My First Year, Chapter 2: Back to School Night

backtoschool2.jpgFor those of you following the story of rookie teacher Andy Kwok as he makes his way through the school year at EXCEL High School (McClymonds),  there is a new installment in today’s Trib, as well as a two-minute video posted online.

Also: His blog, My First Year, has been expanded to include six beginning teachers from across the school district. The teachers hail from Westlake Middle School, West Oakland Middle School, Esperanza Academy, Alternative Learning Community, EnCompass Academy and East Oakland PRIDE.

You should check out their beautifully written and unflinchingly honest first postings. And, of course, you are welcome to share your stories, support and advice. I’m hoping My First Year will become a constructive forum for educators to exchange ideas and bits of wisdom. Even for non-educators, like myself, it’s a compelling read. 


Study questions the staying power of OUSD reforms

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, a policy and advocacy group, released an eerily timed study today about Oakland school reform. It reads more like a news article than a study, and it quotes Randy Ward and Ben Chavis, among others.

I found a quote from the news release particularly timely, given the events of the last two weeks:

“Without question, the Oakland school district has made some dramatic improvements in recent years,” said Jeanne Allen, CER president and leading authority on school reform.

“But those improvements have been dependent on people, Continue Reading


OUSD officials declare support of small schools

The central office has been pretty quiet in the last year about the direction of the small schools initiative, a silence that has worried some proponents of the reform — especially in light of some of the skeptical statements made by school board members at meetings.

Today, in an advisory about a new small schools report, the administration announced the schools were “headed in a positive direction.” This might come as a relief to those wondering where the district stands on the subject. Here’s the release:

Oakland Unified School District Press Advisory

New Report Sees Small Schools Headed in a Positive Direction

The results of the first phase of external evaluation of OUSD’s new small schools

show some promising results for Oakland students and families

Oakland – September 26, 2007 – The Oakland Unified School District Continue Reading


Schools that read together…

lefttotell2.jpgThis week, I’ve learned about two high schools that had adopted a book for everyone — including faculty and interested parents — to read.

Over the summer, Bishop O’Dowd students read Immaculée Ilibagiza’s “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.” The author, who spent months huddled in a bathroom, hidden by a Hutu pastor, is visiting the school tomorrow.

Holy Names High School chose “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini.

The students at each school are discussing the literature in their classes and taking part in related projects.

Have other local schools done a similar “One Book, One Community” program? I’m writing a story about O’Dowd’s project, and I’d like to include other schools that have been reading together.


Fingerprinting policies create messy equity questions

fingerprint2.jpgA memo sent to principals last month was supposed to clarify the district’s policies on fingerprinting volunteers. It seems to have generated more questions than answers.

The memo calls for principals to make sure any “unsupervised” volunteers are fingerprinted. The notice emphasized that the responsibility for screening volunteers rests squarely on the principals, and suggests that they “err on the side of requiring a volunteer to be fingerprinted.”

Some principals decided to have every volunteer (supervised or not) get the prints, even though that is not the district’s policy, said Renato Almanzor, director of the district’s new Family and Community Office. And, as of now, parent volunteers must be screened every year.

In many cases, parents are expected to shoulder the cost.

Since it can cost upwards of $70 dollars a year to comply, many worry the policy might discourage those with limited financial means from becoming — or staying — involved in the schools.

Almanzor said he shares that concern. He says the district does not subsidize Continue Reading


Field of Dreams project: Bringing Tech’s home games closer to home

techsoftballresize.jpgEven home games are a trek for the student-athletes at many Oakland schools. Oakland Tech is one of them.

A campaign called Field of Dreams aims to raise $1.2 million to create softball and baseball fields on the old Carter Middle School grounds, two blocks away.

Construction started earlier this month on the new baseball field, which should be ready for the spring 2008 season. Now boosters need to raise the rest of the money.

Here is an appeal that parent Phil Williams sent out to some Bulldogs, which explains the project. Note the wonderful use of the word “moxie”:

Fellow Tech Parents, Staff and Friends:

We need Money, Materials, Man-power, and Moxie.

The Field of Dreams is a project to provide Oakland Tech with Baseball and Softball home fields on the Carter Middle School campus at 45th and Webster, just two blocks from Tech.  Continue Reading


Teacher rushed to hospital after breaking up a fight

Update: I hear Mr. Bronson is out of the hospital and at home, resting.  

Steve Bronson, an art teacher at Paul Robeson High School (Fremont campus), fell and hit his head this afternoon while trying to step between two students who were fighting, teachers at the school told me.

It happened around 2 p.m., during class. Paramedics came and rolled him out on a gurney.

I’ve put in calls to Highland and Kaiser, where Bronson might be. The nursing supervisor at Highland said the name didn’t sound familiar, but that he would check. I’ll post an update when I hear more.


Teachers and parents to protest cuts in Early Childhood Education

Something hasn’t felt quite right since the fall semester started almost a month ago. When I learned about a Wednesday demonstration at central office, I realized what was missing. I’m pleased to report that the school year is now officially in full swing.

The 2007-08 protest season is underway.

The teacher’s union says the district has shut down three early childhood education sites and has consolidated eight classrooms since the state takeover. I’ve left a message for Jane Nicholson Lynne Rodezno, the director of Early Childhood Education, to verify those facts and seek an explanation, so hopefully I’ll be able to update this post soon.  

If anyone has any insight or historical knowledge about this issue, please share it with us.

Here is the release from the Oakland Education Association: Continue Reading


On the Agenda: Sept. 26 board meeting

I predict Wednesday’s school board meeting will be a long one. But it might be of interest if you’d like to…

  • Meet Vince Matthews, OUSD’s new interim state administrator, who will be introduced at Wednesday’s board meeting
  • Comment on a study that assessed the effects of small schools in Oakland (or hear the board discussion about it)
  • Listen to the continued discussion about the 2006-07 financial situation

Here’s the agenda. Maybe I’ll see you there.


Unspent funds at OUSD: What is the hold up?

In his column yesterday, East Bay Express columnist Robert Gammon wrote that outgoing schools chief Kimberly Statham “cheated nearly forty thousand children” out of more than $40 million in unspent funds. It was accompanied by a cute picture of Statham sitting on a pile of cash.

Gammon was referring to the surplus reported at last week’s board meeting as the district closed the books on the 2006-07 school year. He blamed much of it on Statham –more specifically, on her long weekend trips to visit her husband and son in Maryland (a critique of the soon-to-be-ex state administrator that we reported last week). 

Gammon raises an important issue — it is important for a school system to spend the money it has, especially when it has too little of it — but the root of the problem seems to be a heck of a lot more complicated.  Continue Reading