Dear Kaiser Community,
It is with a heavy heart that we must say good-bye to each other and to the school at this time. Although we are still working to get an Executive Order from the Governor that would halt all current and future permanent closures, mergers and co-locations to ensure the health and safety of our students and schools, we also recognize that it is time to say goodbye and to pay tribute to this amazing community that so many of us have called home for so long.
Katie McLane, beloved former Principal of Kaiser for over 10 years, shares Kaiser’s legacy...
HENRY J. KAISER, JR. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL MEMORIES
Kaiser will always hold an important part in the hearts and lives of so many families who have contributed to the special memories that we all hold dear. Kaiser’s land was donated by the Hiller business to the Oakland Unified School District and was named in honor of Henry J. Kaiser’s son who was a philanthropist and dedicated community member prior to his early illness and death. His wife continued to visit Kaiser each year until the early 2000’s and always reminded us not to forget the Jr. when talking about Kaiser! The school was created as a magnet school for the arts and later the humanities and when established, served 25 % of the local community and reached out to the entire community who wanted the enrichment that was offered.
For years it was a school with one class per grade level, K to 6. After the devastating fire of 1991, there were only two remaining homes, plus the school, that didn’t burn down. The fire had bubbled up the playground surface, but a wind from the west sent it back up the hill. Families pleaded for the school to remain open because it was all that their kids had. Mel Stenger and the principal, Iris Segal, helped parents advocate for reopening it. After just a week of being closed, the mayor had the barriers to our street removed and encouraged the district to allow Kaiser to be reopened. As a result, the school district decided to open the school as a K-8th grade school which was the magical place that I walked into in 1996. At that time, the AC transit bus came up Hiller every day and dropped off students from all over Oakland. Their parents had seen a special video about Kaiser Elementary School which played daily on KDOL and helped families discover “the hidden gem” of a school. The Parent magazine and other school/ parent portals introduced us to the rest of the world and then we quickly reached our full capacity. Our student body was 78% students of color, with 54% African American students and we maintained that percentage until the AC transit buses stopped running.
Still, families carpooled to get their children and grandchildren “up to Kaiser” from as far away as 104th Street in Oakland. We were the most diverse elementary school in Oakland then and now. The other really special thing about Kaiser was that we welcomed all families and had a significant number of LGBTQ families and staff. We were not that “white school on the hill.” We prided ourselves in the fact that every family had chosen to come to Kaiser and that might have been why we had such phenomenal support from our families. We also believed that we would create an environment where we would be proud to have our own children or grandchildren attending, and many of our staff did bring their children to Kaiser.
With such amazing staff and support persons such as Ms. Pearl, who retired after 30 years from the Alameda Naval Base as a supply officer and has been with us ever since. At 95, she is still the heart and soul of Kaiser and continues to be with us every day. Bonnie Allen, aka Ms. Leonardo, helped infuse the visual arts into our curriculum and Claudia McCarthy made sure that our 4th and 5th grade students all learned to play a musical instrument. In keeping with our
arts and music focus, we added Orff music for our younger students and Pope Flyne, our amazing African Dance instructor, has been with us since the nineties. So many other skilled folks came here to share their talents and we can’t forget that Suzanne Plunkett and Oscar Campos gave support to our students at Adventure Time. From 1996 to 2009, Robin Sasada was the most amazing administrative assistant. She and I were quite a team!
In addition, over time, we realized how important it was to provide social-emotional and additional skills support to our students and their families, and we have had some of the most talented Resource people, including speech therapists, social work interns, and psychologists providing support.
The computer lab was set up in the late nineties and was staffed, over the years, by a number of talented folks including parents. Renae Briggs single-handedly transformed the lab and upgraded it, along with teaching brass instruments on the side. She later went to Claremont Middle School and created an amazing music program there.
Over the years, our library has been staffed mostly by volunteers, and our wonderfully generous PTA provided funding to support the library as well, and helped transition us from card catalogues to a digitalized program.
In 2011 we were given the California Distinguished School award, because we were providing such a rich curriculum. Earlier, in 2003, Kaiser had been honored as one of ten schools in the state to have our African American males scoring higher than the state average.
And then, there is our staff, who are like family members, with their commitment to Kaiser’s children and families. Not surprisingly, Kaiser’s staff has the most longevity of any of Oakland’s 82 schools. I love them all!
It is bittersweet to think of all the amazing memories that we all share from years of connection with one of the most special schools that any of us have ever known. Because most of the staff is the same staff that I worked with back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I have faith that their warmth and commitment to the students and their families will continue at the Sankofa United site.
Warmest wishes to all,
Katie McLane, principal from 1996- 2006