Native American leader, former Oakland activist, dies at 64

Wilma MankillerWilma Mankiller, the first woman to be elected chief of a major American Indian tribe — the Cherokee Nation — was once a Bay Area resident and a strong advocate for Native American children in Oakland’s public schools. She died Tuesday in Oklahoma at age 64.

In our library, I found a small envelope stamped “MANKILLER, WILMA/ INDIAN LEADER, OAK.”  Inside were several articles, including a Tribune story from January 9, 1977. Susan Shoemaker, then an education writer for the newspaper, reported that Mankiller and other Native Americans “believe the school district simply does not care about their children.”

“Oakland public school services are just inadequate for American Indian students,” Mankiller was quoted as saying.

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OUSD’s admin shuffle and the Montera shake-up

There’s another layer to the pink slip story: 96 Oakland principals, APs, central office managers and other administrators received notices that they might be moved, demoted or — in a few cases — out of work, according to figures from the Oakland school district.

Ten principals have received a slip, OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint said. (I don’t have the total number of notices sent to administrators in 2009 — I’ve requested that data — but Flint says it’s higher this year because of the district’s budget hole and cuts to special-purpose funding.)

Montera Principal Russom Mesfun in 2007

Montera Middle School might be deeply affected by these changes, if they come to pass. According to its parent-teacher organization, Principal Russom Mesfun and both of his assistant principals learned they might be moved to a different position in OUSD.

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Oakland and the status quo option

Protest at the Elmhurst Community Prep/Alliance campus on March 24

It’s not on the school reform menu, but the Oakland school district might order it anyway: the status quo.  

This is a new development in OUSD, a shift in thinking that followed a conference call with state education officials late last week, said Oakland school district’s spokesman, Troy Flint. 

Oakland school administrators had assumed the district would be eventually required to make one of four drastic interventions at schools on the state’s “persistently lowest-achieving” list,  including closure, charter school conversion or the replacement of the school principal or staff. That, despite the fact that all of the Oakland schools on the list are new, products of similar reforms. At a town hall meeting on March 24, Superintendent Tony Smith called the process “unfair” and “unacceptable” — and then suggested that there was no good way around it.

That changed, Flint said, when the state department of education official in charge of the grant program confirmed that “there’s no mechanism for enforcement.” In other words, if schools don’t apply for the federal School Improvement Grant money — the carrot — there is no stick.

Flint said this information has opened the door for an alternative improvement plan, such as directing school staff to continue and/or refocus their efforts without starting over again from scratch. “That definitely changed the perspective of the people at the central office,” he said.

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An Oakland principal goes to new lengths to promote reading

Over the years, Think College Now Principal David Silver has subjected his staff to the dunk tank, danced to Snoop Dogg on the roof and let students run the school for a day as a reward for reading for at least 100 million minutes by June. The students fell short of their goal last year, but this time the prize might be too tempting to pass up. Silver hasn’t had a haircut in months; if the kids meet the goal, as they explain in the below video (in which a group of students appear to be grooming his curls), the student council will be allowed to shave his head.

You can donate books to the school library by clicking here.


Market research on how Oakland families pick schools

A group of students from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business want to know why some families chose an OUSD education for their children (and exactly how they arrived at that conclusion) and why others opted for charter, parochial or independent schools.

Their online survey is open until midnight Sunday for all Oakland residents with children who are 22 or younger. You can take it in English or Spanish.

The survey asks questions about perceptions of safety, cleanliness, enrichment programs and school demographics at each of the schools the family considered. It will be interesting to see those findings, as well as the resulting recommendations to the Oakland school district about its “messaging” strategy and public image.

Michelle Florendo, one of the student-researchers, pointed out a consequence of school choice that we’ve discussed on this blog before: “A lot of public school principals are finding themselves in a position where they need to market their schools.”

This leads me to two sets of questions: Continue Reading


Foot Race to the Top?

Race to the Top?

California’s lackluster Race to the Top ranking in Round 1 (27) came as a disappointment to state officials, who had pushed for legislation to make the state more competitive for the grant.

Today, the governor and the state superintendent of public instruction announced they were proposing a new set of performance criteria for the next round: race times in the 50-yard dash and half-mile.

Schwarzenegger, who declared war on “couch potatoes” as chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness years ago, is leading the charge. “We test in math, English, science — why not test in the area of physical fitness too?” he said in a statement released this afternoon.

But the fitness evaluation wouldn’t be limited to students. The race times of teachers, principals and even custodians and food service personnel would be averaged and submitted as part of the school’s grant application. Schools with less than a 90 percent participation rate would be ineligible for the funds.

Schwarzenegger says he’s confident the state board of education will approve this proposal — which, he said, would hold school staff and students accountable for their speed and cardiovascular fitness as well as their proficiency in the “three Rs”. He concluded his press release with a characteristic quip: “Now, drop and give me 20.” Continue Reading