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Barbara Lee tours Claremont Middle School

Rep. Barbara Lee visits Oakland's Claremont Middle School. Courtesy photo.

I wasn’t there for Rep. Barbara Lee’s visit to Claremont Middle School in Rockridge, but it sounded from the CTA press release like a chance to promote the benefits of Quality Education Investment Act funding for struggling schools. (And, maybe, a plug for the author of the bill, state Assemblymember Tom Torlakson, who’s running for state superintendent for public instruction with the CTA’s endorsement.)

QEIA (pronounced QUEE-a) money comes from the 2006 settlement of a school funding lawsuit the CTA filed against Gov. Schwarzenegger. The funding — $3 billion over eight years — goes to nearly 500 low-performing schools in California and 19 in Oakland whose test scores were in the bottom 20 percent, statewide, in 2005. It pays for smaller classes, teacher training, and school counselors.

A couple of graphs from the CTA release:

“Our young people are our future,” said Lee. “It is imperative that we equip them with the best education possible, providing targeted resources to address their specific needs. I am pleased to have had this opportunity to tour Claremont Middle School. Additionally, I want to thank the California Teachers Association for taking the time to show me the QEIA program.”

Preliminary research data show many QEIA schools are making academic progress. On average, the 499 QEIA schools scored five points higher than similar schools in the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) for the school year 2008-09, the first full year of extra QEIA resources. In the same period, the API score at Claremont Middle School, which Lee visited, rose 90 points to 703.

Katy Murphy

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

  • seenitbefore

    QEIA is a great program! The money allows schools to fund classes and reduce the teacher:student ratio if used properly, as it was last year at Claremont. Yes, proper use of QEIA monies allowed the previous administration at Claremont to work with teachers, students and families resulting is a 90 point raise in API last year.

    This year, many things are different at Claremont. We’ll see what happens to the test scores and I hope my predictions are wrong.

    Today was not a realistic day…..

    4 additional custodians arrived this morning prior to Congresswoman Lee’s arrival.

    Afterschool program kids were herded into the cafeteria so they would not be in the Claremont hallways during the visit.

    Principal and her henchmen/women monitored all conversations between teachers and outsiders including having a parent sit in and take notes despite a request from the California Teacher’s Association Representatives to speak to the staff privately.

    The band was told to play a concert for the special visitors and pulled out of academic classes without any previous notification and despite the fact that their regular teacher is out of school with an injury.

    Dog and Pony Show.

  • BeenThere

    The principal also attempted to block teachers from speaking individually with Congresswoman Lee. Is it any wonder that eight teachers (or more) are confirmed to be leaving Claremont at the end of the year? Add this to the number who left at the end of last year and you have a fifty percent turnover. As a concerned parent, I have never seen lower teacher morale at any school my kids have attended. It frightens me for next year at Claremont.

  • Kathy Rieves (CMS PTA President)

    I must respond to these unbelievable statements that have been made regarding Barbara Lee’s visit. First, individuals who are cowards and will not put their name on their comments need to be quiet.QEIA is a great program but the statement that the money allowed the previous admin to work with teachers, students and parents is a LIE! Unless you are talking about just a handful of parents then yes. The reason for the jump in scores last year was when the current principal came onboard as VP. Prior to that, with the previous admin the school was in the dumps. Teachers were not teaching, students were not learning if they were then this school would not have been in program improvement for 5 years. As far as additional cleaning staff was concerned, I would hope that you would want your school to look its best for your Congresswoman. The after school program ALWAYS goes into the cafeteria first for snacks. This was no different. There was tight security for Congresswoman Lee which meant that the hallways had to be cleared. We wanted her to come earlier to see the children in class but her schedule did not allow it. When she arrived, she told me “I just got off the plane from DC.” I AM NOT nor have I ever been, the principal’s henchman/woman and I do not appreciate that comment. Come see me or call me. It was I who told the Principal that the band should play. They originally were not scheduled but I wanted them to play at least 1 song for Ms. Lee so she could hear our music dept. and I could careless that their teacher was not present. They have another director who is more then capable of directing them. When Tony Smith, Sandre Swanson, and others came to the school, the band teacher begged for them to play and they were pulled out of their classes for the entire morning (there were two assemblies). The Congresswoman was not there to talk to the teachers one-on-one or longer. She had a strict schedule and so when she did talk to them, she also asked if they had any questions. More response was from OUSD people and the QEIA people. Some teachers who are leaving is because OUSD (in a letter from OUSD to all parents) stated that they were not qualified to teach single subject classes. Others who may be leaving are because they cannot have their way or just do not teach, look at their test scores. They have been evaluated by more than the principal. There are many very qualified a capable teachers who would be happy to come to Claremont and are coming. I only recall 2 teachers being consolidated last year. The low morale is because there are some teachers who want things to stay as they were (which is why this school was about to be closed). AT NO TIME did the principal attempt to block teachers from speaking to the Congresswoman. I was the ONLY parent in the room when she was talking to the staff so whoever this person is, was not in that room. These lies need to stop. If you are unhappy then leave but enough is enough. I am not a puppet I am my own person. I thought that I had a good relationship with the teachers and parents, but obviously I don’t since they are making certain statements via emails, and this blog. I will not allow parents or teachers to continually put down this school because they cannot have their way. Great things are happening at Claremont with them or without them. Even the Superintendent as well as the other higher ups at OUSD are proud of what is going on at CMS and have no intentions of moving the current principal. So my advise to all those who do not like her or what she is doing, go to another school and see if they allow you to control it like you had been doing at CMS. Am I furious? Yes. Will I tolerate this any more? No. Many parents from Peralta, Chabot, Kaiser and other schools want to come to CMS because they like what they see NOW. We had no intentions of coming to CMS if the previous admin was still there because the school WAS a dump and failing fast.

  • Renae Briggs

    Kathy,

    I am the current and only (to my knowledge) band and orchestra teacher currently at Claremont Middle School. I have been there for the past 5 years. I am currently out of school recuperating from knee surgery.

    I would be interested to know who the “other director who is more than capable” of directing the band is. I must assume that you are referring to my 14 year old student conductor S.J.

    Yes, S.J. is a capable and confident music student who has grown in his skills tremendously over the past 3 years. However, putting him and my other students in the scary position of throwing together an impromptu concert on short notice without their teacher to show off to a visiting dignitary created a stressful situation for these children. I personally do not appreciate your statements or your decision making on the part of my students. As the PTA “President”, you had no right to make curriculum choices for my students, especially without contacting their teacher. This is yet another blatant example of the misuse of power and disregard for the professional educators (aka TEACHERS) exhibited by some adults at Claremont Middle School this year. Teachers have been and continue to be treated with disdain and disregard. It is reprehensible.

    Also, for the record, I have never “begged” to have my band perform, nor should I have to. The Claremont band and orchestra students have worked hard over the past 5 years to build a strong reputation for themselves and were always a part of every school event until the beginning of this year when I and my parents had to advocate on behalf of the music students to get permission for them to perform concerts.

    There is ZERO evidence that test scores at CMS were raised merely by the appearance of ANY ONE person last year. Your statement is a slap in the face to the MANY parents, teachers and administrators who worked tirelessly for MANY years to find solutions to engaging students and offering a variety of strategies to reach underperforming students. Bottom line… they finally found some ways that worked! To take credit for the hard work done by others is self-serving and does not go unnoticed by those who have been around Claremont for longer than just one year.

    Sadly, this year has been all about trashing every parent, teacher and administrator who came before this year and some people in high positions of authority have been the leaders in that reign of terror. Perhaps they should consider their roles as a spokespeople and leaders and choose to be a unifying force for positive change at Claremont instead of telling people who disagree or question improprieties to simply leave Claremont.

    The “my way or the highway” approach is doing nothing but tearing apart the fabric of a wonderful and delicate community that was beginning to flourish. It’s heartbreaking. Claremont will be a VERY different school in the coming years. Be careful what you wish for.

  • Mike Napolitano

    We made some very good progress academically last year, and I think a lot of progress with climate this year. The teachers deserve a major share of the credit for the gains in the 2008-09 school year.

    There still is much more work to do. It’s been a stressful year with many changes, however I am optimistic that Claremont can continue to progress. The key will be to create an environment that fosters high expectations and teamwork, where creativity can prosper. We all will need to work harder and grow to realize this end. I can think of no more importnat enterprise.

  • Oakland Teacher

    “and I could careless that their teacher was not present. They have another director who is more then capable of directing them….Some teachers who are leaving is because OUSD (in a letter from OUSD to all parents) stated that they were not qualified to teach single subject classes. Others who may be leaving are because they cannot have their way or just do not teach, look at their test scores. They have been evaluated by more than the principal.”

    Kathy, as a parent (not Claremont), I have watched how tirelessly you have worked to support your kids’ schools, and really admired the way you have tried to have Claremont regain its status as a neighborhood school for all of its families. But to say that you could care less that the music teacher (since the press about the band is so great, I assumed the teacher was excellent) was not there and that someone/anyone else could fill in for them is unnecessary. I do not think a parent should be in the role of pulling kids out of class so that an honored guest “could hear our music department play”, particularly when that was NOT the point of her visit and she had limited time. I would not have wanted my kids to have had that similar experience at their middle school, no matter how big a Barbara Lee fan I am. As a parent, I would really question a school administration that would allow a parent to make decisions like that (“I who told the Principal that the band should play”), and would be quite unhappy that any parent (even one who was PTA president and had worked tirelessly for the school) had the right to make decisions for my child.

    It is also out of bounds for you to be discussing personnel issues, and if any of what you say is true (other than the “highly qualified letters” which go out at many schools), then as a teacher I would file a grievance against the administration for sharing information that absolutely should not have been shared with ANYONE, much less the PTA president. I feel that you have lost credibility to lead your PTA when you so vocally and slanderously attack your members in public. If you want to be a vehicle for this kind of “change”, this is not the venue to accomplish it. You are not supporting the Claremont community with your letter or your recent actions, you are dividing it further. I feel sad for your school when I read the letter, because clearly there is a lot of hostility/negativity happening in a school that really needed healing.

  • Nextset

    Hilarious…

    My points on this above: The principal is in charge of the property and every arrangement on what should be done or not done in a VIP visit is only their call.

    The PTA president is a civillian with no authority on the property. If she makes public statements that encroach privacy rights (CA has more than most states) or are thought to be slanderous (untrue and malicious) she is subject to litigation. She is not likely to have insurance to cover litigation costs unless it’s personal renter’s/homeowner’s liability insurance. The teachers and their unions on the other hand do have litigation warchests. She would do well to have a care because civillians are typically untrained in civil law and often cross lines that are actionable. Having said that she has the right to state opinions including her opinion that teachers and staff are unprofessional or incompetent. Opinion is protected speech, statements of other people’s nonpublic activities are not opinions. Perhaps these controversies involve things that occurred in front of spectators anyway.. If otherwise, deal with it within channels.

  • anon

    I would be super excited for my children to be invited to play in front of a US congress person–that is a really big deal and they will probably remember it for the rest of their lives. Getting pulled out of class for a day is a small price to pay for fame. :-) Later on as a family we can talk about feeling nervous and ways to handle those feelings when performing but a celebration would definitely be in order! Perhaps we are seeing cultural differences . . . definitely differences in communication styles . . . A deep breath may be in order.

    Teaching is a really hard and teachers get more sucker punches than thank yous. Many times though teachers are working really hard but not necessarily effectively (based on student learning) and for the most part if classroom management is in place then they don’t get questioned and they may not get very much feedback on how to improve. Sometimes when they finally do get feedback (less than positive) especially if it’s from someone that they don’t particularly trust (understandably) then their reaction may be defensiveness (“I’m working hard so it can’t be my fault. It must be the kids’ fault or their parents’ fault”). I think these days you’re seeing a lot more data-driven conversations around teaching and hopefully that will make everyone less sensitive. Instead of “students aren’t learning that means that the teacher is a bad person” we can say “these students are not meeting these skills, what are techniques that we can use to get them to this next level?”

    my 2 cents.

  • BeenThere

    While I certainly understand that Ms. Rieves doesn’t appreciate being called a “henchwoman,” I’m less clear on why she feels OK calling those who remain anonymous “cowards”. I wish that she would understand that many at Claremont have faced retribution for comments which were much less pointed than mine. I do not wish for my kids to pay for my straightforwardness.

    I also wish that Ms. Rieves would speak to teachers before assuming their motive for leaving. I have, and I am accurate in saying that they are leaving because they do not believe there is an opportunity for them to influence Claremont in a positive way. These teachers are eager for the sort of coaching which Anon suggests, but, according to multiple teachers, instead they have been berated and written up for minor infractions which the administration routinely accepts as acceptable behavior for themselves: being late to meetings, having food in the school. etc. Teachers say they do not receive replies to emails they write to the administration asking questions or asking for support. Those who do speak up to be part of a dialogue quickly learn that this is unwise. They hear that, as Ms. Briggs states, teachers either have to accept everything that happens no matter how outrageous it may be, or they are asked to leave ( as Ms. Rieves clearly believes they should.)

    Teachers are held accountable for scores for students who attend school once every two or three weeks–where is the administration accountability to get these kids into class? Teachers are held accountable for scores for kids who disrupt day after day–where is the administration accountability for dealing with student discipline in a way that ensures that teachers can teach effectively? According to teachers, there are students who received referrals to the administration for fighting who were sent right back to class with no consequences. I’ve been told by my child that there are students on campus selling drugs and fighting within the past few weeks who are given the green light to now to go through the 8th grade promotion ceremony.

    I know it is hard to hear the truth, but the administration needs to hear it just as much as the teachers do. I agree that there is room for growth all around. Only then will Claremont be as good as it should be for my kids and for yours.

  • Ms C

    As one of the teachers who was “body-blocked” by Kenya AND who is not returning to Claremont, I want to say a few things:
    Speculation about teacher morale is very subjective. I personally think that teacher morale is a chronic issue and we should address its chronic nature rather than trying to micromanage the problem through the lens of the latest administrative change at Claremont. Without an actual survey it is only the vocal minority who we hear and from whom we make incorrect and inappropriate conclusions. After all, the only people who can best talk about teacher morale are the teachers themselves. I personally have for the first time in my teaching career felt that the school is going in the right direction.
    I am inspired by the changes that have happened at Claremont — from the calmer hallways, to expectations that student performance for all three years counts toward graduation, to the focus on department collaboration time, to the use of a universal Binder Reminder system, to the gender-specific classes, to the uplifting paint job, to the focus on technology in math and science, to the Monday whole school assemblies, to the authority which Ms. Crockett and Mr. Taylor command amongst students, etc. There are some things I disagree with and which I have stated to teachers and administrators — namely, the lack of civility in interactions between administration and staff (and this goes both ways) — but overall the school is more successful as measured by student achievement than I have ever seen in the 4 years that I’ve been there. I am not leaving CMS for any of the reasons that Kathy mentioned. I have never been singled out for poor teaching. In fact, my scores are consistently above the district average. I am leaving because I am burnt out, because being a teacher in Oakland Unified entails upwards of 60 hours a week of work, because it is a thankless job (as illustrated by the vie to claim credit for the jump in scores), and because there is too much unnecessary drama (again illustrated by this blog) that drains energy from the classrooms. The 90 point API jump is primarily due to teachers working very hard for cohesiveness, collaboration, high expectations, and success in their classrooms. The teachers (not administrators and, in some cases, not even parents) spend more time with students during their waking hours than anyone else. The learning occurs in the classroom, not the hallways, cafeteria, meetings or other areas in which administration or parents are. None of us claim to be perfect, but to me it seems ridiculous to give anyone but teachers the majority of credit, and I wonder why everyone else but teachers is so quick to get a piece of that credit.
    I also want to speak to the continual fueling of divisions between parents, staff, and administration. I don’t think anyone should speak for others. I also don’t think that anyone should express a personal gripe through an online, public forum if they haven’t already expressed it to that person. These are basic tenets of civility, right? I encourage everyone to take a deep breath and realize that we are all here for the same reason — to improve the lives of the next generation through education, the great equalizer. If we expect Claremont Middle School to be a learning community, then as adults we need to model to our students what we think a community should be like. Understandably, we all feel the pressure of Claremont to perform and improve, but we must not allow this to bring out our worst sides, for if we do then we have failed our children as role models.

  • ParentChoice

    The PTA President’s comments illustrates a key concern we have when selecting our child’s school; crazy, out-of-control parents.