A slice of life, from a middle school kitchen

cooking class at Melrose Leadership AcademyI love to hear (or read) the stories teachers tell about their kids, especially funny ones. Gehry Oatey, a middle school teacher at Oakland’s Melrose Leadership Academy and a blogger for Teacher, Revised, does not disappoint in his latest blog post, “Keepin’ it real in the kitchen with middleschoolers.”

Imagine you are 12 years old. Your body is starting to do new and fascinating things like grow facial hair, smell, and change its voice. Your emotions are bouncing off the walls regularly and perhaps there is no other time in your life when what you put into your body is of greater significance. Continue Reading


Smith’s budget cuts proposal, dissected

Some highlights from the Oakland school board discussion on Superintendent Tony Smith’s proposal for cutting $39 million from the general purpose budget. Note: District staff will bring back a report, later, on the “restricted” side of the budget, as well as the impact of the proposed cuts on individual school budgets.

Tony Smith: “This is ongoing work and getting clear on what are our priorities … We’re going to keep working on this… Just to be clear, we will keep working on this until we come to board for the vote (in June).”

Jumoke Hinton Hodge: “I want to support the direction that this is going in. … Let’s keep going down this road, but I feel comfortable and safe on this particular path.”

David Kakishiba: “Upkeep of the facilities has always been the number one complaint we receive as school board members…. I need some degree of confidence that we’re not going in the toilet around our facilities.” Continue Reading


“You have to do the best with what you’ve got”

It was pretty darn somber in the board room a few minutes ago as CFO Vernon Hal gave his presentation on the impact of the $39 million budget cut.

The updated slides posted on tonight’s agenda (Page 4) give even more detail about how the pain will be shared and felt, from reduced mental health services and fewer school security officers to slower response time for facilities problems. The district is developing an online time card, for example, because there just won’t be enough people in the payroll department to handle the processing. Seasonal tree pruning? No more.

(Note: The proposal would eliminate most outside contracts for professional development.)

At least Hal is optimistic. “At the end of the day, we have to be fiscally responsible and accountable,” he said. “You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got. … We are smart people who can come together and get it done because we have to.”

I should have mentioned this earlier, but I’ve been writing Twitter updates from the meeting (from my cell phone, since OUSD blocks social networking Web sites). You can read them, even if you don’t have a Twitter account, at http://twitter.com/katymurphy.


Call it shovel-ready

downtown complex drawing
image courtesy of Oakland Unified

After years of promises and let-downs, it’s about to happen: The construction of an actual schoolhouse for La Escuelita Elementary, which is now housed in a bunch of run-down portables on Third Avenue, between 10th and 12th streets. Phase II of the Downtown Educational Complex, slated to begin in the fall of 2011, will include nearby MetWest High School and the Yuk Yau and Central Infantil child care centers.

The project has a dramatic history Continue Reading


A crash diet for Oakland schools


Update: If your software is stuck in the early 2000s, as mine is, and you had trouble opening the budget proposal, try this version. (It takes longer than usual to load; I almost gave up when testing it out.)

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith’s proposal to cut next school year’s budget by $39 million includes deep cuts to central services — 74 positions eliminated out of 734 — and several one-time budget plugs totalling $8 million.

As promised, about two-thirds of the reductions would come from the central office and sources other than K-12 school budgets.

I should note, however, that some of those “central” cuts aren’t that far removed from the students. Continue Reading


You compare: teacher compensation in 15 Bay Area districts

UPDATE: Ed-Data has since come out with its 2008-09 salary figures; I’ve added them to this updated spreadsheet


If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably no stranger to the Ed-Data Web site, a rich source of information about schools.

Some of you have already used the site to show how Oakland’s teacher compensation falls short, but here is a spreadsheet I compiled that compares low, high and average salaries in Oakland Unified and 14 nearby districts, based on 2007-08 data (the most recent available), as well as teacher experience in each district.

The first sheet lists the districts alphabetically, and the second one sorts them in descending order by average salary. I’ll bet you’ll never guess where Oakland falls! Continue Reading


Oakland teachers vote for one-day strike

Hundreds of Oakland teachers union members who turned out to a meeting tonight voted to authorize its leadership to call a strike, once it’s legal.

The vote: 726 yes, 45 no.

The Oakland Education Association represents about 2,800 employees, including teachers, counselors and librarians, according to its Web site. If you round up to 800 participants (and if the 2,800 figure is accurate), voter participation comes to about 29 percent. Continue Reading


OUSD security update: List of schools

New security cameras at Oakland Tech
photo by GIOVANNA BORGNA/Tribune

Oakland Tech was the first school to receive the security upgrade we discussed earlier, and I saw a brief demonstration today in the school library. The cameras can swivel and zoom, and the picture is much clearer than the grainy images I usually associate with security camera shots.

As people have noted here, campus security requires much more than fancy technology. It’s not cheap, either. A Department of Justice matching grant covers about half of the $3 million cost; the other $1.5 million will come from OUSD’s modernization fund, but that it was budgeted for security upgrades anyway, according to OUSD’s director of procurement, Michael Moore Sr.

Still, it does sound promising, if it works as designed. Here is a list of Oakland schools slated to be part of the upgrade: Continue Reading


A new security system for Oakland schools

view from a security camera at Oakland's Fremont High in 2002The Oakland public school system is about to embark on a new initiative with a new acronym: SOS, which stands for “Secure Our Schools.”

The district plans to install 750-plus cameras at 26 middle and high schools between now and the end of the 2010-11 school year, using a $1.5 million Department of Justice grant.

It’s hoped that the infusion of technology — and the ability for school police to monitor the happenings on every campus from one location — will keep a lid on a number of the district’s chronic ills, including truancy, neighborhood crime, on-campus fights. Continue Reading


A Waldorf-inspired public charter school in Oakland? Not likely.

a Waldorf School in El Sobrante, Calif.
File photo of East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante, 1997

A group of educators says if the Oakland school district permits them to open a charter school in East Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood this fall, they will blend the unorthodox pedagogy of a traditionally private Waldorf School with methods used in public schools for low-income children and English learners.

It’s unlikely to happen, at least this year. Oakland Unified’s charter schools office is recommending against the opening of the Community School for Creative Education (for the second time). The reasons behind the denial are outlined in a 50-page report posted on a committee agenda for tomorrow night. Continue Reading