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$9.5 Million Grant Builds On Success in Transforming Oakland's High Schools

Plan to create additional high schools aimed at improving achievement, graduation rates and college preparedness for more than 6,500 Oakland students

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Ken Epstein
Oakland Unified School District

Madeleine Clarke
510.208.0160 x303

OAKLAND -- The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BayCES) today announced a $9.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the ongoing conversion of three existing high schools into multiplexes of small schools and to open five additional new small high schools by 2007. The new investment will expand options for Oakland's youth and build on previous efforts to improve high school graduation and college-going rates, particularly among historically underserved students.

"I am calling on high schools throughout California to improve. We will accomplish this by raising expectations for students and by developing a community of support to foster high student achievement," said Jack O'Connell, California state superintendent of instruction. "I applaud the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their support of smaller learning environments. By creating a community of support for our students we increase their chances for success in the future."

The three high schools that will be converted are: Fremont High, which opened in fall 2003 as the Fremont Federation, Castlemont High, which will convert in fall 2004; and McClymonds, which will convert in fall 2005.

"Oakland is making progress, by creating high quality education options and improving secondary instruction, but there is still much more work to be done," said Dr. Randolph E. Ward, state administrator of the OUSD. "Through new, innovative schools and a commitment from the community, Oakland students will receive instructional programs necessary to succeed in college and beyond. These changes are in line with Calif. State Supt. of Instruction Jack O'Connell's High Performance High Schools Initiative, a package of bills designed to improve high school student achievement."

A recent Urban Institute study found that only 69 percent of California's public high school students graduate. The statistics for Oakland's schools are even more bleak -- just 30 percent of students make it to graduation day.  
"The economic and civic health of our nation depends on our ability to prepare all young people for graduation and college success," said Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Oakland is beginning to demonstrate to the rest of the country, that by making a commitment to transform our high schools, we can equip all students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in today's information-based society."

Evidence shows that good small high schools offer increased personalization, provide rigorous coursework, cultivate positive adult-student relationships, and better prepare students for college and work. According to multiple studies, students in good small high schools pass more courses, graduate, and go on to college in greater numbers than those in large schools. These positive outcomes appear to be greatest for low-income and minority students.

Since 2000, BayCES has been working in partnership with OUSD, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), and other community groups to improve student achievement -- opening eight new high schools with support from a previous grant from the foundation.  These high schools are designed to provide all students with rigorous academic coursework, supportive relationships so young people can meet high expectations and opportunities for relevant, hands-on learning experiences.

One such school is Oakland's Life Academy. This new, freestanding school --  drawing students from the Fremont campus -- has seen a dramatic turn-around in student indicators. Attendance is at 94 percent, 99 percent of seniors have graduated and 95 percent of graduates have been admitted to college.

"BayCES knows that with the proper support, communities like Oakland can work together to do extraordinary things.  In the last three years, we have created several wonderful new schools. We must continue this work until every Oakland child graduates ready for college, work and citizenship," said Steve Jubb, executive director of BayCES. 

Through its administration of the grant, BayCES will continue working with staff and students at the high schools. By 2007, BayCES will have a network of 45 small, high achieving and equitable schools in place. These elementary, middle, and high schools serve nearly 18,000 students -- the majority of them live in the Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, and San Francisco school districts.

Nearly half of the nation's 60 largest urban school districts and their communities are engaged in high school reform. In the 2003-04 school year, more than 150 new, small, focused high schools that combine challenging classes with supportive adult relationships opened across the nation.  The investment in Oakland builds on the foundation's nationwide effort to improve the graduation and college-going rates, particularly among African Americans and Latinos, by strengthening America's high schools. To date, the foundation has invested more than $630 million to support 1,457 high schools nationwide.

Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) serves 117 schools and nearly 47,000 students. OUSD is an organization whole-heartedly committed to educational excellence.

The Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BayCES) assists urban schools, school districts, and community groups in the work of creating or redesigning their schools.

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