This morning I headed up the hill to Oakland’s Montclair Elementary School on a research mission.
It started with a story pitch about the PTA’s annual fundraiser, the Metrathon, and the school’s tied-for-first-place API score of 957. I don’t normally cover fundraisers — don’t get any ideas! — but after I hung up the phone, I decided to see for myself how the work of a powerhouse parent group can manifest itself at a school.
Let’s start with the front stoop. A large planter overflowing with greenery. Step inside, and you see a bulletin board with photos of families at the Back-to-School Coffee, the New Parent Party, and Play Dates in the Park. Next on the wall are a list of fee-based before and after school language courses: Mandarin, Italian and Spanish.
Turn right, and there’s a library. On a rug at the center of the room, children listen as the school librarian reads a Pueblo Indian story, “Arrow to the Sun.” (The sponge-painted, blue sky and clouds mural above the bookshelves looks like the one at West Oakland’s Lafayette Elementary School; that one was painted by the principal, Karen Haynes, herself.)
Thanks to parent fundraising, Principal Nancy Bloom said as we left the library, Montclair has a librarian, a computer teacher, an art teacher, a vocal music teacher, a yard supervisor and a paid salad bar coordinator, as well as an occupational therapist to work with kindergartners on their fine motor skills.
Without various forms of parent involvement, from grant-writing to Dads Club elbow grease, the yard wouldn’t have a a new play structure, a native garden with Manzanita trees and tree stump benches, a Friendship Garden, or artfully remade wine barrels planted with geraniums and mums. And the children wouldn’t have a United Nations Day, organized by the school’s Families of Color United for Success group.
The staff benefit from parents’ efforts, too. This morning, bagels, orzo salad, sun-dried tomatoes and other breakfast and lunch foods were spread, potluck style, over a green linen tablecloth in the faculty break room. The first Friday of every month is Staff Appreciation Day.
I’ve seen the parent imprint at countless Oakland schools, across socioeconomic lines. I remember Kimi Kean, principal of ACORN Woodland in East Oakland, telling me that her parent-leaders interview prospective staff members and advocate for their children’s instructional needs, particularly those of English learners. And when I interviewed Caroline Yee back in 2008 about the success of Chinatown’s Lincoln Elementary, she told me that parents did their part by sending their kids to school on time, with their homework completed.
Still, it makes me think about the level of state funding for schools, and how it’s left to parents — or savvy principals — to find the money for things that most people consider essential, such as art and music education, and a fully functioning school library. What about schools that don’t have the parent volunteer base or community support to fill in the widening gaps caused by the state economic crisis? Are they simply expected to do without?
An Oakland public school mom remarked yesterday that there were so many social networks and organizations out there, working in their own little spheres, and that she wished they could “pull together” more to help all of the city’s schools.
What would that look like? Does Oakland need to start its own city-wide education foundation? School board member Jody London told me about an education foundation in Mill Valley that funds art and music programs throughout the district — and lets individual schools do the rest. Do you think that model would work in Oakland?
Tell us about the kinds of parent involvement you see at your schools — and/or a specific project that could really use some extra help (financial or otherwise).