Homecoming at Oakland Tech

Lillian Mongeau and Becky Palstrom from Oakland North, a UC Berkeley School of Journalism blog, captured a quintessential slice of high school life in an audio slideshow about the Oakland Technical High School homecoming game (and the basic rules of football). Mongeau took the photos, and Palstrom interviewed the students and collected the audio.

I was highly entertained. You can find the slideshow here.


A celebratory dunk

Photo of Benjamin Schmookler courtesy of Howard Ruffner

Benjamin Schmookler, principal of Media Academy — a small school on East Oakland’s Fremont Federation campus — agreed to be dunked today during a celebration of the school’s improved test scores. Media Academy’s state test scores went up by 79 points to 600 (on a scale of 200 to 1,000), the biggest gain seen in all of the district’s high schools this year.


Oakland’s new Tonys and the city-schools divide

At an Oakland school board meeting last night, while Jody London spoke of the need to strengthen ties with the city, it was announced that the new schools chief, Tony Smith, would join the city’s even newer police chief, Anthony Batts, and Mayor Dellums at a town hall meeting Monday night at Prescott school in West Oakland.

Given the number of shootings — fatal and non-fatal — that Oakland public schoolchildren have suffered since August, and the tragic death of 11-year-old Alana Williams, who was struck by a car Oct. 16 while she was in a crosswalk right by her school, it seemed like a good start.

Smith speaks often about the need for everyone to come together to solve Oakland’s seemingly intractable problems, including the perils facing children and families in some neighborhoods. So who better to work with — at least, outside of the district — than Batts?

Maybe that will eventually come to pass.  Continue Reading


Sports4Kids spat raises larger questions: What is “necessary” for schools, and who gets to say?

Sports4Kids at Manzanita Community School/Tribune file photo

From a lively, uh, discussion tonight between Oakland school board member Alice Spearman and Chief Academic Officer Brad Stam about Sports4Kids (now Playworks) emerged the beginnings of a philosophical debate about what is “necessary” for Oakland schools in the context of severe and ongoing budget cuts.

Earlier in the evening, the board had discussed the superintendent’s proposed priorities — a set of goals that will theoretically help the board and staff know where to cut $27 million-plus from next year’s budget.

Spearman had also singled out, from a long list of vendors, a few Sports4Kids contracts with individual schools. What she didn’t realize was that in June, before the school district emerged (mostly) from state control, State Administrator Vince Matthews approved a $727,500 master contract with the organization, which runs games and activities at 25 elementary schools in the mornings, after school and at recess.

According to Cindy Wilson, Playworks’ communications director, the organization charges each school a flat fee of $23,500. Since the number of participating Oakland schools went from 40 to 25 this year, Playworks will receive $587,500, less than the total amount allowed under the master contract.

(Side note: An old Sports4Kids Web page lists Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith Continue Reading


Smith: the $27m cut is only the beginning

Very soon, the Oakland school district’s superintendent and board will have to figure out where to cut $27 million from a $250 million pot of general purpose funds.

But the challenge won’t stop there, Superintendent Tony Smith said last night. Smith said he expected the district will have to cut $80 to $100 million in the next three or four years as the state budget crisis continues.

“This is not about holding our breath. This is not simply about doing business as usual, and feeling like we can get through this and hang on,” Smith said. He added, “In these conditions you can either turn away from each other, hold on tight to what you have and defend it, or we can figure out how to work together and be a community.”

Smith made those remarks at a special board meeting last night in which CFO Vernon Hal walked the school board members (and interested members of the public) through the district’s complex budget. I wasn’t able to make it in person, but I watched the video. Here are some highlights: Continue Reading


An up-close look at OUSD spending

Ed Report readers, here’s your chance to earn some *EXTRA CREDIT*: 1) Pretend you’re an Oakland school board member. 2) Take a look at these slides, which break down how OUSD spends its money. 3) Tell us where you think the district should cut back. The latest budget cut projection I’ve heard is $28 million.

I have to say, this is by far the most detailed analysis of department-by-department spending I’ve seen in the three years I’ve covered OUSD. Continue Reading


Oakland schools chief lays out priorities

“Mandatory extended student learning” (after school, Saturdays and during the summer), improved working conditions and support for teachers, college prep courses for all students, and violence reduction efforts are among the proposed strategic priorities outlined in this document, which will be discussed at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

The 5 p.m. meeting will be held in the multipurpose room at Chabot Elementary School in North Oakland, 6686 Chabot Road (off College Avenue in Rockridge), instead of at the usual spot. 

Also on the agenda is the timeline for budget cuts and potential school closures. Three other big issues the board will address in the near future are: Continue Reading


The dismantling of California’s adult ed system

Photo by Dan Honda/Contra Costa Times

If you look around, you’ll see adult education coming apart, piece by piece. That was the message teachers, students and administrators gave state politicians this morning at a forum in Richmond.

Not only were adult ed programs cut by 22 percent this year, but this spring, the state Legislature gave school districts the go-ahead to spend the money as they wished.

Faced with huge budget shortfalls, districts have been doing just that. According to a new survey taken by the California Council for Adult Education, 85 percent of Bay Area school districts have used at least some adult ed money to balance their 2009-10 books.

Alameda and Contra Costa counties alone are serving 15,000 fewer students this fall as a result of all of these cutbacks, according to the council. Continue Reading


A tax for Oakland teachers: Take 2?

Tribune file photo by Laura A. Oda

Ever since a parcel tax for Oakland teachers fell flat without the support of the local teachers union, a committee has been meeting to try again, this time with a broader support base. There’s been talk of placing a tax measure on the June 2010 ballot.

And once again, talks about ways to boost teacher salaries in the midst of ongoing state budget cuts — and tense contract negotiations — have run right into a teachers union sticking point: whether any of the money raised by local property taxes should go to the city’s 30-some independently run, non-unionionized, public charter schools.

No way, the union says, even if most of the money would go to its own members. Continue Reading


West Oakland’s empty classroom seats

Here’s a sobering statistic: Of the 2,890-plus Oakland Unified students who live in West Oakland, 1,270 attend schools in other parts of the city, according to school district data.

That’s 44 percent, and it doesn’t count children who go to public charter schools or private schools — or to Berkeley Unified, for that matter.

What to do? A new group of city, school and county officials and community leaders has formed to revitalize public schools in West Oakland during a time of ongoing budget cuts ($27 million out of next year’s OUSD budget).

The group is called the West Oakland Brain Trust, and it was convened this fall by school board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, who represents District 3.

Some of OUSD’s top dogs came to its Tuesday morning meeting. Superintendent Tony Smith Continue Reading