Mack will close its law academy: end of an era

by Sarai Cornejo and Pamela Tapia

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(with reporting from The Oaktown Teen Times and The Oakland Tribune)

There will be no law academy at McClymonds next year.

The news came last week in a form letter from principal Kevin Taylor to Ina Bendich, who has been director of the Law Academy for 10 years.

“I knew that enrollment was down and that the academy would likely be closed.  With approximately 230 students, and two academies that both require 90 students to remain solvent, it seemed inevitable that one would be forced out.  I hoped that the tradition of political action  in West Oakland would keep us open.”

A total of 45 students are currently enrolled in the law academy, which focuses on legal issues and environmental justice. It sponsors this blog, a debate team, mock trial, an annual Yosemite trip, summer internships, restorative justice, youth court and a partnership with the Rose Foundation, which has trained students to advocate for cleaner air in West Oakland.

“It taught me a lot about the law and the constitution,” said Asia Hill, 16, a junior.  “It means missing out on a lot of opportunities next year.”

It is unclear what will happen at McClymonds next year and whether the other academy, International Trade and Transportation, will survive.

The closure is part of a trend: small school or academies, which offer fewer AP classes because they are specialized, have lost financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which began funding them in 2004)  and many are closing due to dwindling enrollment and lack of state funding.

At its peak, McClymonds had close to 800 students, while it now has under 300.

In 2008, McClymonds had the highest scores on the  California High School Exit Exam in the entire district. It was also ranked number 1 in the East Bay and Northern California as the high school with most football players attending Division 1 universities.

Three small schools at Fremont and three small schools at Castlemont High Schools will  be “consolidated  in the fall of 2012.”

The Oaktown Teen Times reported that Castlemont received an extra $700,000 to “just stay afloat.”

“The law academy has led the community  in fighting air pollution,” says Jill Ratner, director  of the Rose Foundation. Together with environmental groups, students at the Law Academy discovered a nearby polluter and began monitoring the air for toxins.  In its partnership with the Rose Foundation, the law academy also sent students to summer internships to learn more about environmental justice and advocacy.

“The students’ work over the past years earned them national recognition and most recently, they were honored by the Environmental Protection Agency.  We have a lot to be proud of.  It’s been a great ride,”  commented Ms. Bendich.

Other teachers and administrators also received “consolidation” notices, said vice principal Karen Todd.

“If they’re going to treat you like this, Bendich,  you deserve better” said Lateefah Edmonds, an 18-year-old senior at Mack ,who has known Ms. Bendich since her freshman year.

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