School renamed Barack Obama Academy

Oakland has become one of the first school districts in the country to name a school after President Barack Obama.

Students from the school formerly known as the Alternative Learning Community applauded and hugged each other tonight after the board voted unanimously to allow the alternative middle school to rename itself “Barack Obama Academy.”

The students were candid about the school’s challenges (and in some cases, their own struggles) since it opened in 2007. But they said it had improved under its new principal, Toni McElroy, who started last semester.

“We are some very intelligent students, and our president is too,” one student told the board. “We have worked very hard to change our behavior and attitude. … We will work very hard to show good behavior on Barack Obama’s behalf.”

Another student said he hated telling people where he went to school, because of the “alternative” in its name.

Before the vote, board member David Kakishiba leaned back and asked them, “This is your idea right?”
“Yeah,” they said, in unison.
“Well, you’re about to win.”

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Chauncey

    Tharts Great. Lets taint another great black leaders name with a terrible school. Has anyone seen where a Martin Luther King jr Blvd has not been ghetto?

  • OUSD employee

    katy: you should delete the previous comment from chauncey. are these comments previewed first?

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for asking. I moderate comments for those posting with new screen names or email addresses. Otherwise, they automatically appear.

    I very rarely delete comments, as it’s hard to know where to draw the line (although I sometimes do contact posters off-line). Instead, I rely on other bloggers to respond or rebut opinions they might strongly disagree with or find offensive.

    In other words, have at it!

  • Nextset

    OUSD Employee: Your appeals for censorship are duly noted. It’s about what we’d expect from an “educator”. Silencing of dissent is what the schools are all about nowadays. It must be tough when you leave your artificial world and step into the Brave New World. You see, out here, no one owes you the time of day. You either support your position in free debate, or just give up.

    I too think the Obama naming is a mistake and not a small one.

    In the Brave New World, Affirmative Action is dead and people of all stripes are going to take merciless action to protect themselves because they know the government won’t protect them from much of anything. In the Brave New World, the government is just losing it.

    One of the things I have warned black wanna-be (lawyers, etc) hireds about not doing is decorating their resumes with afrocentric references. Hiring officers see this and discard those candidates, that is unless they are looking for a black hire which in itself is a problem. Is the candidate looking for a black job? If so, wear the Dashiki to the interview.

    The school name, like certain given names (Shinika-nika-nika or whatever) are not valuable currency in the marketplace unless you are after a token spot. And the way the tokens are treated nowadays, you can really do better.

    It goes back to what I said earlier about tribal dress and tribalism in schools. And by the way, the score isn’t in yet on this administration. That name may yet become identified with catastrophe regardless of why.

    I don’t think the students and parents have much input in the naming of the school. But they can run like hell when they finally realize they are in a ghetto school run to cater to ghetto people. Such places do not carry a high rate of payoff.

    And that’s putting it mildly.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Yeah, we should censor anyone with an opposing view to the liberal agenda, since Heir Obama wants it that way. Jeez, you teachers are loopy.

    Thanks Katy for showing restraint and the true American spirit of respecting other opinions.

  • Jose


    I agree with you. Why we name low performing schools after minorties? This school is a joke and the joke is on the students. They don’t even know it.

    This is the same for my people. Just look at most of the schools named after our people.

  • aly

    Nextset: what is curious to me, regardless of its name, is that this school is essentially what you advocate for consistently- a holding ground for kids that are unable or unwilling to get down to business at a comprehensive school.

    so are you opposed to the school itself or just the name? i guess i am mostly asking this due to the “ghetto school to cater to ghetto people” comment.

  • Nextset

    I think the Charters are the wave of the future. By definition they will experiment and innovate. If that includes this name thing, it’s their school, go to it.

    I wouldn’t normally place a student I wanted to get into a profession into a school named after Obama, MLK, etc. That’s if I had choices. I run my life to have choices.

    My thinking (and it’s just MY thinking) is related to what I have posted historically about tribalism and afrocentrism generally. Black children you want to promote do not benefit from afrocentrism. And that is a big understatement. The last thing I need from these kids is them “acting black”, “keeping it real” and every other variant. Nor do I want them thought of as safely “black” (except by adversaries who won’t know what hit them).

    And when I tell Jr & Co that they are taking Chemistry, Biology, Physics, 3 years foreign language, Advanced Math, and the rest of the UC entrance requirements and I’ll have them in summer school every summer during high school I don’t want to hear it about that’s not what (insert name) is doing. Where the Grad-School bound kids are going it’s going to get a lot less black and a lot more jewish. They don’t need to get comfortable. I’d have them in the Golda Meier Academy rather than the Obama Middle School (they can just get used to the competition).

    They can always go to Jack and Jill summer camp for socialization. Love the ribs!!

  • aly

    i appreciate your perspective, and the future part is true, i suppose.

    i continue to struggle with the tribalism/afrocentrism argument. it feels weird that it is more acceptable to have the golda meier academy or the ronald reagan learning center than the barack obama academy or marcus foster simply because those men are black and therefore it promotes afrocentrism.

    if we’re naming schools after important people, have they not contributed or achieved something worth recognizing? if all schools were named after whites, isn’t that just as tribalistic (and freakishly exclusionary)?

  • Oakland Teacher

    Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley is widely respected with good test scores. The school has a mix of race and socio-economics. I have seen schools in other states named after AA leaders which were anything but ghetto; I find the comments insulting the students’ names and their school offensive. Part of the learning process is becoming involved, and hopefully this will help students to realize they can affect change in their world, even if small. Without that belief, people are without hope.

  • http://friendsofdave.org Dave Johnston

    Hey Oakland Teacher. You’re right! From looking at the test scores, MLK Middle School in Berkeley is a great school… if you’re white or Asian. Unfortunately, if you’re African American, Hispanic, socioeconomically disadvantaged or an English learner, not so much. The achievement gap at that school is over 60 percentage points. Sorry to shock you, but it isn’t a great school.

    Actually, I think the name of a school has very little to do with the school’s culture or student academic performance. The school’s culture comes from the teachers and administrators with the cooperation of the students. Academic performance is all about good instruction in the classroom.

  • Nextset

    Oakland Teacher: Of Course you would find anything that interferes with your way offensive. That is your problem. If you don’t know or care how what you are doing affects your students you are a big part of the problem.

    If you care about your charges you will be more interested in the occupational effects of what the schools are doing.

    Employers are screening out afrocentrism in prospects. Those candidates don’t work out – except as tokens. And tokens are not in vogue anymore.

  • Nextset

    Aly: It’s not just the name, it is the behavior that clusters around the names.

    MLK and Obama are not badges of competence. Too Bad, So Sad. Why isn’t the issue. Currently, those who wrap themselves in afrocentrism are seen to have excuses for everything and weak standards of performance and morals. And this is news??

    Maybe things were different in the early 60’s where the first in various fields were either prodigies or strivers.

    Oakland Teacher: your “offended” tone still seems sad. What does you being offended have to do with your duty to the children and families to get the very best for them by your education? Do you not discuss things with them that they may need to know to avoid harm, because the subject annoys you??? (Yes). How many decisions will they make that will (surprisingly) bite them in the rear because you avoided inconvenient truths in the name of political correctness? Are you and teachers like you the reason I see so many young blacks in desperate trouble because unlike the similar aged whites, the blacks hadn’t a clue that actions they took carried terrible consequences?

    Oh, one more thing, Golda Meier was a public school teacher in the US prior to starting her march to power in Israel.

  • harlemmoon

    Folks, folks, let’s get back to what the real discussion ought to center on: a district in great need of complete overhaul.

  • Nextset

    Harlemmoon: I don’t think we are going to have any complete overhaul.

    Improvements will only come by dropping policies that are counterproductive and expanding those that show results. Besides, big changes (such as increasing the graduation requirements) always have big unintended consequences. Steady incremental changes are safer in large systems.

    I do believe that the Charters are going to become stronger in the next 2-4 years, and thereby the public school become weaker. The Charters will pick off the better students leaving OUSD more of the dregs. OUSD might consider trying to out Charter the Charters – create an elite campus using OUSD’s superior real estate, financing and larger block of students to select from.

    If I were the board I’d transfer all the Skyline students out, rename the school (some innocuous name) and open it to district wide attendance by academic scoring only or some other such fast and objective selection mechanism. Implement a mandatory college prep program and bring in the most sought after district teachers. Basically a Lowell High East. Lets see a charter compete with that. With the academic students out of the rest of the high schools, you could begin a transition at those schools to a program suitable to their students which would help cut the drop rate. Some college prep would be taught at Oakland Tech or some centrally located place to allow any students who wanted those courses but not to go to the Academic campus to commute for those classes.

    I would envision doing this with no racial quotas or set asides. Let the chips (and the F’s) fall where they may.

    If OUSD doesn’t do something the Charters will do it for them. Better to get ahead of the parade and lead it.

  • harlemmoon

    No question there, Nextset.
    While I don’t foresee a complete overhaul, I do expect that a district so thoroughly mired in a culture of dysfunction must acknowledge on some level that it must change or render itself irrelevant.
    From the short-sighted vision of the board to the administrators who, at best, are satisfactory, the district is stymied and so clearly unable to create conditions for success.
    Yours is a creative approach that the district should consider. But, again, without true leadership at the helm, yours and the innovative thinking of others on this site (and in very rare cases at the school district) are simply whim.

  • TheTruthHurts

    In this case, the truth does hurt. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t usually matter because there is no attempt to exemplify the character of the namesake. I hope that will be done at Barack Obama Academy. Otherwise we’ll have another MLK Blvd. like all over the nation. Pride in your school is great. It’s even better if there is something to be proud of.

  • sarla charles

    What self centered mean spirited people have been posting! Forget the fact that children are trying to do something positive. Forget the fact that some of them might read these comments. Make sure to tell them how horrible and hopeless they are. None of us have any idea of the impact of having an African American President. Silly them, they just wanted to celebrate this. Open some type of mean spirited blog and continue this sniping. I know Toni McElroy, and I am sure that she could use our energies to help her students, rather than just sniping.

  • S. Granberry

    If you can read this thank a teacher and a Principals with the academic and social vision and dedication to uplifting their communities and the children who live in those communities–personal pride and positive identity–academics will follow and students will achieve. Students of Oakland need eveyone’s support and care. Donate you time and enegy! Again, if you can read this thank a teacher and administrators with vision.

    Don’t hate–congratulate

  • Nextset

    Sarla Charles: Are you a teacher? because if a teacher is so clueless as to how life is, we need you replaced. You don’t get a world where people are trained cats to jump on your command and approve something just because it pleases you.

    If you can’t operate within the bounds of reality you shouldn’t be teaching children. Do you teach them that only positive comments may be aired publicly? Do you teach them to expect and require the approval of all who see them? Do you teach them to get emotional when they don’t get fawning approval from others?

    Or are you just a student who has not been brought up with some kind of objectivity…

    Granberry: That silly remark about “hate” is typical of the type also. I don’t see any hate here, maybe you just hasn’t run into the real thing. And normal people in society don’t congratulate people for nothing just to make them feel better artificially. That is unless you are into stroking egos. I’m not and no one I work with is either.

    And remember, people don’t subscribe to the notion that puffing up children’s self esteem with false praise helps them study better or perform academically. That’s your notion. Falsely inflated self esteem is bad and sets children up for failure, frustration and trouble. This is one of the reason OUSD students have a reputation as not being good hires. They seem to be deficient and don’t even know it. And that is not coming from the parents it’s coming from bad schooling.

  • Pepe

    These are apparently students that have failed elsewhere and, due to their experiences, are very likely to not only feel unsuccessful in school, but to not identify with the goals of our school system. This is one small success that if capitalized on (and if there are talented teachers and administrators) could turn the reality of school right side up for some of these students. Celebrate the success and then concentrate on meeting the academic needs and getting these students to realize their academic potential.

  • Nextset

    I agree that changing the name away from “Alternative” whatever was probably called for (even though that’s exactly what the school is). It does mean something that the students asked for something of a governing board and got what they wanted.

    I think they should save their hugs for something much greater, but that’s just my thought. Take it or leave it.

    Pepe – here is a thought. Have you ever watched drug court? Or the Jerry Springer show?? People applaud or hug each other because someone gets up and says they stopped beating their wife this month or went another week without a drink.

    Well good for them. But I just wouldn’t get these kids into “celebrating” every time the wind blows. They have their health and there is so much more they can find to celebrate. Or there is so much more the school can give them to celebrate if it were being run by the kind of people who ran my K-8th grade school or my high school.

    Maybe I just watched “To Sir With Love” too much?

    And as far as failed elsewhere due to their experiences…. A good school sets out a series of increasingly more difficult tasks that are calculated to be do-able for the student – with effort (and carrots and sticks) – and in so doing builds up confidence. They don’t give it out as door prizes.

  • Pepe


    It actually sounds like we agree on this…

  • audacious

    Hey Nextset,
    Sounds like you are watching too much TV. What do you do for a living anyway? Hope you are not in my kids’ school, Mr. Negativity-no-being-happy-allowed.

  • Nextset

    Audacious: We were very happy in my schools. The difference is that it was when there was something worth being happy about, not some ghetto play happy. Our self esteem came from achievement and competition not something handed out like halloween candy.

    Our schools always seemed to manage to have something in the offing, a field trip, a contest, a big test a project, something to work on and get over. Even in grade school we were handed out ditto-ed calendars to keep and write in deadlines, tests, holidays, assignments and projects. In my public high school there was a 2 week field trip to DC and NYC every year. There were other trips but that was the one I went on. We spend a long time preparing and planning for the thing, it was set a year in advance. If you screwed up you weren’t allowed to go.

    I would never have survived the transition to college without my primary and secondary schools putting us on such terms and enforcing them. By high school they were not in the habit of telling you anything over and over. And there was no false praise. You were expected to do you work well and weren’t praised just for that.

    We were happy enough. These kids are on a narcotic they’re so “happy”. When your schools finish with them they can’t handle any critism or setback.

  • John

    It will be interesting to monitor the reaction of some when years after president Obama leaves office an aircraft carrier or some other super war making ship is named after him, the seeming standard for ripening or decaying ex presidents (e.g., Bush Sr. & Reagan).

    I can hear the war & protest media coverage now, “The USS Obama has just launched its planes and missiles against the Islamic aggressor, meanwhile a major protest against U.S. this military action has erupted at The University of Obama.”

    I can almost envision ex president Obama spinning donuts in his wheel chair or turning over in his grave!

    Regarding the newly named Obama Acadamy: Some may feel a bit conflicted regarding the academy student claim of their school bein “improved under its new principal, Toni McElroy” when it is also academy student claimed that they, “will work very hard to show good behavior on Barack Obama’s behalf.”

    There’s actually nothing to feel conflicted about because this academy’s student success could only be attributable to president Barack Obama, NOT principal Toni McElroy! (a bit too white European sounding) Anyway, this being the case, and I have no reason to believe it isn’t, principal Mc Elroy should be fired and his administrative salary spent in the classrooms!

    In fact, why not just fire the entire OUSD administration (from the superintendent on down) and change the name of the ‘Oakland Unified School District’ to the ‘Obama Yes We Can Unified School District!’

    Think of the administrative cost savings and wind fall resource benefits for all OYWCUSD clasrooms! When, or if, things academically got to sagging a bit (which would never happen) Obama could drop by and give a pep speech.

    The teachers union would be thrilled, at least for awhile.

  • S. Granberry

    Greetings All:

    I’ts obivious most of you a part of the problem and the solution. Like I said earlier “IF YOU CAN READ THIS THANK A TEACHER”.

  • http://bungie.net Justin C

    Well it’s a good thing you are not a teacher with your atrocious punctuation.