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After threats and rumors, principal considers whether to stay or go

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UPDATE: She’s staying! (Read her comment below.) 

First an angry mother spoiled a graduation brunch by threatening the principal and poking a finger in her face. Then an e-mail letter circulated with wild allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Oh, and just before that, someone stole a raft of new laptop computers from a classroom.

After a month of highs and lows –which, on the up-side, included a visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson – Yetunde Reeves has been thinking long and hard about whether she should remain the principal of West Oakland’s EXCEL High School, a new small school at McClymonds.

“I want to go to work not looking over my shoulder,” Reeves said. On the other hand, she said, “I love my staff, and we’ve been working to build something together.”

According to police, a woman named Continue Reading

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BayCES leadership transition is celebrated — tearfully

JubbSteve Jubb, executive director of the Oakland-based Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, steps down from his post at the end of the month. At a reception this evening in Preservation Park, over hors d’oeurves and glasses of wine, an intimate group of local educators celebrated the influential leader’s vision, support and persistence.

Jubb said he decided to leave his position after 11 years, in part, because the organization is strong. BayCES has been a major player in local education reform efforts, including the creation of dozens of small schools and the redesign of the Oakland school district.

“It’s always the best time to step aside when things are going well,” he said.

 lashawnresize1.jpgThe reception also was to welcome Jubb’s successor, LaShawn Route Chatmon, who has been with BayCES for seven years. “I wish I could offer you or promise you a new day,” Route Chatmon told the group. But, she said, the organization faced “a fight against the same old day.”

After listening to several emotional speeches and beginning one of his own, the outgoing director wept for a brief moment. Just minutes before, one of his colleagues joked that the question would be not whether Jubb would cry, but for how long.

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Sankofa moms to protest “until it’s over”

If you’ve driven past the OUSD central office in the last few days, chances are you’ve seen a few parents with signs by the front steps. If your windows were down, or if you work in the building, you probably heard Aaliyah Jones yelling something along the lines of ”It’s time for a change!”

Jones is a parent at Sankofa Academy, a new, small K-8 school in North Oakland where Washington Elementary School used to be. She and her sister, Shawn Acree, say discipline has deteriorated during the last two years and that she is tired of seeing the problems discussed “in countless meetings” but not addressed.

Armed with a list of demands, Jones and a few other parents, including Acree, have been demonstrating on Second Avenue every weekday since last Thursday. She says she has no time-line for ending the protest, and that a march to City Hall is in the works for next week.

“It might take days and days to get the attention we want, but we need to make a change,” she said.

If you know of any Sankofa students, parents, staff or neighbors who might like to share their experiences with the school — or with middle school discipline in general —  I’d love to talk with them.

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Think College Now kids dunk principal and teachers

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The prospect of watching their principal once again dance on the roof — and plunge into a dunk tank — was enough motivation for kids at Oakland’s Think College Now elementary school to turn into bookworms this school year.

Students at the Fruitvale-area public school, which opened in 2003, read 1.5 million minutes since last fall — all outside of class, the school tells us. After brainstorming ideas for their reward, the student council decided to put Principal David Silver in the tank. They also promised their electorate that a staff member would take the plunge for every 50,000 minutes read over 1 million.

“The initial front-runner was an elaborate scene that had Silver bungee jumping into the schoolyard from a helicopter. After some deliberation, the council members deemed that plan unfeasible…” wrote Benj Vardigan, the school’s communications coordinator.

That was probably a wise call. I have to say, though, a principal bungee jumping from a helicopter would be an ingenious way to get some national press.

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Peralta reconstruction update

It’s still too soon to tell whether the arson fire-displaced Peralta Elementary School children will have to share space with high school kids this fall at their temporary home, but the reconstruction situation looks much better than it did last week.

Tim White, OUSD’s head of facilities, said the construction plans made it out of the Division of the State Architect’s office early this week. In other words, it cleared a big bureaucratic hurdle that would have otherwise stalled the project. When I snagged him after school board meeting Wednesday night, White said work should begin in a few days.

If everything goes according to plan — and is completed within 60 days, as White estimated — it looks like the Peralta kids will be able to return to their 63rd Street home for the start of the semester.

Maybe the contractors will take a cue from the folks who fixed the MacArthur Maze.

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Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch…or breakfast

During the long summer months, all kids between the ages of 1 and 18 – regardless of family income — can eat for free during the weekdays through a  federally-funded summer lunch program.  The meals are bureaucracy-free. No need to register or bring any paperwork.

In Oakland, 39 schools will serve meals as well as other community centers. All of the sites offer lunch, but only some will provide breakfast.

In Berkeley, four schools will be serving hot, nutritious breakfasts at 8 a.m. Children do not need to be enrolled in a district summer program or to qualify for the Free and Reduced Meal program to participate, said Mark Coplan, a district spokesman.

“The more participation, the more children that we serve, the better,” Coplan said. The four participating schools are King Middle School, Thousand Oaks Elementary School, Cragmont Elementary School, Willard Middle School.

Call (800) 870-3663 for locations in Oakland and throughout Alameda County, as well as meal times and other information, such as whether a place serves a full breakfast, a snack or just lunch. 

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Board meeting decorum hits a low

It would be rare for an Oakland school board meeting to take place without a little heat. There’s usually some shouting and almost always a healthy dose of criticism leveled at the state administration, which has run the district for the last four years.

But it went to a new level tonight — at least, since I’ve been covering these meetings.

Jonah Zern, an organizer with an Oakland-based group called Education Not Incarceration, was upset that a moratorium on school closures was not on the agenda, as promised by board member Chris Dobbins. Zern prefaced his public comments by saying he was having trouble controlling his rage. Then he let it go.

“You imbeciles!” he shouted in the direction of State Administrator Kimberly Statham.
Then: “You, as a state administrator, need to get out. Get out!”

Dobbins, a new board member, explained after the meeting that he had introduced the moratorium resolution without knowing the agenda-making protocol — in other words, that he jumped the gun.

He said it will be on the agenda in August.

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Nine teachers put on leave after school boycott

An East Oakland Community High School teacher says he and eight others — more than half of the school faculty — were suspended from their jobs, pending a school district investigation.

Chemistry teacher Steve Wake said the subject of the investigation wasn’t specified in a letter he received this week. But, he said, the order was issued on Monday, the same day the students boycotted the school and created a one-day “Freedom School” off-campus to protest the closure of EOCHS. Today was the last day of school.

Wake said he stopped by the Freedom School on Monday and gave a workshop on Asian American history. He suspects he was put on leave for participating in the speak-out against the state administration.

Wake said police officers came to the school and searched another teacher’s car — apparently, for items that belonged to the school. He also said that last week, while carrying out his chemistry supplies and books, the principal checked his boxes to make sure they weren’t school property.

Alex Katz, a spokesman for the district, said that police were at the school but that he didn’t know for certain why they were there. (I did call him after 7 p.m., after most of the staff had left for the day.)

The Oakland teachers union and a group called Education Not Incarceration called a press conference today on the subject. They will certainly use the issue to support their stance on a larger issue in Oakland education: state control of the school district.

“The district, again, has decided to treat teachers as criminals,” said Betty Olson-Jones, union president. “The district keeps talking about retention and recruitment, and yet they seem to be doing everything they can to drive good teachers away.”

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Space Exploration charters don’t get help from county

It’s no fun being the “test case,” especially when the case involves the attempted shut-down of your school — and, of course, when the decisions don’t go your way.

The Alameda County Board of Education voted tonight to uphold the Oakland school district’s decision to revoke the charters of the Space Exploration Academy and the Junior Space Exploration Academy. Earlier this year, the district decided to shut the schools down — just months after they opened — citing low enrollment and sub-standard instruction.

Under a new state law, the West Oakland charter schools were the first in California to appeal their closure. But Camron Gorguinpour, one of the school’s founders, said the county board wasn’t interested in hearing the evidence he prepared in the schools’ defense.

Now, the board of the space-themed schools is deciding whether to bring the appeal to the state board of education. Under the new charter law, they can stay open throughout the appeals process, which could last into the fall semester.

“Obviously, keeping our school in limbo like this is really painful,” Gorguinpour said.

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Fruitvale principal mystery continues

More than a month after Fruitvale Elementary School principal seemingly vanished into thin air, the Oakland school district confirmed that Cherie Ivey would not be back next year.

“Ms. Ivey has retired, so now it’s time for us to select a new leader,” Sharon Casanares, an OUSD administrator, said during a meeting tonight in the school gym.

The news — and the lack of explanation behind it — did not go over well with the couple dozen parents who came to the meeting hoping for answers. Some walked out rather than join in a small group discussion on the qualities they hoped to see in a new principal.

Because it is considered a personnel matter, Casanares wouldn’t answer the parents’ questions about why Ivey retired so suddenly, or why she was not at the school during the last few weeks.

“That’s why I came to the meeting,” said Edda Garcia, whose two children go to the school. “I thought they were going to tell us what’s going on.”

A teacher who refused to give her name told me, rather cryptically, that there were two sides to every story. If the parents knew the truth, she said, they might be ready to move forward as well.

Note: If any of you read the related Tribune story, you probably noticed what I just did. I really so know how to spell Cesar — as in Cesar Chavez — I promise. Must have been a spell-check snafu. I’ll have it fixed soon.