Oakland’s Eastside high redesign (#2)

East Oakland School of the Arts, a small Castlemont school. Tribune file photo by D. Ross Cameron.

Five years ago, the three high schools on East Oakland’s Castlemont campus had almost 1,300 students. That number has dwindled to 700 — a 45 percent drop.

The Fremont campus, also in East Oakland, has seen a similar slide. A decade ago, more than 2,000 students went to school there. Now, there are just 940.

Both campuses were divided into small, themed schools — each, with its own principals and administrative staffs — as part of an improvement strategy that received millions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But since then, there’s been an exodus from Fremont and Castlemont. Many families from the East Oakland flatlands have used the district’s school choice policy to send their children to schools with better reputations across the city. Others have opted for one of the charter schools that have opened in their neighborhoods.

As a result of the dwindling numbers, the great high school  “redesign” of 2003 and 2004 is — yes — being redesigned.

Troy Flint, a district spokesman, has confirmed that a team of administrators and other staff is drafting a proposal for the future of both high school campuses. Youth Empowerment School, in the East Oakland hills, will be part of the Fremont Castlemont plan, he said.

“While Castlemont and Fremont have made some progress since they were redesigned as small schools, they haven’t been able to maintain enrollment or attract new groups of students in large numbers,” Flint said.

Flint wouldn’t elaborate on what options were on the table, only that staff were considering “new and innovative ways to take the schools forward.” The cost of supporting three administrative staffs with fewer than 1,000 students is one reason behind the redesign.

Recommendations will be made public in January, he said.

Mike Jackson, a journalism teacher at one of Fremont’s small schools (Media Academy), says he has heard “hard rumors” that the schools will be merged into one — with a green engineering, architecture and construction theme.

Jackson said he has also heard that his nearly 25-year-old journalism academy, which predates the small schools, might be shut down in the process. The academy used to exist within Fremont Federation when it was a large, comprehensive high school. His students  produce the award-winning Green & Gold newspaper, one of the few high school publications left in the city’s public schools.

“It’s really been an institution at Fremont High School,” he said.

Flint said the discussion isn’t about closing schools. “The drive is to create special programs to make them stand out from other high school choices so people will start to choose those schools again,” he said.

If that’s the case, what do they need? Do you agree there needs to be a redesign? What should it look like?

Katy Murphy

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

  • seenitbefore

    It ain’t rocket science….. look across the country at outstanding and nationally recognized high performing schools. What do they all have in common? Why don;t we just do THAT instead of constantly trying to reinvent the wheel because…. we’re Oakland.

    In most successful high schools:

    Students are clear on what will and will NOT be tolerated on the school campus.

    The facilities are clean and well maintained. Basic items such as toilet paper, hand soap, paper towels or hand dryers, student lockers (hallways and gym) and access to clean water from drinking fountains are a given.

    Student, Teacher, Parent and Community participation and input regarding the success of the school is solicited and welcome.

    There is a sense of community pride about the school….. which is different than having a rivalry or just putting down kids who go to other schools the way Tech and Skyline students currently do. There is also a sense that “our one school” is still part of the larger “unified” district no matter whose school wins the trophy today….. we are not enemies with other schools within the same district.

    The daily schedule allows enough class periods for students to meet the minimum academic credit requirements PLUS take college and/or career prep courses such as foreign language, music, computers, art, drama, journalism, woodshop, etc…

    A period, B period and summer school classes are available to all students, not just remedial students.

    The school works in partnership with local community colleges to provide enrichment opportunities for advanced and/or highly motivated students.

    Struggling students in need of academic support are placed into classes that meet their needs at the appropriate academic level. Not just shoved into a class because “everyone takes Geometry in X grade”.

    There are high standards for all subjects INCLUDING the ARTS and solid academic offerings with appropriate leveling and prerequisites for student enrollment.

    The teachers are treated with respect and supported by the administration. When students misbehave, discipline is handled fairly but swiftly and without hesitation by administrators. The availability of basic classroom supplies such as access to a working copy machine with copy paper in it, pens, pencils, whiteboards, markers, etc is not an issue.

    The master schedule is figured out BEFORE school starts and students are placed into the appropriate classrooms within the first week(s) or school. *It is 3 months into the school year and some (middle and) high school students are still not placed into the appropriate class in OUSD.

    There are almost always co-curricular activities such as sports teams, marching band, cheerleaders, debate club, drama club, pep squad, etc…. and a high degree of student interest and participation.

    * Most successful school districts also have rules or alternative placements for highly disruptive students. For instance, a student who is highly disruptive or suspended might have to complete a term and show willingness to comply at the district alternative school before returning to their home school. Currently, OUSD just moves DHP’d students around to another school.

    There are outstanding, experienced professional educators and experienced administrators with a BACKGROUND of SUCCESS in the CLASSROOM who have come up through the rank and file of the education system…. and they MENTOR the new teachers… not like Oakland where Broadies, Teach for America or OTF people are allowed to come in with NO proven experience and just change everything in the school and wreck havoc and boss people around. Then… after a few years… once everything is all messed up beyond all recognition (FUBAR)… and their student loan is paid off, they finally earn their credential or they get a better paying job elsewhere because they “worked in Oakland”, they just leave and all the “real teachers” have to put the school back together again……

    Oh wait…. that’s what we’re doing!

  • Troy Flint

    Happy Thanksgiving to all. I just want to state, for the record, that YES is part of the Castlemont redesign.

    – troy flint

  • Stakeholder

    Not only has there been an exodus of families and students, but also of teachers and in Castlemont’s case administrators. You won’t get any elaboration on options on the table because regardless of whatever proposal is drafted, the school board will impose whatever they are puppeteered to do. Had they cared about the Castlemont schools they would not have imposed a principal inferior to last year’s interim principal, who the board refused to extend a contract to. The writing is on the wall.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thank you, Troy. I’m sorry for the error. Fortunately were were able to correct the print version in time.

  • livegreen

    For discipline and academic focus, why don’t the worst high schools do what Edna Brewer has been with the kids who are goofing off mildly but can still be brought back from the edge? When they are it re-centers the school population and focuses on achievement, & not permanent disenfranchisement.

  • http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    One thing to ask is how is the district going to cope with the impact of the likely expiration of funding for 210 of the 500 California partnership academies?

    Is the district getting ready to phase out some of its academies because of this?

    Also, since the state program is threatened, how is that going to impact Skyline phasing-in of wall-to-wall academies as a response to NCLB’s requirements? Will these academies be sustainable?

    Along those lines Katy, would you do a story comparing the types of restructuring which were selected by OUSD’s three comprehensives (SHS, OH, OTHS)? I am of the understanding that all three schools were in the exact same stage of Program Improvement and sanctions.

    Funny (not) how NCLB and its sanctions remain alive and well despite the fact that the law officially expired over three years ago. The Congress just keeps extending the law and everyone just keeps on complying. Most people now agree that NCLB is flawed, even if they don’t agree on the degree. Yeah, I know Arne Duncan and his Gates and Broad hacks are working on a rewrite, but it’s being projected to be worse than NCLB.

    The now constant reconfiguring of Oakland’s historic high schools is being repeated in cities across the country because the same reform mentality has infested every urban school district.

    And never forget that the school reform approach of this era was introduced to the education world by people in the business world and was based on a business model called “disruptive innovation.” Producing stability and strengthening communities are NOT included in its features. Keeping everything in a crisis state and constant destabilization is the new norm.

    The purpose of all of this “reform” has never been about wanting to help poor kids and their communities; privatization and permanent union-busting were its true goals. There is a great deal of evidence for this, but especially fits into how the reformers never want to address certain facts, for instance, that the wealthy U.S. has one of the widest income gaps (and growing) and a persistently high child poverty rate. If anyone dares to mention that poverty has an effect on kids, they are attacked for “making excuses.”

  • Deborah W

    I remain optimistic. Not sure the new superintendent gets it. OPS has been deconstructed. The changes since 2003 have not been about students. The disrespect shown to parents and the Oakland Schools community is sad. You would think in the effort to save Castlemont and Fremont the sup starts with meetings with the individuals involved in educating and supporting the young people in these communities. Remember those students still engaged still believing that school works for them need to have our utmost attention and care! In the meantime monitoring my grand nephew’s progress in his second year in an OPS school. Just a little anxious and not convinced his success is ensured over the next ten years in this school system.

  • Alice Spearman

    As a grandparent of two students on the Castlemont Campus and also the School Board Representative, I am looking forward to the much needed changes where student needs are the driving forces. In the next few weeks conversations which include parents, students, staff of the schools communities will take place to seriously listen to suggestions given regarding what is needed and wanted to make the campus desirable to the families of East Oakland. We know the academic rigor at this time is less than desirable, also we are not offering any carreer to work options, this must change.
    Castlemont has a long history of academically and physically prepare young adults to be successful in life, this again must be the focus.

  • livegreen

    I believe there’s a group forming within OUSD to reintroduce technical, career to work options. This would be a welcome sight, and a positive alternative to the “college or nothing” system many liberals and conservatives jointly aspire to (for opposite reasons).

  • harlemmoon

    C’mon, people! Wake up and see this latest parlor trick for what it is; a parlor trick.
    “Redesigning” (an overused euphemism if ever there was one) a school every few years should raise red flags throughout the community. The poorly thought out, sophomoric tinkering that passes for a blueprint for academic rigor is but a farce. Yet, folks lap it up and cross their fingers every time.
    Say, Alice, is this really what education is about in Oakland? If so, can we finally tell the peasants that the emperor truly has no clothes.

  • Let’s Get Real

    I have to agree with Harlemmoon–unless part of the redesign includes higher expectations for student behavior and lots of resources for academic support. These two factors are overlooked time and time again, although they are the biggest contributors to school failure.

    Are you hearing me, Ms. Spearman–and the rest of the board? Our students’ bad behavior can no longer be tolerated! It must be acknowledged and addressed! And I don’t mean all students, but there are enough bad actors to disrupt learning in a number of our schools. Stop making excuses for their bad behavior at school, and you will help stem the bad (worse) behavior that spills over into the streets.

    Also, it’s a fantasy to believe that our students’ academic deficits (with which they enter school) can be corrected by classroom teachers alone–especially with the minimal amount of planning time teachers are given. If you want to see significant improvement, there is no way to get around investing in support services–provided during the school day, with content directed by the students’ teachers.

  • JR

    Just a dog and pony show, eat up as much public and private money for as long as possible, and when that money runs out just re-invent a new name and a gimmick to go with it and call it reform or re-invention, presto new monetary stream. If they can just keep the money flowing until fat-cat public retirement, it’s all gold.Voila!Kids? What kids? Show me da money!

  • Alice Spearman

    Harlemmoon, Let’s Get Real,and JR,
    Yes, there must be a change in behavior, of attitude, along with a change of configuration. Changes in not tolerating bad behavior, along with high expectations is a must. Changing the configurations also looses funding where the much needed support services will again be part of the school culture. If any of you were around when the “Great Experiment” came to being, then you would remember the great outcry of not keeping support services. Not all memory of what a school should be was lost, albeit but a few of us are still here to re-build what was torn down.
    I have to agree that a lot of the district posturing is a dog and pony show, but if you look real closely, some of us are getting things done.
    What is needed is for you to come out of your comfort zone, come to board meetings on a consistant basis, demand that changes in the way we think and apply our expectations and support of not only our students but also our staff is done. I will truly welcome you.
    Keep your eyes open, real education will happen again, on the Castlemont Campus very soon, people again will be proud to say that they are a Castlemont Alumni. I know I am!

  • Let’s Get Real

    Thanks for responding, Ms. Spearman. I’m counting on you to keep your word. As a teacher, I have spoken at board meetings before, and definitely plan to do so again.

  • Ms. J.

    I think others have said it, but I will say it too–I think it’s great that you are reading and responding here, Ms. Spearman. I wonder if your colleagues ever discuss the blog with you and if they could be moved to share their views too? At all events, thank you for taking the time to learn what some of the community think about the schools, and for sharing your opinions and knowledge.

  • Alice Spearman

    Let’s Get Real and Ms. J,
    Thanks for caring about the education of our students. Yes, a couple of my colleagues do read the blog, there are a couple of us who will do some research on the topics covered on our agendas, but too many times board members rely on staff reccomendations without doing their research. That is how the district got into financial trouble which led to the state takeover, then “The Great Experiment” took over. There are still members on the board to this day still support the concept. I believe our Superintendent is trying his best to change that culture of thinking in the district, it is not an easy task, however seeing the changes he is making, leads me to believe there is still hope. So I will hang in there atleast to ensure the students I am elected to represent recieves the best education has to offer. Never forget I have granddaughters attending these schools and they are not going to be sacrificed for the sake of a theory! They are going to recieve a decent education which will start them on solid ground entering their adulthood. With them so will other students.

  • Catherine

    How are middle schools going to hold students accountable for behavior? I would love to be able to take away any electronic device that buzzes, sings, clicks, vibrates, plays music, rings or otherwise is on during any class period and have it handed over to administration for the parent and the student to pick up together after school.

    Every class period I have a minimum of five electronic interruptions and that does not include the texting I cannot see every minute.

  • Yastrzemski

    @ Catherine

    May I ask why you don’t take them away from the students? It is your classroom. I’ve heard of some clever solutions by different administrators. One has a “June Box”, and anything that is confiscated from the students goes in there until June. A parent may come and get it, but if it shows up again, then there is no other option. Others have the phones dropped off in the office each morning, and the secretary keeps them until the end of the day. The schools have phones, children do not need them in the class. Where are you where this is allowed?

  • Catherine

    Every middle school in Oakland suffers with this issue. First off, if I took every device away and kept them for parents to pick up I would be taking a minimum of 10 devices per class period.

    I have parents screaming that since I didn’t buy it, I can’t touch it. I have been threatened. I have been told that the middle school students are responsible for younger siblings and senior citizens. And, the texting during the day is often done by parents to make arrangements with their own children because they do not talk in person in the morning – the students themselves get up, ready and off to school by themselves. I have been at school as late as 6 pm with threatening parents because I have taken away the only way they communicate with their own children.

    What we need is a district-wide policy that every teacher and every administrator are willing to enforce regardless of parental consequence. Then we need contracts signed by both students and parents/guardians acknowledging the rules that electronic devices must be turned off and stored during class times. Then there must be clear instructions and a clear set of consequences and EVERYONE in the district must enforce them.

    I know that several people on this list would be horrified to find that their child’s or grandchild’s cellphone or iPod was taken away for a week or a month, much less until June.

    Alice Spearman – would you like to weigh in on this subject as both a board member and a grandmother of students?

  • Works at high school

    I work at Skyline and notice at least three or four phones in use on a daily basis in one of the classrooms I go to. Students are pretty good at sneaking them behind the desk and it is hard for a teacher to see. I sometimes wonder if the teacher notices and has just given up in one class or if she doesn’t see what I do. It is really blatant. I had middle school kids who actually refused to give up their phones when asked to by me when I was their teacher. Their parents didn’t see a problem with their kids using a phone in class. I agree with Catherine that there has to be a district-wide policy and that everyone must enforce it. They have to stop letting the parent dictate what behavior is allowed in the classes. These parents usually don’t behave any better than their children.

  • Hills Parent

    I don’t have a middle schooler yet, but that type of behavior in class is one of the reasons why I don’t want to send my kids to public middle school in Oakland. I hope that the schools and/or district institute a policy that cracks down on e-interruptions. That’s so disrespectful and distracting. There should be a zero tolerance for using cell phones in class for any reason. How do other nearby districts handle electronic devices?

  • Alice Spearman

    There is a policy. You all must not only complain to the school pwill be forincipal, but to superintendent, board memby ers, etc. No policy works if it is not instituted. (Hint) SINCE STATE ADMINISTRATION, FOLKS DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THEY HAVE TO FOLLOW POLICY AND SOMETIMES ARE NOT EVEN AWARE THERE IS A POLICY.

  • Alice Spearman

    Excuse me, keyboard stuck, again, if we do not know there is a problem then we cannot address it. I will broach the question at next board meeting.

  • Lisa Shafer

    I teach Media Studies to sophomores at Media College Preparatory High School, one of the schools being considered for elimination/consolidation by the district.

    Coincidentally, I am working with students on conducting surveys in preparation for their work on our campus newspaper and to also help with get ready for the exit exam.

    Our first student-generated survey came after reading this blog entry in class.

    Here are two questions and the results they calculated:

    1. Would you transfer from Fremont if the district shut down Media Academy? 60 percent of 32 students answered “Yes.” (32 students is about 10% of our school, so a decent sample size.)

    2. Do you think academics would improve if Fremont were to become one school?
    84 percent of the students answered no. (They had done an earlier story in which they reported that our school’s API had risen 176 points since it broke off from Fremont High in 2003. I think that may have influenced their answers here. And, I think, they are right!)