The Oakland school district’s think tank

Along one wall at the Oakland Educational Center at Tilden is a series of questions that begin with: “How do you know if a school is _?” (Choose your adjective: effective, supportive, healthy, safe)

Sticky notes underneath contain the answers, at least of those who took part in the exercise.

The last time I visited Tilden, located in the East Oakland foothills near Mills College, it was a school for general education and special education students. Before that, it was the site of John Swett Elementary. Now it houses grown-ups — school district employees and trainees who are trying to improve Oakland’s public schools. I don’t know exactly how many people work out of there now, but the leadership, curriculum, instruction, charter school and new teacher support offices moved in, along with the new division called Quality Schools Development.

Denise Saddler, a longtime district administrator, describes it as a think tank.

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Oakland’s School Options deadline is here

Today’s PSA: If you’ve been shopping for public elementary, middle and/or high schools in Oakland and want to take part in the first round of school placements, your deadline is 3 p.m. Friday.

You must apply in person at the Family & Community Office, 2111 International Boulevard OR at any OUSD school. (I initially neglected to mention the latter option.)

For more details and contact information, visit OUSD’s enrollment page here. You can find the forms here.


A grim budget exercise for Oakland principals

We reported today that Gov. Jerry Brown wants to fund K-12 education at current levels next year — as long as voters approve a measure in a June special election (date TBD) to extend some existing taxes for another five years.

It was a relief to many in the state’s public schools, given the predictions of mid-year cuts and drastic reductions for 2011-12. But even if California voters do approve the tax extension and the Legislature does miraculously pass an on-time budget with current K-12 funding levels, school cuts won’t be over. Districts will soon find themselves without the one-time federal dollars (first stimulus money, then Education Jobs funds) that have cushioned the system from the full brunt of state funding cuts.

Which brings us to Oakland Unified. Continue Reading


Tough-love parenting

Amy Chua says she won’t let her daughters play an instrument other than piano or violin, have “play dates” with friends or be in a school play, let alone watch TV or play video games.

In her Sunday Wall Street Journal essay, the Yale law professor champions the virtues of “Chinese mother”-style parenting, an approach with rigidly high standards and little concern about a child’s self-esteem. She says children aren’t as fragile as people think; she sees no problem with calling her daughter “fatty” if she’s gained weight or “worthless” if she is disrespectful or receives a B on a test.

“Western parents,” as she calls them (and she says she knows plenty of Chinese-Americans who fit into that category), worry more about their child’s individuality and feelings of self worth than about their success.

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Brown’s proposal to spare K-12 from cuts

Gov. Jerry BrownThe governor releases his 2011-12 budget proposal today. This is what his office sent out this morning. (If you want to watch the news conference live, info’s at the end of the news release):

Governor Brown’s Budget Slashes State Spending by $12.5 Billion

Sacramento – Governor Jerry Brown will release a balanced state budget today that slashes spending by $12.5 billion, including an eight to 10 percent cut in take-home pay for most state employees, and proposes a “vast and historic” restructuring of government operations.

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A tragic start to the new year

Chris Jones (courtesy photo)Chris Jones was all set to graduate from East Oakland School of the Arts and study music at Cal State East Bay. He had his graduation day marked on his cell phone calendar — along with a note about how happy he would be, at that moment.

But, as you might have heard, the talented 17-year-old was shot Friday evening outside his house, in front of his mother and two sisters. It was New Year’s Eve, and they were heading out to eat. Jones was Oakland’s last homicide victim of 2010. His older sister was injured in the shooting. You can read the initial news report here.

This evening, classmates and teachers from his high school are holding a vigil in the family’s home. Seventh Avenue Baptist Church (1740 Seventh Ave.) is having a musical celebration in his honor at 6 p.m. Sunday. The memorial service is at 11 a.m. Monday at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1909 Market St. in West Oakland.

There will be a story about Chris in Sunday’s Tribune.


Quality schools task force, explained (sort of)

I need to make it to one of these meetings. I’ve heard they’re well run, and I need to get a better handle on how the Quality Community Schools Development task force is approaching a topic as broad and multi-faceted as school quality. This OUSD-produced video explainer didn’t help me all that much (Eduspeak, to me, sometimes sounds like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons), but maybe you’ll glean something useful from it.

Who here has participated in the quality schools meetings (or other task forces) thus far? How is it working? What questions are you wrestling with? What have you learned?


Mack’s new student blog

Carmen Cummings, a Mack Smack writer at work. Photo courtesy of Pamela Tapia, EditorTraditional high school journalism may be fading away, but students in an after-school class at McClymonds High School in West Oakland are publishing news, reviews and slices of life in a new blog.

Mack Smack posts tend to be short and sweet — sometimes consisting of a couple of photos and a sentence or two. My favorite one is about 4-year-old Makhiya Jones-Robinson, who cheered on the football team with the Mack squad this fall.

The class is taught by Nadine Joseph, a writing coach for the Oaktown Teen Times, and the blog is edited by Pamela Tapia, a senior. As a new subscriber, I hope they keep it up. I look forward to seeing what they have in store for 2011.


Yee to serve another term as board president

Gary Yee, Oakland school board presidentJody London

Gary Yee will be president of the Oakland school board for 12 more months. Jody London was elected vice president at the same meeting this week.

In his acceptance speech, Yee said he believed the district should focus on high-quality teaching; safe and healthy schools; ensuring that all students have a “college prep course of study”; and a renewed commitment by the board to govern effectively and broadly, rather than in each member’s own interests.

Here is the full text, via OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint: Continue Reading