Full-day kindergarten: Should it be mandatory in Oakland?

Five-year-olds in Oakland are logging many more classroom hours these days than they used to. The switch to universal full-day kindergarten happened about a year before I came to town, but I understand the move was intended to help working parents while giving kids an academic boost.

Has it worked?

Carrie McKiernan, a Thornhill mom with an incoming kindergartner and a fifth-grader (who attended half-day), says the change has been a “mixed bag” for parents. While it undoubtedly helps many families with two working parents, she said, the new schedule — combined with ramped-up academic rigor — might be too much for some little ones to handle. She also says she has yet to meet a teacher who really likes the new structure.

In a letter to the Brad Stam, the district’s chief academic officer, McKiernan proposes that individual schools have more scheduling flexibility. Below is the text of the letter, which 25 parents and teachers from various schools “signed” electronically.

Share your experiences with full-day kindergarten by posting a comment or e-mailing me directly — or both. Continue Reading


A playground’s smelly backdrop


 July 24 update: The trash is still there, the employee reports.

Someone just sent me this photo — taken yesterday — of a pile of garbage near La Escuelita and the Yuk Yau Child Development Center.

It’s right outside the playground fence, my (not really) secret informant said. She reports that it still hadn’t been collected as of this afternoon, when it looked even worse.

Tim White, the facilities chief for OUSD, says it’s probably one of the city’s dumpsters. Unlike the city, the school district still has a good contract with Waste Management; its trash has been collected on schedule, he said.

I guess that’s good news for summer school kids and staff (Does that mean they have only had to hold their noses and run from rodents on the way to school?). But my source, who has contacted the city for help, says it doesn’t make much of a difference for the children who are “greeted” each morning by this heap of trash.


California’s exit exam stays, despite class-action lawsuit

Some high school kids had hoped to eliminate California’s exit exam through a lawsuit filed last year, but it looks as though it’s here to stay. 

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, a champion of the two-part test, announced today that a settlement has been tentatively approved by a judge: The exit exam stays in place, but those who fail the test are entitled to two years of free academic help from their respective school districts.

The settlement won’t take effect unless the Senate and the governor approve it. The bill is AB 347, and the full text can be found on this site.

The summary of the resolution was pretty vague on what this academic instruction would look like. Students who need exit exam help already can enroll in community college, adult school or for an extra year of high school, so I’m not clear how they will benefit from the legislation. Maybe it’s supposed to provide more of a safety net for them.

I’m guessing that private pre-algebra tutoring at home is not in the works.


Scott-George case not over yet

Last week, I wrote about a judge’s ruling in favor of Katrina Scott-George, a senior manager who took the Oakland school district to court in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

But Scott-George wrote me last night to report the district has since appealed the decision. The paperwork has yet to be posted on the DomainWeb site, but I’d imagine it would be there soon.

I’m curious to know how much legal cases such as this can cost a school district, so I’ve asked for the current tab, as well as an estimate for the additional expenses of the appeal. I’ll keep you posted.


OUSD plans to revoke Uprep’s charter

Unless the University Preparatory Charter Academy’s board can prove by Aug. 17 that it will overhaul its governance structure, adhere to the Brown Act and ensure that state tests will be properly — and legally — administered, it will close on Aug. 24.

The Oakland school district released a report today outlining evidence of “adult testing irregularities” (also known as cheating) and an essentially non-functioning governing board. The report says the school has violated state law, as well as its charter.

For more background, read a Tribune story published on Tuesday, or check out the full OUSD report here.


Looking for stories, experiences and — yes — opinions about small schools

I keep promising educators, my editors and myself that I will buckle down and write a piece or ongoing series examining Oakland’s small schools movement — its grass-roots beginnings and its later funding sources, its promise of educational and social justice, and how that vision has played out in various schools throughout the city.

I’ve spoken briefly with folks from the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, which has played a major role in the movement, and I’m sure that more in-depth discussions will follow.

What I also need are stories from teachers, parents, students and principals. People who have seen lives changed for the better because of the reforms it has brought to particular schools — and, maybe, those who have been disappointed by a concept of education that never really took root. 

The school  district will certainly be looking at this issue, especially as the student population drops precipitously, as there is an impression (though debated) that small schools are more expensive to run. A report analyzing the success of small schools will be presented soon — possibly, at an August school board meeting.

Please e-mail me or post your views and anecdotes, if you’re so inclined. If you could include contact information for follow-up interviews, that would be quite helpful. Know any Oaklanders who traveled to New York City in the late 1990s to visit small schools there? I’d love to hear what they think.


This just in: OUSD names interim CFO

lglaster.jpgI just got a press release announcing the appointment of Leon Glaster as interim chief financial officer for the district. Glaster, 57, replaces Javetta Robinson, who lost her job earlier this month.

I actually knew Glaster when I covered the San Leandro school district. He had a reputation for finding new sources of revenue, and he balanced the (considerably smaller) budget while I was there.

The press release says he’s been a “top financial executive” in East Palo Alto and San Jose school districts, as well. It also said he came out of a short retirement to work in Oakland.

“I wouldn’t have accepted this challenge if it hadn’t been in Oakland,” he was quoted as saying.

But the district is still searching for a permanent CFO. Glaster was brought on to hold things together in the meantime. Robinson left last week, before she could even close the books.

Read the Web story here.


Is it something in the air? Neighboring school principals retire unexpectedly

 Thursday update: The location of the meeting has been changed to the Montera cafeteria.

The longtime principals of Joaquin Miller Elementary School and its next-door neighbor, Montera Middle School, retired this month — much to the surprise of some parents.

Some learned about the departures of Linda Lu and Cheryl Rodby through letters mailed home. Others, such as Maria Ku, found out through a Yahoo! group for Montera families. (What would parents do without their online networks?)

Before new leaders are chosen, district staff say, they want to gather input from families. A meeting for parents at both schools is scheduled at 7 p.m. July 23 in the Montera cafeteria.

Eric Nelson, a central office administrator who oversees Joaquin Miller, says people will split into small groups, according to school, and discuss “the skills and characteristics they’re hoping to see in their principal.”

District staff will meet with teachers earlier in the day to ask the same questions.

Ku notes a potential problem with the setup: Continue Reading


Will the old OUSD charter coordinator be the new leader of Uprep? (Yes.)

Monday morning update: The governing board of University Preparatory Charter Academy just named Zimny — who has worked with the school as a consultant — the interim director. They are searching for another person to lead the school on a permanent basis.

Liane Zimny, the former charter schools coordinator for the Oakland school district, didn’t deny rumblings that she might be named the new principal of a school she once oversaw: University Preparatory Charter Academy in East Oakland. 

Uprep’s controversial founder and principal, Isaac Haqq, resigned this week. Meanwhile, district staff are investigating allegations of cheating, course credit fabrication and transcript changes at the school. 

“There is a great deal of need, immediately, at this school,” said Zimny, who has taken on charter schools consulting work since she resigned from the district earlier this year. “I also understand that the board is looking for a path forward.”

She added, “It could be a match.” Continue Reading


Charter school principal resigns amid cheating allegations

Isaac Haqq, the controversial principal of the University Preparatory Charter Academy in East Oakland, has quit.

The Oakland school district is investigating a slew of allegations made this spring by a group of teachers that Haqq fixed grades, kept lower-performing students from taking certain standardized tests and fostered an atmosphere of cheating at the school, among other things.

The school’s governing board responded with a binder full of policies, procedures and other evidence which, they said, cleared the school of those accusations.

Kirsten Vital, the district’s chief of community accountability, says district staff are determining where to go from here. She said they would likely know more by Monday or Tuesday.

Allison Sands, who has been filling in on charter oversight issues since Liane Zimny left earlier this year, said they will take Haqq’s departure into account. But, she said, questions remain, and the investigation will continue.

By the way, OUSD has hired a full-time charter schools director — David Montes — who is getting up to speed on his new duties. More on that later.