Dispatches from Washington

Evonne Morici, a teacher at Skyline High School, took a group of about 13 kids to Washington, D.C. this week.  I asked if she and the students could tell us about their experiences. Here’s what has come in so far. -Katy

One of the most amusing moments on the Mall today was when I overheard a high school girl from Washington, D.C. commenting on the reason Vice President Cheney was in a wheelchair. Apparently, he threw out his back while putting on boxers. Later, when I incredulously repeated the tale, my classmates corrected me. He threw out his back while carrying boxes! — Elaina Wi, 10th grade, Skyline High School

Attending the 44th presidential inauguration today was inspirational. My school and I had an early wake-up and headed off to the Capitol, about 35 miles away from the hotel we’re staying at. The streets were all congested by spectators heading to the Mall, where mega screens were erected to display the inaugural events live.

We wove in and out of the sea of people to get as close to a screen as possible, which proved highly difficult and tiring. The crowd didn’t want to move from their positions, taller folks were blocking the views of the shorter folks, and people that left to the restrooms on the perimeter of the park couldn’t make their way back to where they were.

Everyone was there for the same reason — to celebrate in the wake of the next president of America — but our sentiments were suppressed by the freezing temperature and lack of space until Obama and Biden made their appearance. I managed to separate from my group for the latter half of our six hour stint to join an enthusiastic crowd beneath one of the screens. I was bothered by the cold and prolonged standing period, the neck pain generated from looking up at the unclear pixelated screen.

However, when Obama took his stand Continue Reading


What Oakland kids are saying about Obama

Last week, I interviewed a number of elementary and high school students about Barack Obama. I recorded some of their responses to questions about various topics, from Obama’s racial identity (and whether that matters to them) to their hopes for his presidency.

You can read the story and find the short podcasts here. Feel free to add your own thoughts.

images by Laura A. Oda/Tribune staff


Claremont Middle School’s $8,000 locks

Last year, a group of Claremont Middle School’s super-parents raised money for a digital media lab so that kids could learn professional video editing and animation software. They lent a good amount of creativity and elbow grease to the project, devoting weekend days before the start of school.

photo courtesy of Mike Mages

Mike Mages, one of the dads who spearheaded the project, was there when the lab opened this fall. And last month, he came running to the scene after a major break-in. Mages said thieves ripped off four of the school’s 20 new iMacs, a projector and a 52-inch LCD display just before winter break.

The thing that really bothers Mages, though, is that the theft might have been prevented. He said school administrators had requested deadbolts months before the burglary, and that they never came — well, at least until after the damage had been done. Continue Reading


Where should OUSD look to cut?

Oakland school officials say they will likely have to cut $12.5 million this school year and another $29.6 million for 2009-10 — under the governor’s January budget proposal.

Yes, our fine state is now apparently $41.7 billion in the hole and just weeks away from a cash flow crisis.

The school district’s grim summary last night included the following “suggested actions,” among others: to reduce energy costs, impose a central office hiring freeze, freeze out-of-state travel, cut back on employee overtime, scrutinize contracts paid from the general purpose fund, and reduce the amount of money given to schools.

Thoughts? Continue Reading


OPD’s days on school campuses are numbered

Come fall, officers from the Oakland Police Department will no longer be providing security at the city’s public middle and high schools.

I’m at the OUSD school board meeting now, and interim superintendent Roberta Mayor has told the audience that the district will discontinue its $1 million annual contract with OPD to save money. (It still has about $29 million in cuts to go, based on Arnold’s latest budget proposal.)

I caught Mayor during a break and asked for a few more details. Continue Reading


Math raps: the next edu-fad?

Who says music is disappearing from public schools? Well maybe it is, but at least Alex Kajitani’s middle school kids in Escondido, Calif. are learning to bust a rhyme in math class.

Kajitani, who developed “The Rappin’-Mathematician” curriculum, is in the running for National Teacher of the Year.

Here’s the inner-city-school-turnaround story behind it, as told on his Web site:

Alex Kajitani was a struggling new teacher at a tough, inner-city school in San Diego. As the students came in each day unable to remember simple math concepts from the day before, yet singing every word to the new rap song on the radio, he realized he needed a new approach. Fed up with the students coming in rapping lyrics about violence, drug use, and mistreating women, he began to perform rap songs about the math he was teaching. Continue Reading


Racketeering in OUSD?

I admit it: The more I learn about the Bryant & Brown law firm controversy, the more confused I become.

As I reported in today’s Trib, the Oakland school district filed a federal lawuit against the small Oakland law firm (pictured here), alleging racketeering, fraud, theft of public funds — you name it.

What I didn’t realize until recently was that Deb Cooksey — who led the Bryant & Brown investigation for OUSD until she resigned (her last day was Friday) — was once a close friend of Meredith Brown and Guy Bryant. Continue Reading


On the agenda: superintendent search firm

On Wednesday, the Oakland school board might pick search firm Ray and Associates  from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to help find a permanent leader for the Oakland school district.

The firm does searches across the country and, as one might expect, hasn’t batted 1,000. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal about a new hire in 2007 that quit three days before starting her job:

The Iowa search firm hired by the Kentucky Board of Education to produce a list of candidates should have vetted Erwin more closely and targeted problems more quickly, the critics argue.

And they say board members failed to do their job, Continue Reading


Adult illiteracy

Nearly one in five adult Alameda County residents can’t understand simple, written English, according to a new estimate released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

But the state’s adult English literacy rate is even worse. California ranks 51st — last in the nation, behind the other 49 states and the District of Columbia — with 23 percent of the adult population unable to glean information from brochures, newspapers or other sources of information.

In 1992, it ranked 33rd. The recent study is based on data collected in 2003.

Neil Gonzales, a fellow education reporter who writes for the San Mateo County Times,  wrote this story about the report. He notes the obvious immigration factor:

In general, states with large immigrant populations had the most residents who were unable to read and understand information from such sources as newspapers and brochures or could grasp only short, commonplace language, the study indicates.

Well, at least the test scores of Oakland’s English learners improved this year. A program at one elementary school even brings in parents and teaches them to read. In Oakland Adult & Career Education, “mobile ESL,” an adult education teacher goes to the homes of OUSD parents.

One teacher recently wrote me about Oakland’s adult literacy programs, saying that in some cases, the older students need to learn how to hold a pencil: Continue Reading