Claremont’s band — here to stay?

photo by Aric Crabb/Staff

The award-winning music program at Oakland’s Claremont Middle School is a big source of pride; the band started up a few years ago with only eight students, and its ranks quickly swelled to over 100. I wrote about this success story last year.

That’s why some families were dismayed to see “music exploration” printed on their child’s class schedule last week, instead of band or orchestra. Some said they were told at orientation that band would be part of the after-school program from now on, instead of a class, but no one seemed to know what “music exploration” was. The Oakland teachers union got involved.

“Clearly, this is not going to stand,” said Betty Olson-Jones, the union president.

The 400-student middle school is undergoing some big changes this year: a new principal, Kenya Crockett, a new bell schedule, and  “houses,” or groupings of students within each grade-level.

So why mess with something that’s working?

The school’s leadership has apparently decided not to, according to a memo given out at Monday night’s PTA meeting that says band will continue to be a part of the school-day program:

Claremont Middle School


PTA Executive Board Meeting


House structure:

Claremont Middle School moved into the current “House” structure in an effort to best equitably serve each and every CMS student. The “House” structure allows students to receive instruction from teachers which the State of California has recognized as “Highly Qualified” in each academic period of the day. This structure also allows space for cross curricular instruction to occur more easily and supports rigorous data to be exchanged by all “House” teachers. Through the “House” system we will be able readily utilize EDUSOFT and run multiple Cycles of Inquiry throughout school year.


Claremont Middle School will offer BAND and ORCHESTRA, during the regular school day throughout this entire school year.


Claremont Middle School will offer LUNCH one period per day, everyday. This change was made in an effort to better provide consistent supervision by Claremont staff members. Through cutting down on the number of lunches, our schedule now allows for more staff and Claremont administration to directly provide supervision and a adult presence during the lunch period.


The Claremont Middle School administration is currently seeking to bring on a computer animation teacher. …

Katy Murphy

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

  • OUSD parent and educator

    Sadly, all these radical changes are coming after a year in which Claremont had significant gains in student performance – in both English and Math, students made double-digit gains. Teachers had been working towards this for years – with support of the last principal, and a lot of parent involvement. I don’t understand the reasoning behind “change everything,” when much of what was happening was working. And the new leadership is brand new to the role of principal – never done it before, so what’s the thinking here?

    And ALL STUDENTS eating lunch at the same time? My child won’t be in that cafeteria with 400 other students. How could this possibly be supervised when teachers are guaranteed a 30 minute duty-free lunch? That just seems like a recipe for disaster.

    Band was not destroyed because the band teacher is vocal and active and got parents and the union involved. There’s a lot that’s being taken apart at Claremont (including the visual art program – that teacher just quit) and it’s really too bad aftr the progress the school had in the last two years.

  • seenitbefore

    make sure you read the fine print on this one……. are the band and orchestra classes being offered THIS year… the same levels and numbers of band and orchestra classes which were offered last year?

  • harold


    Renae Briggs is one the most-talented and hardworking Teachers in the OUSD.

  • ex oakland staff

    There is no device known to man that could measure the amount of blood, sweat and tears Ms. Briggs has put into this program. No good deed goes unpunished in the OUSD!

  • Public School Fan

    I fully agree that Ms. Briggs is one of the hardest working teachers/mentors I’ve ever met. She has high expectations for her band students. She expects them to work hard and focus and value that work. She helps the band kids forge their own identities — different than what most of their backgrounds might otherwise indicate. In a district in which we (particularly on this blog) decry the continued acceptance of mediocrity in the schools, Ms. Briggs refuses to settle for less than the best efforts from her kids. She holds the kids to a higher standard and, boy, do they perform! She truly is a beacon and one for which the school and OUSD should be thanking their lucky stars and trying to pattern other programs at other schools after hers. Not trying to get rid of it!

  • teacher

    Ms. Briggs runs an amazing program that is the source of pride for over 100 students at Claremont Middle School. She is an innovative and creative teacher that OUSD and Claremont are lucky to have. This creativity is what we need as Claremont forges ahead to create safe, inventive and rigorous opportunities for ALL students. The band serves only those students that are performing at basic, proficient or advanced on state tests. Those students that are not performing at these levels are in intervention classes rather than electives.
    This program that is a source of pride for our school actually is not serving the students that need it the most. Hopefully with Ms. Briggs creativity and determination that many of the responders speak of, we can truly make this a program that helps, engages and ignites passion in ALL students for the coming years. Currently, people are up in arms about a program that is not serving the entire Claremont population, rather just the chosen few. Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the rigor and engagement in the core classes? Electives are an important piece, but cannot run a school.

  • harold

    that’s ridiculous.

    music is just as important as “core” classes.

    you want the whole school to take music classes? hire three more credentialed Music Teachers.

    … and why your at it – come to a school board meeting and demand a full music program (with credentialed Teachers) at every OUSD site.

  • Teacher with facts

    “Teacher” is INCORRECT is addressing which students have been allowed to participate in the band, orchestra or other electives at Claremont recently. There are no elite “chosen few” students. Over 25% of all Claremont students are band or orchestra members. Your insinuation that band, or any other elective was not serving the entire school is false, misleading and insulting to the Claremont community overall.

    All Claremont students have been afforded equal access to art, AVID, spanish (when they had it), band, orchestra or some form of an elective through the previously existing “B” period PE program which had been in place for 3 years. Beginning LAST YEAR, an innovative new day schedule of electives was also introduced which allowed an even greater number of students to participate in electives during the regular school day. This programming decision was created by a committee of parents, teachers, local arts educators and the PREVIOUS administration. It was specifically implemented to address students who needed to take an additional strategic class during the day, but still wanted to participate in the music program, or any other elective such as art, leadership, AVID, computer animation or a variety of other offerings.

    The committee met numerous times on saturdays during the summer of 2008 and was particularly moved by the comments of a struggling 8th grade student NEW to Claremont who had never had an elective his entire middle school experience. “Only smart kids are allowed to get electives”, he stated. The principal resolved to remedy this built-in scheduling obstacle and to allow almost all students the opportunity to participate in electives during the 2008-09 school year.

    The results of having MORE students participate in electives last year? Claremont’s CST Test Scores rose 15 points in math and 10 points in language arts.

    People are “up in arms” because the school has finally begun to make progress and yet new leadership is imposing drastic changes which are contrary to what the data clearly indicates. And, they are doing so without involving the teachers, parents or the community. This has resulted in the elimination of “B” period PE, AVID, 5 separate band and orchestra classes, leadership, dance, computer animation and the resignation of the art teacher. Those electives are being replaced by mandatory “study skills” classes for all students regardless of their test scores or grades, longer math periods for all (which was already TRIED at Claremont with DISMAL results 2-3 years ago) and the substitution of a one semester general music class randomly assigned to students instead of the previous variety of full year instrumental music options tailored to meet the needs of interested students with varying experience levels.

    Change can be a good thing. But simply changing for the sake of change when the data indicates otherwise and the constituents do not agree makes no sense whatsoever. We should be more concerned about educating the total child and preparing him/her to be well rounded with success in all areas including academics, the arts, technology and physical education.






  • facts

    “Teacher”, check your facts about how many students are being served by the band and orchestra program at Claremont.

    *confirmed instrumental musicians slated to attend Claremont MS who expressed intent to join or to continue playing in one of the five band or orchestra class levels.

    These numbers can easily be verified by checking the class enrollment records for 2004-09 and confirming the actual 2009-10 enrollment intent.

    There was a station at registration Aug 18-20 for students/families to confirm their desire to participate in band or orchestra for the coming school year. And there were an awful lot of signatures on the sheets from what I saw.

    How does almost 47% of the school population equate to “the chosen few”???

  • OUSD parent and educator

    “Teacher’s” comments are not about numbers, but about which students are taking band. So “Facts” – you present numbers, but which students are those? Aren’t they the ones who don’t need an extra/intervention English or Math class? The kids who need intervention are those who score FBB/BB. Look at the demographics of the kids in band. Especially advanced band. Do they reflect the demographics of the whole school? The school is about 75% African American. Now how many, but how equitable in terms of access and opportunity for all kids.

  • Parenteacher

    This is all good dialog and all seem to agree that the music program at Claremont is a success and very necessary to our children’s growth and well being. Our child is going into his 3rd year there and I am very dissapointed at the direction the school has taken. The new after school programs are seemingly shallow in their scope (rather like summer camp activities) and the media lab that was formed (by parent volunteers) to teach digital arts have had to fight to get their popular classes reinstated. The district is clearly not listening to the involved parents and volunteers that make things happen at this school!-Hats off to Renee Briggs- she was a fighter last year especially with all her hardships-and now she has to deal with a seemingly unsympathetic Beuracratic OUSD.

  • Carol McClellan

    It seems unfair for our kids who worked so hard in band and orchestra, and have made some great accomplishments. Don’t take that away. Renae Briggs always goes the extra mile, demanding excellence and leadership all for the benefit of our kids, the students that they are. Their music making has an inspirational effect on the greater community – at assemblies, graduation ceremonies, and on the street in the neighborhood. Be bright. Be bold. Reach higher heights!

  • Kathy Rieves

    I am the PTA President of Claremont Middle School and I am appalled at what I am reading. First of all the band was NEVER going to be removed. The student assignment desk did not have the names of the students who were supposed to be in band until after registration. You cannot put students into a class if no one knows they are supposed to be in it. Until the district received the list of students, they put in music exploratory just to save the space. Now – this school has been run down and in it’s 5th year of program improvement. The district restructured this school and now they have houses. The band, as much as I love it and my daughter is in it, will NOT get you into the special program at Tech nor will it get you into a great college. You can get an “A” in band and flunk everything else and what will it get you? Many changes have occurred at Claremont for the BETTER. Parents either get with the program or not. We are not forcing you to do anything. This is about the children and THEIR EDUCATION. Not only is band/orchestra there but also animation, 3D modeling and even more after school classes then they ever had. Look at Edna Brewer and other schools that have one lunch period for everyone. It works. If you think there is not enough help, then volunteer and come down here and work.

  • Kathy Rieves

    Katy – Instead of getting information second hand, I would like to invite you to Claremont to meet the new Principal and Asst. Principal. Both Ms. Crockett and Mr. Taylor are well educated and very informative and ready for this task. The Nexo and others from the district have complete confidence in both of them and are standing behind them. I also invite you to our first PTA meeting on September 28th.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for the invite, Kathy! I’d love to meet them.

  • Parenteacher

    Hi Kathy- Thanks for the reply- Most of us parents have been kept in the dark about the changes at Claremont -and It is always a surprise to us when school starts- but as for your statement: “The band, as much as I love it and my daughter is in it, will NOT get you into the special program at Tech nor will it get you into a great college. You can get an “A” in band and flunk everything else and what will it get you? “- is a side of thinking that really irks me. I am aware that all the children need to excel at the “core” classes to move ahead and succeed further on down the line academically- but Music-Art_ Creativity in general is what makes school bearable for most these kids- They are “turned on” by the creative process and rightfully so!!- Creativity is at the core of our excellence and it should be nurtured at all costs. Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. This is why I am alarmed when I hear about arts and music programs cut in schools. But apparently they have not been cut at Claremont.

  • Former PS Technology Teacher

    I am not surprised, as a former computer technology teacher at Lowe… Middle School in West Oakland during the late 90’s and early part of the millennium, it was the same situation after the school showed promise and gains, then came “change”! Now the school doesn’t even exist anymore. Replaced by a charter school; Kip., A… Well, I look at Claremont as another school in the Oakland Unified flux. Why collect the data if it’s not going to be use for the promised targets we have set for our kid’s growth.

    I am a product of the S.F., Unified School District during the 50’s, 60 ‘s and 70’s. The educational scope was about the whole student, not just the core student. I remember electives being plentiful, e.g., I took advantage of music, various shops, and dance classes. Also, I started playing sports at the middle level, e.g., B-Ball and Track. I have lived in Oakland for last 19 years; I understand S.F.’s PS’s are parallel to Oakland.

    Because for some reason $, $$$, 000, our kids in the urban schools don’t have the same public educational/electives opportunities as the suburban districts. Because someone thinks it all about the 3 R’s. I not saying let not offer rigor, but, if we continue to bore our children to deaf with the current pedagogical practices and not pay attention to the data, we’ll continue to see the dropout rate rise along with the crime rate. Music is great, but there are other electives to be included in the offering. Bring back the available Voc-Ed., and ROP program $, $$$, 000’s, to pay for the elective teachers. Whatever happened to our Academy programs and School-To-Career division?

  • Teacher with facts

    Just to clarify….. the following statements are absolutely untrue:

    1. “First of all the band was NEVER going to be removed.”

    Fact: The new Principal stated in public (before being selected as Principal) to a group of Claremont parents and teachers at an SSC meeting that art and music should not be taking up space in the school day, but should be moved into the after school program where we could then hire NON -CREDENTIALED teachers at a much lower rate. Her exact words were “You people think this is a private school”.

    2. “The student assignment desk did not have the names of the students who were supposed to be in band until after registration. You cannot put students into a class if no one knows they are supposed to be in it.”

    Fact: The band and orchestra teacher, Ms. Briggs, submitted a list of student names for all incoming 6th, 7th and 8th graders who expressed interest in being in the 2009-10 music program at Claremont and the suggested placement for each student to the new Principal on July 26th, 2009.

    Ms. Briggs has had the same recruiting procedure for the past 4 years. She asks current students to complete a survey at the end of each school year to see who will be in the band or orchestra the following year. She also gets the list of all incoming 6th graders from the district, adds them to her database and speaks to each elementary school music teacher about all of their students who are slated to attend Claremont. She notes what instrument each student plays, whether they can read music and any other pertinent information the elementary teacher recalls. Over the summer, she then contacts the family of each instrumental music student by phone or email to confirm that the student is indeed interested in continuing to play an instrument and sees that they are placed correctly. She THEN shows up at registration and again confirms that each student is still interested in being a part of the music program. This year was no different except that Ms. Briggs was not invited to work WITH the administration or the district in finalizing the master schedule of the placement of students this year. She has voluntarily assisted with many hours of scheduling students over the past 4 years to insure balanced and diverse classes. She offered to assist again this year several times at public meetings when the issue of scheduling came up. However, this year when she offered to volunteer, she was specifically told that she would not be allowed to participate in any scheduling of students.

    3. “Until the district received the list of students, they put in music exploratory just to save the space.”

    Fact: On August 8th, 2009 Ms. Briggs was informed that Claremont would only be offering “Music Exploration” during the day and was asked if she wanted to teach 1 period of band in the after school program. Ms. Briggs is a full-time, NCLB highly qualified, credentialed teacher with over 22 years of teaching experience and as such, declined to teach after school for 1 hour per day at $23 per hour.

    Despite the drama… Yes, there WILL be band and orchestra during the school day at Claremont MIddle School this year. Thanks in large part to the efforts of this blog, the OEA (teacher’s union) and the many parents and community members who were outraged at the thought of dismantling the award winning Claremont music program. But be wary of what you hear about “the confusion” surrounding this whole incident. The fictional spin that is being put on WHY students were not scheduled into band or orchestra is interesting. And the manipulation of people who do NOT have the true facts by people in authority at the district who know the truth demonstrates what the true intent was all along.

  • Jubilee Hardwick

    Ms. Briggs,

    You may not remember me or ever read this, but you’re awesome. The way you talked and acted reminded me of my band director from my middle school, Ms. Nicole Poulin.

    I was your host at Miplitas High for Music in the Parks and I had great joy in helping you out.

    Hopefully next year I will get to host with you again!

    Also, keep on fighting for music! From the replies here, I can see that you are a very capable director.


  • recentparent

    It is so funny to read this 4 years later and Claremont is in a similar situation. Except that the Ms. Briggs that the people write about here, my child, nor I have never seen. Last year, she described herself not as a music teacher, but as a teacher. Most of us agreed with the first part of this statement. She was so much more focused on doing scheduling, that she did not care about her class. She left the class to adults that would stand outside. There were classes during the first 10 days that did not have any supervision. It was horrible. She is a terrible organizer. She could not give dates in a timely manner – and when she was feeble, she blamed the kids for not focusing enough. She was horrible. We did not think it could get worse. Then this year she basically held our students in a musical hostage situation. She went on disability, which I totally understand, but it very much felt like she scheduled her time off so that she did not have to be at the school. She did not provide information to the administration. She left the entire community in an impossible situation. She did not act like a teacher or a human that cared about the kids. I really hope she will never return to Claremont or to any classroom where she can negatively affect the lives of children. And, in truth, I truly hope that karma is real. I have never felt so much disgust for one person. If I saw Ms. Briggs in the street, it would take all the effort and good taste that I could muster not to spit in her path. I understand that teaching is a tough profession, but there is no excuse for Ms. Briggs.