The term equity has been used as it relates to discussions about possible changes to Downtown Elementary School in the Bakersfield City School District.

But what does equity really mean? Depending on who you ask, there are various applications of the word.

Recently, the district's Board of Education discussed doing away with Downtown's lottery system for enrollment and instead making it a boundary school. There was also discussion of eliminating its seventh and eighth grade classes.

Those who want Downtown to remain the same point to students' academic success in the midst of a district that has low educational achievement as reflected by standardized tests.

Others, however, believe the school functions more like a private school, and even though they would like to enroll their children there, it's not as inclusive as it could be.

Downtown's model

Founded in 1997, the school was designed to accommodate children whose parents are employed in or around the downtown area in hopes of increasing parent engagement. Parents must apply for their child to attend, and because it receives more applications than it has space for, selection is done by lottery. This year, there are around 310 students from kindergarten through eighth grade enrolled.

There are five levels of priority for enrollment: a sibling is currently enrolled; a parent is a BCSD employee; parents reside within the district’s boundaries, work in the downtown business area and need daycare; parents work downtown, reside outside the district boundaries and need daycare; and all others who have established residency based upon employment anywhere in the district’s boundaries regardless of daycare needs.

Daycare costs around $180 for one child each month, or $15 a day for drop-in days.

Parents who work downtown say the concept — having a place where working parents can send their children and still be involved in their education — has helped them tremendously.

"It’s difficult for them if the kids were to go to the home school, they wouldn’t be able to be as involved as parents," said Christina Rajlal, a psychologist who has two children attending Downtown Elementary. "A lot of times with kiddos in elementary schools, they have award ceremonies you want parents to attend, but I know for some other families they would have to take half a day off work because of the time of the day it’s at."

That increased parent involvement has shown quantifiable results.

Beyond the scores

According to 2018-2019 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress data, 79.79 percent and 67.36 percent of all Downtown students in third through eighth grades met or exceeded standards for English language arts and math, respectively.

For BCSD as a whole, 35.66 percent and 22.28 percent of all third through eighth grade students met or exceeded standards for ELA and math, respectively, in 2018-2019.

Parents say the scores alone reflect increased parent involvement can lead to wonders academically. However, the district is quick to point out that parent involvement is a priority at all BCSD schools. 

Instead, some say other factors could be leading to those results, including school demographics and parents' careers.

No information was available on annual household incomes or occupations of parents whose children attend Downtown Elementary, but parent Katie Hagen said most of the Downtown parents she knows are doctors, high school administrators, firefighters, college professors or private business owners. As traditionally high-paying jobs, she feels as though Downtown is unlike most BCSD schools that "struggle (with) poverty, low income and second language issues."

According to data from the California Department of Education in 2018-2019, 42.1 percent of students were white and 42.7 percent were Hispanic or Latino at Downtown. In the district as a whole, 78.9 percent of students are Hispanic or Latino and 9.4 percent are white.

Downtown also differs in the number of socioeconomically disadvantaged students. The two geographically closest schools are Franklin and Stella Hills elementary. Out of 552 students in 2018-2019, 432 (78 percent) were socioeconomically disadvantaged at Franklin, according to the Department of Education data. Out of 593 students at Stella Hills, 583 (98 percent) were socioeconomically disadvantaged.

At Downtown Elementary, 316 students were reported in total and 95 (30 percent) were socioeconomically disadvantaged.

BCSD Board President Lillian Tafoya explained when the school was created more than 20 years ago, times, demographics and poverty levels were different in the downtown area. Due to these changes, the board felt discussions about changes were necessary.

"We’re a district of 90 percent poverty. All of our schools are Title 1 except Downtown," Tafoya explained, which refers to schools that receive federal funding due to large concentrations of low-income students. "The distribution is not equitable. It leaves out other kids from lower socioeconomic levels from attending there."

'No schools within BCSD are equal'

Other than possible socioeconomic factors, Downtown parents say there is nothing different about the curriculum itself taught at their school compared to any other. However, there is something unique about each one that might make a certain school site more desirable than another.

Rajlal pointed to the agriculture academy at McKinley Elementary School, where students can plant fruits and vegetables in a fully functioning garden as part of the district's Extended Learning Program's After School Academies. Downtown wanted one as well, but space constraints were an issue.

"If you look at McKinley and their space, we don’t have that. We couldn’t get close to that because our square footage is limited," Rajlal explained. "No schools within BCSD are equal."

She also noted Downtown does not have space for a gym or track, while other schools do.

Though each school might be different, parents can request intradistrict transfers — transfers from one BCSD school to another — to any school, except Downtown, BCSD board member Pamela Baugher said. The way its enrollment is limited to a lottery could keep deserving students from attending.

"I had a student who I thought it would be a good place for him to go to transition from sixth to junior high and high school," Baugher said. "He couldn’t go there because his family didn’t meet the criteria. That was always in the back my mind."

Hagen also noted she lived in the downtown area and Downtown was less than two blocks away. However, because she didn't fit the criteria, she could not enroll her daughter at Downtown, and the other junior high option was "an awful dangerous school."

"If there was a good public school option, more families might want to live down there," she added. "There are no other BCSD schools that are K-8, only private schools."

Possible solutions

There are no changes set in stone as of right now, Tafoya and Baugher stressed. Board members and other district administrators are considering different types of options — though specifics were not given — and weighing pros and cons. Superintendent Doc Ervin has also been meeting with Downtown parents to find a solution.

Parents have pushed adjusting the lottery system in a way so that it's more inclusive, explained Heather Frank, who has two children at Downtown, rather than turning into a boundary school which would open a Pandora's box.

"Why shake something that is working so well? Why not duplicate that platform into other kindergarten to eighth grade schools?" Frank suggested. "Why do we have to take something that is so incredibly successful, leading the district in scoring and achievement and parent involvement, all these things they set out for originally?"

Rather than changing a 22-year system, Frank believes BCSD officials should focus on bettering the district as a whole, especially given historically low test scores and academic achievement.

"I do think the BCSD is involved in climbing that ladder, but I also agree that opening this box with Downtown is unnecessary considering there are so many other issues on that table that we need to address first," Frank said.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

(8) comments

REMUDA

"Founded in 1997, the school was designed to accommodate children whose parents are employed in or around the downtown area in hopes of increasing parent engagement."

Question: "What's the difference from other families who live (and work) outside 'downtown' (and their own neighborhoods) with kids in their 'neighborhood' schools (and the same daycare issues) . . . and this school, which now is considering boundaries (catchment zones) just as do other outlying schools and neighborhoods . . . with parents commuting 'far & away' (unable to bring their kids with them to a school near their workplace) . . . ?"

Don't understand . . . lottery (state law?) . . . ?!

Is this to principally benefit city employees . . . ?

Anyone . . . please . . . ?

Fern

It’s not technically supposed to principally benefit BCSD employees but it does. It also benefits parents that make more money and are typically more white than the rest of the district.

People shouldn’t have to commute to take their children to “better” schools outside of their district to begin with. All schools should be high quality. Really though, Downtown Elementary acts like a private school in its selectivity, and elitism, all while receiving the tax funds of a public school.

Lilyrose

Leave Downtown school alone and fix the other district schools. For this is a perfect case example of social/ economic demographics. Better educated adults/ better preforming children.

Want same results from other schools? I have the answer. Cameras in classroom. Because simply put, the students in the other schools are not sitting and learning. Record of their actions can either be accepted and ignored or changed by the parents , but at least the state has then the ability to discipline accordingly. It takes only a few students to disrupt the entire class. And the City district has a massive problem in this area.

Don't ruin a productive high scoring school just because it proves a point.

Fern

Not sure that you were even trying to hide it, but your elitism is showing.

This isn’t about proving a point. The district has lots of problems, and they need to work on making a district where every school gives every student an education regardless of where they come from or what their parents do, or what money they do or don’t make.

Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. BCSD’s Downtown Elementary school is anything but that.

Fern

Lily rose, I also have to say that I find your suggestions of putting cameras in the classroom for the purposes of managing student behavior deeply disturbing. This kind of authoritarian management may help solve some problems but it comes at the cost of certain freedoms. Even students without behavioral issues would have issues with this. Teachers as well. There are some circumstances that warrant these kinds of surveillance for the PROTECTION of children (Not for the punishment of them, as you suggest), but the majority of classroom set ups do not.

Schools are supposed to foster safe places for students to learn and grow to be productive members of society. For some kids it may be the ONLY safe place they know.

Instead we should be providing teachers with better tools, budgets, and support to create and foster such environments. There is no “simple” solution of big-brother style surveillance. It will take a multi-faceted approach.

There are kids with behavior issues. It’s up to those teachers, and the administration that supports those teachers, to handle those kinds of behaviors accordingly in the classroom.

culinaryroost

Fern, you really do not know what you are talking about. Have you ever talked to a student or parent at Downtown School? We should probably get rid of the Magnet School Programs as well, right?

BanditIvy

Whoever thought the Board of Education could be so stupid. Leave things alone.

Fern

When you have people like Betsy DeVos setting the example, is it that hard to imagine?

Really though, I am glad they are at least considering this option. There is something not right about their practices of “applying” to a public school.

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