Innovation in OUSD, despite OUSD

photo by Ray Chavez/Tribune staff

Joaquin Alvarado, one of the Claremont Middle School parents who managed to convert a run-of-the-mill computer room into a high-tech media lab — and a basic word processing class into a 3-D animation elective — doesn’t have much love for the school district’s central office.

In an interview this week, Alvarado said Second Avenue had been more of a hindrance than a help. For one thing, because of a new board policy introduced in the middle of the semester, the people contracted to teach Claremont’s animation class (and many other contractors, for that matter) weren’t getting paid. The PTA had to cut these teachers a check so that they wouldn’t up and leave, as others did. It’s supposedly been fixed.

OK, so central office bureaucracy is hardly a new story line. But what about that staff presentation about turning Claremont into a “school of choice for North Oakland families?” Wouldn’t this new media focus potentially further that goal? Continue Reading


A play about “all of Oakland,” written by teenagers

photo by D. Ross Cameron/Tribune

I stopped by Oakland Technical High School this week to interview its advanced drama students/playwrights about a play they perform tomorrow and Friday nights. It’s called “Oakland Inside Out: Portrait of a City,” and it’s a series of monologues based on dozens of interviews the actors recorded with Oaklanders.

There’s a story about it in today’s Trib, which has the particulars about the shows. Here is the official postcard, although it might be hard to read: Continue Reading


Deja Vu: The same school closes twice

file photo of Paul Robeson’s 2008 commencement

Fremont Federation’s Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts will likely have only a few more commencement ceremonies like the one pictured above. On page 33 of tomorrow night’s agenda, you’ll find a staff recommendation to close the East Oakland high school — the very same school that the state administrator already approved for a gradual phase-out, last month.

What happened? A possible Brown Act violation. The district might not have properly publicized Robeson’s phase-out in December, so it’s on the agenda once again. (State Administrator Vince Matthews compared it to Obama’s oath of office re-do, saying it was done “out of an abundance of caution.”) Continue Reading


New budget cut details

A central office hiring freeze, closure of the OTAP truancy center, cuts to special education and to schools, and fewer academic coaches are among the ways OUSD’s staff proposes to shrink the district’s general purpose spending by about $29 million in 2009-10.

To put that in perspective, the district’s general purpose budget — also known as “unrestricted” money, meaning it can be spent on any school program — is currently $230 million. You can read the 29-page presentation here.

Continue Reading


Your dress can go to prom

photo courtesy of The Princess Project

I must have at least five bridesmaids dresses hanging in my closet. I wore one for a Halloween costume last year. Mostly, though, they’re just taking up space.

I tell you this because I wish I had known about The Princess Project, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, which collects drycleaned formal gowns and cocktail dresses (“fashionable” ones, so I’m not sure if any of mine qualify anymore) for girls to wear to the prom. 

If you’re a frequent bridesmaid, socialite, or gala-goer, you can leave your dresses and accessories between Feb. 8 and 14 at these East Bay stores: Continue Reading


Some light TV for your Saturday

As most of you know, the Oakland school district, like others throughout California, faces some painful financial decisions. Some of its programs and services — and who knows what else — could shrivel up or disappear altogether.

Thirty million dollars is not a small amount of change, and that’s what district officials think they’ll have to cut from next year’s budget.

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, the board meets all day in its regular spot to hear various proposals. I won’t be there in person, but I’ll try to catch some of it on TV.

KDOL (Channel 27) is airing it live, for those of you rare Bay Area types who actually have television sets and cable.  Continue Reading


Skyline trip, Part 3: Memorable mishaps

Skyline High School students have been blogging about their visit to Washington, D.C. Read more of their stories below. -Katy

Here is photo of my classmates totally exhausted from the day of the Inauguration.

Today we visited downtown Colonial Williamsburg and the Jamestown colony. Both were really awesome and at the end of the day we took a “Ghost tour” at night Williamsburg. A few people were unnerved by the ghost stories but all in all, it was a really cool experience. Liam Barr, sophomore

Elaina Wi: Confused Child or International Hotel Threat??

We had just arrived at the Best Western Hotel in Williamsburg and I really had to use the loo. Unfortunately, my fellow traveler Elaina had to go too. Out of the goodness of my heart I let her go first. As I was anxiously waiting to relieve myself she came out and exclaimed, “I broke the toilet.” It was true. Within about two minutes of being in our hotel room she had somehow incapacitated the flushing mechanism. Continue Reading


Oakland’s teacher turnover problem

Did you know that 55 percent of new teachers hired by the Oakland school district are out the door within three years? (Nationally the rate is pretty high, too, with half of new teachers quitting within five years.)

Here is a spreadsheet listing the teacher attrition rates, by school, during the 2007-08 year. I sorted them from highest to lowest. Some are phenomenally high.

Wonder why people leave? OUSD did. They surveyed teachers to rate the level of frustration associated with various aspects of their jobs, from central office responsiveness to parent support.

Teachers also shared the factors that might compel them to stay put: less of an after-hours workload; more preparation time, and better communication and response from the central office.

Students, you’re up there too. If you want your teacher to stick around Continue Reading


When test prep gets creepy

Think test prep is intense at your school? Here’s one for you:

An elementary school principal in Palm Beach County, Fla., plans to hold a mock funeral next month to prepare kids for the state writing tests.

She has assigned a teacher to deliver a eulogy, and will have the kids list common mistakes and drop them into an open coffin, according to the reporter, “so they will avoid digging their own graves at test time.”

You can read the full South Florida Sun-Sentinel story here.

Have teachers or principals here taken any similarly creative approaches to boosting those test scores?

image from Bolshakov’s photo stream on flickr.com/creativecommons


“Today our classroom was the National Mall…”

Jacki Barron, Akela Franklin-Baker, Grace Countryman, and Sydney Paderna, sophomores at Skyline High School, wrote or contributed to the below blog posts about their experience today in Washington.

photo by Chuck Kennedy/MCT

Today our classroom was the National Mall in Washington D.C., and we had millions of classmates. Our classroom originally bonded over our mutual contempt for “The Dumpster Bunnies.” Namely, the two selfish morons who thought they were more important than the hundreds of patriots whose view of events their big heads were blocking. We united in chant: “Off the dumpster!” Some classmates attempted to negotiate, while others suggested more violent measures. Thankfully, the potentially calamitous moment was tempered by the crowd’s overwhelming feeling of goodwill. Nevertheless, we were worried lest these barbarians wouldn’t move in time for the ceremony. Our teacher assured us that they would move. Our classmates rejoiced when the “class clowns” finally fell into the dumpsters. Our jubilation has not yet abated. This has truly been a momentous day.

One thing that I will never forget. Continue Reading