The Kindergarten Question

I don’t know how I missed this, but in case you did, too: Annelisa Hedgecock wrote this Op-Ed piece in Oakland North a couple of weeks ago about her family’s school search — and the reactions she gets from other parents when the name of her kid’s Oakland public elementary school comes up.

Here’s how it starts:

As sure as it’s the New Year, it’s also school selection season in Oakland. Obsessing about kindergarten is one of those things almost every middle-class parent here does, as normal as buying a family membership at the zoo. So, parents are touring private school after private school.

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On Saturday, you can (indirectly) vote on the CA budget

After years of declining revenues and short-term budget gimmicks, California’s Legislature has some painful choices to make. What’s your best advice for your local representatives?

Oakland school board member Jody London and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner are co-hosting an interactive workshop at 2 p.m. Saturday at Claremont Middle School in Rockridge for parents, school staff, students and other interested community members. Skinner says she will take that information back to Sacramento.

From the event flier: Continue Reading


Twenty-five years after the Challenger disaster

the Space Shuttle Challenger, Jan. 28, 1986. AP file photo by Bruce Weaver

I was in second grade when the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated off the Florida Coast on Jan. 28, 1986. My teacher could barely get the words out. She wheeled in a television set, turned on the news, and we watched that now-iconic clip, which was played over and over for days.

In the mid-1980s — at least, before that day — if you asked a little kid at my school or on my block about his or her career aspirations, there was a good chance you’d hear they wanted to be an astronaut. I wonder if the Challenger changed that. It certainly complicated my notions of space travel.

Pete Cuddyre, a retired Oakland principal, was at Joaquin Miller Elementary School at the time. He said his faculty saw the event as a teachable moment.

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Principal tells story of patience, persistence and love

At the Oakland school board meeting tonight, Oakland International High School Principal Carmelita Reyes shared a story about one of her students, Tjay, who is now 18. I thought it might resonate with some of you. So here it is, in my words:

Tjay was abandoned in Mongolia and sent to the United States when he was in eighth grade. He was alone in Oakland, without any family. An “unaccompanied minor.” The high school he went to didn’t know it. His first year, he earned a 0.05 GPA. “He cut class constantly and drove his teachers crazy,” Reyes said. In the spring of his freshman year, he decided he needed a change. He enrolled at Oakland International, a small school for recently arrived immigrant and refugee students.

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For Oakland school employees, a possible 2 percent raise

Oakland school district staff have built a 2 percent raise for all district employees into the 2011-12 budget projections, an increase that they say will cost $2 million.

At the same time, the district plans to cut its expenses by $12 million — at least, initially, according to a presentation to the board’s Finance & Human Resources Committee by Deputy Superintendent Vernon Hal. (Watch his presentation here, under 11-0123.)

Troy Flint, the district spokesman, said principals were asked this week to prepare budgets for next year with 7 percent less — an improvement from the 15 percent cut mentioned before winter break. Continue Reading


New data on attendance, suspension rates and scores of Oakland’s African American males

The Oakland school district has released some new data on the achievement of its black male students as part of its African American male achievement initiative, led by Chris Chatmon. (Note: The California Department of Education reports test scores by race and by gender, but not race and gender.)

  • About 27 percent of Oakland’s black males showed proficiency in English language arts in 2010, compared to 31 percent of all black students, 80 percent of white males and the districtwide average of 41 percent.
  • About 30 percent tested proficient in math, about the same as the overall proficiency rate for all African American students, but lower than the average for white males (77 percent) and the district average (44 percent).
  • One in every five of the district’s black male students missed more than 18 days of school last year, making them chronically truant. Continue Reading

A disturbing report at an elementary school

Oakland school district officials are investigating a report that two second-graders engaged in oral sex in their classroom while the teacher was present. They’re also looking into a complaint that, in the same classroom and in front of the teacher, some students were taking off their clothes and clowning around.

The teacher, who has been placed on administrative leave, apparently told school officials he was unaware of either incident — both of which reportedly happened last week. The principal got the report on Wednesday, immediately after a child told a staff member about it, said OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint.

After conducting multiple interviews, Flint said, “We believe the substance of the story is true.”

Here is a copy of the letter that went home to Markham families today.

Ug. Any Markham parents or teachers out there?


Not new, but improved: City program to help Oakland teachers buy homes

For Sale. Image from Ian Muttoo's photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons Until two hours ago, I had not heard of the city’s Downpayment Assistance Program for Oakland teachers and public safety employees.

The decade-old homeowner program hardly has been used by the public employees it was designed to help. In the last five years, a total of three loans have been issued to OUSD teachers — and one to a police officer, according to a recent staff report.

That might change. The city changed the loan terms in late December to make the program more attractive.

The city’s website has yet to be updated, but this Community and Economic Development Agency report provides a good summary of the program — its history, its participation and reasons for adjusting it.

Here are the terms of the program, in a nutshell: Continue Reading


Oakland school honored for closing the achievement gap

Manzanita SEED Elementary School. Photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

Only two schools in California and 250 in the United States won the 2010 National Title I Distinguished School Award for closing the achievement gap, and one of them is right here in Oakland: Manzanita SEED.

I wrote about the Spanish-English immersion elementary school in September. Its API has risen by 190 points in the last two years, and now it’s 842 out of a possible 1,000.

About 85 percent of the students at the diverse school come from low-income homes, and about half enter kindergarten as English learners; their reading and math proficiency scores are at or above the school’s average.

At Manzanita SEED, which opened in 2005 and shares a campus with Manzanita Community School, half of the school day is taught in English, and half is taught in Spanish. Unlike a traditional bilingual program, in which English learners are sometimes in class with other English learners, the classrooms are integrated. And children with special needs learn side by side with general education students.

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This Saturday: a chance to weigh in on the plan for Oakland schools

If you have an opinion on the superintendent’s “Full Service Community Schools” vision, if you’re not quite sure what it means, or if you want to offer your feedback before a plan is etched in stone, you might want to check out an upcoming conference at the Cesar Chavez Education Center in Fruitvale.

The Youth and Family Conference will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 2825 International Boulevard, in the new building that houses Think College Now and International Community School.

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