New principals and a $1.8m math contract

The Oakland school board is back in business. It holds a special meeting at 5 p.m. this evening with the district’s new superintendent to talk strategic priorities, and it met on Saturday as well.

A couple of things on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, the first regular session since June:

  • A new personnel report, in which I learned: Matthew Duffy, the Elmhurst Community Prep principal I profiled in May, is now a Network Executive Officer; Duffy’s assistant principal, Laura Robell, has become acting principal; Elyata Davis is acting principal of REACH; and Claude Jenkins is acting principal of Youth Empowerment School. (The Skyline High School appointment is conspicuously absent, unless I missed it somehow.)
  • A hefty $1.78 million, one-year contract for Swun Math, a program first piloted at a handful of elementary schools. This year, if the contract is approved, Swun Math will be in place at 35 elementary and 18 middle schools throughout the district. 

Most of the schools using the Swun Math method have seen their test scores rise significantly, according to the charts in this district presentation.

Last year, I observed a Swun lesson in Aijeron Simmons’s class at New Highland Elementary School. It was extremely interactive, structured and high-energy; the kids were really into it. Of course, it was hard to determine how much of that dynamic was created by Simmons — an experienced and passionate math teacher — and how much of it was due to the structure of the Swun program.

Simmons said she liked the Swun method, though she didn’t see it as a magic bullet. She said it essentially teaches only the material that might appear on the state math test, making it almost certain to boost scores. Her kids could crank out operations, she said, but she didn’t know whether they grasped the material on a deeper level.

“That’s the real test of the program: Will these kids pass Algebra in the eighth grade?” she said.

How would you describe your experience (or your child’s experience) with Swun Math? Given its track record on one hand and the district’s tough fiscal situation on the other, is it worth the price?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Ms. J.

    I have not yet used Swun but I have heard from colleagues who have done that it is basically using the same techniques as experienced teachers already know to use. I also know that some of the test scores touted in the district presentation were attained by children in classroom whose teachers had refused to use Swum math, because they were already effective math teachers.
    I will give it a try of course, but my gut feeling is this:
    NO, it is not worth the money. OUSD needs to stop jumping on expensive bandwagon–magic bullets, indeed–and spend money and effort on real teacher evaluation and development.
    How much time in a classroom by mentor teachers, observing other teachers and giving them (us) feedback and goals, could be purchased with that $1.78 million dollars?
    Why do the district leaders trust outside consultants more than the experienced professionals we already have working here?

  • Mr. G


    Can you update us on the meeting? Were there any surprises in terms of new staff? Was the Swun math program approved?

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, I’ll update you during after the meeting, which is tomorrow night.

  • Gordon Danning

    I just got an email from Oakland High’s Network Executive, Alison McDonald, announcing that Alicia Romero has been appointed interim principal of Oakland High

  • Katy Murphy

    The Swun Math contract passed unanimously tonight. A bunch of people in the audience, including some Network Executive Officers, applauded.

    It’s funded out of a Program Improvement pot.

  • Catherine

    Any word on a new principal for Skyline?

  • Katy Murphy

    It still hasn’t been announced. At the board meeting last night, they said the person was in place, but that they were waiting for the process to be finalized before coming out with it. I’ve heard from two people that there has been some sort of bureaucratic hold up.

    I’ll let you know!

  • Hana

    I’ve heard that $25,000 from AARA (Stimulus) funds were taken from each of those schools to pay for Swun program at their school, with no way to opt out of the program. Is that not the case? Is the $455,000 coming from a program improvement pot? Or is the 1.78M in addition the school contributions?

  • Katy Murphy

    Good question. I’ll ask about it. On the agenda, there’s also Title 1 and Title 2a funding listed below the Swun item that I failed to mention earlier.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Good news about Ms. Romero at Oakland High! And best wishes to Mr. Jenkins as he moves on to the Youth Empowerment School. He’ll be missed at O-Hi, but YES surely needs his strong presence.

    Big sigh about all this “interim” stuff, but I’m surely no expert on the inner workings of the district machine. Very grateful, though, to the folks who take on these challenging assignments on interim basis.

    In other news, there are a million or so workmen up on Park and Macarthur today, and several policemen directing traffic through the single remaining lanes surrounding Oakland High. Looks like they’re digging a moat? Hope it’s all resolved before school starts, if not by registration time. (Mr. Danning will remember the sports field fiasco, the year after little or nothing was worked on all summer long…and the football team didn’t get to play one game on their home turf, because returfing it didn’t begin until late August. What’s up with that?)

  • Chris Dobbins

    Hello All,

    The new Skyline Principal was mentioned at the Board Meeting last week, although it was done somewhat inconspicuously. Ms. Bev Hansen, former Principal in the Mt. Diablo School District (and I believe a former Skyline teacher) was appointed by Dr. Smith on an interim basis. There were many Skyline parents, staff, and supporters who worked tirelessly in the process to replace Mr. Sye. The process will continue with Ms. Hansen serving on an interim basis this year.

    As School Board Director (and proud Skyline alum ’90) I look forward to working with her, although students who will be Seniors this fall will have had 4 Principals in 4 years (Hansen this year, Sye last year, Heidi Green for a year and a half, and Brian McKibben for a couple of months their freshman year).

    On another note, at the Teaching and Learning Committee this evening, Chief Academic Officer Brad Stam said that the new 9th Grade House Academy at Skyline was coming along well and would be ready for implementation this fall.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Chris. When the board briefly discussed the selection of an interim principal at Skyline, I was listening closely for a name, and didn’t hear it. So yes, it must have been extremely inconspicuous — that, or I should have my ears checked!

    Are Skyliners happy with the selection?

  • Chris Dobbins

    According to Dr. Smith, the Principal Selection Committee unanimously endorsed his decision. I think everyone just wants some stability at that school and this should be a positive step. Don’t worry about your ears though, you sit through enough board meetings and I am always amazed at how much depth you recall. I played with too many firecrackers as a kid so unfortunately, my ears probably do need to be checked.