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To be fair…

I just observed a very different community meeting tonight. It was at Youth Empowerment School in the East Oakland hills, another one on OUSD’s intervention/potential closure list.

After hearing a presentation about test scores and enrollment trends, people divided into two groups, by language. Parents told the central office administrators things they loved about the 250-student school and the things they’d change about its academic program. They were also asked to speculate about why the test scores might be so low.

The problem with my group, YES principal Maureen Benson noted afterward, was that most people had nothing but praise for the school. Everyone feels so good about it — the staff, the students, the parents — but the positive atmosphere isn’t reflected in the test scores, she said.

(Aside: I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.)

It looks good for the Youth Empowerment School, though. Wendy Gudalewicz, the network executive officer who last year recommended closing YES’s former neighbor, East Oakland Community High School, told the group that she felt YES was headed in the right direction.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Skyline Teacher

    It would be an unbelievably stupid move to close a new school as popular and supported as YES.

    One thing that ticks me off about the testing movement is how crude the measurement stick is. You’ve got this good idea of accountability but then you rely on idiocies like the star tests, which are high-stakes for schools and no-stakes for kids. You’ve got the state standards which most teachers will tell you are a catch-all mess. You’ve got NCLB and its bizarre expectation of constant improvement. Where are the realistic goals and sensible measurements?

    Say you get kids at YES in ninth-grade, most of whom have 3-5th grade reading levels and have decided they are dunces and so are just trying to hide from the teacher. Say two years later those kids are engaged in school, coming to class regularly and learning some things from teachers that actually challenge them. That’s a good thing, right? But will the test scores show it? Hopefully, but the odds are they will still be nowhere near grade level or PROFICIENT, and so the school will still get reamed.

    The idea that we can catch these kids up to their middle-class peers after a decade-and-a-half in an intellectually barren home and school environment is worse than a misconception — it undermines our work and hope in real progress. Especially when for many of these kids, getting into Stanford is not the issue — surviving their teen years and having the basic skills to go to the next level, whether it is a job or community college, is.

  • Caroline

    There’s often protest when school districts move to close troubled schools, even those that are disastrous to the outsider’s eye.

    A few years ago, San Francisco Unified closed a charter high school, Urban Pioneer, that had these “problems” (an understatement):

    – Two students had died falling into a ravine on a wilderness outing, due to undisputed negligence by the school.
    – The school was in financial shambles; teachers and other bills were going unpaid.
    – Its test scores were rock-bottom, 1-1 APIs.
    – The school was openly committing academic fraud, graduating students with far fewer than the required credits.

    Yet there was massive, explosive outcry both from inside the Urban Pioneer community and from outside supporters against SFUSD’s move to close the school. Urban Pioneer (despite its financial condition) hired a high-powered and expensive damage-control specialist, former Chronicle editor David Hyams of Solem & Associates. Pretty clearly due to his efforts and connections, even the early Chronicle coverage seemed to take the side of those protesting the impending closure, quoting Hyams as likening the school board to the Taliban, and calling the move a “witch hunt.”

    At one explosive school board meeting, only one person spoke in favor of closing the school — a middle-aged woman member of the San Francisco district PTA board — and she got painfully body-slammed by a hulking teen as she walked away from the microphone.

    The Calif. Charter Schools Assn. (actually its precursor, CANEC) spoke in favor of keeping Urban Pioneer open, too.

    The sense I get NOW is that the widespread view has evolved to “oops, guess maybe closing that school really was the right thing to do.” But I still hear sometimes, especially from people within the charter community, about what an outrage that closure was. Those people are invariably uninformed about the extent of the problems, but still.

    I really can’t speak for YES — I know nothing about it, including whether it’s a charter or not. But honestly, I don’t see how anybody could have argued for keeping Urban Pioneer open. And yet… So in other words, the degree of protest isn’t necessarily the gauge of what’s the right thing to do. Though I am a charter skeptic, I think that applies to both charters and traditional public schools.

  • Concerned

    There is an open letter, from Sheilagh Andujar, the principal of Oakland Technical High School, dated: November 5, 2007 on the OUSD Website reporting that 2 students and a coach had contacted a Staph infection at Oakland Technical High School. Why wasn’t this reported in the Oakland Tribune and other local newspapers. In the last few months school districts where Staph infections are present, are reported on all of the TV channels, but, the City of Oakland, OUSD, or Alameda County Health Department or the local newspapers did not report it to the community. Why? This is dangerous and should be reported. Students from other districts come to the school for sports events and could be exposed to the infection. This should have been made public.