Education news site details Emeryville Center of Community Life project as “cautionary tale”

1 min read

The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website based out of New York, focused its most recent piece 3,000 miles away on our city and the beleaguered Emeryville Center of Community Life. The project has been over a decade in the making and finally broke ground a year ago. Slated to open its doors to High School students early next year, reports of delays have already surfaced.

The piece casts a critical eye on the plan that was once hailed by the NLC as a “bold vision” but has lately had difficulty convincing the naysayers that it will follow through with its original promise. “Philosophically, I agree with a lot of the concepts,” notes School Board member Christian Patz in the piece “but the execution has not been as promised.” Much of the controversy stems around the eventual consolidation of the beloved Anna Yates Elementary and the close proximity of elementary students with high school students on the compact parcel. The Hechinger Report defines its mission as being focused on inequality and innovation in education.

Feature: Emeryville Mayor Ruth Atkin showing a visitor the construction site of the Emeryville Center of Community Life (Photo: Kyle Spencer).

Hailed as a ‘bold vision,’ an innovative school plan hits roadblocks

Controversy over a California community center that would unite a school district and a city shows how popular ideas can lose favor once they are executed

By Kyle Spencer

EMERYVILLE, Calif. — The Emeryville Center of Community Life was supposed to be a slick, 150,000-square-foot community schools complex that would assist this city’s neediest students and their families by providing dental, mental health, and tutoring services on the same site where they attended school. It was first proposed more than a decade ago just as the community schools model was becoming increasingly popular.

In 2013, the National League of Cities hailed the Emeryville plan as a “bold vision.” It was also touted in a Fast Company article titled “This Is What It Looks Like When a School Becomes a Community Hub.”

But for folks here in this quirky swath of tech-start-ups, shopping malls and renovated artist studios, the citywide plan has proven to be less of a solution and more of cautionary tale, a lesson in how hard it can be to take a community schools dream and turn it into a workable reality, even when almost everyone likes the idea.

Emeryville’s small size — only two schools and fewer than 800 students — may not be typical of districts experimenting with the community schools idea. Many are in larger, more urban areas. But with the growing interest around the country in community schools, Emeryville’s problems are an important cautionary tale.

Read More on HechingerReport.org →

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. As adults, we should protect children’s opportunity to simply be a child and not expose them to more than they need to see. Junior High and High School students are interested in activities beyond the social level of elementary children. No matter how carefully the campus design tries to keep older and younger students apart, the youngsters will see the behavior of older students as they arrive and leave school. I’m not sure that 1. the older students are aware or care that the young ones look to them as their guide to behavioral norms or 2. the youngsters have the ability to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate behavior when they see it.

    It is not a good idea to put these two groups of students together.

    • That’s an interesting point about the older students being role models for the other ones. I never thought of that, but it makes sense. I can, however, tell you that in my home country of Germany, Elementary School was only grades one through four, and then grades 5 through 13 all went to the same campus. They all walked the same hallways, and there seemed to be no issues. Of course, that was many years ago, and it was a different society in a different country.

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