Advice from a millionaire rapper, convicted felon

Grammy-winning rapper T.I. visited West Oakland’s Cole Middle School today to speak about the importance of education and smart choices (and to perform some of his 1,500 court-ordered hours of community service following a plea agreement in a federal weapons case).

image of T.I. at Cole Middle School by D. Ross Cameron/Tribune staff

T.I.’s advice included catchy one-liners like “School is an investment that will get you paid later on,” “Trust me, there’s nothing sexy about being 32 years old and staying with your mama,” “You can be smart and still be cool,” “Being stupid don’t make you a gangster,” and “Not thinking, being stupid, can kill you.”

For the most part, the kids seemed to be soaking up every word. Some looked positively transfixed by the star power in their midst. Maybe they came away inspired by T.I.’s message of hard work and staying out of trouble.

I wonder, though, how the impact of the rapper’s words stacks up against his life story, in the kids’ minds. They are well aware of the fact that T.I. is rich and famous — even though he dropped out of school in ninth grade, and even though his rap sheet includes 32 arrests, by his count. Continue Reading


Jemison: More women and minorities needed in the sciences

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, a physician and former astronaut, was the first African-American woman to travel in space. She is in town this week for a conference on science education, designed to urge industry leaders to do their part to bring more women and minorities into the science and technology fields, and I asked if she would write a piece for us. Here it is. -Katy

I travel a lot.

In my travels, I get to meet lots of people from all walks of life. Many of them ask me when I first got interested in science.

The truth is, I can’t remember when I wasn’t.

Like most kids, I was born curious about the world. As children, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s what — like the fuzz between the couch cushions, asking our parents why the sky is blue and being both fascinated and frightened by thunder and lightning.

Growing up and deciding to become an astronaut wasn’t hard. But finding people who looked like me – female and African-American as images to assure and guide me – that was difficult.

Today, much has changed yet much remains the same. Yes, we’ve elected our first African-American president, something of which we should all be proud, but as a country we haven’t done a very good job of bringing women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans into Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) fields … and today, we need them more than ever.

While these groups make up roughly two-thirds of our nation’s workforce, they represent only one-quarter of the STEM workforce. That has to change. Why? Continue Reading


The ratings are in. Could the state be on its way out?

I’ve got some news for you on this otherwise quiet Monday: The latest progress report by the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team clears the way for the Oakland school board to reclaim all of its authority.

Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, ultimately decides how long his department will keep a presence in Oakland. His spokeswoman told me today that it was premature to say what he’ll do.

Is the board ready? If the power transfer does take place, what do you want to see from your elected officials?


The only high school marching band in town

For years I’ve wanted to see what the Oakland Holiday Parade was all about, and on Saturday I rode my bike downtown to take a look. Earlier in the week, I had interviewed the Skyline High School drum majors and the band president, and so of course I needed to see — and hear — the group in person.

Photo of Skyline High School band by Ray Chavez/Tribune Staff

The story was in Sunday’s paper, but has only just now been posted online. You can read it here.

What other Oakland schools working to build up their music programs?


The real value of art programs

Something that amazes me everyday when I walk into my sixth-period ceramics class is that every student already has their work out and is extremely attentive. In many other P (as opposed to AP or honors) classes that I have taken, including other art classes, the attendance rate is much lower and the students “mess around” much more often.

There is something about the ceramics program specifically that captivates the students at Skyline. In fact my counselor told me at the beginning of the year, when I was fixing all my classes, that 1,000 students requested to take the class (almost half the school). Furthermore, the majority of the students in the class manage turn out extremely creative and unique pieces of work. Continue Reading


Fighting truancy, one phone call at a time

This call for truancy-busting volunteers has been circulating online. Has OUSD appealed for clerical help in the past?



Your help is greatly needed to stem the tide of truancy in Oakland.
Our beleaguered school clerks are often responsible for attendance as
well as performing many other duties with constant interruptions.
Because of that, calls to parents to follow up on absences are often
not made.

If you have a daytime hour or two a week, you could help a school
clerk make those calls to parents. Volunteers will be trained and
assigned to a convenient school. Continue Reading


Crisis averted, again

It’s a good thing that a case manager at Oakland Community Day School took seriously a 14-year-old student’s threats to her life and others yesterday. Shortly thereafter, police went to the student’s house and found seven loaded weapons in an unlocked cabinet near his bedroom. Seven! The boy was arrested.

Here’s a letter that Community Day School Principal Sam Pasarow sent to families, assuring them of the safety of their children and giving credit to staff for responding quickly (Like most of the alternative schools, Community Day does have an extensive search process, but still).

But that wasn’t the only weapons-related incident to shake Oakland schools yesterday. Another 14-year-old boy, who had been expelled from Madison Middle School, showed up to the campus and pointed a fake gun at two kids participating in an after-school program. The kids, of course, thought it was a real firearm. Continue Reading


First the furor, then the silence

Tim White, left, showed Interim Superintendent Roberta Mayor around the district in July, when she first arrived in Oakland. About three months later, Mayor apparently asked White to resign, before changing her mind. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO by Alison Yin

Not long ago, Oakland Unified’s assistant superintendent and facilities director Tim White thought he was out of a job.

According to White, an internal investigation into legal, construction-related contracts with the Bryant & Brown law firm initially concluded that he had entered into those agreements without the approval of the board or the state administrator, and he was asked to resign.

But White said that as soon as he showed Interim Superintendent Roberta Mayor the board minutes (which are posted online, for public access) that showed otherwise, the pressure suddenly lifted.

About two weeks ago, White said, he got a letter from the district saying that he failed to catch $20,000 in duplicate billing by the law firm, but that was it.

Now, he said, it’s almost like nothing ever happened. Except that it did. Continue Reading


Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise!

Dallas Lane is not a Skyline High School student, or a teacher for that matter. But she is certainly abreast of the high school’s internal communications. In fact, she can’t escape them.

Lane and her husband live close to Skyline, work from home, and they say they hear every single word blasted from the school’s frequently utilized PA system.

“I’ve heard it early in the morning, at 7 — Beep! And then an announcement,” Lane said at a neighborhood association meeting tonight. “Somebody’s got their hand on that little button,” she added. “It’s too loud, and it’s used excessively.”

Skyline’s new principal, Al Sye, Continue Reading