Castlemont cafeteria gets healthy(er)

Valentin Mendoza (pictured below, far right) writes about his experience as a youth organizer on the Castlemont high school campus. His team worked to change the lunch menu to include some tasty, healthy food from local vendors. – Katy


Hi, I’m Valentin Mendoza.

I’ve worked with Youth Together since 2006, as a freshmen. I have become a Lead Student Organizer (L.S.O) as an agitator and alliance builder. We’ve been working on our food justice campaign for three years now.

Our work has consisted of doing workshops in classrooms, outreach during lunch, school board meetings and meetings with the district. We collected data, through a petition, to educate our fellow students on the effects of unhealthy food and the positive impact that healthy food can have on our communities and also to get information from them on what they would like to see on the menu.

A big part of the work was also to push the district to support the local economy by partnering with local businesses instead of a big monopoly corporation like SYSCO. Continue Reading


Let the negotiations begin!


I just finished writing a really long story about the Oakland teacher’s union’s first contract proposal, so I’ll be concise. Here is what the OEA wants:

  • A 20 percent increase in the salary schedule (a starting teacher’s salary would be closer to $48,000, rather than just below $40,000).
  • More teachers. Only 15 students per teacher in the district’s lowest-scoring schools. Classes of 20 everywhere else.
  • Smaller case loads for nurses, counselors and special education staff.
  • Academic flexibility. Pacing guides would be optional, not mandatory.

Some of you liked the “shoots for the moon” title (and photo), and others Continue Reading


Uniforms at Skyline High School?

irodriguez2.jpgThere has been a rumor spreading around Skyline High School recently. The administration is thinking about enforcing a uniform policy next year, and both students and teachers are doubtful.

I first heard about it through a student in leadership (student council) but didn’t take it seriously until I found out about a staff meeting held to discuss the idea. I don’t have many details about the proposed uniform policy, but I have heard from some teachers that Ms. Green (Skyline’s principal) is not encouraging staff to think about how on earth it would work, but rather if they think it would be a good idea.

Personally, I don’t think uniforms would be all that bad. I would no longer have to think about what to wear in the morning, and as long as they were not too hideous I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Some argue it reduces conflict within the school, makes students more focused, or gives the school a more organized, disciplined appearance.

But in reality, does a simple change of clothes really have this much of an effect? Can it solve all the problems at Skyline?  Continue Reading


Crocker Highlands kids sell brownies, raise thousands

bakesale2.jpgIt started as a bake sale, but it grew into something much larger.

In a few short days, fifth-grade students and their parents have raised $30,000 — far more than they expected — for the family of Christopher Rodriguez.

Chris was shot last Thursday during a piano lesson in North Oakland. He’s only 10, and he probably won’t walk, skateboard or play basketball again.

Here is a new Web site which will include updates on his condition. He’s still in intensive care at Children’s Hospital-Oakland, but he is expected to move to the rehabilitation department soon.

The Crocker Highlands fund drive is still going. I hear that a penny drive is next.


Finding teachers for all of the substitutes

chalkboard.jpgAt two recent school board meetings, the father of a Howard Elementary School fourth-grader demanded to know why the district hadn’t managed to find a teacher for his daughter’s class.

The teacher left in August, soon after school began, and the void has been filled with subs — and chaos — ever since, he said.

How are these kids supposed to learn without a teacher? he asked.

This week, the fourth-graders at Howard might have bid farewell to their last sub. A permanent teacher officially started yesterday, school district officials reported. To put this chronic problem in context, here are some numbers from a Human Resources report:

From Aug. 1 through the end of November, 68 classroom teachers headed for the hills. About half Continue Reading


Teacher’s union shoots for the moon

moon2.jpgIt seems like just yesterday that the Oakland school district settled on a teacher contract on the eve of a planned one-day strike…

Lest you grow all misty eyed about the small patch of common ground found at the last minute, I’m here to tell you that the next round of negotiations is about to begin. The hard-fought contract expires in June.

I met today with OEA president Betty Olson-Jones and executive board member Jack Gerson to discuss the union’s opening proposals, which will be divulged at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

“How are we going to recruit and retain teachers without making dramatic changes?” Gerson asked. “If we keep the status quo, where will we be? Where’s the city going to be? Who’s going to want to walk out on the street?”

I promised not to `scoop’ them by blabbing the details, but I can tell you this: The next few months (hopefully, not longer) should be very interesting.

image from aloshbennett’s Web site at flickr.com


State budget expert takes issue with across-the-board spending cuts

scissors2.jpgI’m sure most of you are well aware that Schwarzenegger aims to terminate the state’s massive deficit by cutting programs across the board by 10 percent. That would mean a $4 billion loss for schools.

Well, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill doesn’t think that approach is very prudent. Her analogy? A financially strapped family who decides to blindly cut each of its expenses — groceries, clothing, entertainment — by 10 percent, rather than trimming movies, restaurants and other non-critical expenses first.

She says the governor’s proposal Continue Reading


Nope, Gary Yee is not in the running for supe

garyyee.jpgAlways the eager recipient of good scuttlebutt, I was intrigued by rumors that school board member (and former teacher, assistant principal, principal and administrator in OUSD) Gary Yee plans to resign from his post in the hopes of becoming the district’s next superintendent.

As usual, the rumors were tinged with truth: Yee tells me he was on the verge of stepping down to make himself available as an interim superintendent. But in December, he learned that board rules require members to be out of office for a full year before they can be considered for the position.

“The cost was just too huge,” Yee said. “The board would have to overturn its own by-law. How would I explain it to anybody?”

Yee said the board is considering one of three approaches at the moment when the state supe allows the local officials to pick a leader (likely in a matter of weeks): Continue Reading


And the next school district chief will be…


The Oakland school board meets tomorrow in closed session to hash out a plan for the crucial duty which it will soon be allowed to carry out: Choosing a leader for the school district.

School board president David Kakishiba said today that the board isn’t talking about any candidates in particular. In fact, he noted, the board has yet to receive the official go-ahead from Jack O’Connell, the state supe, although that is expected to happen soon.

So what are they talking about? According to the board prez, they are weighing the district’s priorities and discussing the skills and leadership qualities they believe Oakland’s superintendent should have. This is their second meeting this week on the subject, and public forums will follow. (I’ll keep you posted.)

Here are some of the questions reportedly being discussed behind closed doors: Continue Reading