Got burning questions for your school board candidates?

Bring them to an upcoming series of forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Oakland. The events are open to the public and will be broadcast on KTOP (Channel 10) many times before the June 3 city elections.

forum.jpgNikki Harris, who is helping to coordinate the event at Oakland City Hall (Hearing Room #1), says the organizers will take lots of questions from the audience, so now’s your chance.

The first two school board candidate sessions are this Thursday evening — District 3 (West Oakland) at 6:45 p.m., District 7 (East Oakland – Elmhurst) at 8:15 p.m. The District 1 (North Oakland) forum, to be broadcast live, is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. Friday, April 11. The District 5 race isn’t contested, so it looks like incumbent Noel Gallo is off the hook.

Forgot who’s running for each seat? Here’s a link to an earlier blog post with a list of candidates and districts.

image from Steve Rhodes’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons


Cut school, pay $250

skippingschool21.jpgOn the average day, as many as 4,000 Oakland kids (out of more than 40,000 public school chidren) are out of school, according to an analysis by the Oakland Think Tank, an independent local group which has identified truancy as the city’s number one problem.

The OTT has urged the school district and various city and county agencies to create a special program that looks at short-term and long-term fixes. Read its truancy resolution here.

Of course, Oakland isn’t the only community dealing with the effects of chronic school-skippers. In fact, the Oceanside Police Department has recently unveiled an idea of its own to stem truancy in the San Diego-area city (school district enrollment: 21,000).

According to the Associated Press, Oceanside cops want the authority to fine truants and order them to do community service. As of now, as I understand it, police have two options for kids who ditch class: Detain them or take them back to school.

How well do you think such a fine would work in Oakland — or anywhere else, for that matter? What solutions would you put forward?

Here is the AP story: Continue Reading


Which will it be, pay cuts or raises?

Cranky Teacher’s post reminded me to check in on the teacher contract negotiations, and I can attest to the accuracy of his statement (not that I ever doubted it).

The school district did, earlier this month, present salary cuts and reduced “prep” time for teachers as one way to cut the budget by $23 million, said OUSD spokesman Troy Flint. And, I should note, the three-year budget projections presented last week by CFO Leon Glaster included no changes to the salary schedule.

That’s a far cry from the 20 percent raises proposed by the teacher’s union. Here’s an excerpt from bargaining update sent out to teachers late last week:

The SA team presented its proposal including these blockbusters:
• “Rolling back” salaries and possibly freezing positions on the salary schedule.
• Allowing site administrators at secondary schools the “flexibility” to assign teachers six teaching periods per day—a 20% increase in workload
• Providing elementary teachers with only one—unstaffed—prep per week, and eliminating staffed prep.

School board members appear to differ on the role they should play in these inevitably tense negotiations. Continue Reading


The school board powers up


Thursday update: After talking to David Kakishiba, the board president, I have a new question for you all to consider:

Should the board…

a) choose an interim supe while searching for a permanent leader

b) immediately start a search for a permament superintendent, which could take four to six months, or

c) wait until the last two areas of control (finances and academic policies) are returned to the board, because the complicated, two-leader system might scare top candidates away.


Tonight, the Oakland school board voted 5-2 to approve a power transfer agreement with Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of schools.

The agreement restores board authority over staffing and facilities, as O’Connell promised at a Nov. 30 press conference. And, of course, the ability to select a superintendent for the first time in about five years.

The state still controls Oakland Unified’s finances and its academic policies.

Noel Gallo and Greg Hodge voted against the agreement, as I understand it, mainly because of this clause, which includes language from the state takeover law: Continue Reading


Life Academy to be uprooted

Life Academy teachers and families were in for a shock this week when they learned the small, 7-year-old science-focused high school will soon have to move from its spot in the San Antonio district to another, yet unknown, school campus. 

lifeacademy.jpgThe problem? Life Academy is located in a converted American Red Cross building, rather than in a structure designed to house a school.

photo courtesy of Life Academy

A letter sent to families this week stressed that the building meets the city’s standards and that it was not damaged in the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. Still, it says that it “probably” does not comply with the Field Act, a decades-old state law that regulates the safety of K-12 school facilities (with the notable exception of charter schools). The matter apparently popped up on the central office radar after the school applied for a grant to build a science wing.

Clifford Lee, a teacher at Life Academy, said many fear the school will have to move miles away from the Fruitvale/San Antonio neighborhoods where most of its students live. They also suspect they will have to share a campus with another school. Continue Reading


`Free money’ for college

scholarship.jpgThe Sallie Mae Fund’s Paying for College Bus Tour makes a stop at Lighthouse Community Charter School (345 12th St., Oakland) tonight, with a light dinner at 6 p.m., a workshop at 7 p.m. and college counseling from 8-8:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

If you can’t make it on such short notice, you might find this Web site useful. It offers online scholarship searches, for example, and lists of scholarships designated for African-American and Latino students.

Considering last year’s probes into the student loan industry, I’m sure Sallie Mae and other lenders are eager to improve their public image. (The Sallie Mae fund is a charitable organization sponsored by Sallie Mae. And, as one of its spokespeople noted, the bus tour started three years before the investigation.) But hey, free money is free money.

Isn’t it?

image from beasiswa.terbaru’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons


If I were president of the United States…

whitehouse.jpgTracy Dordell, a third-grade teacher at New Highland Academy in the Elmhurst area of East Oakland, recently asked her students to write about how they would improve our nation if they were elected president. Their responses seem to offer a glimpse into what’s on their 8- and 9-year-old minds:

Lyanne: “… I would change everything that is bad. Guns, stealing and killing are really bad. There would be no drugs. If people fight, they will do community service. If people shoot, they will go to jail forever.”

Keion: “… there will be more jobs, and daycares. I will make more laws. There would not be guns and wars.”

Jose D: “… I would melt all of the guns. Continue Reading


BEST High School to shrink next year

best.jpgCiting enrollment concerns, the latest report of the district’s “Portfolio Management” program announced plans to drop the ninth grade from BEST High School, one of two small schools on the McClymonds high school campus in West Oakland.

“Mack” had 761 students in 2004-05. Two years later, the combined enrollment of BEST and EXCEL high schools was 532. This coming fall, at least for one year, BEST will only include grades 10-12.

image from the BEST High School Web site

Eliminating the ninth grade of a high school certainly sounds like a precursor to a merger. Of course, Peralta Creek, a small middle school on the Calvin Simmons campus, lost a grade this year, but will gain it back in the fall — apparently, after getting its act together.

On a positive note, the district is talking about creating a Trade and Transportation Academy at McClymonds. As I understand it, the academy would allow kids to hold internships at the Port of Oakland and at the Oakland airport.

What do you think McClymonds should look like five, ten years from now? Could a unique program, such as a trade academy, draw students from throughout the city?


Sex ed advocates score state standards

sexed.jpgI’ll admit that in my three years covering education, I have yet to sit in on a sex education class.  I endured learned about the birds and the bees in a different state — Illinois — mostly through excruciatingly dated filmstrips.

In other words, I don’t have a good handle on the quality or consistency of the topics covered in California’s public schools nowadays.

But I do have news: The ACLU announced today that the California’s Board of Education — which has adopted content “standards” for everything else under the sun — has finally established guidelines for health, including sexual health.

“We are one giant step closer to ensuring that all of California’s students receive accurate and comprehensive information about sex,” said Maggie Crosby, an attorney with the ACLU-NC who has specialized in reproductive rights for more than 30 years.

Given the fact that 11- and 12-year-old girls are being dragged into prostitution, it’s probably high time that schools ramp up their health education efforts.

Do you think these new state guidelines will make much of a difference in the average health class? Is the caliber of sex education in Oakland where it needs to be? What, if anything, needs to change?