What it takes to help kids succeed: an Oakland teacher’s view

Randall Bustamante teaches 11th- and 12th-grade English at Mandela Law and Public Service Academy on the Fremont Federation Campus in East Oakland. The sixth-year teacher tells us about the power of listening to students, giving them hope, and not being afraid to “deal with the life that students face in and out of the classroom.” — Katy

Randall Bustamante in front of his portable classroom in East Oakland. Courtesy photo.

What does it take to help an Oakland youth succeed?

My answer to the question is rooted in the lives and struggles of my East Oakland students. First, we need adults who are willing to listen.

I listened my first year when one of my students said she wanted to graduate high school even though she had gotten pregnant at 15 and no one in her family cared whether she finished school or not. She graduated anyway. Continue Reading


Yogeeta and the Bee

Shoshana Winkelstein is a fifth-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary School in East Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood. She tells us about the remarkable achievement of one of her students, Yogeeta Gurung, a refugee who has been in the United States for nine months. — Katy

Yogeeta Gurung, winner of the Oakland school district spelling bee. (Courtesy photo)

Talented students, proud parents and teachers all crowded into the auditorium of Tilden School this month for the Oakland school district’s annual spelling bee. As I arrived, students were registering, getting their contestant numbers and lining up beside the stage. When the students stood quietly, waiting to climb the stairs to the stage and introduce themselves, I imagined they were both nervous and excited.

My student, Yogeeta Gurung, a native of Nepal, has only been in the United States for nine months. Continue Reading


Oakland teachers, shaping school reforms

"Listening tour" held Feb. 15 by Oakland's Effective Teaching Task Force. Photo by Dean Coppola/Bay Area News GroupThese days, it sure seems like a radical idea: asking teachers, rather than telling them, what’s needed to improve their schools.

It’s happening in Oakland, though. You can read more about the purpose and the early work of a largely teacher-led project, the Effective Teaching Task Force, here. The story ran over the weekend.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED: The task force makes a stop tomorrow (Wednesday) on its “Teachers Talking to Teachers” listening tour. Continue Reading


OUSD’s budget, and the “central” question

Oakland schools, rather than the district’s HQ, might absorb almost all of the budget cuts coming from the state this year, district staff tell us. The rationale? That the central office took the brunt of the reductions last year, sustaining two-thirds of the cuts.

Do you buy it?

Before you answer, get the facts in this new financial report. It’s fascinating (for a financial report) because it slices the current and past-year’s expenses in so many ways.

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More details on Oakland principal reassignment notices

Why, some of you asked, would the Oakland school district tell all of its principals that they might be reassigned to another position next year? Unless the district plans to run schools without principals, does that mean school closures are imminent?

Troy Flint, the district’s spokesman, said that closing schools is not one of the district’s “primary solutions” to the budget crisis. But, he said, closures and consolidations could end up happening as a last resort, depending on how the state closes its $25 billion budget gap.

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Possible layoffs in Oakland schools

This letter from Superintendent Tony Smith was posted today on the district’s website. The news — that the district plans to issue more notices of possible layoff than it has in years — was buried beneath paragraphs of grim context, but you can tell where it’s going:

The most significant measure concerns advance notification of potential certificated layoffs. These notices, commonly referred to as March 15 notices, do not indicate that the recipient will be laid-off, only that such a possibility exists. This year, because of the tremendous uncertainty and the possibility of deep cuts, we plan to issue a significant number of notices to both certificated and classified staff. Continue Reading


Hinton-Hodge: hopes for Oakland’s new mayor

Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, an Oakland school board member who represents District 3 (West Oakland, Jack London, Lake Merritt and Adams Point), gives us a recap of an event Mayor Jean Quan held on Feb. 5 in West Oakland and shares her hopes for the city’s new leader. – Katy

Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, Oakland school board member (courtesy photo)A recent town hall meeting with Mayor Jean Quan was inspiring, and I wanted to share some reflections.

The meeting was held at the Lowell school site, which is home to West Oakland Middle School and KIPP Bridge Academy. The mayor plans to hold a town hall in all seven districts by the completion of her first one hundred days in office. I was pleased to hear that she chose to hold her first town hall in District 3, and I appreciated that it was held at a school as a reminder to folks that schools are the center of our community.

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A doomsday scenario, for sure — but how likely?

At last night’s school board meeting, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith said public schools in California could face a per-student cut of $900 next year. The mind-boggling assertion was promptly tweeted by the district’s communications team and posted on Facebook:

The state is now telling California school districts to prepare for cuts of $900 PER STUDENT for the coming school year. For a school of 400 students, that’s $360,000. We need to get the word to Sacramento that cuts are unacceptable!

But where, exactly, did that figure come from?

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