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No layoffs for Oakland’s elementary school teachers

A Kaiser Elementary kindergartner, shown at a rally in March. Photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News GroupNone of the elementary school teachers who received pink slips last March will lose their jobs (except for those who don’t have the required credential to teach English learners), Deputy Superintendent Maria Santos announced at the beginning of tonight’s Oakland school board meeting.

At least 17 of the 25 music teachers who received pink slips will keep their jobs as well.

“We’re really excited about this and delighted today to present that information to you,” Santos said. (Superintendent Tony Smith is in Washington, D.C.)

Santos said further analysis is required before a similar announcement can be made about other positions, such as middle and high school teachers or counselors. The Oakland school district warned 657 teachers that they were at risk of losing their jobs. That number included 25 music teachers and 267 elementary school teachers.

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New teachers, searching for a toehold

Courtney Couvreur, a second-year math teacher at Oakland International High School and teacher convention delegate, writes about how the threat of layoffs has affected her school — and how it might continue to be felt, even after some of the pink slips are rescinded.

Courtney Couvreur (left) with her students at Oakland International High School

At Oakland International High School, each staff member at our school shares a vision of a high-quality, college-prep education for all immigrant children. We work in collaborative teams and have formed tight bonds with our colleagues. This March, all but two of our English and social studies teachers received pink slips. We have moved from outrage to grief as we recognize how disruptive this will be to our community. We rely on each other’s expertise and passion in teaching a wide range of ESL, and we know that to lose even one of our teachers to layoffs will change the fabric of our school.

We have experienced a slump in morale that some say will end once many of the layoff notices are rescinded, but we cannot just bounce back as though the pink slips never happened. We are worried about our own mortgages, student loans, and children’s futures. We have been made to feel insecure about losing the support of our colleagues, finding new jobs in other districts, whether finding a job will mean having to move. For those of us who have been bounced between several districts’ mass layoffs, we worry that we will never been able to gain a toehold in one community.

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OUSD budget Q & A at Mack tomorrow


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If you were shut out of last week’s crowded budget workshop, you still have a chance to hear the Oakland school district administration’s latest plan and ask questions about it. Superintendent Tony Smith reported Wednesday that California school districts could lose $844 per student, which is a 16 percent reduction in state general purpose funding from the current year. In Oakland, he said, that’s $30.5 million.

In case you missed it, here is a brief summary I posted on the blog last week about the special meeting, including data that show there are likely to be few actual layoffs this year.

The meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) at McClymonds High School, 2607 Myrtle St. District spokesman Troy Flint says there is not likely to be any news — just a chance for teachers to ask questions of Smith and his two deputies, Vernon Hal and Maria Santos.

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Story, photos from Oakland teacher convention

A story about last week’s dramatic Oakland teacher convention is in today’s Tribune. You can find it here. Here are a few photos taken by a real photographer (Laura A. Oda/Tribune) with a real camera. She came on Friday afternoon, before the turning point. Below is a session about the California Standards for the Teaching Profession.

If you have any photos that capture the highs and lows of the event that you think I should add, email them to me (preferably not at full resolution) at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

TEACHER CONVENTION Continue Reading

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Oakland teacher convention ends on a high note

A standing ovation at the Oakland Teacher Convention

Day 2 of the Oakland teacher convention ended with anger and frustration. Today ended with standing ovations.

“What a turn,” said Mercedes Ugarte, a fourth-year teacher at Melrose Leadership Academy. “It’s turned into something that’s teacher-owned. We’ve never had this space before to share these things out.”

A last-minute change to the program, made in response to the sharp criticism, was well received. This morning, the 200 delegates divided into six groups. Each one papered the walls of their rooms with lists of what was working and not working in their classrooms, in their schools and in the district, and recommendations for resolving them. They came up with their top priorities and shared them with everyone, including Superintendent Tony Smith, at the end of the day.

Some of the recommendations: Continue Reading

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Teacher convention, Day 2: Delegates push back

Teachers meet after Friday's session to make last-minute changes, based on feedback.

The first-ever Oakland Teacher Convention took an interesting turn this afternoon (or maybe, before then) when some of the 200 delegates expressed frustration and disappointment with today’s sessions, drawing hearty applause.

The discontent was strong enough to cause the event organizers on the Effective Teaching Task Force to change the plan for Saturday. (That’s what they’re doing in the above photo.)

From what I heard, there was a lot of talking to teachers — rather than with teachers — about the district’s various task forces, during morning sessions designed to provide context. In the afternoon, teachers were asked to review the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (Side note: Some of this was through “pair shares.” Is it a common practice to use k-12 teaching terminology and exercises for the teachers, themselves? If so, why is that? Do you find it helpful or patronizing?), and to propose Oakland-centric changes to those standards. Some of the small group sessions apparently grew testy, although not the one I observed.

At the end of the day, sensing the temperature in the room was high, organizers scrapped plans to share some of the work from the previous session and opened the floor for people to vent. Some said they felt misled, thinking they were coming to the convention to have deep discussions about teaching and the needs of their schools when even the limited time for dialogue felt constrained and rushed. Others said they were confused about the purpose of the convention: Were they going to have anything to take back to their schools when it ended?

Some teachers chimed in, saying it was important to keep going — that this was just the beginning. “I think we hit the wall today, and that’s OK, ” said Sue Scott, a veteran teacher from Joaquin Miller. Now, she said, “We go to the other side.”

Bri Moore, a first-year teacher and Oakland native who came to OUSD through Teach Tomorrow in Oakland, told the group that she came to this convention to learn from some of the district’s best teachers. “What I’m getting is a lot of negativity,” she said. “What I need from you is not the negativity. What I need is to share your craft. What I need from you is your knowledge and your resources.”

“I want to encourage everybody to still keep your hearts open,” said Betty Olson-Jones, OEA president and co-chair of the teaching task force, which organized the three-day event. “I want you all to honor yourselves for speaking up and saying, `This is not what I came for.’”

A couple dozen people stayed afterward to regroup and plan for the next day. Everyone was invited to do so. A discussion about working conditions was already on tomorrow’s agenda, but now it sounds like there will be opportunities for teachers throughout the day to talk about what’s working in their schools, what’s not, what they need from the district, etc. And, at the end, to set priorities for the district and talk about how the work will continue after the convention ends.

Delegates: What has your experience been like so far? In the spirit of openness, I’d like to ask delegates to use their full names when they write about the convention.

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Why they came, and what they hope for

After the opening speeches, after Superintendent Tony Smith said he wants to “create a place where it feels good to be a teacher,” deputy superintendent Maria Santos asked delegates to discuss their hopes and aspirations for the teacher convention.

One teacher, an Oakland native, stood up. “I feel a little bit of hope,” she said. “I just hope to leave with a lot more.”

Others said they were hoping that…

- the energy in the room lifts

- this will make me want to stay here (in OUSD)

- the passion that brought the teachers here “catches fire” at all schools

- the discussions go beyond “surface conversations”

- the convention will inspire teachers to collaborate more

- the dream of equity will become a reality

- we have a better idea of what we can do as a district to help beginning teachers become effective, feel effective, and stay

I’m sitting next to Bart Alexander, from Garfield Elementary. “It’s nice to see the union president and the administration talk about the same things. At the same time, there’s a gigantic elephant in the room, because I know these two teachers (to his left) got pink slips.”

But, he said, he’s encouraged by the direction the district seems to be going with respect to teacher practice. He sees it at his school. “I feel like we’re going back to real teaching, which is nice,” he said. “We were told what to do for so long.”

Now, everyone at my table is eating dinner and talking about their students.

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Oakland Teacher Convention, here I come

As of Tuesday, 210 teachers from 90 schools had been selected by their fellow teachers to represent them at the three-day teacher convention, according to Ash Solar, the district staffer who co-chairs the Oakland school district’s Effective Teaching Task Force. (This story gives some context about what the task force is up to.)

I will be dropping in several times between this evening and Saturday, and I plan to blog from the event. Who knows, I might even tweet, too. Tonight there will be mostly speeches; the meatier discussions won’t happen until tomorrow.

Delegates: If you feel like sharing your impressions with a reporter, look for a tall woman with a skinny notebook, tapping people on the shoulder or otherwise awkwardly approaching them to ask questions. You could also, of course, email me after each day’s session at kmurphy(at)bayareanewsgroup.com or comment directly on the blog.

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So much pink, so few layoffs (probably)

For all of the people who tried to attend the Oakland school board’s special budget meeting tonight and anyone else who missed the presentation, here’s the upshot:

The Oakland school district is bracing for a 16 percent cut in state general purpose funding for 2011-12. That amounts to $844 per student, or $30.5 million, rather than $349 per student, or $12.6 million, as previously thought. Not a small difference. But the district’s staff’s “best thinking” for making ends meet under that scenario does not call for additional cuts at schools, school closures or furloughs.

What it does entail is a whole lot of one-time funds taken from the state loan, adult education programs, and additional reserves. And, as a result, a much larger structural deficit — $22 million, rather than $7 million — and more cuts down the line. You can find the presentation here.

On layoffs: Continue Reading