Dewey Academy in Danger of Displacement: Gentrification & the Oakland Unified School District

By Dylan Riley
Last Updated on

The Gentrification of Oakland Unified School District & The Precarious Position of Dewey Academy

Gentrification is a long-standing process that targets the lower waged group to displace, dislocate, and disperse in favor of the higher income community. Gentrification has been a reality in the bay area for long. For the past few months, this reality is hitting the students’ community in the OUSD hard.

The Oakland Unified School District’s administration revealed that the gentrifying developers are targeting the Dewey academy, a public continuation high school.

It was known to the masses that the developers were planning to forge a twenty-four story condominium right in front of the Dewey academy, eclipsing it like a tower. But recent developments have put the very existence of this public institution at risk.

What entails is a close view of the reasons and the Causes why the Dewey Academy and the Admin building are under threat of displacement.

Dewey Academy: A Surplus Land?

The duty to ascertain the fate of Dewey academy was entrusted upon the ‘7-11’ committee. The interesting name emerges from the fact that the member of the committee cannot be lesser than seven and should not exceed eleven. This committee that decides what would become of this school surprisingly does not have the name of any active teacher or student in their member list. Instead, it comprises of a few charter school board directors, multiple estate attorneys, and just a few community members. The only pertinent member is the principle of Dewey High School.

The 7-11 tried counseling the school board on the present scenario of the OUSD property that is located on the 2nd Avenue, between E. 10th and E. 12th streets. At present, this plot has the OUSD Administration Building, which saw a flood las year along with Dewey academy. As floods in this area isn’t a common phenomenon, it was a mysterious affair altogether.

The most serious question in front of the 7-11 committee was to determine whether the above- mention plot that is the founding ground of both the OUSD Administration Building and the Dewey Academy is a ”surplus Land” or not. Some of you might be unfamiliar with the word ‘surplus land,’ we will simplify it for you. This term is used do denote any plot that is under the School District, but is not being used.

It is indeed a matter of immense concern when a committee of attorneys and directors call the land upon which an administrative building and a school is built as ”, not in use” or ”surplus”. The Dewey Academy offers a GED program for community members and has graduated over a hundred students in the recent past. It is an institution that is important to the locals and its students.

In the ongoing session of the first meeting of the 7-11 committee, an attorning used the word ”surplussing” the plot on which the Dewey Academy is built. Which clearly gave a wide view of what they had in mind. None considers the land as surplus. But to remedy the situation in a way that acts in their interest, the word surplus was put in the verb form. The attorney further explained how the developers could effectively convert the land of the academy into a ”surplus property”, which then would be available to them for development.

The intention of surplussing the Dewey Academy property is directly linked with the power play between the haves and the have-nots.  The ploy to displace the Dewey students shows the treatment of Oakland’s youth by a more powerful and authoritative section.

Under the present scenario, the Dewey students are being pushed to the margins and being discriminated against. They are the easy targets of the powerful developers who are gladly willing to ostracize them from their own homeland. These developers, with the help of the administrators, are putting the life and future of the Dewey students in a precarious place. The area is already impacted by gangs, and these students work hard to put themselves through schools. A blow like dislocating the Dewey Academy is bound to have a negative impact on the psyche of these youths.

The developers, on the other hand, see these students as disposable, expendable, and unemployable youths who must make room for them to build a twenty-four story condo, from which the more affluent section can have a lake view with luxurious living.

Dewey Academy, A Safe Haven for Students

No school should be dislocated in the first place. Educational institutions are a second home for students. And moving one works directly against the feeling of safety that a student derives from his or her school. However, in this particular case, there are a few more acute reasons.

Firstly, the students of the Dewey academy have put in their hard work in designing the Youth Heart Health Center. They did it alongside the OUSD employees and the MetWest High School students. The location of the Dewey academy is pretty near to this health center, which offers free health services to students. Hence, moving them away from such a location will work against both their emotional and health interest.

The Dewey students helped in designing the YHCC, keeping in view that they would have access to it at all times. And ever since the opening of the YHCC, the percentage of the Dewey students were among the highest to visit. Moving the Dewey academy will perhaps mean a good deal of budget cuts and layoffs for the YHHC. This, in turn, will affect the health interest of other visitants of the place—the students of the La Escuelita and MetWest.

The second reason being, most of the students in the Dewey Academy are gang-impacted and are already struggling to keep their focus in the right place. The institution is a safe haven for the students. The location is away from the ruckus and makes the students feel at home and safe.

The other locations discussed by the 7-11 committee are the Fremont High School, Lakeview campus and the Santa Fe Elementary. All these alternatives have their own demerits for the Dewey students. They are either in an unsafe zone or will require the students to travel quite a few extra miles to reach the educational institution.

For students who are already struggling and affected by various factors that can prove enough to take their attention off of education, such displacement will be challenging. The Dewey Academy is an institution that offers these students a scope to recover their credits and graduate. This destabilization will mean further marginalization of the already marginalized youths in Oakland, America.

The last crucial reason is, the decision to dislocate the Dewey academy is utterly undemocratic in nature. The 7-11 committee consists of a few attorneys, charter school board members, and the profit-seeking developers. The students, teachers, and staff have been tactfully kept aside from the decision-making process. The ones to decide the fate of the academy should be none other than the students and the body that actively participates on a daily basis to keep the institution functional.

The Real Reason: A Property Worth Millions

The real reason behind the upscale property dealers wanting to bring the Dewey Academy down is its location, which is beside a beautiful lake. These dealers see immense potential in the property and think the futures of the youths of Oakland as a minimum price that they don’t mind sacrificing.

The soaring value of the lakeside apartments and higher rents are the reasons why these dealers want to invest in the land. At heart, they want to dislocate the existing Oakland residents to accommodate the conventionally more refined and wealthy section who can afford a lake view.

The Dewey school members have struggled to bring order into a dysfunctional school system. It gives the students hope and promises them a good future. At such a point, merging the Dewey Academy with any of the proposed schools might mean a sharp lessening in the number of students who would be willing to travel to another location.

Oakland has a radical history, and the people who helped shape it are under the threat of dislocation. Such displacements through the closure of educational institutions are one of the many raging reasons why long-term residents retire to rather remote areas.

The raw economic force that works behind such a combined mindset is sheerly unsettling. Over the years, various schools in the east bay area have been merged. As a result, since 2011, there has been a significant decrease in student enrollment. If Dewey Academy is next, America will probably see more dropouts because of marginalization, dislocation, and destabilization of the less-affluent students in the most undemocratic way.