The Intern Debate

Here’s my hypothetical question for the day: Should a math or science major with next to no teaching experience but subject-matter expertise count as a “highly qualified” teacher under No Child Left Behind?

Public Advocates, a San Francisco civil rights firm, doesn’t think so. The group helped Bay Area families file suit this week against the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that the agency was watering down the requirements by allowing these “interns” to be considered highly qualified.

They noted that urban districts such as Oakland have a much greater percentage of interns than more affluent areas. Last year, about 11 percent of Oakland’s teachers were interns, meaning they were completing their teacher’s training while on the job, rather than before.

Troy Flint, an Oakland school district spokesman, says people in the central office are passionate in their defense of the intern option, especially for hard-to-staff areas such as math and science. He argues that it allows people with math and science backgrounds to more easily switch careers. 

“If we were never to use intern teachers, Continue Reading


Fire-damaged Peralta school returns to Peralta! But first, oh-so-much work

First, they were rudely displaced from their school by a March arson fire. Then they learned there was a chance they’d have to temporarily share a campus this fall with a new high school until their damaged school was repaired.

But Peralta families have recently learned that their kids will report to 460 63rd St. on the first day of school, after all. Volunteers have been keeping the plants watered and the gardens tended, and parents spent much of the weekend helping put the place back together.

“They love that school and are eager to get back into it,” said Tim White, the district’s facilities superintendent. Continue Reading


New middle school has big hopes and plans

alcsignresize.jpgDominique Biagas, 11, and her older sister, Dakota, were surprised today to find that the principal of their new school had the time to talk to them about what they liked to study (science) and about whether they were excited about the start of school (yes).

The sisters were registering at the new Alternative Learning Community in East Oakland — which opens Monday at the shuttered Toler Heights Elementary School — when principal Dennis Guikema stopped them in the hallway to shoot the breeze (and admit that, unlike Dakota, he thought dissection was gross).

After a few minutes, Dominique looked up at her very tall principal with what looked to be a mixture of relief and curiosity. “Everybody’s nice here,” she said to him. Continue Reading


Board meets tonight to discuss Dobbins case

Update: The committee didn’t come to any decisions tonight. At around 6:30, Greg Hodge announced there would be nothing to report until Wednesday, when the full school board meets at 6 p.m.

A Special Committee on Possible Censure of a Governing Board Member meets at 6 p.m. tonight at the central office as part of an inquiry into the relationship of fellow school board member, Chris Dobbins, and a 17-year-old former student.

The three board members on the committee — who were selected last Friday by the board president David Kakishiba — are Alice Spearman, Noel Gallo and Greg Hodge.

According to Friday’s board minutes, Dobbins objected to Spearman’s placement on the committee because of some of the things she had said against him in the past. Gallo has also said Dobbins should step down.

Dobbins and the former student have said their friendship was innocent, and police decided there was no basis for criminal charges. The school board is expected to release a report of its own internal investigation, based on the committee’s findings.

The agenda says a fact-finding report might be adopted tonight, Continue Reading


The origins of Oakland’s teaching force

For at least the last two years, roughly 40 percent of Oakland’s new teachers have come from partnerships with organizations such as Teach For America or the Oakland Teaching Fellows. Some have even come from Spain.

(I originally asked about the total make-up of Oakland teachers — not just new hires — but the question might have been misunderstood. So thanks, Steve Weinberg, for raising the question. I’m still waiting to hear a definitive answer.)

In any case, 40 percent of new hires is a high rate, and folks on the city’s teaching task force are looking for ways to lower the school system’s reliance on such partnerships. They argue that people who live in the area and who are already committed to Oakland are more likely to stay in the system for longer — which would reduce the amount of turnover.

By contrast, the recent college grads from Teach For America are asked to stay just two years. Continue Reading


Saturday’s teacher summit: Drumming up interest in “Oakland’s most rewarding profession”

I’m sorry. I know I should have posted this earlier. I’m blaming my vacation.

The Oakland school district is joining with the Office of the Mayor, the Effective Teachers for Oakland Task Force and the Oakland teacher’s union, among other groups, to host a teacher recruitment summit in City Hall. It’s from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday).

High school and college students, retired professionals, paraprofessionals and those contemplating a career change are encouraged to attend. The summit promises to offer guidance on how to transition into teaching, how to find financial aid — and local colleges with education programs — and, of course, about opportunities to teach in Oakland.

Some hope that by recruiting teachers from Oakland, the district will be able to stem its turnover rate, which was about 15 percent this year. Laura Moran, who works on these issues for the school district, said recently that team-teaching and coaching for rookie teachers were other strategies she was trying to find the money for.

What needs to be done to keep good teachers in the Oakland public schools?


Leadership changes at Montera, Joaquin Miller and Oakland High

principal2resize.jpgLast week, I was allowed to sit in on the auditions — I mean, interviews — for new principal at Joaquin Miller Elementary School and at Montera Middle School.

I wrote one story about the new process being used by the Oakland school district to choose school leaders, and another about the challenges and the potential at Montera. (One candidate, pictured here, goes through a role play during the interview.)

This week, the state administrator approved the committee’s selections of Russom Mesfun for principal at Montera, and Ifeoma Obodozie for Joaquin Miller. It’s not official yet — apparently there are still the fingerprints, TB testing and other loose ends to deal with — but it’s close. 

Now, Oakland High School is trying to fill its leadership void. Continue Reading


Students, ACLU: Latino military recruits are on the rise

aurora2resize.jpgAurora Castellanos, a 17-year-old at Oakland’s MetWest High School (pictured here, at the San Francisco ACLU offices), takes it upon herself to talk classmates and peers out of joining the military as the Iraq war wears on.

Castellanos and other high school students from Northern California are in the midst of a week-long trip sponsored by the ACLU to meet with war veterans, recruiters, conscientious objectors and even family members of those deployed to Iraq.

“It’s easy for me to go online and get the numbers,” she said. “I wanted to have more of a connection to this topic, because it affects a lot of people.”portraitresize2.jpg

When she returns to school this fall, armed with war stories, Castellanos plans to organize other Oakland kids around counter-recruiting efforts. She feels that Latinos and other students of color are being targeted; at least one of her classmates, she said, considered joining as a way to earn citizenship.

“I would like for every student to have information about the choices they are going to be having,” she said.

How frequently do military recruiters visit the school campuses here? Do you feel they belong at schools?