school parcel taxes recently passed.  Citizens have indicated they want to protect their new investment and they have joined to push the city council to bring family friendly housing to attract new Emeryville families for the school.
Insofar as the city actually delivers on all the new talk of building family friendly housing, the specter of a new force that would draw these new families away from the public school is disconcerting to say the least.

Supporters of the new 400 student private school have stressed that it will serve as an asset to our public school by offering high quality after school programs in Spanish instruction would have a point if all Emery students could benefit.  But as it is being proposed now, the programs open to the public school students would require substantial tuition.  To enroll as a full time student, tuition will cost a minimum of $15,500.

A vexing scenario is the eventuality that the two schools, public and private, will exist side by side but with radically different cultures; a troubling two tiered education system.  Since newly arriving middle class families will have the means to pay the $15,500 tuition, it's easy to see how the private school will be construed by parents as the superior school, drawing the more affluent children.   Adjacent to the private school would sit the inferior public school with it's poor children.  This threatens our critically important charge to build up a diverse student population, representative of the whole of Emeryville.

Last November's Measure J school bond literature noted the new school will attract families to Emeryville, some 700 new students in all; the minimum number needed to make the new public school economically viable.  If nothing else, the lack of available land in Emeryville for new housing causes one to seriously question this number and the public school will be left to fight for the few middle class students that do locate here.
We're worried this new private school just made our job to bring substantial numbers of new Emeryville kids to the public school a lot tougher.



  2. The need for an adequate number of students in the new school is also a reason the School Board should continue last year's practice of having four Kindergarten classes instead of three, which would slowly expand the size of the student body over the next several years.

    However, they have abandoned this approach and returned to three classes for the fall, and apparently even plan to redistribute one classroom of Kindergarteners into just three 1st grade classrooms (despite the general policy of "looping" where each class has the same teacher two years in a row).

    The new plan is apparently to hope that an attractive new building will bring in the enrollment. This is a dangerous gambit. Once a child starts in one school there is ENORMOUS inertia to keep them in the same school, with their same friends, etc. No matter how nice the new facilities may be, buildings alone do not build a community.

  3. I have been reading this blog for several months now and I must say you do a good job tackling important issues that are not being talked about anywhere else. Despite a recurring glut of naysayer critics, the Tattler is doing a fine job raising important issues. Please keep on with your little blog regardless of those who want to shut you down.

  4. To the above reader-
    We appreciate the kinds words but it should be noted that the Tattler is not the only Emeryville blog "tackling important issues" as you say. The Secret News has also tasked itself with informing Emeryville residents about these kinds of issues. Please click on the Secret News hyperlink under our masthead.

  5. It's ironic that I was just discussing this topic with my colleague over lunch when I returned and read your post. We were both empathizing that it is really difficult to make K-12 educational decisions in this area. Those who have the ability to make choices do so (and who can blame them?) and those who cannot are stuck in underperforming schools and the situation perpetuates itself. It is a structural problem in our area/state that is much more complicated than any individual choice.

    I doubt that EBI's new location in Emeryville will lure significantly more students from Emeryville. If the school thought they would lose many existing students in the move they wouldn't do it, so I doubt they think they will gain many students from the move. I don’t think proximity is a huge factor for parents making decisions about schools. EBI's location 5 blocks from my house versus on Alcatraz would not factor into my decision to send my child there. There are many private schools in this area and I think I think if parents are looking for one they mostly choose based on quality and the needs of their child and much less on location.

    It should also be noted that EBI grants financial aid to those who cannot afford the tuition.

  6. To the above reader-
    Esquela Bilingue Internacional (EBI) has indicated that some students will receive some financial aid. Your comment gives the impression that any child attending the public school and wanting to take a class at EBI or those at EBI full time will be able to do so by dint of the financial aid program there. This is clearly not the case.

    Regarding how many students EBI will lure away from the public school; your guess that it will be insignificant is speculation. Unfortunately, the public school district's task of attracting new Emeryville students is so great that any force countering that task will be harmful, at least by degree. How much is hard to quantify.

    I don't share your confidence that the school board would not have supported the new private school if it had possibility to harm the public schools. There are many forces acting upon politicians and politics being such that they are, sometimes bad public policy flows from overly politicized governing bodies like we have here in Emeryville.