An Oakland school’s transformation

April 15, 2010 parent strike at Lazear Elementary School. (Bay Area News Group file photo)A year ago this morning, I interviewed parents who were on strike and picketing outside of Lazear Elementary, a school located right off the 29th Avenue/Fruitvale exit of Interstate 880. They said they were fed up with some teachers — one, especially — and with their principal’s response to their concerns.

I returned to Lazear this month to see how it was faring under new leadership. I visited twice, and must have talked to half the teaching staff about their experiences. I was struck by the power of morale (low and high) and trust in this school’s story.

You can read about it here.

(Below is a photo of Kareem Weaver, left, Lazear’s new principal.)
Lazear Elementary Principal Kareem Weaver (left). Photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

Katy Murphy

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

  • Jesse James

    YAY! This is great news! Have faith in your teachers and they will shine! I hope Mr. Weaver continues on his bright path!

    I am dismayed that Pia Jara,the old principal, still works for OUSD as a principal on special assignment. Before being publicly driven out, she had received Rookie Principal of the Year, an odd turn of events. I think this demonstrates how disconnected those that evaluate principals to the actual running of the school. My current “educational leader” gets kudos and awards, yet he has given me zero feedback this year!

    Your article is full of the wonderful things a good principal does: inspires and challenges staff & students while being a clear leader! Can I work there?

  • Mary Hill

    I am not surprised at all at Kareem Weaver’s accomplishments at Lazear. His talent was evident from the time he first started teaching many…um…rather, several years ago. You go, Kareem…and Lazear teachers, students, and community!

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

    This is a very important story with potential national implications because it represents that parents can produce positive change at their schools without pulling the Parent Trigger, dismantling their children’s school, and having it converted to a privately-run school functioning on public money.

    Our district would be very wise to create a system where the level of satisfaction of parents could be properly assessed on a regular basis, and problems dealt with before the parents pass the tipping point of frustration.

    If districts don’t take proactive measures, groups like Parent Revolution will step into the void by infiltrating the community and dispatching a team of paid organizers who’ll convince parents to go with the charter school “fix.” Follow the money and you’ll find that the Parent Revolution is funded by people who want to see public education privatized. They aren’t interested in improving the current system or giving parents good, lasting tools that help them become more empowered human beings.

    For instance, what about schools institutionalizing town halls, surveys, and interviews that would elicit information from parents, detect problems and measure their severity (to head off a “revolution”)? It would have to be better than the Use Your Voice survey, which hasn’t been all that effective as far as I am concerned.

    Too often, parents don’t feel comfortable going to the teacher directly (fear of retaliation, etc.), and don’t feel they can go to the principal, either.

    School Site Councils and school board meetings aren’t the place to go to seek a solution to the daily, nagging problems that parents feel stuck with as their faith in their school erodes away. There are alternative ideas with practical applications which have never been thought of or processed.

    More on the Parent Trigger @ http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2011/02/grannan-powerful-parent-trigger.html

  • Steven Weinberg

    A very nice story, Katy. It shows the value of having a reporter who stays with a “beat” long enough to follow up on past year’s stories.

  • Rick

    Mr. Weaver,

    You did a great job with our 4th-5th graders at Fruitvail. You were always looking out for the best interest of the students. I remember you teaching your class and the young man’s next door to you who was from Oklahoma.

    That was good training for you to be a principal and teacher at this school when needed. You are the Man! The students and parents are the winners by getting you. I believe you will be one of the best schools in the state in less than five years. Keep an eye on this brother Katy!

  • Teacher X

    I really appreciate that a big focus of this article was student learning. We need to hear more about what is happening in our schools that lead to students being better – higher academic achievement, a social justice mindset, developing as responsible humans. In contrast, there are too many stories about what’s bad in schools, politics, budget, etc. Yes, those topics should be covered, but let’s get a lot more information about all the good strategies that school staffs are using to impact student learning and growth.

    You are inspiring, Mr. Weaver. I hope you stay in OUSD for your entire career. We need more people like you to stay for the long haul, to weather the ups and downs and keep pushing forward.

  • http://www.lazearelementary.org Kareem Weaver

    Thanks, Katy, for reporting Lazear’s growth.
    Rick and Mary, thank you. I have great memories of teaching. It was an honor and a privilege to teach in Oakland. I loved it….didn’t always like it or its conditions, but I absolutely loved every second of it.

    @ Jesse James: Mrs. Jara earned Rookie Principal of the year. She did good work here. I see her handiwork in lots of things we’re doing and in the staff’s skill level with planning and data analysis. She worked her tail off for this school and its students. We don’t need to vilify people simply because the season changed and it was a bad year. There are some who would blame the teachers exclusively… or the students… or parents. I think we all have to be accountable for failing schools… from the residents to the Sup’. “A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” —John Wooden

    @ Sharon: To be clear, our parents didn’t pull the Parent Trigger, but they “went hard”. Believe it. They are 100% focused on the kids and when they think school staff is aligned with that they are extremely loving and supportive. But they are suppose to advocate for their kids; that’s their job. We have to have systems in place where they can do it in constructive and effective ways, but at the end of the day, they have to do what they have to do. They have urgency because every day counts for their kid’s education. If we don’t want them to protest, strike, file complaints, or pull a parent trigger… then we have to address their concerns. After reading about the parent strike, I was even more certain about Lazear – it showed parents that were passionate, aware, organized, and willing to hold me accountable.

    @Teacher X: Thanks.

    To keep our momentum, we’ve got to figure some things. We’re losing 3 teacher positions and an Intervention Specialist (I.S.). I need to raise funds for at least one of those teaching positions (minimizing split classes) and the I.S. that, according to data and observation, is producing great results with our lowest-skilled students.

    Our teachers and staff are industrious and hard working. They were willing to jump into science full-bore and many have agreed to get extra science training in the summer to improve its delivery to English Language Learners. They are learning to use adaptive technology, and willing to support initiatives instead of just complying. I love this seasoned (and sometimes ornery) staff. They are the real story here.

    Lazear is an underdog in a lot of ways. I’ve always pulled for underdogs.


  • Jesse James

    You could say I blamed the former principal, but I didn’t. I was pointing out that the disconnect between evaluations of principals and actual real ongoing performance is quite prevalent in OUSD. What I was trying to point out is that when principals are evaluated, the teachers and families are rarely spoken to, if at all.

    At my former elementary school, a principal was Principal of the Year, within 7 years 100% of the teachers she inherited (myself included) left, scores have dropped and the school, once a jewel, is now on the list to be closed. I think principals need to be evaluated on more than just test scores, paperwork completion rates and getting along with supervisors. I think that Katy’s article told of our success on family and teacher satisfaction. And I wanted to applaud that! It’s refreshing and I hope it speaks to the new direction of OUSD! I can’t wait!!!

  • Jesse James

    YOUR success with families and students–sorry!!!!

  • Robert

    I’m usually content to read the stories and listen to the same people making the same arguments. Such a positive story has drawn me out of lurk mode.

    I checked last year’s article about Lazear – 55 passionate comments about a sensationalized protest. Lots of finger pointing. This article about the school’s turnaround has only 8 comments. You do the math. Sorry Sharon, People are only interested in the latest car crash, earthquake, and protest.

    So if I know anything about Oakland, this story will quickly fade and people will soon resume arguing about budget, union, charters, layoffs, and conditions. Same old thing. With all the bickering in Oakland, people like this principal will eventually leave. Just like the small market A’s, the best players always end up leaving. It’s a matter of time. Unions are argue over charters, teachers are belly-ache about pay, principals whine about bad teachers, and reformers are try to turn schools into WalMarts so it is refreshing to hear a principal say:

    1. values experienced teachers and doesn’t micromanage
    2. “absolutely loved” teaching in Oakland. I’m tired of the whining
    3. not pointing fingers at old principal, teachers, or parents. Novel concept
    4. doesn’t take the credit. No good leader does.
    5. emphasizes technology and science. Most schools treat science like a joke
    6. Is not seeking to win a popularity contest, “they may not like me, but they like the kids”

    I’m surprised the union isn’t tripping over themselves to support this guy: “doesn’t micromanage and values experienced teachers” is right out of their playbook. They probably can’t focus on what they want because they’re so busy fighting what they don’t want.

    Somebody should sit this principal down and say, “What do you need?” He posted that he’s trying to raise money for a teacher and something else but this is Oakland. The only thing people are willing to support is a football team. Sad. Oakland will likely lose this principal, close down the small school, and then create a costly new commission to figure out how to develop effective leadership.

    This story doesn’t fit the mold. Some philanthropic groups wont give this school a penny because he’s not reform minded enough (ie try to fire all veteran teachers). Unions wont support him because they can’t get the picket signs out of their mouths. The district… they’re probably just relieved the school is no longer a powder keg. Is anybody sitting down with him and the staff and asking what, precisely, was done to turn the school around?

    Are other New Leaders For New Schools principals having a similar impact? My sister is an Oakland teacher and says Lazear is “the Bermuda Triangle of school sites.” How did it get that way? Can we learn from the past and not replicate our worst practices.

    I assume the teacher that walked into the meeting and passed out papers has been dismissed from the district. I’m afraid to ask. My taxes better not be supporting a clown like that. If you tolerate that kind of nonsense, you don’t even have the illusion of accountability. If the union and district can’t agree on that, they are a joke. The Lazear teachers deserve a lot of credit for not letting that incident divide them. Great job.

    Lastly, Jesse James, you are dismayed the old principal is now on special assignment. I assume that means she’s not a principal anymore. Should she have been fired completely? If she didn’t get a raise when she was principal of the year, it doesn’t surprise me that she wasn’t fired when things went south. This is our system.

  • jesse james

    I hope Mr. Weaver lands somewhere that will honor his good work.

  • jesse james

    And Robert, yes, I think if someone gets drummed out of their job for poor performance on whatever level, they should not get a lateral transfer. Despite what you may think, OUSD is not a jobs program. If you can’t do it, you shouldn’t do it! There are plenty of talented educators who can! And many of them are looking for work! So step aside and let them in!!!

  • J.R.

    Jesse James,
    You are correct to say OUSD is not a jobs program, and also I would add that the measuring stick for good teachers is not necessarily experience but competence and professionalism. Many of those teachers are looking for work just as you said, but the system is geared to discriminate based on time of service alone,neither competence or even pattern of attendance record is taken into account. The system needs to be re-worked if not abolished altogether with a new framework.