The school “phase-out” tack

You don’t need to have served on a board of education to know this: Closing schools is a political nightmare. Imagine hundreds of impassioned teenagers marching eight miles from their school in East Oakland’s King Estates neighborhood to protest its fate. I don’t need to describe the indignation, the tears, the news trucks and cameras everywhere.

But phasing schools out, one grade at a time? Allowing them to die a slow death, without forcing out any existing students? Families and kids who don’t yet attend a school are much less likely to rally around it.

I have a feeling that’s the wave of the future here in Oakland.

Tonight, the state administrator is set to approve plans to phase out BEST High School, one of two small schools remaining at West Oakland’s McClymonds campus, by 2011, and to close the nearly phased-out only Peralta Creek Middle School (Calvin Simmons) after its last group of eighth-graders is promoted to high school.

Fremont Federation’s Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts has suddenly Continue Reading


A little holiday lead detection

Wondering if the gifts you’ve bought this year are free of lead and other hazardous elements? The Center for Environmental Health is doing free and instant “Safe Santa” tests in Oakland and Berkeley this week and next.

If you’re at all curious about what their handy “x-ray fluorescence analyzers” might detect, you can find locations and dates here.

image from karynsig’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons


Our new Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, will be our nation’s next education secretary.

The New York Times says Duncan “represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.”

Catalyst Chicago, which covers education reform in the Windy City, says improvements in the city’s public schools have been modest under Duncan’s leadership. A story published yesterday about Obama’s education pick reports:

Duncan’s oft-stated goal was to create the “best urban school district in the nation.” Yet here, as elsewhere, high schools have made little progress. Continue Reading


An early summer vacation for CA schools?

For many people, under normal circumstances, summer vacation can’t come soon enough.

But if lawmakers don’t work out California’s budget problems in short order, the state could run out of money as soon as February — and some are speculating about the possibility of closing public schools weeks early.

Last week, a reporter from our sister paper in Vallejo reported that California school officials have discussed the possibility of that “doomsday scenario.” In the story, Hilary McLean, the press secretary for State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, confirmed that it had, indeed, been “bandied about.”

You can read the Times-Herald story Continue Reading


Four Oakland schools win Title I awards

Around this time each year, the state education department gives props to schools whose low-income students cleaned up on high stakes tests.  These are high-performing schools with “socioeconomically disadvantaged” populations of at least 40 percent. 


This year’s Oakland winners are: Continue Reading


High stakes multiplication

This morning, 20 of Oakland’s best 8-year-old math students strutted into Lafayette Elementary School’s auditorium to adrenaline music and applause. It sort of felt like that moment before a big boxing match or basketball game, when the competitors enter the arena in their warmups.

Photos by Laura A. Oda/Oakland Tribune

The organizers of OUSD’s first math competition of its kind were careful to say, over and over, that everyone was a winner. All of the kids had already out-multiplied the other third-graders at their schools, so it wasn’t just a platitude. But you could see, in their eyes or in the cross of their fingers, how much they wanted to win it all.

The room fell still as the rules were explained: Erase your last answer. Start the problem. Markers down. Repeat. Continue Reading


Inauguration lessons, anyone?

At a staff meeting yesterday, we discussed possible story ideas for coverage leading up to, and on the day of, the presidential inauguration.

Schools, of course, came up.

I’m sure many Oakland teachers are using this historic event, and the enthusiasm surrounding it, as a teachable moment. Please, fill me in! I’m interested in class (or school) projects, or even just class discussions, related to Barack Obama’s inauguration.

I plan to visit at least one classroom for this story — with a photographer — in January. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com, or call me at (510) 208-6424.

I also welcome you to share your plans, thoughts, and ideas on this forum. Has Obama’s popularity among young people made it easier to interest kids in the political process?

image from seiu_international’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons


Here to stay

Cliff Hong, an assistant principal and new teacher coach at Oakland’s Edna Brewer Middle School, is one of 20 young teachers and administrators from across the country this year to be honored as an Emerging Leader by Phi Delta Kappa International.

In a podcast interview posted on the organization’s Web site, Hong said that he quit law school after one year and went into teaching — first as a Teach for America newbie in the South Bronx, and later as an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Brewer.

“I haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Hong said he fully intends to stay in Oakland Unified for his entire career — eventually as a school principal, but no higher up the chain — and that he encourages new teachers to put down roots as well by emphasizing the impact they can have in an urban school district. Continue Reading


Keeping a close watch on the cash flow

Two words came up at tonight’s school board meeting that might sound uncomfortably familiar to those of you who watched OUSD’s financial house implode in 2002 and 2003: Cash flow.

As I listened to the discussion (and the tone of everyone’s voice), it became clear to me that school officials don’t just have to figure out a way to balance the budget in the face of multimillion-dollar cuts. They need to plan, right now, for the possibility that the state — if unable to resolve its mounting fiscal problems — does not make payments to school districts at some point in the coming months.

“We do need to take a very careful look at the cash flow,” interim superintendent Roberta Mayor said. “If the district runs out of cash, that’s a major, major problem.”

With monthly payouts averaging $38 million, however, it’s not like OUSD can survive on its squirreled-away savings for long. Continue Reading