Oakland's Prescott School holds sesquicentennial celebration

Prescott School on Campbell Street in West Oakland is celebrating 150 years of educating students with a sesquicentennial celebration on Saturday.

Principal Enomwoyi Booker said the school was established in 1869.

“We're the oldest school that's still existing in Oakland,” Booker said. “It's something to be proud of.”

Booker has been working with staff and parent volunteers to gather photos from decades past. As part of the celebration on Saturday, many alumni will be on hand like 89-year-old Anita Debro.

“My earliest memory of coming to this school was that it was integrated,” Debro said. “In New Orleans I went to a school with all black students, all black teachers and so I was kind of in awe in a way of looking around me at everything.”

One of the most important pieces of history at the school was a teacher named Ida Louise Jackson.

She started teaching at Prescott in 1925 and was Oakland’s first certified African American teacher. She was also one of the first black teachers in the country.

Debro said Ms. Jackson was her teacher once she reached high school.

“She was very strict, but pleasant,” Debro said. “No one made snide remarks to Ms. Jackson because she came back at you so fast.”

The campus has gone through many changes. It was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, renovated and added to over time, and changed to a small school in 2005 after the district considered closing it or transitioning it to a charter school.

“The community came out and said no there's too much history here,” Booker said.

Despite struggles in West Oakland over years, the campus remains an anchor in the community. 

“There have been parents who've gone to school here who brought their children back or grandparents who brought their children back and they remember this school being an excellent school,” Ardean Mondy, an instructional assistant, said. “Whether you're an administrator, a teacher, if you're the custodian, you have something to bring to the children and that's why I stay.”

The most challenge has been gentrification. Families are getting pushed out and the ones that can afford to stay have the opportunity to take their children to other schools.

“We just really want to encourage folks to stay and help build up this community school,” Booker said. “We think we're like a secret gem in West Oakland.”

The alumni want more kids to enroll at Prescott School and be a part of its legacy of learning for the next 150 years.