Middle school philanthropy

courtesy photo

Here’s a feel-good story for the week: Three seventh-grade girls from Tehiyah Day School, a Jewish school in El Cerrito, spent the last two months collecting children’s books for their bat mitzvah projects. They knocked on neighbors’ doors, scoured garage sales and asked family friends, parents at their school’s bus stop, and people from their respective temples.  

The three girls — Talia Myers and Rose and Gabby Rokeach — collected 1,000 in all, which they delivered to children at Greenleaf (K-3) and Whittier (4-5) elementary schools in East Oakland. The books were for the kids to keep.

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Oakland school board president steps down

Alice Spearman, Oakland’s new school board president, won’t hold that title for much longer.

Spearman just called me up to say she was about to resign her presidency, a post she has held for just four months. She said she came to this decision on her own, and that no one else pressured her to do so. She will remain on the school board.

“I just don’t think I was effective,” she said. “My management style is just different than most.” Continue Reading


A closer look at Oakland’s small schools reform

photo by Laura A. Oda/Oakland Tribune

It took two years of reporting (and a healthy amount of procrastination) to polish off a retrospective piece on Oakland’s small schools movement. Well, here you have it.

There are three related stories in Wednesday’s Tribune: An analysis of the ins and outs, ups and downs of the effort; a short profile on Elmhurst Community Prep and its principal, a small schools convert; and another short(ish) piece about the schools and the people who haven’t fared so well in this whole experiment. Continue Reading


Another OUSD veteran who would be chief

Denise Saddler, a former Chabot Elementary School principal who now supervises elementary schools in North and West Oakland, tells me that the rumors are true: She, too, is vying for the Oakland superintendency.

Like Michael Moore Sr., Saddler is an Oakland native with a long history with the school district, beginning as a teacher in 1979 (She attended the Anna Head School for Girls, which is now Head-Royce, for 12 years).

While chatting with her briefly today, I learned that she was the teachers union president between 1986 and 1992 Continue Reading


Oakland schools may have avoided flu vacation

Last week, as schools from San Francisco to New York were closing temporarily to avoid the spread of the H1N1 virus, I kept waiting for the swine scare to hit Oakland.

So far, it hasn’t happened. And today, the CDC says it’s no longer recommending school closures in response to the virus — just for schools and families to be vigilant about sending sick kids home. Continue Reading


How big is OUSD’s stimulus check?

CORRECTION: I just realized that I completely misread this spreadsheet, which doesn’t even include an estimate for special education (One of the columns lists Title I money that districts will already receive from the state). So the total will be about $28 million, not $37 million!

About $37 million $28 million so far, according to latest numbers from the California Department of Education.

The breakdown? $22.3 $14.6 million in Title I funds, and $13 million for special education.  A previous estimate had OUSD receiving $17.6 in Title I, and $13 million for special education. Continue Reading


Yes, their hats are in the ring

At a closed session special meeting tomorrow night, the Oakland school board receives a short list of semifinalists from Ray and Associates, Inc., the firm hired to help with the district’s superintendent search. The rumor mill is churning, of course, and I’m working to confirm some of the names I’ve been hearing again and again…

For now, I present you with two would-be leaders of the Oakland Unified School District: Michael Moore Sr. and Hae-Sin Thomas. They won’t know until tomorrow night whether they are among the candidates that the school board and its advisory committee will interview. Continue Reading


Private college loans: Let the borrower beware

Gretchen Morgenson, a business reporter for The New York Times, warns high school seniors applying for private college loans (which sometimes fill the gap between federal loans and college tuition and other costs) to read the fine print before settling on a lender.

Morgenson’s story, published today, mentions a Web site, Student Lending Analytics, that allows consumers to scrutinize various lenders — their fees (openly disclosed or not), the ins and outs of their interest rates and other policies that might catch a college grad off-guard, years later. She writes:

As with all borrowing, making the right decision on a student loan is paramount. But lenders make this harder than it should be.

The top three private lenders are Sallie Mae, which underwrote $6.3 billion in loans during 2008; Citibank, with $1.8 billion in loans last year; and Chase, which made $1.1 billion in loans during 2007.

But disclosures on various lending practices differ vastly. Continue Reading


Whose “fair share” is OUSD’s huge debt?

Everyone knows that the Oakland school district has a big old state debt to pay, to the tune of $6 million per year. Depending on how you crunch the numbers, that comes down to about $150 per student.

All of Oakland’s regular district schools pay such a fee — and, in fact, so do about nine of the city’s 32 charter schools as part of an extended lease agreement with OUSD, said Douglas MacLean, communications director for Assembly member Sandre Swanson

Swanson — who has tried to check Oakland’s charter school growth in the past –authored a bill, AB 980, that would require all charter schools in Oakland and other state-run districts to cough up what he calls “their fair share” of the loan repayment. Continue Reading