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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Letter to the Tattler: Navigating Emery School District's Disconnected Laberintine Enrollment

Kafkaesque Nightmare For Parents 
at School District

Enrollment Torture Serves as Stand-In For 
District's Problems

The following letter was received from a parent attempting to enroll her daughter at Emery Unified School District.  The parent tells us this letter was ignored, having received no response from either the School Board individually or as a group or the Superintendent of the schools.

April 23, 2013 

Dear Emery Unified School Board,

My name is Amy (Ames) Simpson. I am a parent of a child who will attend Anna Yates Kindergarten in Fall 2013. I am also an Emeryville resident and serve as the Vice Chair of the Emeryville Child Development Center (ECDC) Advisory Committee. This is a letter to the Emery Unified School District (EUSD) and to the School Board.

Yesterday, I carved out time to drop off a student enrollment application and all the other required documents. First, I went to the EUSD website for information as to where I should submit my application.

The website states (under the section entitled “How to Enroll”): “Bring the following documents with your application to the Enrollment & Outreach Office inside Emery Secondary School at 1100 47thStreet (at San Pablo Ave.)”

Though I am aware that the Secondary School has been closed to students for some time, I figured the EUSD website would have the most up-to-date information given that this is the time parents will be seeking information on how to enroll their children for Fall 2013. I thought maybe the administrative offices would be open, even if this campus is closed, because the website referred me there. So I went to 1100 47th Street only to discover locked doors and a sign referring those seeking the new City/School Meeting location, but nothing referring me to a District or Administrative office.

Next, I called the number listed on the website 510-601-4000 (yes, in my haste, I missed the address in fine print in the footer of the webpage). I pressed 3 to reach the District office, and then 1 to get information on the location to the District office. I figured (per the website) this is where I would need to go to submit my application. I was greeted by a recording that referred me to 4727 San Pablo Ave. with office hours of 8:30 to 4pm (a different administrative address from the one listed under the online section “How to Enroll”). So, I went around the corner to discover that this address was also outdated. There was a sign on the door that referred me to 61st Street. Eventually, when I made it to the 61st Street location, a woman directed me to Anna Yates reception on 43rd Street. Once I made it to Anna Yates, the process was simple and seamless. My daughter is now enrolled.

However, as you can imagine, I was flustered and incredulous that information this basic was difficult for me to find, that I found myself on a wild goose chase to simply drop off an application. I cannot emphasize enough my dismay. I’m a resident who knows a thing or two about what’s going on in this town, but trusted the School District to provide the public with up-to-date information, as I would think this would be their first priority – to keep the public informed about where they are, and how to enroll one’s child (where to submit applications).

But I must admit that I am not surprised that the School District has failed to update this information. I can only imagine how frustrating this would be for residents or parents of inter-district transfer students who don’t know the history of EUSD’s transitions (by the time I made it to the 61st street location, I knew that I should have done what my intuition told me made the most sense – go directly to Anna Yates), or who are not familiar with the various addresses, or for whom English is not their first language.

Several years ago, the Emeryville School Board, as well as some of Emeryville’s City Council members, asked me for my support for Measure J. I was one of the few who didn’t believe the rhetoric about what this measure could do for families in Emeryville, and I was also adamantly opposed to the concept of co-locating grades K-12 on a site that’s too small for our kids. Additionally, given my first hand experience with how poorly City Staff and the Emery Unified School District have traditionally coordinated with the public or with their own school feeder, ECDC, I was certain the District would fail at running a K-12/community partnership. Even with my skepticism, I have held out hope that somehow, miraculously, the Emeryville Center of Community Life will solve the District’s woes. Sadly, no matter how often I try to give the District the benefit of the doubt (because after all, Anna Yates is currently the only option for my daughter), they continue to show me evidence that they lack what it takes administratively to keep the public informed and that basic operational, administrative tasks (such as making sure the correct and consistent address is on their website, voicemail and buildings for parents looking to enroll their children) are currently too much to manage. Please tell me how the School District and Board plan on managing a co-located school that doubles as a community center when no one is able to update the website or make adequate signage at the existing/closed locations, or update the voice recording - all the District’s first points of contact with the public?

Yesterday, the only point at which I did not encounter friction was at the actual campus of Anna Yates. Given what I know about this school, along with yesterday’s experience with the Anna Yates admin, it makes me sick inside to think the one thing that is working for this District will be closed within a couple of years. I have a ton more to say about how disingenuous I think both the District and Board have been when promising at the time Measure J was on the ballot that closing Anna Yates was not a foregone conclusion. And I have a ton more to say about how absolutely ridiculous some of the plans have been for the K-12 site (like CAB financing, the poorly thought out pick-up/drop off, a non-regulation track - what’s the point, and reneging on building to environmental standards, to name a few).

I am one of nearly a dozen parents from ECDC who will be sending their kids to Anna Yates next year. Nearly all of us believe that in several years, no matter how architecturally impressive the new site, we will be scrambling (because the District is disorganized and no one has informed us how they intend to find the funds to pay for much needed programming) to figure out alternatives for our children, or live with the bitter taste of resignation. Some may move out of the district, others may apply for inter district transfers, some may apply for financial aid at independent schools, while others look to local charters, but few of us have faith that EUSD or the School Board will help us keep our families invested in this District. And if, in the end, this tight knit community breaks apart, with families dispersing, daily connections lost, I will hold you partially accountable. I will blame you for failing to listen, for being in denial about the District’s limitations, for wasting an opportunity, for being out of touch with the needs of the many families that live here, and for changing the character of what currently makes Emeryville special. So, for the sake of my child and the children of Emeryville, will you all please, PLEASE, PLEASE help the District get its act together?

I recognize that my tone is angry, but you have to realize that what I experienced yesterday represents a larger, ongoing systemic problem that no one seems to be addressing; a problem that undermines my ability to believe in your vision.


Ames Simpson


  1. She is lucky that her child will be enrolled in Anna Yates and not the High School. Could you imagine figuring out that your highschooler would be placed in an old Oakland grade school building? By the way, since demolition did not begin at the high school this school year, that means that over one million in rent has been wasted at the Sante Fe grade school building. Is there no accountability? Have you all lost your minds?

  2. Among the four priorities mentioned in Mayor Brinkman's State of the City report last week was supporting the school board.

    Let's hope this will include supporting a move to replace the entire board and the superintendent of schools.

  3. Replace them with who exactly? Are you willing to run Will? Be careful what you ask for.

  4. First let me say I hardly find this school bureaucracy experience "Kafkaesque". Not clear where the torture or menacing complexity, characteristic of Kafka's writing, occurs. While I'll buy that her journey was in fact senseless and perhaps a bit disorienting, it was hardly surreal and certainly there was no impending danger!

    EUSD is notorious for poor communication....though it has been a priority to improve this critical area since the Tony Smith days.

    As for the District Website, it is always alive with outdated info. I was encouraging a teacher friend to look into applying at Emery and when he asked about salary I suggested he look at the salary schedule online. Sure enough, it is the salary schedule from 09-10. OK, OK the salaries haven't changed one penny (which is a problem in itself) so it does accurately reflect current wages but it seems it would just look better to have the current years dates. Besides this simply announces that the District has not approved any wage increase for 4 years; not something a potential teacher finds encouraging.

    And yes I know this is not unusual given the dismal state of education finances in California.

    Lastly...can one member from the Board ( or the Supe?) just call this lady? Apologies and explanations go a long way....and isn't this your job.... to communicate with the community?

  5. Do yourself a favor and get your kid out of the EUSD before you child is screwed over by the district.

    You should look at the writings of the high school students in that district, you will wonder how they ever got out of elementary school.

    And go figure, since the old tech team left, the district has been screwed on that front. The district needs to learn how to take care of good people when they manage to hire one.