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 a letter to top-level district staff.

Last night, in the West Oakland Library, I listened to the controlled anger and frustration from parents, students, teachers, an alumnus, and scholarship donors. Some said they felt the situation would have been handled differently in a more affluent, better organized community. 

Mack has undergone sweeping changes in recent years, they said, and parents and teachers are too often left in the dark while big decisions are made.

It will be interesting to see if the Skyline principal search, and others, are/were handled in the same way. Who knows, maybe they’ll announce tomorrow night that Skyline already has a new principal.

How do you think parents and students should be involved in the principal hiring process (or in the highly confidential decision to fire a school’s leader)? How should the community wisdom and insight be brought to bear in such decisions, and at what point should it be left to the experts?

image from waɪ.tiː’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Katy Murphy

    Greg Hodge, the school board member who represents West Oakland, sent the following e-mail this morning to Ernest Carroll, one of the parents who tried to persuade the district to keep Principal James Gray at BEST. It offers an interesting historical perspective on McClymonds:

    Dear Brother Carroll
    Thank you for always being there standing up for what you believe to be in the best interests of our children. For the last 7 1/2 years, I have attempted to do the same in my role as a school board member. Had I been at the meeting last night, I would have continued to press for more clear, open, transparent and community engaged process. Some decisions get made without any regard for what parents, students or community members think. I have also learned that there are plenty of people inside our schools, the central office and the broader community who care deeply about our kids. There are others who don’t.

    What is important to me is that we create learning enviroments designed with students in mind, not adults. When I came on to the board, there was a lot of nostalgia about McClymonds that seemed to ignore the situation in the late 1990’s where only a relative few kids were graduating from our esteemed high school. The belief that a major change was necessary was strong. The redesign into two smaller learning environments was supported by Principal Lynn Dodd, most of the staff, lots of school reformers, Bay Area Coalition of Equitable Schools and others including my self. The effort, though well intended, suffered from a lack of real buyin by many on the BEST team. Ms. Dodd tried to hold it all together, advocated to add a middle school to the campus (KIZMET) and in effect, tried to be the “principal” for BEST, though Dr. Taylor was designated as such. Ms. Dodd left abruptly and shortly after, Mr. Gray was hired after he was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaks.

    In my opinion, the relationship between BEST and EXCEL has been strained, that the kids have internalized the tensions that the adults have with each other, and the fall back has been, by many alumni and others, that we should “go back to the original McClymonds”. I think that we need to understand what is good about our history and build on it. I think that we need to understand what is good about our present and build on that as well.

    There are no easy fixes to what ails our children’s lives as students, as people, as our community’s future. As we go forward, we need much great engagement of all key stakeholders – parents, students, educators, other residents – in making our schools better. We should demand a seat at the table before a perceived problem or ‘bad decision” becomes manifest.

    Again, thanks for your involvement as well as that of others who continue to work on behalf of positive change.

    Greg Hodge

  • Adam Gold

    Is there still a culinary academy at Mack? Which small school is it a part of and how does one get a hold of them? It is impossible to find on the internet or phone directory. Thanks!

  • Katy Murphy

    There is a culinary academy at Mack, at BEST High School. It’s run by Chef Harold Le Blanc. Just e-mail me, and I’ll send you his contact info.

  • Chef Le Blanc

    Hi Katy,

    My cell is 510-866-1025, my email is dishal@aol.com. I’d love to talk about the ups and downs of the program.


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