Greg Davis told the board that the Valley Oak school only has 220 students at present–the smallest number of schools in the district. Another 311 go to Valley Oak from outside the attendance area.
Fred Buderi, a Valley Oak neighbor, raised a very important point about the potential residential development of the PG&E site that could bring many additional students to Valley Oak. But this development is not factored into the future enrollment projections prepared by the Davis Demographics & Planning. His remarks were dismissed by the board saying that they should not take into account plans that are not yet approved. On the other hand, Baki Tezcan points out it is “ironic that after counting for Covell Village in building Korematsu, now they say they cannot count for something that does not exist even though it will not require a city-wide vote and will probably happen in due course and produce new students in need of a school to go.”
It does seem strange that they would make projections without taking into account potential future areas of growth. I would have to see how they do their projections to see if it is merely done based on current population projections or they are taking into account some of the substantial infill growth projected over the course of the next decade. Baki Tezcan claims that the East Eighth Street development was not factored into the projections produced by the Davis Demographics and Planning.
Baki Tezcan also points out that several of the Task Force members suggested at a Valley Oak site council meeting in December that Valley Oak students would make the rest of East Davis more diverse if the school were to be closed. However, that would be accomplished at the expense of putting the burden on more poor students why forcing them to walk to schools farther away in distance or find other means of transportation.
Thursday’s Davis Enterprise had three very nice letters to editor on Valley Oak. I was particularly taken by the letter by Brendan O’Hara who wrote about the strengths of neighborhood schools. “Neighborhood schools serve a larger purpose than simply educating the children who live nearby. In many ways, they help create community in a time when people are becoming increasingly disconnected from each other.”
I remain a strong support of the neighborhood school concept for a number of reasons. Along similar lines Vickkie Duax writes: “One of the sub-points states:
“”Student learning is advanced and enhanced by a welcoming campus climate where students have strong connections to their schools, their teachers and other adults and their peers.”
It seems to me that closing Valley Oak directly opposes many of the board’s stated goals. How are neighborhood children supposed to develop a “strong connection to their school” when they are bused to a different neighborhood? How are the parents supposed to be able to pick up their children in an emergency, if they don’t have a car, and a walk will take 45 minutes?”
This has unfortunately been turned into a battle of school against school and neighborhood against neighborhood. I would hope the district might consider putting aside their projections and look at the arguments in favor of neighborhood schools as a whole, regardless of enrollment projections and the possibility of future projections of residential growth. I also continue to believe the closing of Valley Oak would put a large strain on a group of people who really lack the means and the resources. We need to strongly consider the future of our children and give them strong and solid foundations. This starts with a strong and positive elementary school experience in their own neighborhood with the children that they grew up playing with.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting