The German International School of Silicon Valley (GISSV) has signed a temporary license agreement to occupy the site of the former Anna Yates Elementary school. Anna Yates was folded into the ECCL when it opened last fall leaving the former K-8 facility vacant. The Yu Ming charter school and Albany USD had both initially been in negotiations to lease the space but these discussions reportedly fell through. “We received an urgent message in late December that they realized they were in a building in Berkeley that was not earthquake safe and had to vacate right away” noted EUSD Superintendent Dr. John Rubio. “We were able to help them while also utilizing the space to generate some revenue for the school district.”
GISSV opted to evacuate their former space in North Berkeley when it was deemed seismically unsafe putting their 104 students and parents in limbo. “We are grateful for the opportunity to move into Anna Yates School for the remainder of the 16-17 school year” noted GISSV head Michael Koops in this recent Berkeleyside story. “[We] are especially indebted to the Emeryville School District’s Superintendent and Board who have been tremendously supportive.” The short-term agreement with GISSV was signed with the EUSD over the holidays, and was expedited as to not disrupt the children’s education.
GISSV acquired the Hillside school site back in 2011 at a greatly reduced cost knowing it would need significant seismic upgrades. The school conducted itself for several years until the lingering safety risk and unfeasibility of fixing them became a lightning rod of controversy. Complete retrofitting the building could cost million of dollars. The site, which is near the Hayward fault-line, is also on the National Register of Historic Places and a former BUSD school that was closed in 1983.
The preschool through 9th grade aged children enrolled at the school are fairly evenly distributed between expat families, families of German decent and parents that want their children to learn a second language. GISSV is designated an official German foreign school or ”Deutsche Auslandsschule” and receives resources from the German government. GISSV also has campuses in Mountain View and San Francisco.
It’s unclear what the reaction to GISSV will be to the neighborhood. There is still a small faction of parents and advocates that are dubious of the K-12 ECCL and are hoping to reclaim the former Anna Yates space as a detached K-8 facility. There’s also the ongoing national narrative that private and charter schools are robbing our public school system of resources. Proponents argue that they provide choice to parents that want a different curriculum for their kids or are reluctant to enroll them in underperforming public schools in their residential district. Technically GISSV and does not fall under the designation of a “private” school but is in fact dual-accredited as a German public school (students in fact receive two diplomas).
Empty buildings in Emeryville, and the region for that matter, are often subject to vandalism and squatting and this space has already been the subject of at least one break-in causing a significant amount of damage. Having this building activated is clearly in the best interest of the neighborhood. The revenue generated by their agreement goes back to the EUSD to help fund their operations.
Compounding the situation, the GISSV has announced it will pull out of the East Bay after the 2017-2018 school year. Current school parents have formed a “solutions committee” to create a successor school being called The East Bay German International School. “We’re scrambling to put together an entire school in just over one year. That means bylaws, financing, teachers, a building lease, engaging with neighbors, and a thousand other details”. “It’s a challenge, but one we’re up for”, said Bryce Nesbitt a member of the solutions committee and someone with a long history of activism in the Emeryville Community. The transition to a new facility has not come without cost as ten students opted to pursue other options lowering their current enrollment to 94 students.
GISSV will be hosting an open house on Saturday, February 25th starting at 11 a.m. followed by a German “Karnival” event at 1:00 p.m. “We are particularly interested in becoming part of the Emeryville community and creating joint programs like soccer with the EUSD and hosting German cultural events” noted Nesbitt. “We want to build links and are open to community input on our future and our vision.”