Comment box, begone!

keyboard.jpgA few of you have been grumbling lately, with reason, about the weird comment box with a black hole in the right margin that hides text (especially, misspellings and typos) until your musings are published.

I’ve shared your complaints with a Web producer, who informs me that the entire blog is moving to a nicer format, possibly in a matter of days. The off-center comment box will no longer be a part of your lives or mine. Neither will the unseemly gray line cutting across the photo at the top of this page.

In case you’re curious, here is a link to another blog that has already migrated to the sleek new design. It’s almost too state-of-the-art for me. I don’t know how I’ll handle it.


Just when you thought the budget couldn’t get leaner

cuts.jpgA report released yesterday by Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill can’t be good news for California schools — or any other recipient of state funding for that matter.

Hill projected a $10 billion shortfall in the state budget over the next two years, largely, because of an economic downturn. That means Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers will have to make some serious cuts, raise taxes, or both.

Here’s the Tribune article that ran today. Here’s a Legislative Analyst’s Office briefing on how the state budget situation might affect Prop. 98, the formula that sets the minimum funding levels for public schools and community colleges (Between you and me, it’s not that easy to understand).

How do you think the Oakland school district — which, as we all know, has no small deficit of its own — will survive further cuts in state funding, should it come to that?

image from DeFaBa’s Web site at flickr.com


Can all of the experts in the world help schools close the achievement gap?

gap22.jpgIn Sacramento right now, scores of experts and thousands of educators are debating why some groups of students in California do so much better than others, and what can be done about it.

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell told the audience today, as reported by The Associated Press, that the gap isn’t just based on poverty. (That’s probably not a news flash to many of you who have seen year after year of articles on the subject.)

The Oakland school district, for one, has whopping racial disparities in test scores. About 86 percent of white fourth-graders scored proficient or advanced on the STAR tests this spring, but just 33 percent of black fourth-graders did. Continue Reading


OUSD’s school choice plan up for discussion

In theory, OUSD’s “School Options” program allows Oakland families to choose a public school anywhere in the city for their children. In practice, those choices are limited by space and demand.

Ask the parent of a 4-year-old who lives near Hillcrest or Redwood Heights elementary schools (More on that later).

Here’s how the Options program has worked in the past: Families submit an application in January which includes their top school choices. The district matches the openings against each list and sends letters to families with the name of a school.

Priority goes to neighborhood children. The remaining spaces are given, in order, to applicants who live in another neighborhood but whose sibling(s) attend the school; those whose neighborhood school has low test scores; and, lastly, to everyone else (by random selection).

Last spring, there was plenty of confusion and discontent around the system — and with the way it was implemented. Now, it looks like the district is poised to make some changes. District staff are holding discussion sessions from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday night at 1098 Second Ave. , Portable 15.

Here’s a letter about the meeting that Options staffer Ruby Goodall posted to the Oakland Public School Parents listserv over the weekend: Continue Reading


Routine staph infections cause scare at Tech

As our dear blog poster “Concerned” brought to my attention (confession: I don’t regularly check the OUSD Web site for news, as it’s rarely posted there), school officials reported this week that two students and a coach at Oakland Technical High School were on antibiotics for routine staph infections.

It wasn’t the drug-resistant strain that has caused national alarm, but it alarmed families anyway. After word got out last Friday about the cases in question, worried exchanges took place on the Oakland Tech parent listserv. The school closed down the gym and locker room area and sanitized it over the weekend.

The principal, Sheilagh Andujar, posted a letter on the district’s Web site to quell the rumors. Continue Reading


Another investigation, allegations, more allegations

kakishiba_d.jpgFor the second time in less than five months, an Oakland school board member is under investigation.

Don’t worry: There are absolutely no sexual undertones to this inquiry. Far from it. Think real estate and planning commissions. Think — dare I print this? — informational flyers.

David Kakishiba, as many of you know, is the school board president. He is also the executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth Center, based in East Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood. His organization, along with the OCO (Oakland Community Organizations) became involved against a market-rate condominium proposal that would plop 810 new homes along East 12th Street in Fruitvale with little to no affordable units.

His two worlds collided in September, when kids from three Fruitvale-area elementary schools Continue Reading


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. Continue Reading


Is this what you call community engagement?

Update: I just spoke with Alison McDonald, the district administrator who oversees both schools at McClymonds. She said the Tuesday lunch meeting at BEST wasn’t a formal part of the community engagement process, even though it appeared on the list. She said she wanted to make it, but that there was a meeting at the same time that she needed to attend.


Late this morning, I dropped by BEST, a small high school at West Oakland’s McClymonds campus, in hopes of catching an intensive discussion about school reform.

BEST is one of the five schools which the school district is monitoring because of low enrollment and low test scores. By the end of the calendar year, district staff are expected to announce whether the high school — and other schools — will close, merge, be redesigned, or receive other interventions.

Those decisions are supposed to be heavily influenced by the insights of the parents and staff, a candid exchange that is supposed to take place at a series of “community engagement” sessions — such as the lunch time meeting today (designed for parents who work night shifts).

But I left today’s meeting, nearly an hour after it was scheduled to start, when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. Besides Renato Almanzor, director of the new Family & Community Office, no district administrators attended. Only one or two family members did. Continue Reading


Responding to rise in autism in schools, committee gives recommendations

Here’s an eye-popping statistic for you: Between 1998 and 2002, the number of California students receiving services for autism almost doubled (10,360 to 20,377), and the number has continued to grow.

State superintendent Jack O’Connell convened a committee to respond to the trend. It has just released recommendations to the governor and state legislature.

Here’s the summary, from the state department of education. What would you add? Take a look and let us know what you think: Continue Reading


Do charter schools deserve a piece of the pie?

pie5.jpgIf you plan to tell the Oakland school board to share future parcel tax revenues with the city’s 33 charter schools, prepare to be rebuffed in the strongest of terms.

The charter school contingent who tried that tactic at last night’s board meeting ended up on the receiving end of an anti-charter tirade. The charter leaders were even treated to some Halloween-inspired metaphors after announcing they wouldn’t support Oakland’s parcel tax campaign unless their schools were included.

“Dracula blood-suckers,” Continue Reading