UC Berkeley’s recipe for preparing principals

Kyla Trammel-JohnsonUC Berkeley’s Principal Leadership Institute faculty say they have a darn good recipe for effective, stable school leadership: finding strong, “home grown” candidates and supporting the new administrators in their first three years on the job. 

The local institute celebrated its 10th anniversary this month. It has graduated 343 school leaders, and cites a 95 percent retention rate*.

[Home grown, defined: Candidates applying to the program “should” work at a public school in the Bay Area and have three years of teaching experience; they also must commit to working four years at a California public school after they graduate.]

Who are these graduates? you ask. Here’s a list of PLI leaders now in Oakland schools, courtesy of the PLI: Continue Reading


Can OUSD ditch its old rep and galvanize the support it needs?

The Bellevue Club on Lake Merritt has an old school, old Oakland sort of feel. But tonight, the future of the city’s schools — the city’s young residents, really — was discussed in its ornate rooms.

The event opened with a reception fundraiser for the Oakland Schools Foundation and remarks about the organization’s changes: its new name, its planned expansion, and its new director, Dan Quigley, former PG&E director of charitable giving.

Holly Babe Faust, the outgoing director of OSF, said the organization was optimistic about its relationship with the school district, which she predicted would become “broader, deeper, more interesting.”  She might be right; OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith made the keynote speech, after all.

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School safety and the perimeter problem

Kimi Kean and Minh-Tram Nguyen meet with neighbor about graffiti

In case you missed it, there was a story in today’s Trib about the efforts of Oakland principals Minh-Tram Nguyen and Kimi Kean to draw attention to a citywide problem: dangers in the streets outside schools.

City leaders and police responded quickly to their plea for help, which was precipitated by three daytime shootings near the school in three months. We’ll check back in a few months to see if the conditions have changed, and if more neighbors and nearby businesses have lent a hand.

Is this cooperative spirit alive and well in other parts of the city? In what ways could it be better?

SCHOOL BOARD ALERT: Tonight’s 5 p.m. Oakland school board meeting will be held at Laurel Elementary School, 3750 Brown Ave., rather than the usual place. You can find the agenda here.


A veteran teacher’s thoughts on grading

Our ongoing discussion about grading wouldn’t be complete without the thoughtful perspective of retired teacher Steven Weinberg.

Steven WeinbergFor the past 40 years I have spent a good deal of my time thinking about grading. I think about my experiences as a student, my sons’ experiences (and my experiences as their parent), my experience as a teacher, my wife’s experiences in all those roles, and the experiences of other teachers I have known and worked with. It is not a simple issue.

Looking back at my experiences as a student, it was not always the most demanding teachers that taught me the most. I was not a particularly strong student coming out of elementary school. I was one of the youngest in my classes, and my reading and math skills were not high. My first semester in junior high school I earned all C’s, with the exception of a B in Math. My GPA improved steadily through junior high and high school until I reached a 4.0 (no AP boost in those days).

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More perspectives on grading and Easy A’s

I visited an Oakland high school today and interviewed two veteran teachers — teachers with reputations as hard graders — about their grading practices for a follow-up story on this issue. I talked with some students, too.

One of the teachers said it is “painful” to give half of the students in a particular class Ds and Fs, as he has done. But, he said, holding the kids to a certain standard (coming to class and completing their assignments, at a minimum) is the best leverage he knows of when it comes to motivating students to work hard and learn the material. Not that it always works…

Both teachers, however, said it’s much more difficult for newer hires — without tenure or an established reputation at a school — to adhere to high standards if that means giving out many Ds and Fs. Those teachers are more vulnerable to pressure from the school administration and parents alike, they said.

After all, an F isn’t a passing grade and Ds aren’t accepted by the state university systems. Continue Reading


Promise Neighborhoods: “Hope or Hype?”

Prince Charles visits Harlem Children's ZoneSuperintendent Tony Smith has talked about creating in Oakland what Geoffrey Canada has built in Harlem: a pipeline for kids “from cradle to college.”

The Harlem Children’s Zone has received no shortage of attention, even from the likes of President Obama and Prince Charles (shown here during a visit in 2007). But is enough data in on this ambitious, costly effort? And can it be successful in other places with the help of a federal start-up grant?

Those are issues that reporter Helen Zelon explores in “Hope or Hype in Harlem?” a thoughtful, in-depth report published in the City Limits magazine.

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Easy A’s, and an Oakland student’s call to action

Wesley Sims, 18, says his high school is too easy and that he’s breezed through his courses with miminal effort. And then he took the SATs.

Mike Kirst, a professor emeritus at Stanford, says watered-down coursework and grade inflation is “more common than uncommon” at high schools, and that it’s not unique to Oakland.

After all, Kirst points out, about 60 percent of freshmen entering the CSU system Continue Reading


Oakland school to be showcased for success of black students

Think College Now, a public elementary school in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, is largely Latino — 68 percent in 2008-09. But tomorrow, the high performing, 120 265-student school will be showcased at a one-day institute in Sacramento that will feature “schools where African American students are succeeding.”

The thing is, I can’t tell you exactly how the school’s African-American students have scored on state tests. Its African-American student population was 34 in 2008-09, about 13 percent of the school enrollment. Which means the group was too small for the school to report its average API score.

If you were organizing a conference to share ideas about improving the education of African-American children, which schools would you invite?

Here is the release on the event: Continue Reading


Six Oakland schools win Title I award


The California Department of Education announced the names of 238 schools that serve large numbers of low-income children and have made substantial progress on state test scores. (Interesting that this comes right after Steven Weinberg’s post.) They’ll receive their awards April 21 in Disneyland.

And the winners of the Title I Academic Achievement Awards for 2009-10 are… Continue Reading