Is school choice going to be history?

Bright and early this morning, the three-member Special Committee on Admissions, Attendance and Boundaries (Kerry Hamill, Gary Yee and Chris Dobbins) unanimously agreed that the district should give the younger siblings of current students top admissions priority — regardless of where they live — followed by neighborhood children who don’t have a brother or sister enrolled at the school.

The committee agreed that third priority should go to children within a middle school “megaboundary” (See Page 2 of the document; Page 1 is another kind of megaboundary, the one I mentioned earlier) who didn’t get into their neighborhood elementary schools. Kids who were turned away from Hillcrest, a K-8 school whose overcrowding crisis apparently triggered this committee’s work, would fall into the Claremont Middle School/North Oakland “megaboundary” for elementary enrollment purposes as of 2009.

All of this, of course, would make it harder for children in Program Improvement schools, and everyone else, to get into elementary schools outside their megaboundary.

This doesn’t seem to bode well for the school choice, parents-will-vote-with-their-feet philosophy, at least in parts of the city with growing enrollment. Continue Reading


Should younger siblings come first in school assignments?

sisters.jpgThat’s a proposal the school board’s Special Committee on Admissions, Attendance and Boundaries is considering Friday morning. The committee meets at 7:30 a.m. in the school district building to discuss — and possibly adopt — new enrollment priorities for the school system.

The current policy gives first dibs to “neighborhood” children. Kids who live in other areas of the city, but whose brothers and sisters go to the school they also want to attend, come next.

This new policy would essentially flip-flop the sibling and neighborhood advantage, giving all kids with brothers and sisters at a school — regardless where their families live — top priority, before children who live near the school but who don’t have older siblings enrolled there. Continue Reading


Another Skyline principal out the door

hgreen.JPGHeidi Green, who has been principal at the diverse, 2,000-student Skyline High School for just over one year, told her staff yesterday that she wouldn’t be back in the fall, according to two teachers present when she made the announcement.

Tim Jollymore, an English teacher at Skyline, confirmed this afternoon that Green said the district had offered her a position at another Oakland high school — she didn’t say which one — but that she declined the job.

Green’s tenure was a bit rocky from the start, partly because some teachers and parents were unhappy with the way in which she was chosen. Her predecessor, Amy Hansen, quit in August 2006, shortly before the start of school, leaving little time to hire a replacement. For months, there wasn’t a principal in place.

Green’s supporters, such as parent Wandra Boyd, say she is a strong, student-focused leader. But critics have complained that the young principal lacked the experience to run a large, urban high school such as Skyline — and the people skills to smooth over inevitable bumps in the road. Continue Reading


Berkeley school deals with charges of racism

You may have seen today’s story by Doug Oakley, my Bay Area News Group colleague, about accusations of racism at Berkeley’s Oxford Elementary School. Oxford is located in a predominately white area of Berkeley, and a number of children are bused in from other areas as part of the school district’s racial integration policy (See the school’s demographic breakdown here).

Two families have yanked their children from the school since January, apparently because they felt their kids were in a hostile environment:

“I recently pulled my kid out of Oxford right before spring break,” said Kim Oliver. “There has been so much blatant inequity on campus and in the classroom that I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Oliver and other parents told Oakley that they believe black children are disciplined more harshly Continue Reading


On the agenda: financial updates, “beepers” and jogging suits

joggingsuit1.jpgAt Wednesday’s meeting, the Oakland school board hears an update on how the governor’s latest budget proposal (more specifically, its cuts) will affect the local budget. They’ll be filled in on the latest OUSD financials, too.

Also, staff almost completely re-wrote the student “dress and grooming” policy, which was last updated in August of 2004. The document is much more neutral and professional-sounding now, but not nearly as interesting to read.

One item that was axed: “Undergarments shall not be used as outer wear. Students may not wear smooth fabric jogging suits, which are a leading symbol worn by gang members and drug dealers.”

Here is the full agenda.

image from tigerfoods Web site at flickr.com/creativecommons


Is bullying inevitable?

irodriguez21.jpgAbout a month ago Katy posted a blog about Zachary Cataldo, a first-grader at Piedmont Avenue Elementary who was severely hurt by another student. This brought up the issue of bullying, a topic that my English class has been studying extensively for the past month.

Our assignment was to research the topic, come up with a solution (in this case a code of conduct, which is lacking at Skyline) and then present to various groups throughout the school (parents, teachers, students, faculty).

We presented last Wednesday and Thursday in groups of about 5, and now that I am more knowledgeable on the subject, I thought I’d share.

One thing I learned through this project is that bullying is hard to define and identify. My group presented to teachers and one point we discussed was that although bullying is obviously a problem at Skyline, it is hard to differentiate between bullying and “playing around” specifically in the hallways during passing period. The type of bullying I am speaking about and the type that is most common at Skyline is “sexual bullying” or sexual harassment. Continue Reading


`Right-sizing’ Oakland’s public schools

Another Office Space-like euphemism has woven itself into the OUSD-reform discussion. You will find it on Slide 26 of a presentation which the board hears tonight during a special meeting to discuss the district’s finances.


The fiscal recovery plan is an 86-page document, condensed into a 52-slide PowerPoint presentation, so there’s loads of information to digest about the district’s overall financial condition, massive debt and enrollment trends.

The bottom line? OUSD’s financial office is recommending the closure or merger of 10-17 schools Continue Reading


Check out your school’s new rank

The good old API (Academic Performance Index) reports have just come out, assigning schools a rank from 1 to 10 based on how their 2007 test scores measured up to all the others in the state.


In case you were wondering, these “2007 Base API” scores aren’t exactly new results. They are just re-jiggered figures based on last year’s scores, which were released in August. The scores that came out today, on a scale of 200-1,000, reflect the latest formula the state has settled on for the 2008 API (based on the various state tests that kids take each year).

I plopped the scores and statewide rankings (as well as a “similar schools” rank that is supposed to compare schools to 99 others with similar demographics) into a spreadsheet and sorted from highest to lowest API base score. Continue Reading


Study on black students features Oakland schools

African-American students seem to be thriving, academically, at Thornhill, Chabot, Grass Valley and Kaiser elementary schools, but the achievement of black students varies widely from school to school in California, a soon-to-be-released report by the research group EdSource has found.

aahonorroll.jpgThe report, Raising African American Student Achievement, lists 45 California elementary schools (out of 615 with Academic Performance Index data on black students) in which African-American children had an average API score above a 785 on a scale of 200 to 1,000. Here is the list.

The full report will be posted Thursday on the EdSource Web site. It includes interviews with the Thornhill principal, Sallyann Tomlin Grass Valley Elementary School Principal Rosella Jackson and others.

As of last year, about 36 percent of Oakland’s public school children were African-American. About one in 30 of California’s roughly 500,000 black public school students goes to school in Oakland.

Notably, none of Oakland’s high schools made EdSource’s list of 16 schools in which the average score for black students was above a 736. Oakland’s average API for black students in 2007 was 602.

One issue that I didn’t see mentioned in the executive summary, one that is rarely raised in test score talk, is the inclusion of first- and second-generation African immigrant students in these statistical “subgroups.” Continue Reading


Another new teacher has (almost) survived the year

nicolepierce2.jpgNow I know of at least two new teachers who plan to return to their Oakland schools in the fall.

Nicole A. Pierce, a first-year teacher at West Oakland Middle School, writes on the Tribune’s My First Year blog about her decision to come back. She also tells us about a growing sense of can-doism among the teaching staff as the year went on, about why she didn’t end up blogging much this year, and about one thing she plans to do this summer.

Yes, the idea of having first-year teachers post regularly (and not anonymously) about their experience — on top of everything else they have to contend with — might have been unrealistic from the start. But when they have written, I’ve enjoyed their honest, sometimes funny and always well-crafted prose. Continue Reading