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More from Tony Smith, Oakland’s new supe

Lillian Mongeau, of UC Berkeley’s Oakland North, sat down with Tony Smith last week and produced this Q & A. She asks the new superintendent about teacher quality, the racial achievement gap, teacher evaluations and the fact that he has never been a classroom teacher.

Do you agree with where he stands on these issues? Did anything strike you about his responses?

If you’re planning to attend tonight’s town hall meeting with Smith at International High School, maybe the interview will spark some follow-up questions.

In other Smith news: Continue Reading

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Kids: Just ONE strawberry each, please!

Mission figs, anyone? Every Tuesday afternoon, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Glenview Elementary School kids crowd a tent with locally grown fruits and vegetables. (These lovely photos from parent Joseph Bansuelo are so last week, but we took some new ones during a visit today.) The PTA started the new produce stand, which is run by volunteers, including Carol Kuelper, a woman from the neighborhood who doesn’t even have kids at the school.

I saw one little boy tear into a red cabbage like an apple (makes for a great photo, but a rather challenging interview), and another buying greens that his mom requested for dinner tonight. He told me that grapes were so sweet — and cheap — that he ate them “for fun.”

About 10 more of these weekly farmers markets are opening at Oakland schools this year, thanks in part to funding from the East Bay Asian Youth Center. What kind of nutritional progress are you seeing at your school (and at your school’s cafeteria)? Are you noticing an improvement? Tell us about it.

Some more of Bansuelo’s photos of Glenview’s stand below: Continue Reading

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Today’s homework: School funding report, Pgs 1-8

Do you know how much of California’s property tax revenue was wiped out after voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978? Or which laws radically changed who controls this major source of revenue? Or how many California school districts have successfully passed a parcel tax?

Even if you consider yourself an expert on school finance, you might learn a thing or two from an short EdSource primer about the twists and turns of school funding in California, and proposals that have been — or might be — floated in response to this budget crisis.

It’s dense, but pretty easy to read, considering the topic. Plus, it’s only eight pages. You can find it here.

Class Discussion: Would you push for a county-level sales tax to benefit school districts in Alameda County? Continue Reading

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Titan Pride

Eugene W. Lau is a senior at Oakland’s Skyline High School. -Katy

Skyline High School recently had a unsuccessful after-school rally. It was a repeat of the previous years where misbehavior left seats bare. Last year, thrown water bottles ended the fun, and this year it was from unwelcome guests making an appearance.

However the bigger problem may not even be a short end to a rally of wide mouth cheerers amidst a crowd of dull, emotionless Skyline students; the problem is with school spirit.

Students get a ride, take a bus, or walk up a hill to a school they feel no real pride for. Continue Reading

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Which of your teachers inspired you the most?

How do teachers inspire powerful learning? A new Web site, Rethink Learning Now, is trying to stimulate debate about this question. It is seeking brief descriptions of effective and influential teachers. Here is my submission. I hope some of you will submit your experiences also and copy your statements here on Katy’s site. -Steven

The teacher who influenced me the most was Josiah Sheilds, my eighth grade American History teacher, whose class I entered 50 years ago this month.

It was not his lectures that I remember, nor his homework assignments or tests. No, what fascinated me were the trials of historical figures he conducted in his class.

Each month students charged and tried an important and controversial person of the time period being studied. Students took the roles of the accused, witnesses, lawyers, and jurors. The student lawyers had the largest roles, researching the time period, preparing opening and closing statements, recruiting and prepping witnesses, and cross-examining the opposition witnesses. Continue Reading

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An unexpected trip

Tonight, I leave the state once again to be with my extended family — a trip I never expected to make. On Saturday, I lost my 15-year-old cousin Daniel, who was a sophomore in high school.

A reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote a touching story about the tragedy and how Daniel’s classmates responded at their homecoming dance, a few hours after he died. Until a few years ago, his family lived in San Francisco. My uncle taught at USF.

I plan to log on when I can, and possibly post some new material. Steve Weinberg has written another thoughtful essay, which will be up in the next day or two. But if I’m slow to respond or moderate a comment between now and Monday, you’ll know why.

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Oakland school board meets at Skyline this week


File photo by Sherry LaVars/Contra Costa Times

If you want to catch tomorrow night’s regular Oakland school board meeting, don’t go to the district’s headquarters at 1025 Second Ave. This time, the board meets at Skyline High School, 12250 Skyline Blvd, starting at 5 p.m. You can find the agenda here.

Oh, and if you have cable or the Internets at home, you can still watch these meetings live without subjecting your back to the ergonomically incorrect chairs in the board room. (Well, only for the meetings held on Second Avenue. You’ll have to head up the hill if you want to watch this week’s session.)

The Web site isn’t the easiest to navigate, but OUSD spokesman Troy Flint tells us how: Continue Reading

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At Westlake, hand-raising and lecturing are out, “learning targets” are in


photo from m_napper’s photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons

This morning, I stopped by one of Oakland’s large, comprehensive middle schools to see what was happening there this year. If you’re not familiar with Westlake, it’s the one across from Whole Foods on Harrison Street, near Lake Merritt. About 600 students go there. Assistant Principal Peter Van Tassell (“VT,” to the kids), an Oakland public schools grad, showed me around.

During passing periods – when Van Tassell wasn’t greeting students by name, rushing stragglers to their next class or telling kids to throw out their gum — we talked about Westlake and about public education in Oakland. (He has some wild stories of OUSD in the 80s, along the lines of what Steve Weinberg described.)

Standardized testing aside, the practice of teaching has also changed quite a bit since either one of us was in school. First off, Westlake teachers are discouraged from lecturing too much and from requiring students to raise their hands before speaking. Continue Reading

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Oakland’s first high school ice hockey team


photo by Ray Chavez/Tribune staff

Last year, I wrote about the 100 Oakland Technical High School kids who woke up extra early, three days a week, to skate at a downtown ice rink for a class started by P.E. teacher Kelley Haskins. (It’s still going strong this year, I’m told.)

Out of that unexpectedly popular class — and generous community support for the program, in the way of equipment grants, expertise and time — a coed hockey team has emerged. I went to the program’s first practice of the season yesterday, a clinic with the Sharks, and talked with players Rachel Potter, Katy Ramos-Thompson, Calvin Washington, Monica Elvin and Kamrin Lewis.

A story about the fledgling team, which will face its first opponent in January, will appear in tomorrow’s paper.

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Oakland high school teacher heads to Capitol Hill

Yumi Matsui, a Life Academy and Bay Area Writing Project teacher, heads to a Congressional briefing Monday to talk about digital storytelling — specifically, about the immigration-focused project she and another teacher led at their East Oakland school, and how the medium helped students become better writers.

Interested? Check out this 7-minute video about the Life Academy project, produced by the Pearson Foundation: