School budgets: Read them and weep

The East Oakland school of the Arts at Castlemont is losing 22 percent of its positions next year, according to a new district report. Westlake Middle School, United for Success Academy, Sankofa Academy and Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy — to name a few — also plan to make deep staffing cuts that exceed their enrollment declines.

For the first time since Oakland adopted its controversial school-based budgeting system, the school district’s financial department has made public school-by-school reports. The one-page documents include projected changes in enrollment, revenues, spending and staffing levels. In other words, they show the effects of the state budget cuts and enrollment decline at the school level.

Photo Caption: “Due to budget constraints, ALL employees are expected to grow their own pencils.”

A word of caution when looking through these documents: Continue Reading


A funky graduation jingle, composed by Claremont middle schoolers

Why let “Pomp and Circumstance” set the tone of a graduation ceremony when you can strut into the gym to an upbeat tune composed and played by your own classmates?

This year, a group of Claremont Middle School kids got together and composed a theme song titled “Celebrate (Jamba Juice),” which the full band played at the eighth-grade promotion.

A dad with production experience recorded the song. Click here to listen to it.

I think my favorite line has to be “We fresh/We groovy/We chillin’ like a Jamba Juice Smoothie.”

Renae Briggs, who jump-started Claremont Middle School’s music program two years ago, said the 14-year-old boy playing the electric piano in the recording Continue Reading


No longer a rookie

Andy Kwok can breathe a sigh of relief. We’ll no longer be text-messaging him, “dropping by” to observe his classroom, or interviewing his students about how he’s doing.

Kwok, 23, was a first-year teacher at West Oakland’s EXCEL High School who graciously allowed us to document his experience, “recording my every blunder,” as he wrote in a piece that ran in today’s Tribune. (Read the last installment and watch the latest video here.)

Kwok was candid about his shortcomings and his struggles — including his decision last fall to assign easier work to his students because so many of them were failing. Continue Reading


Board passes siblings-first admissions policy

Starting in 2009, the brothers and sisters of children enrolled at a school will have top admissions priority, regardless of where they live.

The board just approved the new admissions priorities, 4-1 (Kerry Hamill, David Kakishiba, Alice Spearman and Chris Dobbins voted for it; Noel Gallo voted against it; Gary Yee and Greg Hodge weren’t at the meeting).

“Nobody, next year, is going to be pushed out of a neighborhood school because of a sibling,” said Kerry Hamill, who served on the special committee that recommended the policy change, which goes into effect in 2009.

Children with older siblings enrolled at their local school already had an admissions advantage over other neighborhood children, under the board’s previous policy. The main difference now is that the same advantage will apply to all younger siblings of existing students (if the older brother or sister has already moved onto middle school, it doesn’t count). Continue Reading


Big news, heard through the grapevine

I only had part of the story yesterday on the leadership changes at BEST High School, when I wrote that “This spring, families learned that Principal James Gray would be sent packing at the end of the school year.”

Apparently, for a period of time this spring, Gray and others thought he might be allowed to stay on the McClymonds campus, after all. But on June 13, after most of the students had scattered for summer vacation, Gray told his staff that he was being reassigned to another Oakland school. (Jumoke Hinton Hodge, school board member-elect and the wife of board member Greg Hodge, said Gray was being sent to be an assistant principal at Roosevelt Middle School in East Oakland).

Most families don’t yet know what has happened.

“I was wondering when people were going to find out that there was going to be a new principal,” Malcolm Gattis, 17, asked Alison McDonald, the district administrator who supervises BEST High School, during a meeting last night. “Everybody right now is thinking Mr. Gray is staying.”

A group of McClymonds students, parents and teachers aren’t ready to let Gray go. Tomorrow, they plan to urge the school board to delay the appointment of Karen Todd, who has been tapped to replace him. Todd is the director of Project SOAR and the former principal at Merritt Middle College, an alternative high school that closed in 2007, apparently because Merritt College wanted to expand into the area occupied by the high school.

Here is a copy of the petition being circulated by the West Oakland Education Task Force, and Continue Reading


Your school board, this week: School enrollment changes and next year’s budget

It seems the school board is trying to mend its loquacious ways; there are actual times posted next to certain agenda items for Wednesday’s regularly scheduled meeting. I’ll be there with my stopwatch. See full agenda here.

Come at 6 p.m. if you want to catch the performances of the Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Festival winners. Right afterward, while some of the feel-good sentiment still lingers in the air, the board is scheduled to discuss and vote on the new admissions priorities and middle school “megaboundaries” for elementary school kids who are redirected from their home schools.

The public comment session is scheduled for 7 p.m. (After just 30-40 minutes on the enrollment discussion? We’ll see…) At 7:30 p.m., a detailed presentation of the 2008-09 budget is supposed to begin.

Below are the responses I received today from the enrollment and admissions crew, based on questions some of you all have asked me about the proposed policy changes. Continue Reading


Meeting tonight to discuss new principal at BEST

BEST, one of two small high schools on West Oakland’s McClymonds campus, has had two principals (at least) since it opened in 2005.

This spring, families learned that Principal James Gray would be sent packing at the end of the school year, and that the school would not have an incoming ninth-grade class this fall.

Those changes, combined with the low enrollment at the schools, seem to indicate the possibility of a merger of BEST and EXCEL. There are strong feelings on both sides of that debate. (Kizmet, a middle school once housed on Mack’s campus, closed in 2007, less than two years after it opened.)

I don’t know if the district has chosen a new leader Continue Reading


Caltrans supports restrictions on bus routes

UPDATE: A week later, Caltrans changed its tune. On June 26, the agency wrote another letter stating that it no longer supports the proposed federal restrictions.

Remember the proposed change in federal transportation rules that could make it illegal for AC Transit and other bus agencies to provide special routes to schools? A change apparently designed to benefit private, “yellow school bus” companies?

Our transportation reporter, Erik Nelson, has learned that the California Department of Transportation thinks it’s a good idea. Caltrans submitted this comment yesterday, to the dismay of local public transit and school officials.

Why would Caltrans take such a position, when so many school districts rely on public transit agencies to schlep their students to and from school? Continue Reading


Why doesn’t she just get a job?

Summer JobsFinding a summer job stocking shelves, serving root beer floats — or even Filet-O-Fish — might not be as easy as it used to be, if you’re a high school kid looking for some pocket money.

I’ve read that youth employment is the lowest it’s been for decades — partly because of college application-padding experiences (for those who can afford a summer without a paycheck), but also because adults have been taking a lot of the unskilled, minimum wage jobs.

Have you found that to be true, here in the East Bay?

Below is a resource list for summer jobs. I’m not sure if all of these organizations are still hiring, but it’s probably information worth having in your back pocket if you’re a student or if you have a teenager in the house.

If anyone else is hiring, let us know! Continue Reading


This girl needs a summer reading list — and fast!

I love getting e-mails from my 11-year-old cousin. They’re never written in plain old black ink, or standard font. They’re usually only a few sentences long, sometimes just a couple of words, but they give me a little glimpse into her world.

But that world, this week, on summer vacation, is not as fun and carefree as it might seem, she tells me:

Guess what? I have to go to my stupid dumb softball game with my stupid dumb softball coach yelling the whole game. You are actually lucky, even though you have to work. You don’t have to play softball. And to top that off, I don’t have any good books to read AT ALL. Wish me luck in life.


My first thought: She’s signing off as `someone’ now. This is serious.

Second thought: What did I read when I was her age, other than the Nancy Drew Files? Continue Reading