A heartbreaking essay on school break-ins

Someone wrote this blog post about a break-in this week at the Burbank Preschool Center, a school for children with special needs.

View Larger Map

The district hasn’t yet provided stats on how many times people have broken into Oakland schools this year and how much they’ve taken, but it happens all too often. In fact, the break-in at Burbank followed burglaries at Grass Valley (stolen safe) and Redwood Heights (stolen computers and projectors), according to the school district’s spokesman, Troy Flint.

I don’t know who wrote the essay, posted on the “On Thoughtfulness and Randomness” blog, but you should read it. Here’s an excerpt:

I had to go there later in the day – and steeled myself walking in. District vans were parked outside the school, lots of people inside fixing things. Busy trying to make the break in go away.

Teachers were teaching. Eyes were sad, smiles forced. But children were going to lunch – teachers were helping them celebrate “super hero day” – children looked safe, happy, excited – oblivious to the damage, oblivious to the whispers of the adults. It was their school – and it was a good place to be.

The teachers made it that way – protected the children from what wasn’t right in the world. Kept their routines, listened to their stories about their costumes, worked on their colors and shapes – made the world calm, predictable, and safe. Protected the families too – told them gently, with assurance, with sympathetic smiles, with plans to make it better in the future – plans to keep the world from busting in again, stories of why everything would be OK.

The jokes started when the children were out of earshot – because that is how we all cope now. Continue Reading


Where are they now? Two Oakland high school grads, four years later

Henry Grant, 200620110608__eoak0530henry05~1_GALLERY

Darielle Davis, 2007Davis, 2011

When Henry Grant and Darielle Davis were high school seniors in 2006-07, we wrote about their college aspirations. Grant, then an Oakland High School student and All-City Council president, was looking at private, out-of-state colleges. Davis, valedictorian of EXCEL High School in West Oakland, was headed for UC Berkeley.

This spring, we learned they were about to graduate from college. We caught up with them to hear about their college experiences. They told us how they kept going, despite unexpected, life-changing events, and how they found college-level work. (Both said writing was a major challenge at first.)

You can find Grant’s story here, and Darielle’s story here.


OUSD budget trends and another central reorg

The first reading of the Oakland school district’s 2011-12 budget proposal happens at tonight’s 5 p.m. board meeting (Catch it live here). So I did some number crunching, building on an analysis from earlier in the year that compared 2009-10 spending and 2010-11* budget estimates.

You’ll find the combined totals toward the bottom of the spreadsheet, with the changes over time highlighted in blue. If you notice any errors, please let me know so I can fix them.

*Note: The district’s estimates for 2010-11 have changed since the February budget presentation. I’ve included both sets of numbers for the current fiscal year.

OUSD budget trends

You might have noticed that the budget for professional development and curriculum would be half the size that it is this year. It can’t be a coincidence that the district is overhauling its Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction department — which “wave” would this be? — though few details have come through official channels about the reasons for the reorganization, how many jobs will be eliminated, and how it will work. Continue Reading


Special education advocates press OUSD to hire more experienced teachers

In the last two years, teaching candidates from Oakland Teaching Fellows and Teach for America pretty much had a lock on all open special education positions in the Oakland school district.

All but three of the 70 new hires during that time period were teachers placed in Oakland schools through one of those two programs, according to a report the school district released today.

But district staff say in the report that is about to change:

This year, we made no job guarantees with OTF or TFA, so we’ll group partner program teachers and all external hires in same pool, so principals and program coordinators will be able to make the selection they deem the best fit.

The report (posted in full, below) was issued in response to a public records request from the local Community Advisory Council (CAC), which advocates for special needs children. The CAC has also questioned why the district’s in-house training and credentialing program for new special education teachers only admits interns — brand new teachers who are earning their credentials as they teach — rather than fully-credentialed general education teachers who want to make the switch.

District officials said OUSD’s special education training program is only accredited to work with intern teachers (half are from Oakland Teaching Fellows; half are from Teach for America), but that the idea of opening it up to experienced teachers “has enormous potential.”

The council is holding a meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at Metwest High School, 314 E. 10th St., to discuss OUSD’s strategic plan — and presumably, this report — with district staff.

Quick stats from the report, which includes some interesting charts and tables detailing retention rates of its teachers, by year and subject: Continue Reading


Four more years for Tony Smith?

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The Oakland school board unanimously extended the superintendent’s contract through June 2015.

Oakland Superintendent Tony SmithThe Oakland school board votes Wednesday whether to extend the current, three-year contract for Superintendent Tony Smith (which expires in June 2012) for another three years. No changes in pay — $265,000 salary — or benefits.

You can see the full document for yourself, below.

How well do you think Smith has led the district?

Contract for Tony Smith


Oakland’s 2010-11 enrollment breakdown

The California Department of Education recently posted 2010-11 enrollment data. At least one of you has asked how many schools have fewer than 200 children, so I put together a spreadsheet with the latest numbers for Oakland.

Tab 1 is sorted by total enrollment, with charter schools highlighted in blue. Tab 2 is sorted by school. You’ll see that of the 31 public schools or programs in Oakland with enrollments below 200, all but six or seven are alternative schools or charters, and one of those (Youth Empowerment School) is already slated to close.

Want to go straight to the source? Here is the link to the page from where I downloaded the data.

Oakland school enrollment 2010-11


Cutting school, with dire consequences

Condolences outside Oak Knoll Market

I’m supposed to be an education reporter, not a crime reporter, but lately there hasn’t been much of a distinction.

Today I reported on a tragedy that unfolded at a market near Youth Empowerment School in the East Oakland hills — which, according to the school principal, is about to close (not merge into the Castlemont campus, as originally planned).

On Tuesday morning, a 14-year-old YES freshman cut school and, police said, got into a violent struggle with the 57-year-old owner of Oak Knoll Market over bottles of vodka he was trying to steal. When the boy fled, the owner followed in his car; he hadn’t driven a block before he fell unconscious and died, possibly of a heart attack.

Continue Reading


OUSD custodians start scholarship fund

Inspired by the superintendent’s call to action, Oakland school custodians have decided to do their part to help Oakland’s African-American students achieve.

They’ve sold Raiders tickets, organized a talent show and held a raffle to raise scholarship money. So far, they have collected $10,000, which they will award to 11 African American boys and girls on Saturday in West Oakland’s DeFremery Park, said Mark Russ, a custodian at Barack Obama Academy in East Oakland.

It’s the first year of the scholarship fund.

“We all started thinking, `We’re all big sports fans,'” said Russ, who led the effort with his supervisor, Roland Broach. “We just kind of felt like it was something we could do.”

For more information about the initiative, a partnership between the district’s Custodial Services Department and the AFSCME union, call 510-879-8352.