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As some celebrate news for early childhood ed, others continue to protest

By Katy Murphy
Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 at 10:55 pm in budget, elementary schools, families, preschool.

If you passed by the corner of 63rd Street and Herzog in North Oakland today, you might be surprised to know that the latest development for early childhood education in Oakland was actually a positive one. Or that the director of Oakland Parents Together called it “a stunning victory.”

For those who haven’t been watching (or riding) the Childhood Development Center roller-coaster, Superintendent Tony Smith announced Friday that the district had found the money to keep open five out of seven childcare centers slated for closure — at least through the end of December. He also said he would place a credentialed teacher at the Santa Fe CDC in North Oakland, one of the two centers to be closed, for 28 school-age kids who enroll in its before- and after-school program.

Unlike Berkeley Unified, which canceled its full-day preschool program under the threat of state budget cuts (its half-day programs are still running), Oakland is maintaining nearly all of its early childhood services — at the expense of other programs, such as adult education, which was gutted this year to save programs for the district’s littlest kids.

This all goes back the governor’s May budget proposal, which eliminated most funding for state-subsidized preschools and other childcare programs. The state Legislature has yet to pass a budget, and so school districts have had to build their budget assumptions around the governor’s plan (meaning little to no state money for early childhood programs).

Oakland Parents Together, the group that had planned a “People’s Takeover” of several of the shuttered centers by staffing them with volunteers, canceled its protest on Friday (Director Henry Hitz was careful to say the planned takeover was directed at the state government, not at the school district).

BAMN did not. Mark Airgood, a special education teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School and an active member of the civil rights group, was arrested over the weekend during a protest at the Golden Gate CDC, the site of today’s rally, which the district closed today. Airgood and others called for the school district to keep all of the centers open and are planning further actions.

According to district spokesman Troy Flint, Golden Gate served about 22 children in its before- and after-school programs, all but one of them from Berkley Maynard Academy or Civicorps, two nearby charter schools. I wonder if the charter school parents at today’s rally knew that BAMN was patently against charters; its representatives have spoken out against every charter petition or renewal I can remember — quite possibly, Berkley Maynard, itself.

Oakland Education Association President Betty Olson-Jones put out a news release Monday saying that the demonstrations at Golden Gate were not union-sanctioned. I believe she did so because Airgood and Tania Kappner, who serve on the union’s board of directors, were involved.

A number of teachers union leaders came to today’s rally, including Craig Gordon, Bob Mandel and Ben Visnick, the former OEA president who is running for school board (District 4) against Gary Yee. Some speakers said it wasn’t enough that the district spared some of the centers from closing; Yvette Felarca, a BAMN leader, described it as a “divide and conquer” strategy. If they stood by while one center or one school closed, she said, others would follow.

Felarca credited community activists for the district’s announcement on Friday. Airgood called for a broad movement in California to save early childhood education — and for people to come to the next school board meeting to protest some more.

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  • TheTruthHurts

    My mother told me, “if you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all.”

    Well, (un)fortunately, I don’t always listen to my mother. BAMN is civil rights gone wrong. They seem to have a penchant for taking a good positive cause and adding a caustic negativity to it (at least the Oakland chapter does). There is no balance, just “fight the power.” They literally seem to troll around looking for an opportunity to fight (as long as a TV camera is nearby). It’s a sad commentary that they have so infested OEA that the president (who’ll never admit it directly) had to distance herself from them.

    When will OAKLAND (not just parents) be together and work together instead of just point fingers and fight one another? I go to other communities and they actually discuss issues and solve problems together. What a novel concept?!?!? It seems all they do in Oakland is fight, fight, fight. “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

    “Fighting the power” is still an important tool to gain and maintain rights, but if all you have is that hammer, everything looks like a nail when in actuality, it might be something entirely different.

    If BAMN truly mean “By Any Means Necessary” they need to march their butts to the Republican Districts that prevent a budget, prevent spending on education and essentially allow all this stuff to continue with less than 50% of the vote. Protest in their neighborhood and stop making the city of Oakland look like an insane asylum. Plotting a takeover of a pre-school is just juvenile an ineffective – and that’s been my experience of BAMN.

    I’m sure this will win me no fans, but who needs fans anyway.

  • Jesse James

    I’ve always felt BAMN to be a silly organization. As part of OEA and during negotiations, they’ve been obstructionist, yet seem to claim to be progressive. I don’t think the shrieking bullhorn gets action, has it yet? I wish, since you posted this video, there would be more coverage of this group.

  • Turanga_teach

    Honestly, though I hate to see a cogent, crucial topic devolve into an anti-BAMN whingefest, their shenanigans drove me out of OEA involvement five years ago: I agree with many if not most of their principles, but found their practices deeply divisive and off-putting. There are a lot of nuances involved in advocating effectively for longstanding change, and I just didn’t see that in action with those folks.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Not familiar with these groups, up close, but I can’t see that fighting for these early education centers is ever a bad thing, no matter the tactics.

    In fact, it seems like OPT and BAMN are working a little activist “good cop-bad cop” to keep the authorities honest. This victory was only a partial and temporary reprieve, after all.

    If I was Tony Smith, I’d take a teacher’s salary before I’d admit to giving up on some of the poorest pre-K children in our nation.

  • J.R.

    These people don’t need to picket,moan and complain(and insist the money falls out of the sky), they just need more of other peoples tax money over and above what they already take(LAUSD and OUSD are some big sinkholes to fill with tax money). Maybe OUSD needs 1/4 of a million dollar campuses like LAUSD(nah, it wont help)These parents need to disperse from the protests and collectively volunteer their time at local public schools, and teach their children respect discipline and the importance of education. It is mostly the parents fault that children do not learn, parents are the example for kids to follow and sadly many parents are failures themselves. Schools are not about babysitting, they have a serious purpose and the kids need to understand that and take advantage of the opportunity to gain knowledge.

  • Felicia Olivieri

    I read the new way of testing a teacher’s effectiveness and I completely agree with this method. My children have long since moved on to college. At the high school they attended in Concord, there was a math teacher if you want to call him that, who did not, does not in his 9 years teaching, teach using the “direct method” of instruction. His modus operandi is to list on the board the pages/exercises students need to complete. He states if a student has a question to raise their hand. Well, you can bet he gets a lot of raised hands. If a student raises his/her hand, asks for assistance in a polite way they are told to re-read the page. If the same students asks again for help, he sends them to the office for “misbehavior”! How has this teacher “gotten by”? Teachers’ Union. It saddened me for years to see so many good students get turned off to math, but it is no wonder with the likes of this teaching professional! More power to the Los Angeles Times for publishing teacher names & more power to Arne Duncan for endorsing this vital information to parents!