A day of schooling on small schools

I spent a good part of today brushing up on one of the most ambitious and controversial school reforms in Oakland. First I met with Hae-Sin Thomas (you might know her as Hae-Sin Kim) who until recently oversaw the “incubation” and opening of many of Oakland’s small schools.

She was frank about the challenges — the brand new principals and teachers at some of the schools, staff turnover, starting one particular school with just a few months’ notice after King Estates closed — and about the fact that some of the schools have failed.

But her message was loud and clear: The Oakland educational system is better off because of the movement, and schools that show promise should be given time to blossom.

Tonight, I met with about 10 parents and organizers at the Oakland Community Organizations office who shared their personal stories and work at Coliseum College Prep, ASCEND, CBITs, Leadership Prep and MetWest, among others.

I believe the long-awaited small schools analysis is scheduled to be discussed in two weeks, at the next board meeting. As I’ve said before, I’m open to thoughts, opinions and stories on the subject. Feel free to post them here or to e-mail me directly.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Allie

    Prior to the small school movement that was launched about 5 years ago, several years of hard and progessive reform work had taken place in Oakland through the district’s academies initiative. This initiative was designed to provide smaller, personalized learning environments organized around a broad career field to serve as a lever for integrating academic and career or practical curriculum, instruction and assessment (an approach supported by philosophies of John Dewey and Booker T. Washington years ago and has held through the years). Academies provided opportunities for students to apply academics in community-based settings such as internships, career shadows, study tours, service-learning and project-based learning. The Engineering Academy highlighted in an earlier story is an example of the academy philosophy of integrating academic and career-technical education. The Health and Bioscience Academy at Oakland Tech is the oldest Academy (fall 1985) is another example. Academy graduates are prepared to enter universities as well as work. The academy model was not intended to separate academics and career in a way that prepares some students for college and others for work; but to prepare students to transition from high school to college as well as work. Several principals of small schools once serve as academy directors where they learned and applied skills as educational leaders of a small learning environment.

    Notable strides were made as documented by studies of Oakland Academies. The board should include a review and analysis of this work when conducting an analysis of small schools. Too often, school boards, superintendents and central office administrators latch on to a new reform without carefully analyzing what worked, what did not work, and what needs work before totally eliminating an initiative or allowing it to die from lack of support, or by dismantling a district for the sake of “a need for change”. Academies nor small schools is a silver bullet, but there are lessons to learn from both of these approaches organized as smaller learning environments. Before the Board jumps on yet another bandwagon or allows education mercenaries to sell them another costly reform that is more beneficial to them financially or provide them with more press as experts in education, please do your homework.