Sacramento city school district needs to get community involved in deciding future of closed schools
How can you help a depressed and blighted community if you don't ask the community what it wants?
How can you help a depressed and blighted community if you don’t ask the community what it wants? This question occurred to Bites while attending the 7-11 committee meeting for Collis P. Huntington Elementary School last Monday. Maybe a half-dozen members of the public showed up that night.
What’s a “7-11 committee,” you ask? And who cares?
The 7-11 group will recommend whether C.P. Huntington and six other schools, all closed by the Sacramento City Unified School District earlier this year, should be turned into private schools or charter schools or reused for some other public purpose. The name is arcane, referring to the number of committee members. And the committee’s recommendation is just that—the SCUSD board has the ultimate power. But it’s a big decision, and these are valuable public assets, affecting whole communities.
Unfortunately, SCUSD has done very little effective outreach on school reuse. There’s a link on the district’s website and in its electronic newsletter, which says “7-11 committee meeting” and gives a date. If you click enough times, you can find out more, but as committee member Michael Minnick noted, “Why would you click on it? Unless you were looking for a Slurpee?”
And so, no one showed up. The committee—all appointed members of the public, many connected in some way with education policy or local politics—asked questions of staff, mostly about process. There was a quick tour of the school. A couple of folks spoke on behalf of the private Camellia Waldorf School, which hopes to lease a “surplus” school site. That was the only proposal.
“I’m really disappointed in the outreach,” said SCUSD Board of Education member Diana Rodriguez, who showed up near the end of the meeting. She said she wouldn’t have known about it if she hadn’t happened to see a flier for the meeting posted at another school site earlier that day. “When you have fewer than 10 people show up, we have to get more community input.”
Of course, community input didn’t amount to much when the school-board majority set its mind on closing all these schools (Rodriguez was opposed). And Bites suspects the district and certain board members already know exactly what they plan to do with at least some of the campuses. Doesn’t mean they should be left alone to do it.
The next 7-11 committee meeting is at Fruit Ridge Elementary on October 21, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. So far, the schedule is every Monday at that same time, though it may change. After Fruit Ridge comes Joseph Bonnheim, then Maple, Mark Hopkins, and Washington elementary schools. The public is welcome, despite appearances to the contrary.
C.P. Huntington is an interesting spot. It’s wedged in between the Sacramento Executive Airport and the former Campbell Soup plant on 47th Avenue and Franklin Boulevard. Light-rail tracks run right behind the fields. And just above the trees you can see the gleaming water tank at the Campbell plant, though the company logo is painted over now.
That combination—the light rail, the school, the huge swath of developable land nearby—has obvious potential. Does the district see it?
Up the street from Campbell, Maple Elementary School was also closed this year. Speaking of potential: After Maple was closed, it turned out to have had the highest gains on test scores in the whole district last year.
The school closures and the Campbell shutdown were just the latest injuries to a neighborhood ground down by years of disinvestment. That’s why the North Franklin District Business Association is trying to “reboot” the neighborhood with a new community economic-development plan. In fact, last week, the group announced it landed $10,000 from the California Endowment to launch a series of public meetings, surveys and focus groups, asking residents and business owners to help craft a plan.
“The point of the meetings is to develop a comprehensive perspective and assessment of what’s working and not working in the district,” said North Franklin district director Marti Brown.
The study will likely highlight problems such as the lack of bus lines and banking, and now schools, in the neighborhood. And, of course, the future of the Campbell plant is critical to the future of the neighborhood. The company is reportedly close to making a deal with a new buyer, though the buyer’s name has not yet been made public.
Brown said she’s hopeful the new property owner will engage the North Franklin association about redevelopment of the site, “and seek ways to integrate and connect the site more into the neighborhood and with the adjacent light rail station at 47th Avenue.”
Brown is on to something, seeing potential in a long-neglected neighborhood. Getting the community involved in deciding its own future. It’s something the school district should do, too.