A big box store at Lazear?

3245396820_ecde5a5748_mThis spring, I wrote about the changes at Oakland’s Lazear Elementary School under its new principal, Kareem Weaver.

Lest the year end without controversy, rumors have been circulating that the school (see below map) could be closed down to make way for a big box store.

More than 100 people came to a recent meeting at Lazear with Oakland school board member Noel Gallo. Gallo said he called the meeting to quell rumors of an imminent closure and to assure parents that a deal wasn’t going to be cut behind the closed doors of the mayor’s office or the superintendent’s office.

But the rumors aren’t entirely off-base. Gallo said he had “an informal meeting” with the owner of the adjacent shopping center, Fruitvale Station, about the possibility of leasing the land on which Lazear sits. (He said he was first approached about this two years ago, and that it’s been “an ongoing conversation.”)

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A life cut short, a graduation celebration canceled

DITIYAN FRANKLINDitiyan Franklin would have graduated from Castlemont’s Leadership Preparatory High School next month. But on Wednesday afternoon, the Oakland teenager was shot and killed a couple of blocks from his house, near Arroyo Viejo park in East Oakland. Police said Thursday they had not determined a motive or identified a suspect.

Franklin is the second Castlemont senior in recent months to lose his life. His father said Chris Jones, a student at East Oakland School of the Arts who was fatally shot outside of his house Dec. 31, was a neighbor.

Yesterday, we talked to grieving family members and classmates about Franklin. You can find the story here.

MODERATOR’S NOTE: Please keep your comments respectful of those who knew and loved Ditiyan Franklin.


Oakland school board rejects Aspire charter

Aspire Public Schools

Aspire Public Schools did not get the go-ahead tonight to open a seventh charter school in Oakland; it fell one vote short.

(Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, who is probably the biggest charter school supporter on the board, was out of town at a Great City Schools conference. David Kakishiba and Jody London voted against the Aspire petition, and Alice Spearman — who was out of the room during the vote — said she was against it, too. Gary Yee, Chris Dobbins and Noel Gallo voted `yes,’ but Yee was on the fence; he told me he tended to support staff recommendations, but that he might have voted `no’ if Hinton-Hodge were there.)

Gail Greely, who heads the charter office, recommended the board approve the East Oakland elementary school. She said Aspire’s application met the legal standard — “even though an additional k-5 school is not needed to serve students and families in Oakland.” She also said the office determined it wouldn’t provide a “unique” or “innovative” program, but that those concerns weren’t grounds for denial under current charter school law.

I wrote about Aspire several months ago in a story about the growing influence and prevalence of charter school chains, as opposed to standalone charters. (I found this copy online, though our link expired.) Aspire, which is headquartered in Oakland, has received national attention and millions of dollars in federal and philanthropic support for its expansion. Oprah awarded the network $1 million last fall during a promotion for the “Waiting for Superman” documentary.

The network received no such appreciation tonight at the board hearing. Some board members seemed to take the application as an affront to the district.

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Oakland elementary school explores gender norms, teaches acceptance

A lesson about gender

Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland is teaching kids this week that boys and girls don’t all fit into neat gender norms, and that they shouldn’t laugh at or tease someone if they do (or wear) something different or unusual.

Two parent leaders whom I interviewed for a story about the issue said they knew of no controversy about the training — until today.

A few weeks ago, Redwood Heights invited parents to a staff training by Gender Spectrum and held an information session afterward, said Michelle Hatchell, the school’s PTA president. Principal Sara Stone included the information in several editions of a weekly memo to parents. (The training is about gender identity, not sexual orientation or attraction; it was funded by a grant from the California Teachers Association.)

But the chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal organization, said he learned of seven families who didn’t know until recently that the lessons were about to happen.

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A fashion app, designed by teenagers

Fashion Guru Team. Photo courtesy of Patricia Dolan

I can’t tell you much about the mobile app a team of Oakland Tech high school girls designed for the Technovation Challenge. It’s top secret.

It’s been described to me only as “a fashion organization app that will appeal beyond the typical demographic of 13- to 25-year-old females.” Which is encouraging, because I’m over 25 and could certainly use some technical support in the fashion organization department. My closet could, too.

Salina Wittmer, Carmen Zheng and Saleeha Bey will sell this idea Saturday at Google’s Mountain View headquarters. They’re up against teams from Mountain View, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York — teams who, like them, took place in their regional competitions.

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Chronic absenteeism in Oakland schools

Last school year, 14.3 percent of Oakland’s public schoolchildren were chronically absent, meaning they missed at least 18 days of school — excused or unexcused. As you can see from this map, created by (and posted with the permission of) the Oakland-based Urban Strategies Council, the most serious attendance problems are concentrated in West Oakland.

The Oakland school district recently began collecting data of all of its students who were absent — not just those with unexcused absences. Now, principals regularly get lists of those students (those who have missed 10 percent of the school year) in an effort to get to the root causes of their absence and curb the problem.

Superintendent Tony Smith is scheduled to speak in Sacramento tomorrow at a forum on the subject hosted by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. So is Hedy Chang, of Attendance Works, who did the attendance analysis for the Oakland school district with technical support from Urban Strategies Council.

As we discussed last summer on this blog, the problem of chronic absenteeism is not just prevalent in high schools, but in elementary schools as well. Continue Reading


Oakland Unified’s strategic plan: It’s here.

Futures Elementary School, 2011. Photo by Laura A. Oda/StaffI plowed through a draft of the Oakland school district’s strategic plan today — all 50 pages of it. It’ll be discussed at a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday (tomorrow) at the district headquarters. You’ll find links to the report below.

I won’t be surprised if long-time observers of the school system remind us all of the Five-Year Plans of OUSD Past — enthusiastically presented, but long since forgotten. I wonder how this plan compares to former superintendents’ visions for Oakland Unified. It certainly contains some provocative ideas, such as “risk screens” for African American male students at certain transitional points, and school quality reviews that go far beyond the API score.

The plan describes various school funding formulas that the district might adopt Continue Reading


Leadership changes on Oakland teachers union board

Challengers have unseated at least three incumbents on the executive board of the Oakland Education Association.

Ben Visnick, an Oakland High teacher and former union president, beat out incumbent Mark Airgood as treasurer. Toni Morozumi, a teacher at Montclair Elementary, unseated Tania Kappner; and Benjie Achtenberg, of Melrose Leadership Academy, will replace Craig Gordon.

Other seats will have new leaders, as well.

Isabel Toscano, a Castlemont Business Information & Technology teacher, won the open position currently held by Bob Mandel. Kei Swenson, a Fruitvale Elementary School teacher, will be the second vice president; she ran for an open seat against Mark Rendon.

Remember Oakland TIES, the group I blogged about last month? The group didn’t officially endorse any candidates, but sent out an email before the election noting that “several members of Oakland TIES” had endorsed Morozumi, Achtenberg, Toscano and Swenson.

All of them won.

Here’s the complete list of results, posted by OEA President Betty Olson-Jones: Continue Reading


CA budget proposal: More funding for schools

Gov. Jerry BrownBecause of rising tax revenues, California’s public schools (k-12) would get $3 billion more than expected in 2011-12 under Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision.

At a news conference this morning, Brown said the amount of money guaranteed to public schools under Proposition 98 — a Constitutional amendment that voters approved in 1988 — increased by $3 billion since January. He said his plan would honor that guarantee (rather than ask the Legislature to suspend it), and that it called for the state to start repaying $8.2 billion in debt to schools.

Another change from Brown’s January proposal relates to delayed payments to school districts — money owed one year, but not paid until the following year. Continue Reading


Oakland summer guide, and a free summer camp

Oakland Schools Police summer campIf you haven’t made plans for the summer yet, here is a brochure the Oakland school district has put together of its offerings, plus camps and courses run by the city or local organizations.

Teachers: I’ve been hearing about the academic `summer slide’ for years. Do you notice it more in students that didn’t do much learning over the summer than those who do? Does your school help find them good programs that they can afford?

What kinds of summer programs does Oakland — or the East Bay — need more of?

A free summer camp: The Oakland Schools Police department is doing its summer program again this year, at no charge to participants. Continue Reading