Laying down the priorities for Oakland’s new superintendent

Roberta Mayor, new interim superintendentWant to have a say in the direction that Interim Superintendent Roberta Mayor will take when she officially starts her job next month?

The board is holding a special meeting at 5 p.m. tomorrow to discuss the district’s priorities for next year, and the goals for Mayor’s work.

Don’t let my rant last week about the board’s never-ending meetings scare you away. I hear this session might actually be reasonable in length.


Video touts Oakland’s Open Court reading program

Some of you had plenty to say about Oakland’s Open Court reading program in an earlier post — that it’s not challenging enough for advanced students, that it’s too scripted, etc. Well, not everyone agrees with you naysayers.

While honoring OUSD for its “Achievement in Reading,” Open Court publisher SRA/McGraw-Hill made this commercial (I mean, short film) about how the reading program has helped to turn the district around.

Watch the video here, and then tell us if you haven’t seen the light.

image from woodleywonderworks’ site at flickr.com/creativecommons


SF federal court: Intern teachers can be deemed “highly qualified”

When it comes to filling teaching vacancies, the Oakland school district relies heavily on “interns,” college graduates who are still working to complete their certification. About 40 percent of new OUSD hires in recent years fall into this category; they come through “alternate route” programs such as Teach for America and Oakland Teaching Fellows.

Andy Kwok, the teacher we’ve been following at EXCEL High School, is one of them. He majored in biology, the subject he teaches, but jumped straight into the classroom after a short summer preparation program. He took education classes at night.

Kwok and other intern teachers are considered “highly qualified” by the U.S. Department of Education. But Public Advocates, a civil rights law firm, challenged that definition in a lawsuit last year. They argued it violates the spirit of the No Child Left Behind law, and that it lets school systems get away with hiring less experienced teachers. Continue Reading


Bill to protect journalism teachers clears Assembly

A law that would protect high school and college journalism teachers from being reassigned, fired or otherwise retaliated against because of student speech has passed the Assembly.

This reminds me of one of my first blog posts, last June.

Anyway, here’s the release, sent out Monday:

SACRAMENTO – On a bipartisan 66-5 vote, the California State Assembly today approved legislation to protect high school and college teachers and other employees from retaliation by administrators as a result of student speech, which most often happens when a journalism advisor or professor is disciplined for content in a student newspaper. The bill, which was approved by the Senate in April on a 35-2 vote, only requires a procedural concurrence vote in the Senate before consideration by the Governor.

Senate Bill 1370 by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) follows a 2006 law also authored by Yee which prohibits censorship of student press by administrators and protects students from being disciplined for engaging in speech or press activities.

There have been a number of documented cases throughout the state of journalism advisors being dismissed or reassigned due to student speech. In fact, Senator Yee’s office has learned of cases in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Claremont, Fremont, Novato, Oxnard, Rialto, and Garden Grove. Continue Reading


Oakland’s new alternative school: a haven or a dumping ground?

Principal Dennis Guikema talks with students in the yard.

Staff at Oakland’s new alternative middle school have learned many things this year, through trial and error. But, perhaps above all, they came away with this: When you put 90 adolescents with educational, emotional and/or behavioral challenges under one roof, you’d better be ready for them. Really ready.

But the Alternative Learning Community wasn’t. Continue Reading


Should businesses pay more for public education?

Oakland teachers hung two signs from a 35th Avenue/ I-580 overpass on Friday, the first day of summer vacation for kids (and the last day of work for teachers).

“We heard a steady stream of honks as cars approached the overpass,” said Craig Gordon, a teacher at Paul Robeson high school who serves on the union’s executive board. “The goal of this action was to send a simple message to the public: Oakland teachers end the school year still fighting for a new contract to defend quality public education as a civil right.”

The salary schedule for Oakland teachers has barely budged since the 2003 state takeover; teachers start at below $40,000 a year, plus health benefits. The district’s chief services officer, Laura Moran, noted in a report at last week’s board meeting that the pay wasn’t competitive enough.

But where should the money come from? Continue Reading


Epilogue on Green’s departure from Skyline

Heidi Green has landed on her feet, just as some of you predicted. She’ll be principal at Emanuele Elementary School in the New Haven Unified School District.

By the way, I gather that she really didn’t like the blog entry I wrote about her departure from Skyline High School. Last week, our photographer called the newsroom, baffled, after she was shut out of Skyline’s graduation ceremony at the Paramount. (As you might imagine, this is the kind of coverage people usually want.) Eventually, someone came out and explained that Green was angry about a blog post and that she wanted to make sure the reporter who wrote it was not allowed inside. Fortunately, I wasn’t there, and the commencement made the paper after all.

Here are excerpts from the release announcing Green’s appointment: Continue Reading


Ruling the school was harder than they thought

Benj Vardigan, of the Oakland Small Schools Foundation, wrote this piece about the day fifth-graders at Think College Now assumed adult roles at the school. -Katy

Think College Now’s “Million Minute Challenge” has put staffers in some precarious positions. Two years ago, when students at the Fruitvale-area elementary school read a million minutes outside of class, Principal David Silver found himself spending the last day of school on the roof. Last year, the Student Council changed the reward, putting staff members into a dunk tank.

This year, the students looked to extend their power a bit more: On Wednesday, kids “ruled the school,” swapping roles with everyone from office staff to teachers. Continue Reading


Together, we can put a stop to drowsy governance!

late.jpgThe Oakland school board convenes its twice-monthly meetings at 4 p.m. — at least an hour earlier than most. Sometimes, they don’t adjourn until the next morning.

No matter how mundane the agenda, or how straightforward or short, the meetings almost always carry on into the bleary-eyed hours of the night, or morning. And around 10 p.m., like clockwork, the discourse starts to disintegrate — or maybe it’s just my own diminished ability to comprehend what’s being said.

Tonight, just before 11 p.m., board president David Kakishiba noted the hour and — to our collective relief — asked to postpone the last discussion item. I’m still fuzzy on what happened next.

We had made it to the “New Business” section, and some board members were trying to get certain issues on the next agenda (the status of an English teacher position at Paul Robeson High School, a staff report on the “substandard” facilities at Cox Elementary). Others — sometimes, simultaneously — tried to sort out what was policy-setting and what was micro-managing, and who decides what makes it onto the agenda.

“This must be what waterboarding feels like,” Ward Rountree, a former teacher’s union president executive director and board meeting regular, said after it finally ended.

I have a policy proposal. Continue Reading


Absentee ballots swinging in Spearman’s favor

Update: The most recent vote tally, which came in this afternoon, has Spearman at 50.5 percent.

spearman21.jpgLast week, it looked like Alice Spearman and Doris Limbrick were headed into a runoff. Spearman had a double-digit lead over Limbrick in the three-way race, but in the initial count, she fell short of the 50 percent she needed to win outright.

Well, the news has gone and changed again! As of this morning, anyway, Spearman had won enough votes to land the Elmhurst-East Oakland seat. But they’re still counting.

Guy Ashley, from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters office, tells me that most of the provisional votes and any remaining absentees would be added to the tally around 4 p.m. today. You can check for updates here

Here is the tally, as of earlier this week:

Spearman – 2,742 votes, 50.59%

Limbrick – 1,749 votes, 32.27%

Beverly Williams – 890 votes, 16.42%

Now, unless Limbrick concedes, the results won’t be certified until July. But Spearman sounded pretty confident this morning, as she did on election night, that she had it wrapped up.

“I had good opposition, but they weren’t strong enough to do what they thought they were going to do,” she said. “Like I said, folks have confidence in me, so I’m not going to let them down.”

Note: An earlier headline on this blog post referred to the new votes as provisional, but those votes were absentee ballots turned in on election day.