Oakland’s newest California Distinguished School

It’s been a good year for everyone at the Oakland School for the Arts, the charter school that Jerry Brown built. First, they move out of a parking lot and into a fancy new building. Now, the California Department of Education is honoring their school as “distinguished.”

photo by Laura A. Oda/Oakland Tribune

In all, the state education department bestowed this award upon 261 middle and high schools (about 11 percent of the 2,400 in California). OSA was the only Oakland winner this year.

The winning schools met test score requirements and — in a new twist — demonstrated something called a “signature practice,” or something special that they do that can be replicated elsewhere.

You can see the full list of middle and high school awardees here.

Katy Murphy

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

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    OSA vs. OUSD (2007-08 CDE figures)

    Participants in Free or Reduced Price Lunch: 32% vs. 64%
    English Learners: 0% vs. 30%
    Enrollment of students w/disabilities: 3% vs. 10%
    Parent Education Level: 3.62 vs. 2.34

    (1 = Not a high school graduate, 2 = High school graduate, 3 = Some college, 4 = College graduate, 5 = Graduate school)

    BTW, as a comparison, Montera Middle School’s PEL was 3.37. Their school wide API was 794.

    The 2008 Growth API Report for OSA currently reads, “2008 Growth API is not reported for this school because CDE is currently reviewing the 2008 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) and California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) results. CDE will either publish the API for this school or provide a specific reason for invalidating the API when the investigation is complete.”

    Some charter schools don’t even need a current API to get their glory point awarded.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    And speaking of school budgets, take a look at the budget for Oakland School for the Arts. Eat your heart out, you 285 students at the chronically neglected and possibly-soon-to-be-terminated Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts on the Fremont campus. Oh right, that’s just a regular public school.


    OSA 2002 990
    Government contributions (This would be the state funding) $1,029,898
    Direct public support (other philanthropic contributions, gifts, grants) $1,025,787
    Indirect public support $10,580
    Total revenue $2,066,265
    Program services (what is actually spent on students) $1,235,136
    Enrollment for 2002-03 = 102 students
    Est. per pupil spending = $12,109

    OSA 2003 990
    Government contributions $1,343,076
    Direct public support $1,088,851
    Total revenue $2,431,927
    Program services $1,523,606
    Enrollment for 2003-04 = 176
    Est. per pupil spending = $8657

    OSA 2004 990
    Government contributions $2,403,048
    Direct public support $1,432,148
    Total revenue $3,835,196
    Program services $2,878,492
    Enrollment for 2004-05 = 272
    Est. per pupil spending = $10,583

    OSA 2005 990
    Government contributions $935,200
    Direct public support $1,032,828
    Total revenue $1,968,028
    Program services $3,427,778.
    Enrollment for 2005-06 = 421
    Est. per pupil spending = $8142

    OSA 2006 990
    Government contributions $2,853,929
    Direct public support $10,978,807
    Total revenue $13,832,736
    Program services $3,968,772
    Enrollment for 2006-07 = 285
    Est. per pupil spending = $13,926

    I’m aware that this is a broad brush, but it gives the general idea.

    Robeson’s demographics are quite different from OSA’s (see my posting above)
    Participants in Free or Reduced Price Lunch: 66%
    English Learners: 21%
    Enrollment of students w/disabilities: 8%
    Parent Education Level: 2.19

    The intro to the California School Recognition Program states: “In California, there currently exists an “achievement gap” among student subgroups that threatens their future and the future of California. Access to high-quality educational experiences should be the right of every student in California and it is the responsibility of the schools, districts, county offices of education, and the California Department of Education (CDE) to work together toward that end. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has made closing the achievement gap his top priority and strongly believes that making schools work for all students, regardless of their background, condition, or circumstances, is an imperative for a strong education system and a strong California.”

    There seems to be a problem with your thinking, Jack.

    Charter school supporters like to say that competition will make schools improve, but with million dollar donations from charter school supporters to OSA, what chance will a school like Robeson have? I hope someone lets us know how Robeson’s budget compares.

  • Chris G

    Well— tell Robeson to compete for the dough! OSA is as connected as OUSD with a new faciltiy, and Jerry Brown support.

    But considering the demographic at OSA- they should be a blue ribbon , not a distinguished school!

    Those that are scare of competiton though- you will be run over in the coming year. Education has been messed up by liberals and ex hippies- now you must deal with the future of reform.

    God Luck Sharon- You aint got a chance

  • Harold

    What is so “good” at OSA? A “hip” website doesn’t mean you have a ‘blue ribbon’ program. Ever heard their Jazz Band? mediocre at best … the Orchestra, please … maybe in time they’ll sound better, but really – after 7+ years, students studying from 7-5pm daily, the product should be much better. I don’t know much about the other Arts there, but they need to figure out what they’re doing. Thankfully, we have great Performing Arts programs at at least 10 OUSD schools: O-High, Skyline, Tech, Brewer, Westlake, Bret Harte, Roosevelt, Montera, Claremont and Elmhurst.

    Skyline just had a fabulous production of ‘West side Story’. Actors, Dancers, Singers and award-winning young musicians!

    I hope the -musicians- who are enrolled currently at OSA, get some direction.

    I welcome any parent looking for a good Music program to stick with OUSD.

  • Andre

    Yes! Great comments! If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s students succeeding! Boo recognition. Down with achievement. Why even try!?

    – KBLX twice in a row http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNIM8iQ9gTU&feature=related
    – great to hear that West Side Story was a success. It doesn’t have to be a competition. Great performances can come from all around.

    Way to go OSA!

  • Small Town Kid

    Sharon – good point on the budget for OSA. So the best thing to do is to get some more funding (i.e., private money) for Robeson, don’t you think?

    Harold – I know Brewer and Skyline have good music programs…I don’t know about the others, but I’ll take your word for it. But isn’t OSA an OUSD charter school, just as the other schools are OUSD non-charter schools?

  • Rose

    As an actual OSA student i think its unfair to criticize the current school and administration based on the past figures. None of the current students or administration were around in the first three years of the school. Its been a difficult process to get the school o where it is now and although OSA isn’t perfect, its still an amazing place for young artists to foster their talents.

    And Harold, we do have academic classes. Its not like we ONLY do arts. Art classes go from 1:20-4:15. If you think you think so poorly of our music program in, I’m interested to know where you heard them perform and why you thought they were so subpar.

  • Harold

    Andre — good for those kids! But R&B is not Jazz. My comment was about Jazz Music. I’m not trying to bring the kids down … i’m just commenting on the direction of the Jazz program and instrumental music at OSA.

    I wish them all good luck.

    My problem is that a strong majority of posters on this blog are anti-OUSD. The charter school movement (with Obama in the lead) are very negative toward our traditional schools. That competition is unneccessary, right?

  • Jim Mordecai

    Charter schools are competing with public schools. Yet, both sides of the question on whether charter law is a good idea end up being put in the position of putting down and questioning the successes of each others’schools because of the competition.

    The social scientists call this type of competition a zero sum game and since both sides are advocating and competing for the same resources indeed one gains at the expense of the other.

    How would it make sense for opponents of charter schools to keep quiet and not point out that when OSA wins recognition for its school in terms of high scores that OSA is a school that is atypical of OUSD schools in terms of its population and resources. If nothing is said the message supporters of charter schools will spread is that charter schools are superior to public schools and OSA proves it.

    Remaining silent is to provide only part of the story. Providing the context for the award is not disrespectful of the students being recognized but calling for caution in making too much of the award. The same would apply for an award given to a public schools that recognized outstanding accomplishments of students but implied that public schools were superior to charter schools.

    I find the competitive aspect of charter schools clearly does harm. But, those that support charters it is the price that many are willing to pay. Other supporters just turn a blind eye and pretend that creating charters comes at no cost to the existing public schools.

    Jim Mordecai

  • http://www.oakarts.org Soma Mei Sheng Frazier

    Hi there – I’ve been following the thread and wanted to clarify that we actually had the 3% figure is not actually representative of the disabled student population at OSA. However, that is representative of the number of students with physical disabilities (rather than learning/behavioral issues) whom we serve.

    In addition, the majority of OSA’s students reside in urban Oakland neighborhoods, and the free/reduced lunch number is derived from the number of families who choose to self-identify as low-income so that their students can receive free/discounted school lunches. Most of our students prefer food from home, or–as we are located in Downtown Oakland–from regional restaurants, like Mr. Pizza! The school may have a big budget and a fancy home, but most of OSA’s families, frankly, do not.

    Our students are not “creamed” from the public school system at large. In fact, they’re admitted completely grade-blind. Report cards are not considered in the audition process – and our student population reflects the diversity of Oakland at large. OSA’s 2008-2009 ethnic composition is 43% African American, 3% Asian American, 12% Caucasian American, 7% Hispanic/Latino, 25% Multiracial, 10% Other/Declined to State.

    During their years at OSA, students complete a rigorous academic curriculum while focusing on one of the following arts emphases: Dance, Instrumental Music, Vocal Music, Literary Arts, Theater, Visual Arts or Arts Management.

    To retain their artistic privileges, OSA students must meet high academic standards. For example: an instrumentalist who does not maintain an adequate GPA may no longer play in OSA concerts, even if he is the bassist in a jazz quartet. This creates an enormous impetus to study hard, and builds a sense of accountability toward one’s peers.

    I appreciate the fact that so many parents and community leaders (like those represented in this blog) are concerned about Oakland’s youth. Charter schools are certainly no panacea for all of the socioeconomic issues that affect our shared East Bay community; but I think that, if you will take the time to stop by our school and visit us, you’ll agree that we are just one more school that’s working our hardest to serve the talented youth of Oakland and beyond. Rather than detracting from our students’ hard-earned success, I hope that you’ll congratulate them when you see them on BART or out in the streets. They, more than any OSA teacher or administrator, have worked diligently to receive any honors that come their way.

    Our doors are open, and I would love to see you stop by.

    Soma Mei Sheng Frazier
    (OSA Literary Arts teacher and administrator)

  • http://www.oakarts.org Soma Mei Sheng Frazier

    PS – Sorry about the typo in my first line, above. (Thought I’d deleted “we actually had!”)

    A gorgeous Friday to all!

  • Mary

    Everyone can say whatever they want but I moved my daughter from a San Ramon “blue ribbon” school to OSA and I do not regret it. I feel the teachers and administrators at OSA are deeply commmitted to these kids and I did not see that at the “blue ribbon” school in San Ramon and was left wondering many times WHY they had the President’s Seal of Excellence. Also, for the FIRST time in her academic journey my daughter is getting A’s and B’s because of the motivation to keeping up her GPA in order to perform. Granted OSA has a few more kinks to work out, but they’re a very young school and in time they will be blue ribbon for sure. I feel extremely blessed that my daughter is able to attend.

  • the truth

    I think OSA has advantages over both charter and district schools. For one, they have the connection of Jerry Brown. He helped secure the
    Builiding and restoration of the Fox Theater. Compare this building to that of other charters
    Who perform much better but occupy church basements.

    Another aspect which is bordering illegal is that OSA screens its applicants. They must perforem
    And submit “portfolios” before being accepted. My neighbor did not get in because his performance
    Or was it due to his IEP?

    I like charters but this is an advantage for OSA.

  • http://jeanswatercolors.blogspot.com Jean Womack

    Children who perform on stage in the performing arts must have special training, because they are always being scrutinized by the public. They have to have a very strong sense of self-worth. A child who does not want their picture taken, who hides from the camera or does not enjoy being on stage being stared at by strangers, is not going to do well in performing arts. So it is wise to screen the students, lest some reluctant child is forced into the spotlight by an overeager stage momma. Perhaps that camera-shy child will excell in some other field of fine arts or some other field of study entirely, where he or she will be much happier. It’s not just a matter of “getting in.” It’s once that child gets in, then what? Misery and inability to keep up with other students who have been on stage all their lives? Or a happy high school student doing what they believe they were born to do?

  • Andre

    OSA has been the Fox Theatre for all of two months folks. The achievement in terms of academic success began in the windowless basement not of a church but of the Alice Arts Center followed by four years in portables in the rain. A lot of wet copies to be sure. These kids did not need a fancy building to earn this. I hope other successful charters can also find better buildings. OSA’s former neighbor, BayTech, did. Again, doesn’t have to be a competition.

    Regarding funding, I would simply point out that much of that is due to largely having two faculties, one for arts and one for academics. It is not the reason for academic success, except indirectly by students being highly invested in their arts and wanting to maintain a certain GPA in order to be eligible to perform (the “signature practice” that CDE noted).

    Regarding IEPS: there are many. 504s, lots. Full time resource person: yes. Students audition in the arts, but there is obviously no academic “screening”. OSA would not have a charter were it to do so.

  • KB

    Seems to me that the earlier posters have an ax to grind about the whole concept of charter schools. As I understand, the main arguments against charter schools are the siphoning of funding from regular public schools, potential lack of accountability, and lack of union representation for teachers. Those could be fair and reasonable arguments, but instead of fleshing them out, the charter detractors choose to take ill-informed pot-shots at an institution they seem to know very little about.

    Personally, I’d like to see a comparison of district per pupil spending for district schools vs. charter school. As I understand, charter schools get a portion of the per pupil allotment, leaving the remainder with the sponsoring district. If I’m wrong on that, please clarify.

    I would love to see a well-reasoned argument about how charter schools negatively affect public education even with conflicting evidence such as successful programs like OSA.

    And to echo what Andre said, the admission process at OSA is totally grade blind and we have no idea who has an IEP or 504 going in. The best thing for a student who who was not admitted the first time is to talk to the evaluating instructors to get an idea of how she/he could improve for the next audition. In some programs, many students who were on the bubble have come back a second time and been admitted.

    The biggest difference I see in charter schools vs. public schools is that parents take an active role in CHOOSING to send their children to a charter school. Any time you have increased parental involvement, the probability that the parents are paying more attention to their kids’ academic progress is also increased. I don’t mean to sound harsh or judgmental, but there are a lot of OUSD parents who choose schools based on proximity and availability of free afterschool childcare. Schools cannot raise children; only parents can.

  • ex ousd staff

    to Jean Womack –
    The great majority of careers in performing arts are NOT on stage! There is a place for everyone in the performing arts, whether they are at OSA, Skyline or Tech.(Hope I didn’t leave anyone out – those are the schools I know of that have flourishing theater programs) Off the top of my head, here is a a list of a few “off-stage” performing arts careers, many of which have counterparts in high school theater. None of these jobs require the student to possess a desperate need to stand in the spotlight, just a desire to part of a team working on complex, demanding projects over a period of months with numerous opportunities for problem solving in a collaborative environment.
    Music Arranger
    Technical director
    Costume designer
    Scenic designer
    Lighting designer
    Stage manager
    House manager
    Running crew
    Audio engineer
    Scenic artist
    Make up artist
    Hair stylist
    Business manager

  • KB

    Most of the careers listed in the above post are covered in OSA’s Arts Management program, while other “behind the scenes” artistic functions are also included in the Literary Arts, Visual Arts, Vocal Music, Dance, and Instrumental Music programs. In truth, many OSA graduates choose not to pursue careers as performers, but the vast majority of them DO go on to college or other post-secondary programs. Producing the next generation of celebrity artists is not the goal. Rather, we are striving to support the learning and growth of the next generation of great people.