BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Redwood City School Board last night (April 25) backed away from plans to close Fair Oaks Elementary School for low enrollment and said it could stay open on two conditions.
First — the school must have 200 students registered by May 15, just two weeks from now.
Second — there must be 200 students in seats on Aug. 31.
If these conditions aren’t met, the school will be closed and students will be placed elsewhere in the district, said Superintendent John Baker.
Currently, there are 186 students enrolled for next school year, but 40 have requested transfers. If those transfer requests are honored, that would bring the school’s enrollment down to 146.
The school’s enrollment has been on a steady decline in the past decade, with the school losing 292 students. While district officials said families have been leaving because of the high cost of living, another factor appears to be the steady growth of charter schools. In fact, if Fair Oaks closes, a charter school that is currently split between two campuses will take over the school’s campus.
Fair Oaks and the charter school it shares a campus with, Connect, both have a current enrollment of about 220. But while Fair Oaks’ projected enrollment is down, Connect is projecting to have about 240 students next year, Principal Michael Bachicha told the Post earlier this month.
The decision was made after Baker and board members held a series of meetings with parents. Tony Quintero, a long-time member of the North Fair Oaks community, stepped up to help represent parents to district officials.
Fair Oaks, at 2950 Fair Oaks Avenue, is located in the heart of the largely Latino and working class neighborhood of North Fair Oaks.
The board, which met at McKinley School’s auditorium last night, was greeted with applause when they decided not to close the school.
When the board first discussed the closure of Fair Oaks on April 4, parents asked that the school stay open for at least another year. They said the community would help increase enrollment at the school.
Parents told Baker at meetings over the past month that they know of 190 students who would like to attend Fair Oaks.
Baker said that in order to make ends meet, the school needs about 250 students, but he can “live with 200 students with the hopes to keep going out to get more.”
Site council, PTA required
Baker and the parent group also discussed additional conditions for the parents of Fair Oaks over the next year. Those conditions include having an organized school site council and PTA, improving the school’s attendance average from 86% to 96% and registering students for school on time.
While the parents work on organizing further, Baker said the district will hire a new principal for the school, help parents with outreach for the school, and hire any additional teachers needed to accommodate the 200 students.
To keep up with the conditions on both sides, Baker and the parent group will meet twice a month.
“I came here prepared to say something else to the board tonight,” said Gloria Rangel, one of the parents who led the opposition to the school’s closure. “Instead I want to thank you, I feel like for the first time you’ve listened to us.”
Board changed its mind
Board members had said that their minds were changed after meeting with parents and learning more about the Fair Oaks community.
“I asked parents to explain to me why I was hearing on one hand that you need to do more to bring up academics at the school, but I’m also hearing that this is the best school and I want my children here,” board president Maria Diaz-Slocum said. “It’s the climate, a lot of these families’ needs are met there.”
“We hear you and see you and we care about your children and your community,” said board member Janet Lawson.
Board vice president Dennis McBride was optimistic that Fair Oaks’ enrollment numbers would rise again. McBride mentioned the success at Roosevelt when it was at low enrollment numbers and through parent outreach nearly doubled its enrollment and said he feels confident the Fair Oaks parents will be able to do the same.