On the special agenda: Dec. 12

School closures. Attendance boundary shifts. A loooong-awaited school modernization project.

All that to say that the school board and the state administrator should not be lonely at tomorrow (Wednesday) night’s 5 p.m. special board meeting. They don’t make any decisions on the hot-button issues at least until Dec. 19, but they will likely hear plenty of advice from families and staff.

As usual, I will be there to report what happens. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Jose

    This is a good article. Maybe once the parents in the hills are upset about their schools they will join us in the flatlands and demand good schools for all our children in Oakland. Then again, that will not happen in my lifetime. They moved to the hills to get away from us.

    Most of us would love to move also. We just don’t have the $$! That’s is the issue. Hillcrest is a great school. I looked at the state department of education web site and learned the have the 3rd highest test scores in Oakland. Where did you get your information that they have the best test scores? The two highest scoring schools are the Indian schools. What are they doing in those schools that make them so good?

  • Katy Murphy

    You’re right, Jose. I should have said that Hillcrest has the highest scores of any district school.

  • Joaquin Miller Parent


    Something interesting came up at the School Options Fair – hang with me for a second to see how this applies to this thread – the schools with the smallest power over their schools seemed to be flatland schools WITHOUT Parent Teacher Associations (PTA). These schools had just as many parents who cared about and loved their kids, but they had no PTA to speak in ONE VOICE.

    When I spoke to a Peralta (?) parent, she said that they are trying to get together a PTA. So my challenge for each Hills School who really wants to make a difference is to sponsor and mentor one “Flatlands” school PTA for 4 years. The PTA dues are expensive until the PTA begins to make money. They have to be shown how to set up a board and fundraising, how to establish the priorities and speak with a single voice. In many “Hills” schools, we have mastered that.

    With a PTA, there is organization for volunteerism, grant-writing, enrichment / remedial priorities and leadership. Our PTA is something to be reckoned with – with the principal, school district and the community it supports.

    The shifting boundaries also may shift some parents / families. For the schools that may close, I feel for the parents, and I honestly think that many schools do not organize until the school is in danger of being shut down.

    So, Hillcrest, Joaquin Miller, Montclair, Thornhill, Redwood Heights, Carl Munck, Glenview, Chabot, and others with a strong PTA, I challenge each of us to choose a school to help build a strong and successful PTA – I challenge each school to stick with your sister school for four years to help build a strong, successful and academically rich environment for all children.

  • Katy Murphy

    Interesting idea. I wonder who you talked to at the fair. I know Peralta already has a strong parent-teacher group.

  • left oakland

    I really commend your suggestion Joaquin Miller Parent. This is an extremely visionary idea and I applaud your outreach efforts. I might also point you in the direction of PPS (Parents for Public Schools). The work of the SF chapter of PPS has really made a world of difference in lifting all schools in San Francisco by providing support and real information (not rumors!) to prospective parents and serving as a base for networking between schools.


  • Joaquin Miller Parent


    I believe it was Peralta – however it could have been another school. And the woman I spoke to did say they have a strong parent group. The difference between a parent-teacher group and an official PTA is how the $$$ is governed, accounted for and spent. This matters. The school on Piedmont Avenue no longer has a parent organization because several years ago someone took off with the money.

    I’m sorry I didn’t pay attention to the school, because the parent I spoke with was enthusiastic and a good candidate to work with in expanding the parent teacher role to a full-fledged PTA.

  • John

    As a prelude to implementing this intervention I would suggest that the intervention volunteers from hill area schools meet with teachers and involved parents and/or community members at the target school(s) to get a realistic understanding of how things are, and how they differ from hill area schools. It might be helpful for one or more of the intervention volunteers be an ethnic match for dominent ethnic group(s) represented at the target school. The initial purpose of such intervention should be to get educated about target schools issues, circumstances, and life style differences. From my years of teaching experience in different “flat land” schools some of these issues might include: (a) an extremely high percentage of parent no shows at teacher/parent conferences; (b) large numbers of grandparents functioning as primary care givers; (c) frequently changing or terminated parent/guardian contact information, etc. etc.
    It may also be helpful, and appropriate, to initially connect with a respected member of the school community (not necessarily the principal) as a segue to connecting with and offering assistance to the target school. For example at (the now closed) Golden Gate Elementary Mr. School Mr. Oscar Wright had been a long involved community member and actively involved at in that school and highly respected by many in the larger African American community.

  • Jose

    The Public schools get over $10,000 per child to work with our children. However, some of you are suggesting that those of us in the flatlands need to attend more PTA a meetings to talk and raise more money for the schools. Do you see the nonsense in your logic?

    Instead of blaming us poor people why don’t you state the fact. The OUSD board does not know how to run schools that educate our children or hire administrators who can do the job in the flatlands. Mr. Wright has been attending school board meetings for years and he knows the problems. He also has recommeded solutions that make sense, however, between the teacers union and the school board, he does not have much of a chance.

    The new problems that are occuring now at Hillcrest in an old problems in our part of the city. I wish you the best of luck with the OUSD board. Maybe now that the middle class see the problem they bring about change in their schools that will benifit us. But please, don’t recommend any more meetings, talk and fund raising to us. Do you relize that we are living from check to check? What do you think my boss will say if I tell him I need to meet with some parents in the hills about education and miss work?

    I can hear it now. “O.K. Jose, I’ll get someone else to do the landscaping.” No my friends, we don’t need the meetings and talk, our children need a good education and $10,000 seems like enough to get the job done.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    Jose, academic success starts with parental involvement. There are lots of things that working or poor parents can do that wouldn’t necessarily impact your work schedule. For example, at my school there are all kinds of volunteer opportunities – some during the school day, but others in the evening or on weekends. You must have some time that you could give, if that is what you wanted to do. It’s also about making the time. Even if it is only a couple of hours a month.

    There are lots of things that families like yourselves can do within your own home to promote education too. I’m not saying that you don’t do these things now, but it tends to happen more commonly among the middle or upper middle class families.

    Classrooms in the hills succeed on the back of community and parental involvement. If parents in the flatlands can’t or won’t step up and help support the school AND create an atmosphere within the home that promotes learning, then I doubt there will be positive change even in more money was spent by the state! Just my opinion.

  • John

    Jose: PTA’s are an important component of ‘parent school involvement.’ Parent involvement is an indispensable component of a successful school. The much higher percentage of parental non-involvement in some flat land schools is not simply an issue of work conflict, it is also an issue of parental apathy as evidenced by (among other things) the high numbers of ‘no shows’ at parent/teacher conferences.

    If for whatever reason(s) parents/guardians are truly unable to involve themselves in their child’s school to the extent they can’t attend parent teacher meetings (much less PTA meetings) then their child’s education will suffer.

    And you’re right; Mr. Wright does know many of the problems facing schools in the OUSD. Because he does he is a strong advocate of parent/guardian involvement in their child’s education. He truly doesn’t “have much of a chance” if parent’s (for whatever reason or excuse) don’t get involved in their child’s education. In his younger years he was totally involved in his children’s school, as well as their recreation center next door.

    If living from check to check means you don’t have time to check on your child’s education then perhaps you need to re-check your priorities?

    Even at some private schools where tuition is several times $10,000, parent involvement is a critical component of student/school success. Perhaps some well intentioned PTA hill parents know something you don’t? Or, as is seemingly believed by many in flat land schools, they can’t ever be helpful because ‘they don’t know the trouble (you’ve) seen.’

    Whatever our differences I certainly want to acknowledge, and express gratitude for, your contribution to this discussion because it gives some well intentioned hill neighborhood PTA parents a sense of one of the challenges they’ll face in trying be helpful at your school, and others.

  • Sue

    I just have to jump into this parental involvement discussion and brag for a minute about my younger son’s school, Carl B Munck Elementary. Yesterday the state announced the winners of Title I (low income, minority and English learners) Academic Achievement Awards, and our school was one of the winners. The awards go to schools with at least 40% Title I students who have consistently improved and have exceeded their yearly targets over the past two years.

    Yes, Munck is technically a “hills school”, but most of the kids are from the flat lands, and yes, the teachers at Munck are all terrific, but what really makes Munck a great school is the dedication of the parents. We flat-land families making the effort to get our kids out of our neighborhood schools, and then we devote ourselves to making our chosen school the best it can be. We have at least one fund-raiser a month all year long, and I think most of the families come to most of the fund-raisers.

    Yes, Jose, $10k seems like a lot, but after paying teacher salaries, principal and admin and custodial salaries, buying text books, paying for building maintenance, PG&E for the lights and heat, paying EBMUD for water and sewage, and handling all the miscelaneous things – like when someone shot out a couple of classroom windows last year, and they had to be replaced – well, all those things add up, and it just isn’t enough.

    Our kids go on great field trips, our teachers can get extra teaching materials, our school library has books, our playground has equipment, the school’s PA system has been upgraded, and if I were more involved I could probably list a few hundred more things our PTA has done for our school and our kids.

    We’ve got the same disadvantages as the kids in poor-performing flat land schools, but we aren’t getting the same results, and the difference I see is the level of caring and involvement, and the level of personal responsibility of the parents at Munck. We look in the mirror and we can say, “my school is succeeding because of the person I see looking back at me.”

    How many parents with kids failing and dropping out of the failing schools are honest enough to look into their mirrors are honest enough to say, “my school and my kids are failing because of me”?

    That’s not an attempt to place blame on the victims, or to accuse anyone of anything. But if the parents in the poor-performing schools are waiting and expecting someone else to fix what’s broken, nothing will ever get fixed. If the parents want their schools fixed, they have to take responsibility. Getting people from the successful schools to help their less-successful neighbors, and to share what we know from experience will make a school better – I love it! What a great idea! Only thing is, “we” can’t do it for “them”. “They” have to do it for themselves and their children, and if “they” can’t or won’t take that responsibility – with or without outside help – nothing will change.

  • Joaquin Miller Parent

    I know $10,000 per student sounds like enough money, and with strong parental involvement it may very well be enough money. Let’s set aside the money issue for a moment.

    One thing that our PTA does very well is distribute parent volunteers, for the yard duty, classroom help, field trip drivers and after school enrichment activities. When there are students who are not reading to grade level in a classroom, would you rather have the teacher working one-on-one with the student or cutting paper for the next classroom project? Both need to be done. But with PTA help, a parent could do the cutting and the teacher, teach. The same is true with bulletin boards, building planter boxes, cleaning up after projects, labeling children’s work, helping to gather children’s belongings, reading a story to the majority of the children, while the teacher works with a group of kids who need help, cleaning up the lost and found area, stapling school newspapers, assisting in the computer lab so that children are not waiting so long for help that they become distracted, running an ecology club, helping monitor the lunch room – well, you get the idea.

    The more “tasks” that can be done by parents the more teachers are able to concentrate on teaching. Some children learn by hearing the material, others need to see it, still others need to be able to work with their hands or move. Teachers who are engaged with children every day know what’s best, because, if given time to work with their students, they can try a variety of options to see what works best with each child.

    Jose: One last thing. I did not mean in any way to be disrespectful to you or to anyone at the schools in Oakland. I do not believe Hills schools have all of the answers. If you knew me, or we could talk, I would be happy to explain some of the frustrations I have at my own school. But, just like you, we care about our kids, no just the one I gave birth to, but the ones she shares her days with. I don’t have the answers, I have many questions. My suggestion came out of a need expressed at the school options fair for which I spent time volunteering on the day of my daughter’s birthday party. I did this because all children in Oakland matter. All children deserve a choice and an education and all people deserve respect. I sincerely apologize if I offended you.

  • Pre-K Parent

    Dear Joaquin Miller Parent,

    I want my child to be in your child’s class. You are wonderful! I’m exhausted reading all the posts that divide and pull the community apart. I guess this is what I am in for for the next 13 years as I am committed to Oakland and OUSD. (I’ll be interested to see how I feel 8 years from now). I am not moving through the tunnel.

    Parents like me have new energy to give to the schools and make them a better place for all our kids. I would like to see more ways to unite the families for a better place rather than the continuous finger pointing and dividing.

    I had expected to go to Hillcrest, now that seems unlikely. Since it was unknown, I have toured schools I never expected to go to. I’ve seen beautiful things that have encouraged me. There are many choices that will provide him with a good foundation to begin his education. We have many gem schools. My son will do fine in any one of them.

    Each one of the schools I’ve been too has had very active and supportive parents. It is clear what a difference that makes. If all schools felt the love and warmth of the parents in that way the kids would feel it too. I think it is the cheapest way to make a school a place kids want to be. Its not just the money the PTA brings, its the caring feeling and loving support that they provide.

  • Sue

    Pre-K Parent, I think you’ve nailed it. So has Joaquin Miller Parent. The fund-raising and money from an active PTA is a result of parents caring deeply, and it helps with the “extras” that public school funding doesn’t cover. But when a teacher gets a thank-you card from a kid who was struggling, when a parent shows up every week as a class volunteer, when the care gets expressed in any way at all, that teacher is going to feel very different and act very differently than if they were in another classroom without that support.

    At our school, teachers know all the parents of kids in their classes, and they know they can call my husband (for example) if there’s a last-minute need for an extra driver for a field trip. And they know which parents to call for anything else that might come up. They can also talk to a parent if a child is having a problem, and figure out some way of making the lessons work.

  • Jose

    I have learned one thing from your stories. You love your PTA at your schools. That is good. Some of have a different life. Do you know of schools that do well that don’t have PTA’s? I mean some that has leaders who say I will do a good job with the money that we get from the tax payers and I’m not going to put extra work on you poor people.

    My boss said that is the way the schools are in China. He said the schools in Oakland where the Chines go are good not because of the PTA but because the Chines work hard with the children at home and push them to work hard at school. This seems right to me.

  • Sue

    I think the Asian stereotyping needs to be challenged. Other than that, I think we have found a basic agreement, Jose. Parents (of any ethnicity) who “work hard with the children at home and push them to work hard at school” will see the child succeed, even in a school that’s considered poor-performing. It’s possible to get a good education at a weak school, and I could point to my own experiences 35-40 years ago in elementary school.

    What I treasure (not love) about my son’s successful school, is that parents with the same challenges you’ve described, are taking one more step beyond working with and pushing their own children, and they’re doing whatever-it-is-they-can to help the school as a whole. And the other side of that is teachers and principal, and the PTA organization that finds the matches between what a particular parent can do, and where there’s a need for that skill.

    Our son will graduate and be gone from Munck next year. Want to bet on whether or not my husband will still help out with the annual talent show anyway?

    I’ve also seen the other side – the flat land neighborhood school that my kid is not attending. I won’t name it, because our problems with it were six years ago when our child started kindergarten. The principal at the time has since left, so has some of the other staff, and the school is apparently improving.

    It took us the first four weeks of that school year to get our boy out of there and into a school where we felt he was *safe*. I’ve always felt badly for that kindergarten teacher. If she had been the only person at that school who had any contact with our son, we would have been very happy there. She seemed to be very happy to have our family’s involvement, interest and support during those few brief weeks, and she seemed like a very good teacher.

    Sometimes a situation is so bad that the only solution is to get out. But if there’s any reasonable chance of making a situation better, then the solution is to roll up one’s sleaves and start working on improvements.

  • Joaquin Miller Parent

    I read Top of the Class, written by two Asian sisters, Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Y. Kim about the steps Asian families take with regard to education. It was quite interesting and exactly what we talk about on this blog. The 17 steps sited were:
    1. Instill a Love and Need for Learning and Education
    2. Instill a Sense of Family Pride and Loyalty
    3. Instill a Respect and Desire for Delayed Gratification and Sacrifice
    4. Clearly Define Your Child’s Role as a Student
    5. Cultivate a Respect for Elders and for Persons in Positions of Authority
    6. Play and Active Role in Your Child’s Education
    7. Determine and Develop Your Child’s Individual Talents
    8. Set Clearly Defined Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
    9. Teach Your Child the Art of Valuing Academic Success Over Social Status or Popularity
    10. Reward Positive School Performances and Devise a Plan of Attack for Poor School Performances
    11. Forget the “Do Whatever Makes You Happy” Mentality and Strive for Professions with Financial Security and Intellectual Fulfillment
    12. Keep Your Money in Perspective
    13. Limit Extracurricular Activities that Interfere with Schoolwork
    14. Promote an Environment of Healthy Competition
    15. Surround Your Children with Similarly Minded Friends and Rose Models
    16. Help Your Child view America as a Great Land of Opportunity
    17. Accept Responsibility with Your Child for Their Failures at School

    I thought that items #6 and #17 was particularly interesting that the family should take an active role in their child’s education and – the entire family should accept responsibility for their child’s failure at school – not the school – but the family. I don’t know if the families SHOULD accept the entire responsibility, even if they were willing to do so.

    Just like with any culture, there are positive and negative aspects of the Asian culture with respect to education. Jose’s assumptions about the school’s responsibility to educate his children are contrary to his belief about the Asian culture’s way of education if you are to believe the steps outlined in the book.

  • John

    So Jose, if you enroll your child at Lincoln School (with high Chinese enrollment & parent involvement) or a hills School (with high parental involvement) it would be of limited benefit to your child if you continue with the notion that “$10,000 seems like enough to get the job done” absent your (home & school) involvement in your child’s education.

    Incidentally Jose, I taught for eleven years in a Fruitvale district school with a large majority Hispanic enrollment. With three (memorable & admirable) exceptions it was ALWAYS mom who attended the IEP (student progress) meetings. If dad had an opinion or DIRECTIVE it was conveyed to (me) the teacher through mom. Although dad might call (or take) the shots, his aim was often compromised by an improper understanding of the target issue(s) impacting his child’s education. Macho doesn’t equal Mucho understanding.

    If you believe the latter comments are culturally insensitive, also believe that forgiveness for them is not sought, required, or warranted.