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Six hours later…

After hours of listening to — and dutifully recording — passionate speech-making about the ramifications of school closures and the intractable Hillcrest/hills schools overcrowding problems, my forearms are revolting. I don’t know how court reporters do it.

Some things worth noting:

- A bright spot. The state administrator gave the go-ahead for the construction of an Educational Complex near Laney College (permanent buildings for La Escuelita, Yuk Yau, MetWest and Centro Infantil), causing much celebration in the room. They’ve waited years and years for this.

- A sobering “let’s put things in perspective” comment. At the end of the Hillcrest/Montclair/Chabot discussion, board member Greg Hodge mentioned that he was at Children’s Hospital Tuesday night. Three teenage boys were shot leaving a basketball game at McClymonds High School. All the next day, Hodge said, people kept telling him that it wasn’t so bad because the boys survived. The violence has become that normal.

- An overshadowed issue. Steve Weinberg, a teacher and frequent blog contributor, raised concerns about the staff proposal to “right-size” (a term that calls massive layoffs to mind) Oakland’s middle school boundaries (see pages 5-6). If I understood him right, he said it would upset the socioeconomic diversity at schools like Bret Harte by redistricting some of the middle class kids up the hill.

I’ll pose the only sentence my brain can construct at this time of the morning: What do you think?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Irene Yen

    I was at part of the meeting last night. I was struck by Betty Olson-Jones’ remarks that in the last three years 42 of 98 schools have been closed, re-organized, converted (not her word), and transitioned into some other entity (e.g. charter school). This is too much upheaval for the different communities and the children in the schools. I was also struck by how the presentations on the “focus” schools (schools on the chopping block) seemed like a corporate model of meeting performance benchmarks, are the sales figures in line with expectations, is the division solvent? The Sankofa Academy staff and parent comments were heart wrenching.

  • Sue

    Katy, thanks for attending and reporting on that long meeting. I never try to go to school board meetings anymore because they are so tedious and time consuming, but I still think it’s really valuable to know what is going on. So I’m inconsistent, I guess.

    Your “violence has become that normal” comment really bothers me. I wish it weren’t true, but I’m afraid that it is.

    I’m also really curious about the middle school boundaries, but the link isn’t working for me. My 5th grader might be going to Bret Harte or Montera next year (two of our three choices), but we live below 580 in the Bret Harte area, and I can’t imagine what sort of gerrymandering would have to happen for us to end up in a different school’s area.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    The middle school link didn’t work for me either and I’m curious how our boundaries may or may not change.

    Thank you Katy for your hard work on Oakland school issues!

  • Katy Murphy

    Sorry about the faulty link to the boundary adjustment report. It should work now!

  • Sue

    Thanks for the corrected link. As I expected, Bret Harte’s boundary shift won’t put us outside their area.

    Of course, increasing Montera’s area will make it even harder to get our kid in there (Montera is our 1st choice), but if I’ve understood the whole situation, we should still be in good shape for our 2nd choice school.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    I can now see the new proposed middle school boundaries. I didn’t get a chance to attend yesterday’s meeting, but did this issue get much attention? Does anyone know who I can contact within OUSD to make a comment about the proposal? Does it appear that these changes are going to pass? Thank you for anyone who can provide more information!

  • Katy Murphy

    The middle school boundaries didn’t get much attention, especially compared to the hours spent on the other topics. I believe Kirsten Vital, the chief of community accountability for OUSD, worked on the project — or oversaw it, at least.

    But boundary changes are something the board is voting on — for real — so if you’re looking to weigh in, you might contact them.

  • John

    State Real Estate law requires a full seller disclosure of anything about a property that might be of material interest to a prospective buyer. Perhaps Hillcrest School parents, and parents with children in other sought after hill area schools, should draft disclosure statements pertaining to any enacted or contemplated district policy that would impact a buyer’s ability to enroll his child in a given neighborhood school. This disclosure could be distributed to all Real Estate Brokers via registered mail.

    I’ve noted postings by parents bemoaning a lack of awareness regarding neighborhood school enrollment issues when they purchased their home. A Real Estate broker and/or home seller with an awareness of such issues is obliged to disclose them to a prospective buyer thereby possibly influencing his decision NOT to purchase a home in a given neighborhood. Such disclosure to prospective home buyers could: (1) help decrease the number of families buying into a community where the neighborhood school is not (or might not) be accessible to their children; and, (2) help decrease enrollment pressure on impacted schools.

    With fewer families moving into hill area schools there would be more slots for non-neighborhood kids leading to a greater diversity of academic performance and test scores. This would contribute to a greater homogeneity of district wide academic performance that would help quiet the nagging debate over enrollment in presently sought after hill neighborhood schools.

    If only hill area schools could start getting a little worse and other neighborhood schools could get a little better it could eventually lead to a utopia of academic mediocrity for all, and a genuine unification the Oakland UNIFIED School District.

  • peter

    Here’s a disclosure statement:
    No matter how much money you spend on a home, you are not entitled to a “better” or “different” public education than anyone else.

  • John

    Peter: I have no problem with your “disclosure statement.” That’s why, consistent with this statement, the OUSD needs to send dismissal letters to students in all its schools. It could then conduct a city wide lottery for student placement in all schools. This would go a long way in achieving equal academic opportunity and equal academic results throughout the school system. Anyone who doesn’t like it could move to a community, inconsistent with your disclosure, where their home purchase enables their children to attend their nieghborhood school.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    John and Peter: Your “pipe dream” has no basis in reality. If that happens, which it won’t, I can guarantee you that many (maybe even most) of the hills residents would move or go private and lots of future families would bypass Oakland as a place to live.

    There are just not enough high performing students in Oakland to pull up the bulk of the lower performing kids. Mixing up the schools in a city-wide lottery would be a social and education experiment that would be doomed to failure. Parents of the academically-oriented families will not choose to participate and then all the schools will decline. Do you really think that Hillcrest would still be Hillcrest without Hillcrest families? No, Hillcrest isn’t special because it’s Hillcrest. It’s a high performing school because of the attending families. I only use Hillcrest as an example but it could be any hills school. It’s only as good as its students and families.

    Great teachers help and are important, but fabulous teachers can’t turn around ill-prepared and unmotivated students en masse. If the high performing students left, it would be a disservice to all of Oakland and I’m sure OUSD has already figured that out!

  • John

    Hills Neighborhood Mom: I understand the absurdity of my (“modest proposal) comment to Peter, which comprises the logical outcome of his comment if implemented to the extreme. I appreciated your eloquent extrapolation of the consequences of our comments. However, I wouldn’t be too quick to conclude that OUSD knows what you know. The power of OUSD politics can move OUSD decision makers in mysterious ways.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    John, thanks for your comments. You are right – maybe I’m putting too much stock in rational decisions being made by OUSD. I’ve certainly seen plenty of evidence to the contrary, but I would be truly surprised if they did away with neighborhood schools in favor of a city-wide lottery.

  • Alice Spearman

    Let’s look at the current OUSD Board Policy BP 5116, Administrative Regulation AR 5116, both School Attendance Boundaries. OUSD Board Policy BP 5116.1, Administrative Regulation AR 5116.1, Intradistrict Open Enrollment/Options. All may be found on the district website. I am curious as to what you think the policy means.

  • jim2812

    OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
    Board Policy

    BP 5116
    Students

    School Attendance Boundaries

    The Governing Board shall regularly review school attendance boundaries, taking into account school capacities and enrollment data, geographic features, student safety and transportation, racial and ethnic balance, educational programs such as magnet schools, and community input.

    (cf. 5116.1 – Intradistrict Open Enrollment)

    The Superintendent or designee may place some students in a school outside of their attendance area in order to alleviate overcrowding.

    Policy is that the Superintendent deals with overcrowding and the Board is silent on the issue as I read the policy.

    Also, I notice the reference to racial balancing that the State Constitution amendment may not not allow.

  • Sharon

    Yesterday I sent a message to the oaklandpublicschoolparents@yahoogroups.com (available for anyone to join, by the way). I raised a concern about the major OUSD middle school changes which will be determined this week without having received much public discussion or debate.

    It has surprised me how quietly the deadline for this huge decision has arrived so quietly.

    I am extremely active and engaged with issues going on in OUSD, but the first time I knew about this proposal was from reading this blog entry last week. Thankfully, Steve Weinberg brought it to our attention and Katy Murphy relayed it to us here.

    It occurs to me that, in its stealth manner, this matter is being strategically hurried along. It can be quietly inserted at this particular time because it is overshadowed by the Hillcrest issue and it is during a time of the year when people are busy with their holiday business and not paying as much attention to school issues as they normally would. It’s sad to say, but this is sometimes how things work.

    Already the responses to my posting from yesterday are arriving.

    One person publicly challenges the School Board members by saying, “Aren’t you just a little bit embarrassed at segregating the more white and high income families above 580 to the wealthiest and whitest middle school in Oakland?”

    Another person responds to that posting by saying, “You must be kidding! By changing the boundaries many more Redwood Heights families will remain in the school district rather than go to private schools. SO, the question would be whether OUSD wants to lose more students year after year.”

    And on and on we go.

    As residents of one of the most diverse cities in the country, maybe someday we will get closer to seriously evaluating our personal attitudes about race and class. Maybe our insights would include a frank self appraisal, that we would be willing to express to others, about the degree to which, and under which circumstances, we would allow our children mix with the children of Others. Also, what might be true about the fears of mixing?

    Maybe most of the constant gripes about, and ongoing battering of, Oakland’s public schools aren’t really about the schools at all.

    We need to dig down through these deeper issues so terribly much and take a look at the foreign body that is embedded there. It is certainly contributing to that large and painful festering wound that constantly exudes its foul and toxic pus, and continuously inflames our fair city.

  • John

    Its BEHAVIOR NOT RACE. For whatever reasons, the children in some parts of Oakland often behave differently than children in other parts of Oakland. Some families nurture and foster their children’s education while others don’t. Perhaps some don’t because they’re distracted by other priorities or because they can’t pass along values and choice preferences they didn’t inherit.

    It’s normal for people with common values and life objectives to group together to better insure those values will be passed on. The hill parent who observed a decline in school playground etiquette as children from other neighborhoods integrated into her child’s school makes a strong point.

    It’s NOT the job of one group to teach or impose their values on others in response to the social engineering agenda of the few or the many.

    As school parents We DON’T need to, and shouldn’t be required to, “dig down through deeper issues and look at the foreign body that is contributing to that large and painful festering wound that constantly exudes its foul and toxic pus, and continuously inflames our fair city.” We all just need to put OUR KIDS first and make sure they get the best education possible, absent contradicting distractions. If that can’t happen in Oakland we need to go ELSEWHERE!

  • hills parent

    John: I would also add that it is not my responsibility nor that of my child to teach other children how to behave properly in school. I send my child to school to learn. She has learned appropriate behaviors at home and knows that such behavior is also expected at school. If other children’s behavior distracts from her learning then YES I will take her elsewhere.

  • John

    Well said Hills Parent! YOUR attitude needs to be added to the drinking water in the Oakland hills.

  • peter

    That attitude of self-centeredness already is very much in the water… it can be cited as the reason for most problems in this city. We are a COMMUNITY, a SOCIETY. If you believe that you have no responsibility beyond raising a child who meets your behavioral expectations (not anyone else’s, mind you), then you are contributing nothing to our society, and are no different from these parents you begrudge for having a different set of expectations.
    I am also very curious as to the shangri-la where you folks will move. It will be interesting what the response will be when you realize that things like high school drug use and sex are at higher rates in the suburbs… but will that matter when the “threats” to children are less often color coded?

  • Sharon

    I very much agree that it is about behavior. But it is also about the many other things that are the source of behaviors. I think negative and antisocial behaviors are the symptom, not the cause.

    To me it’s about dominant cultures, and subcultures. It’s about values, and the fact that different cultures, and subcultures, transmit different values. It’s also about skills, including parenting skills, and how they are learned, or not, and exactly which skills one is talking about. Did you know that there is a whole range of skills that are needed to survive in one culture, or subculture, as opposed to another?

    It’s also about history. It’s about H. J. Kaiser having recruited and relocated enormous numbers of very poor and uneducated slave descendants from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas to work in his shipyards and steelmaking plants during WW II. Did you know that Oakland’s African American population soared from 8,462 in 1940 to 47,562 in 1950?

    It’s about the evaporation of thousands of jobs during the postwar years when the many major local industries closed down, one by one. Did you know that the site of Eastmont Mall used to be one of the many automobile manufacturing plants in our city, and that Oakland was once known as the “Detroit of the West”? What do you think happened to all the children of parents who lost their jobs at those plants after they were closed and weren’t fortunate enough to find another?

    It’s also about the rising poverty and crime caused by the postwar joblessness in Oakland. And it’s about “white-flight” leading to increasing segregation. Did you know that Walnut Creek’s population soared from 9,903 in 1960, to 39,844 in 1970, and 53,643 in 1980? Where do you think all those people moved from?

    And it’s also about what happened in the 1960’s when Oakland’s city government, white-dominated naturally because Oakland used to be white majority, went to the Deep South once again to tap for labor when faced with a police shortage. At a time when the population of Oakland was changing from white to a black majority, did you know that white police officers were recruited from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana to join the force of the OPD? How do you think that worked out? What do you think led young Oaklanders to form the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966?

    I simply believe that there is much more to learn about that would help us understand what we are experiencing today. I believe that if we understand the cause, then we could move a little closer to begin to heal it.

    Finding a powerful substance to add to the water to fix it all just isn’t going to happen, and is a scary idea anyway.

  • left oakland

    So what is the end result when “We all just need to put OUR KIDS first and make sure they get the best education possible, absent contradicting distractions…”

    Is it not to segregate the schools by class? or to flee Oakland altogether for a more homogeneous community? I ask respectfully fully acknowledging that as a 25 year teaching veteran of OUSD and a K-12 OUSD alumni no less, that you have considerable insight into the situation.

    I must say that I have been following your posts with some interest. From what I can glean (through the sarcasm and bitterness), you advocate personal responsibility. That the flatland schools and their communities must take it upon themselves to change their cultures in a way that supports education as a priority. That efforts of outreach from the hill community will ultimately reach a dead end and fail. If this is true, then I do mostly agree with you. I do believe however, that race (and racism) is a part the discussion. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I do want to learn, not argue.

  • http://yahoo Not so different from you

    Race and racism have always been an issue and it’s crazy for anyone to think that it is not. But when it comes to race and racism the easier fit always wins out, even if they speak another language. Its gotten so a person can’t get a job in California unless they speak Spanish, this tactic eliminates job opportunity’s for a great many people and perpetuates the system of hiring immigrants rather than pushing for immigrant’s to learn English. If 12 million illegal immigrants can find employment in the US there should not be any US citizen unemployed. Companies would rather feed into the illegal immigrant mentality of “they need help” instead of tapping into the pool of unemployed American workers. This whole immigration thing leaves me asking who makes the laws and when are they suppose to be enforced; I can’t even get out of paying a ticket let lone breaking a federal law. Not to mention stealing social security numbers, driving with no license and no insurance, not paying taxes, gang activities and demanding rights that their own country refuses to give to foreigners…like drivers license. They say you are a product of your environment, this environment has allowed unlawful activities dominate the illegal population and it’s all based on racial preference rather than legal rights.

  • John

    Regarding Peter’s most recent comments:

    In some Oakland schools it’s not uncommon for parents to use physical punishment as a primary or only means of correcting and shaping their children’s behavior. I’ve observed more instances than I can count wherein a child initiates a fight and is disciplined by the school. In response the recalcitrant child’s parent comes to the school and threatens staff and other parents.

    It’s easy to preach from an ivory tower or ivory neighborhood. Don’t be duped by Peter’s implied vision of, “it takes a village” social Shangri-la! Raising your child may not be your only responsibility to society, but how you do it will have the greatest consequence for society.

    For some (including me), it’s a parent’s responsibility is to teach and model a form of conflict resolution that doesn’t rely on physical or verbal aggression. Not all Oakland parents would agree, as evidenced by what is observed in different Oakland school neighborhoods.

    A school with a large or growing diversity of parental behavior expectations is not a diversity to “celebrate” or tolerate if it adversely impacts the realization of our expectations for our children. In deciding on a school placement it is important to consider your child first, NOT what someone else considers a valid “contribution to society.”

    If a changing school environment means it’s time to change your child’s school and city, it’s not, as Peter implies, “color coding” or “the reason for most problems in this city.” Neither is it “self centered,” or something you should be shy or ashamed about doing. And it is certainly not “begrudging” to other parents who have hard wired behavioral expectations for their children that differ from the hard wired expectations you have for yours.

    If someone begrudges your right to do what you believe is best for your child that’s his right. It’s your right to do it anyway, and not be subdued by some Rooster’s cacadoodle do do!

  • John

    Left Oakland: What I’ve gleaned as a “25 year teaching veteran of OUSD and a K-12 OUSD alumni no less,” (as you put it) is a lot of common sense about how things presently are in Oakland.
    Bottom line: The folks in the flat lands generally don’t like, or care for, the folks in the hills. I’ve made previous comments to this effect with supporting anecdotes. The comments of flat land Jose rejecting a hill PTA parent’s ideas about being helpful to flat land school PTAs is typical and certainly doesn’t bode well for “efforts of outreach from the hill community.”
    I am simply not an advocate of hill parents trying to feed a dead relationship horse. Neither am I an advocate of hill parents compromising their children’s educations in deference to a larger Oakland politic that is NOT concerned about the quality of education in the hill schools.
    You make reference to what you “can glean (from me) through (my so called) sarcasm and bitterness.” And you state your belief that “race (and racism) is a part the discussion.” Indeed it was at the Small School Rally I attended before the OUSD state take over during which it was professed by some flat land parent speakers that those white schools in the hills have all the resources. Anyway, I am pleased that you “want to learn, not argue” with someone you brand as bitter and sarcastic.