More — but not all — local control returns to OUSD

Sometimes, rumors and speculation are right on. This morning, state superintendent Jack O’Connell did, in fact, promise to return control over facilities and personnel management to the Oakland school board.

O’Connell also said the board could begin recruiting and hiring a superintendent as soon as the agreement is signed — most likely in January or early February. That might be the biggest news of all.

The upshot: In a month or so, the school board will oversee the district’s community relations, its buildings and grounds and its staffing, but not its finances or policies around student achievement.

I can only imagine the power struggles that are likely to unfold in the meantime.

Here is the release from OUSD: Continue Reading


O’Connell calls (stealth) press conference in Oakland

jackoconnell.jpgThere’s an important press conference at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at Crocker Highlands Elementary School. State superintendent Jack O’Connell is making some kind of announcement, and it might be about giving back two major areas of governance to the Oakland school board.

But don’t tell anyone about it. I think it might be a secret.

I’m a bit confused, since members of the press are usually informed about press conferences. (I actually learned about the event from a parent.) A spokeswoman from the California Department of Education confirmed that an announcement will be made tomorrow morning, but she wouldn’t say what it was.

I’m sure we’ll be invited, eventually.


State-run district gets a split verdict

gavel.jpgThe Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance team today recommended that the state superintendent return two more operational areas  of the Oakland school district — personnel and facilities management — to local authority.

But the report noted that high turnover and steeply declining enrollment have threatened the district’s stability. Read the report here.

OUSD’s ratings went up in all five areas, although the financial department is still rated just a 5.3 out of 10 (Up from a 4 last year).

Some quotes from the executive summary:

“The lack of consistency in district leadership and management Continue Reading


Three months in, new teacher tries to stay positive

akwokresize.jpgThe latest print and multimedia installment of the Tribune’s My First Year series, which follows novice biology teacher Andy Kwok, came out today.

Kwok, 22, says that although half of his students at EXCEL High School are failing biology (an improvement from the last marking period, believe it or not), he tries to focus on the progress some of the teenagers are making.

To all of you teachers out there: What got you through your first year? What have you learned about motivating kids who don’t seem to care about school? If you have stories about students who turned the corner, feel free to post them as a comment or e-mail them to me at kmurphy@oaklandtribune.com.


Were they smiling when they audited OUSD?

fcmat.jpgWe’ll soon see. The latest progress report for the state-run Oakland school district — conducted by auditors from the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team — will be released at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

If OUSD makes great improvements in its FCMAT ratings, the state superintendent might decide to restore additional powers to the elected school board. Then again, he might not.

You should also come to Wednesday’s school board meeting, or watch it on TV (Channel 27), if you want to know:


Pitching in, outside of the school boundary lines

bulbplanting1.JPGEarlier this month, families from Hillcrest Elementary School in the Oakland hills helped Lockwood parents, staff and students beautify the East Oakland school grounds.

According to organizers, more than 70 people worked to plant 600 daffodil bulbs near Lockwood’s three new small schools: Futures, Community United and Lockwood. (Keep Oakland Beautiful and The Home Depot donated the bulbs.)

Some of Oakland’s public schools are known for their parent involvement. How often does this volunteerism cross attendance boundaries? In what practical ways could –and should — this happen?

photo courtesy of Kathy Dwyer


Happy Thanksgiving

Since Oakland kids are relieved of their academic responsibilities all week, maybe they’ll want to take on some culinary duties. I could use some help myself, as I’ve promised to make pumpkin pie from scratch (as in with real pumpkins). Wish me luck!


Another parent’s take on the Achievement Gap Summit

Henry Hitz, a Montera Middle School parent, former teacher and executive director of Oakland Parents Together, also attended last week’s Achievement Gap Summit in Sacramento. Among other topics, Hitz discusses the responsibilities white teachers bear when educating students of color.

By Henry Hitz 

I went to the Achievement Gap Summit in Sacramento on Tuesday and Wednesday last week. I’m no fan of Jack O’Connell for how he is disrespecting Oakland by opposing local control and pushing the testing agenda generally, but I have to say, this event was for the most part quite good.

I attended four breakout sessions and heard two of the keynotes. The first breakout I went to was Linda Darling Hammond talking about how we need to address the “opportunity gap.” She had the good sense to bring three students from two small schools to tell why their schools actually worked. No surprise: the key reason was that they had deeply caring teachers and administrators who took personal interest in the students. Linda is a leading opponent of NCLB and made her views known.

The second break out I went to was a presentation by 3 dynamic black teachers describing their program in LA, The Village Nation, where they bring the black students together to talk about what is really going on and get them fired up about racism (Katrina, Jena6, the schools) and teach them their history and show how much they care, and no surprise, the students do a lot better even on the admittedly culturally biased standardized tests. 

The  keynote at lunch on the first day was a debate between conservative Chester Finn and liberal Richard Rothstein on how to approach the achievement gap, moderated by Christoper Cross, all white men, which was a little jarring. Continue Reading


Soul searching, hope and despair (and popcorn): A mother describes the Achievement Gap Summit

Since there has been so much discussion in this forum about the racial achievement gap, I asked Kim Shipp, a parent who attended the summit in Sacramento, to tell us her impressions of the event. -Katy

No Gaps in Achievement Gap Summit, by Kim Shipp

kshipp21.jpgIn an effort to try to describe my experience at the Achievement Gap Summit, I came up with a metaphor by asking myself, “What is the difference between a circus and a carnival?” 

A circus is where you sit and enjoy the performances, and everyone is usually experiencing the same thing, while a carnival is where you participate with the goal of having fun, and your experience can be as individual as your participation. So I would have to say that my experience at the Achievement Gap Summit was like that of being at a carnival.

There were lots of people in attendance (over four thousand, to be exact), over a hundred workshops to choose from, more than a half dozen keynote speakers, lots of meals and snacks, all in less than a 48-hour period. Needless to say there was little time for rest or sleeping. It was a festive atmosphere, and I can honestly say that who’s who in education in California, along with a few politicians, were in attendance.

If I had to give the conference a theme, it would be “The Spirit of Man vs. The Spirit of Race(ism).”  We saw the usual data on student achievement, and we heard about the need to examine practices on how students are assessed. There was a debate about whether the achievement gap was caused by internal factors, such as the lack of rigorous standards or segregation, or by external factors, such as health care for children; mobility rates and economics.

By evening on the first day, it seemed like the conversation turned from the outer causes of the achievement gap, such as policies, data, or the lack thereof, to the inner causes: What do we as human beings have within ourselves to impart the value of education to the children we are serving? Continue Reading