Kids and teachers, reshuffled

This morning, eight Oakland schools opened with fewer teachers than they had on Friday — and not because of sudden resignations.

There’s a word for the teacher and student reshuffling that happened today: consolidation. It happens when fewer kids enroll at a given school than expected and the school’s budget is in the red. Troy Flint, the district spokesman, said the decision is made centrally, and is done “as a last resort.”

In all, 11 employees were told to pack up their classrooms, and all of their students were sent to other teachers. Last year at this time, five teachers were consolidated. Continue Reading


Tragedy on the way to school

I have some sad news to report today: An 11-year-old girl, Alana Williams, was hit by a car and killed this morning near Frick Middle School in East Oakland.

Alana was in a crosswalk at the busy four-way stop at 64th Avenue and Foothill Boulevard when it happened. The driver fled the scene. Police say the car went around a bus that was stopped along Foothill Boulevard and made a right turn onto 64th Avenue, where the girl was walking. Continue Reading


Kakishiba to resign from Oakland school board

David Kakishiba took even his school board colleagues by surprise tonight with this news: He will step down at the end of the month because of a conflict-of-interest ruling by the district’s new general counsel, Jackie Minor.

Kakishiba is also executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth Center, a local youth development nonprofit that works in the school district. In the past, he abstained from votes involving EBAYC contracts, but apparently, that’s not enough.

“Yesterday I was informed by the general counsel that it was her opinion that my continuing to serve on this board and to work at my organization is a situation that is untenable,” Kakishiba said at tonight’s (well, last night’s) board meeting.

He added, “I believe the general counsel has done her due diligence. Continue Reading


A teenager with a broad worldview

Before this week, I don’t think I’d interviewed anyone quite like Adarsha Shivakumar, who was featured in today’s Trib.

The junior at Oakland’s College Preparatory School started an international organization when he was 13, when he used his spelling bee prize money to buy seeds that convert into biofuel.

I could barely keep pace with his thoughts as he told me about Project Jatropha and its work with poor farmers in southern India, where his parents were born. As soon as I had caught up, he took off again, describing an effort to promote tree-planting at urban elementary schools.  Continue Reading


Ew, what’s that smell in Room 345?

photos courtesy of Katie Noonan, science teacher at Oakland High School

The small one weighed 20 pounds. Hoisting the big one onto a scale was out of the question, so the kids in Katie Noonan’s tenth-grade biology class at Oakland High School skipped that part and went straight to work with their forceps and scissors.

Two Humboldt squids were the source of the excitement — and the smell — coming from Room 345.

The frozen specimens were delivered to Noonan’s classroom through the Squids-4-Kids program, a partnership between Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service in Santa Cruz, CA.

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Oakland’s latest list of “focus schools”

NOTE: OUSD spokesman Troy Flint says that while closure or merger is a possibility for each school, the district is not planning to recommend this outcome for all of the focus schools. Other possibilities include increasing enrollment, support, etc. So, the same as in previous years.

OUSD has released an updated list of schools that have not measured up academically, that have too few students to be financially viable, or both. They’re called “Focus Schools,” but as anyone who’s ever been on the list knows, it really spells the possibility of a merger or closure. Especially now, when the district is looking to cut $27 million from next year’s budget.

The list doesn’t look much different from last year’s, even though the criteria have changed slightly: Continue Reading


A new teacher, against the grind

Dan Adiletta, a new teacher at Explore College Preparatory Middle School in East Oakland, writes about his first weeks on the job. -Katy 

It’s 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and I’m trying to take a stand. There is a growing number of sticky notes crowding my desk that I have been ignoring. They make up the list of things that should have been done already.

During the first marking period I was in a constant state of panic. But I’ve limped through the finish line and learned a lot:

All directions need to be painfully explicit and accompanied by rubrics and examples. Students shouldn’t be allowed to hand in work past a week from when it’s due. The faculty kitchen is off limits to students (whoever took my sandwich, I will find you!).

There are hundreds of other key lessons, but the biggest one of all is Continue Reading


OUSD settles fraud case against law firm

Tribune file photo

The legal dispute between the Oakland school district and the Bryant & Brown law firm is over.

I’m still waiting to hear how much money OUSD paid in legal expenses to pursue this case in federal court. What I do know is that the district won $325,000 from Bryant & Brown. The settlement, which was entered last month, did not include any admission of wrongdoing.


Kids: Want a crash course in astrophysics? Juggling?

photo courtesy of Shuai Chen, co-founder of Splash

If you know a middle or high school student who has a free day this weekend and might be interested in, say, neuroscience, dancing, artificial intelligence, juggling, or painting, keep reading!

More than 100 Stanford University students are playing teacher for the weekend in a marathon learning session on the Palo Alto campus. It’s called Splash, and it runs Saturday and Sunday. The full price is $40 for both days (and $20 for siblings), but the event organizers say that participants who can’t afford the fee can just say so and they don’t have to pay anything.

You can learn more about Splash, and its (literally) 209 course offerings, here. This is the third time students have organized the event, and they expect up to 1,000 kids to participate. Those who haven’t registered online can just show up on Saturday or Sunday.

Can’t make it this weekend? They’re planning another one in April.


School fundraising inequities: Should Oakland follow Portland’s lead?

During a town hall meeting last week at International High School, Superintendent Tony Smith talked about Portland’s efforts to make school-based fundraising more equitable. He said each school could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that anything over that cap was diverted to needier schools.

Well, he was partly right. I just got off the phone with Beryl Morrison, who’s president of the Portland PTA and a board member of the Portland Schools Foundation. Here’s the story:

Portland’s PTAs do not have a cap. But some schools, in addition to a PTA, have established local school foundations — school-based organizations that can legally fund teaching positions (on the district’s payroll). The foundations were established in 1995 by the Portland school board.

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