An elementary PR strategy

I wish more kids wrote news releases. I’ve been meaning to post this one from Katherine Irving, a fourth-grader from Hillcrest Elementary, for awhile now. She makes a pretty good case for educational opportunity, don’t you think?

Fourth graders at Hillcrest Elementary School have started a campaign for Pennies for Peace, a program made by the Central Asia Institute, otherwise known as the CAI. The CAI is a non-profit organization that helps to build schools all over Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Everyone knows that pennies don’t matter much in Oakland and many other cities and states in the US, but in Pakistan and Afghanistan it can buy a pencil and, with a lot of them, they can start an education there. And an education can give a child a much greater opportunity of things to do for a living. It can also make a child feel better. I myself always feel uncomfortable when someone keeps on talking about something that I’ve never heard of.

You can find Katherine’s full release about Hillcrest’s Pennies for Peace drive, which ends April 17, here.


DIY mentoring at an Oakland middle school

Ryan Hansen and his mentor, Alex Thibeault

Word on the street is that it’s hard to repeat the eighth grade in OUSD, even if your report card is loaded with Ds and Fs. (Remember the retention memo? I’m checking on the exact numbers.)

But teachers at Edna Brewer Middle School have long worried about kids who — because of their bad grades — don’t participate in the eighth-grade promotion ceremony at the end of the year. Not only do they miss out on a rite of passage, but they leave middle school on a trajectory of failure.

This year, history teacher Julie Greenfield and some of her colleagues decided to do something about it. They identified 75 kids with GPAs below a 2.0 and recruited 34 mentors to work with them, one-on-one, for at least an hour a week. All of the mentors are on Edna Brewer’s staff. More than 60 percent of the teachers signed up. Continue Reading


Gun violence takes another young life

Last Friday, I put what I thought would be the finishing touches on a story about all of the Oakland students who have been shot and killed since January 2009. But by Sunday morning, the piece was already one tragedy short of complete.

Eric Toscano, a Skyline High School senior who played on the football team, was celebrating his 18th birthday at home on Saturday night when bullets flew from a passing car. He died at Highland Hospital a few hours later, on Sunday morning. Three other teens were wounded. Toscano planned to go to college in the fall; his coach, Jamaal Kizziee, told me about the day he came by with news of his first acceptance letter.

The story was heartbreaking — and covering it, during a full-blown celebration of Oakland, was surreal: Continue Reading


“Joseph” at Skyline High School

rehearsal of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Skyline High School. Ray Chavez/Tribune staff

Skyline High School’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” started this week. (The photo was shot during a rehearsal.) You can still see it at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and 7:30 p.m. next Thursday through Saturday. If you go, you’ll see Skyline actors, dancers and musicians — and performers from Oakland’s Bret Harte and Montera middle schools. You can find more info here.


Kappner vs. Olson-Jones for OEA president

UPDATE: Olson-Jones wins, 816 to 124.

Tania Kappner, Tribune file photoBetty Olson-Jones, Tribune file photo

Tania Kappner, a teacher at Oakland Tech and a community organizer for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action Integration Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), wants to lead the Oakland teachers union — a post currently held by two-term incumbent Betty Olson-Jones.

Voting has gone on all week, and ends at 6 p.m. Friday. If Olson-Jones defeats Kappner (who challenged her in 2008), this will be her last term.

Kappner is a regular at school board meetings, and her speeches about the state of public education are a staple, too. She uses the microphone as if it were a bullhorn at a rally, shouting passionately about the “privatization” of public education, school closures, racial inequity and, always, charter schools.

Privatization is also one of Olson-Jones’ favorite (or least favorite) terms.  Continue Reading


A blurry attendance boundary

I always assumed attendance boundaries around neighborhood schools were black and white. Not without controversy (heck no!), not permanent, but pretty straightforward: You live at this address, so this is your `home school.’

That’s why I was surprised to get an e-mail from Alexis Lezin, an Oakland mom who lives in North Oakland and has tried, unsuccessfully, to enroll her future kindergartner at Chabot Elementary School in Rockridge through the Options process.

Lezin’s family lives inside the Emerson Elementary School boundaries, and her child would be the first to attend Chabot, so the district’s Options policy doesn’t guarantee her child a spot at the Rockridge school. Still, she said she was floored to learn that three of the children admitted to Chabot were Berkeley residents. She wrote this in a letter to Mike Bonino, a district staffer who manages the Options process:

I am stunned to realize that Berkeley residents, who do not pay Oakland city taxes, who have access to a number of high performing schools in their own city, were offered the space(s) that could have gone to my son and other children of Oakland residents who deserve a safe place in which to learn *in their own district.*

It wasn’t an oversight or a computer glitch. Troy Flint, the district’s spokesman, said although the families in question are Berkeley residents, they live on the Oakland boundary, on a horseshoe-shaped street “a stone’s throw” from Chabot: Continue Reading


Federal dollars, struggling schools and Oakland Unified’s dilemma

Oakland has the chance to infuse five of its schools with an unspecified amount of federal money.

The thing is, the grant in question has some serious strings attached. It would require these five schools (well, four of them, since Explore Middle School is closing anyway) to make major changes — and to make them in a hurry, before the start of the upcoming school year.

At 8 a.m. tomorrow, Superintendent Tony Smith will make an announcement about the district’s plan and take questions at a town hall meeting in the Elmhurst auditorium (1800 98th Avenue). Continue Reading


The OUSD deficit: Labor weighs in

[Math Alert! While proofreading this entry for print publication, my editor actually tallied up the list of cuts proposed here. Unless I’m missing something, it adds up to more than $43 million, not the $35 million listed in the presentation.]

Seven unions that make up the Oakland Schools Labor Coalition say they have the answer to the Oakland school district’s budget woes: They have identified $35 million to cut from the school district’s general purpose fund. The presentation is posted on Wednesday night’s Oakland school board agenda.

The unions propose the following cutbacks:

  • $10 million in “excess administrators.” (The state has a maximum administrator-to-teacher ratio, and OUSD was fined $1.3 million for having 78 too many administrators in the 2006-07 school year. The unions rounded that number up to 80 and multiplied by $125,000 to reach $10 million.) Continue Reading

Student historians from East Oakland delve into role of media in the U.S.-Mexico War

UPDATE: The team took first place in one of the “senior group exhibit” categories.

Fatima Ghatala, a teacher at East Oakland School of the Arts (Castlemont), tells us about her AP United States history students’ diligent preparation for tomorrow’s National History Day competition. EOSA is the only school representing OUSD in the contest.

EOSA students, courtesy of Fatima Ghatala

“Who would like to present their project at the county-wide National History Day competition on March 20th?” I asked. The group members excitedly looked at each other to confirm, and enthusiastically raised their hands to volunteer. The class had already spent weeks working on research topics, and this particular group of students were researching the United States-Mexico War. They were first inspired to learn more about the war because of the impact the current U.S.-Mexico border has on their communities.

Continue Reading


Out of work and willing to cross a picket line? Oakland Unified is hiring.

The Oakland school district has posted an ad on Craigslist, offering $300 a day for “emergency temporary teachers” in the event of an Oakland teacher strike. The district will conduct interviews next week in the hopes of finding enough subs willing to cross the picket line.


As of now, a one-day strike over the yet-unsettled teacher contract is planned for April 22. District Spokesman Troy Flint said the district administration hadn’t decided whether to close schools that day, but that “we didn’t want to be caught flat-footed.”

“We’re still holding out some hope that we will resolve this, but we’re trying to be realistic and have a fallback plan,” Flint said.