Big changes in Oakland’s special ed department

The Oakland school district’s special education department is about to undergo some serious staffing changes. Not only is its executive director, Lisa Ryan Cole, leaving, but so are elementary school coordinator Kimberly Noble and personnel coordinator Iris Wesselmann.

To top it off, all of the coordinators’ administrative assistants have been bumped into other jobs, according to Ryan Cole. (More on bumping — a huge issue right now — later.) “There are a lot of changes, and I want to believe they are going to be positive for the kids in this district,” she said.

Ryan Cole, who has been a special education teacher and administrator in Oakland for 27 years, became head of the department in the fall of 2007, after Phyllis Harris’s departure. She said her retirement was “a really, really hard decision,” and she wouldn’t say why she ultimately chose to leave now. “It just is time to move on to a new adventure, whatever that may be,” she said.

Stacey Smith, a parent who co-chairs the local Community Advisory Committee on special education, said Ryan Cole took on some long-standing issues, such as making programs and services more consistent across the district. She said Ryan Cole also focused on building a stronger, more welcoming community for special needs students and families at each school — in part, through training for principals and general education teachers.

Smith said she hoped Ryan Cole’s successor would continue that work.

“The number one concern that I’ve heard so far is about the uncertainty of what comes next,” Smith said. “I look forward to hearing more about the transition plan.”

If you’re a special education teacher or parent, or if you just care deeply about these issues, you can sign up for e-mail alerts from the Community Advisory Committee by sending a request to cacoakland@gmail.com.

The next CAC meeting is at 7 p.m. June 7 at Metwest High School, 14 East 10th St. (near the downtown administration building). I’ll keep you posted about Ryan Cole’s replacement — and if you hear anything, send me an e-mail at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Anita2

    The state of education in this country, in California, in Oakland, is disturbing on SO many levels! As an administrator, there is an air of uncomfortable uncertainty at my school. It is extremely difficult, (though I must), to remain detached and focused upon teaching and learning, and student achievement when faculty is transitioning out; when I receive, almost-DAILY, notification of yet another educator leaving OUSD, or worse yet, being “bumped” as the result of budget-necessitated consolidations! I don’t know whether to be angered, saddened, or contemplate burning sage throughout our hallways and throwing proverbial “holy water” over the entire educational system!! The importance of education in this society is being greatly compromised and is slowly eroding. Where are the priorities of our beautiful children and our future as a nation?? We are headed to an “Educational Depression”, toward a bankruptcy of intellect and progression as a people. I have been in education for over 20 years and still love my “calling”, yet have NEVER seen things this bad! When will it end?

  • TheTruthHurts


    Have a look at Greece, Spain and Italy. It is sad, but this is what living in fantasyland does. Nothing wrong with spending more on education. Problem is when you let people believe they can get something for nothing. You borrow to fuel the fantasy. Now, fantasy is over. Borrowing is coming to an end. Living within means is coming. Those paid salaries based on borrowing are about to be unemployed. It’s sad. It’s depressing. It’s coming anyway.

  • Harold

    @TTH – Sad indeed. NEA/CTA/OEA helped put Obama in office. POTUS, turned on the printing presses for Wall Street; the too big to fail Wall Street. But, hasn’t done much for education across the board. The fantasy is not over for the banking class. Just watch!

  • Sue

    Lisa Ryan Cole is leaving! Excuse me, I’m going to be skipping around the office halls for the next 15 minutes, singing “Ding dong, the witch is dead”.

    Okay, now that my few early-morning coworkers are completely convinced that I’m crazy as a loon – a bit of explanation…

    Ms. Cole was an appaulingly bad Director of Special Programs – if she had an opportunity to F@CK with a family of a Spec. Ed. student, she never failed to do her worst to them – whether it was refusing to pay for court-ordered private school tuition, or refusing to take any action in response to calls from a parent who believed their child was in physical danger.

    Until my family had to deal with her, we didn’t appreciate Dr. Harris. I still can’t say that I miss Dr. Harris, but at least she tried to do what was right for the students she was responsible for serving, and even when she didn’t like parents (and boy did she not like some of us!) she would listen and respect our concerns – unlike Ms. Cole, who’d hang up on you and then lie about it – denying she’d done so in a meeting with the state administrator.

    But in my humble opinion, the district should have kept Vivian Lura, not replaced her when the state took over. Ms. Lura had the lowest number of Spec. Ed. lawsuits in the state (and when a family did file suit, the district always won), because she was always about meeting the needs of her students. When a family came to her with a problem, she’d listen, respect the emotions (usually a lot of frustration by the time a family got to her office), then gently direct the family away from the emotional mess, and towards solving the problem. Whenever she saw a need, she found a way to meet it.

    If only we could get Ms. Lura back, now that we’re *finally* going to be rid of Ms. Cole. But I understand that she went back to classroom teaching and then retired. Much as the district and the students need her, I seriously doubt that she could be coaxed back for another round in the barrel after the way she was previously removed.

  • Oakland Teacher

    I heard that Kim Noble was leaving for Harvard. She seemed like a straight shooter and a really hard worker. Oakland’s loss in that case.

    I cannot say that about the other two, but will bite my tongue to avoid saying defamatory remarks. I do wonder if their departure was truly voluntary or by design.

  • gee yu

    Google the names Lisa Ryan Cole, Kimberly Noble and Iris Wesselmann.and you will come up with

    Hodge v. Oakland Unified School District et al :: Justia Dockets …Defendants: Oakland Unified School District, Roberta Mayor, Board of Education, Kim Noble, Lisa Ryan Cole, Jack O’Connell, Phyliss Harris, Iris Wessleman …

    maybe this has something to do with their departure by design……..

  • Jesse James

    I googled it & it just says the case has been reassigned. Can you give us the details?

  • Turanga_teach

    Anyone familiar with special education knows that we’re all, all the time, a hairsbreadth away from a lawsuit, and that the bigwigs always show up on the top of the docket regardless of their actual involvement or complete lack of same. Be more specific or stop casting aspersions, please.

  • gee yu

    Hey Turanga_teach ….google it your self……it is in civilrights red ink……and public info… Jesse James ..you can pay 8 cents per page…. it is about 28 pages long … real powerful reading.. go on the Justia web site or call them at 650-810-1994.
    make sure you have to docket # and aspers away…..

  • Jesse James

    Thank you Gee Yu. I will look. I wish it were free public information though. I wonder if could be paid for and then posted here. Katy?

  • gee yu

    just here to help! maybe kathy could look into it…..

  • gee yu

    hey sue and jesse the lisa cole replacement has been chosen and she works at OUSD……Katy maybe you can find out who?????

  • Jesse James

    It’s Sharon Casanares. It’s on the personnel list Katy posted. She’s a hard worker who’ll make staff toe the line. I’m hopeful. I really am.

  • gee yu

    jesse I did not see it

    thanks I think she great too

  • gee yu

    jesse where is the list on the blog I can’t find it

  • Jesse James

    gee yu: Look at the new and old principals post. Within that is the link…:) You’ll see some other names listed for new nexo’s, one is awesome, the other not so much.

  • Jesse James

    Sorry I misread the new title–regional executive officer–just like the old days of area I, II and III. The one who I don’t have much regard for is actually a principal on special assignment now which, in my experience, won’t have much bearing on the district/schools in general. Phew!

  • gee yu

    jesse I heard that lisa cole is still wandering the halls of Foster….someone said she was helping (covering up mistakes?) don’t tell Sue then she may stop dancing!!

  • Anon

    This is some excellent news for Oakland Special Education Programs! I hope that this is by design, and these administrators were finally held accountable for their terrible work… Wesselmann especially. None of these administrators stood on high moral ground.