Instability in OUSD: a brief lesson in recent history


The number of students attending Oakland’s district-run public schools shrank by about 30 percent between 2000 and 2010 — a trend that’s partly explained by a decline in the number of children living in the city and partly by the explosion of independently-run, state-funded charter schools during that time.

Despite that striking statistic, the district has even more schools today than it did back then.

If you don’t count the already-closed Youth Empowerment School (which somehow ended up on the list of schools to be phased out next year), there are still 100 schools in OUSD — about 15 more than there were in 2000. As education blogger John Fensterwald pointed out to me, that amounts to an average of 640 students per school in 2000, compared to an average of about 380 per school today.

With numbers like that, you might think this is the first time OUSD has considered reducing the number of neighborhood schools it operates. Not so. Oakland Unified shuttered about a dozen during the 2000s — and that’s not counting the ones that were closed and reopened as a school improvement strategy, or the new schools were shut down soon after they opened.

Most of these schools closed their doors before I started covering OUSD, but not all: Burbank, Carter, Cole, Foster, Golden Gate, John Swett, King Estates, Longfellow, Lowell, Merritt Middle College, Sherman, and Toler Heights. (Am I missing any? Not sure how to classify Cole or Lowell, as West Oakland Middle School opened on the Lowell campus as Cole was closing, but years after Lowell closed. And Hawthorne Elementary was a charter conversion. ) Continue Reading


Whooping cough shots: Time’s running out!

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By Friday, all Oakland Unified students in grades 7 to 12 must show proof that their Tdap, or whooping cough, vaccinations are up to date — or be turned away from school, as required by a new state law.

Since the spring, nurses have given shots to thousands of kids who’ve provided parental consent forms, said Joanna Locke, director of health and wellness for the Oakland school district. This morning, the district set up a clinic on East Oakland’s Fremont high school campus (pictured above).

Still, as of Sept. 16, the district’s latest count, 14 percent of the students in those grades — about 2,000 — either still needed the shot or hadn’t provided the paperwork proving that they had gotten it.

If you know someone who needs help with this, they should call their doctor or the Immunization Assistance Project at (510) 267-3230. They can also visit http://www.acphd.org for a list of immunization clinics.


The School Closure List

Oakland’s school closure recommendations are posted.

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith and his staff are proposing the district close five elementary schools — Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe — in 2012. They would also expand two others, Burckhalter and Kaiser (either at existing campuses or at another location, and with all current teachers, staff and administrators), by Aug. 2013. The goal of the expansion, as proposed, is to be able to accommodate at least 380 students at each school.

This will all be discussed at a 5 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the Oakland High School theater. The board could vote on the school closures as soon as Oct. 12. The final date slated for a board vote is Oct. 26.

District staff estimates the five closures, along with the current merger of the Castlemont/YES high schools, will save the district $2.26 million in general-purpose funds; that figure does not count teacher costs, as the teachers would move to other schools, or special-purpose money.

Staff is also proposing a separate, earlier School Options process for the 882 general education and 77 special education students who attend the schools slated for closure (in kindergarten through fourth grade). It would run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 5, the first date of the regular Options kickoff.

In addition to the proposed closures and expansion of Kaiser and Burckhalter, staff might add grade levels, one year at a time, to Greenleaf, La Escuelta, Lincoln, Manzanita Community (which is listed as a merged campus with Manzanita SEED, the dual-language immersion school) and Sankofa elementary schools, as well as at Madison Middle School (See Slide #13). Some of those decisions are supposed to be made by Dec. 14, according to the slide.

What do you make of these recommendations?

School closure recommendations


School closure update

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith had said he would release the school closure recommendations today, but that deadline has been pushed back. OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint said the list won’t be posted until about 5 p.m. Saturday.

“The superintendent is considering the feedback he’s had,” Flint said. “He’s weighing a lot of different possibilities that have been proposed.”

Flint said Tuesday’s meeting — in which the recommendations will be discussed, but not voted on — will be held at 5 p.m. at Oakland High School, which is on the corner of Park and MacArthur.


Does school relocation = closure?

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Speaker after speaker, parents who came to an Oakland school board committee meeting this evening delivered this message: Kaiser Elementary School is a place where children and families who don’t fit into neat little boxes can be safe and accepted — and thrive, academically. That it’s an option for families across the city (those who manage to get in) who don’t consider their neighborhood school to be a good place for their kids.

The official school closure recommendations don’t come out until Friday, but Kaiser appeared on an early list for possible consideration. And comments made by two school board members on the committee, Jody London and Alice Spearman, seemed to suggest that the school was unlikely to remain open, even though it’s filled to capacity and financially “in the black” — in large part, because it’s not a neighborhood school.

Ninety percent of the kids who go to Kaiser travel from outside the attendance boundaries, and the criteria for school closure places a great emphasis on neighborhood schools and densely populated areas with the most need for a school.

“What I am interested in doing is preserving your program and moving it into another area of town…” board member Jody London told the group. She suggested that they talk to the principal at Emerson Elementary, a school in North Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood that is under enrolled, but she didn’t complete her thought. The parents did not take the idea well.

What do you think about the idea of moving a school from one location to another (where another school already exists)? Where has it happened successfully? What would it take to make it work?

Note: I tried to embed the video of the board members’ comments, but I’m not sure it worked. Let me know!

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Parent Trigger: Coming to a school near you?

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People who follow education news in California probably have heard of the new law known as the “Parent Trigger.” It allows parents to unionize — and to petition to convert eligible low-performing schools into charters or force major staffing shake-ups, among other interventions.

It was enacted in January 2010, but it wasn’t until this summer that the California Board of Education approved regulations to clarify how it will work.

Parent Revolution, the L.A.-based group behind the law, stopped in Oakland this week on a bus tour through California. Nearly all who came to the information session at Brookfield Elementary School were either part of the bus tour or members of the Oakland chapter of the NAACP, invited by Oakland school board member Alice Spearman. I noticed that only a handful of current OUSD parents (maybe just two or three) were in the room to learn about a movement described by organizer Shirley Ford as “grassroots in every sense of the word.”

That appears to have been by design. Spearman told the small group that she wanted to start with “all the key players in Oakland” to decide whether to form a parent union chapter here. If so, she said, they could bring other groups and “the grassroots parents” into the discussion.

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Oakland school wins National Blue Ribbon award


Here’s some more good news: Peralta Elementary School in Rockridge is one of 21 public and private schools in California — and 305 in the United States — to be awarded the 2011 National Blue Ribbon from the United States Department of Education.

The school scored a 937 out of 1,000 points on the state’s Academic Performance Index this year. Its African-American students, who made up about 16 percent of the enrollment in 2010-11 (down from 66 percent percent in 2005-06), had an average API of 857. Latino students, about 12 percent of the students, had an API of 939, higher than the school average.

Peralta is the fourth public school in Oakland (and the second non-charter school) to be honored for academic excellence. Previous winners: Lincoln Elementary in Chinatown (2010), American Indian Public Charter School in the Laurel District (2007), Oakland Charter Academy in Fruitvale (2008).

Other Bay Area schools to earn this distinction in 2011 were James Leitch Elementary School in Fremont; Ulloa Elementary in San Francisco and Ruskin Elementary in San Jose.

You can find a list of winners here.


Emery: Full control, and a debt repaid

It was a happy day in Emery Unified. The district was celebrating the end of an era: a decade of state debt and state control.

Emery’s fiscal crisis began to unfold in 2000, about two years before the mess in Oakland began. Its former superintendent, J.L. Handy, who had racked up personal charges on the district credit card, left the tiny, two-school district $2 million in debt.

Emery regained partial control in 2004, but — as is the case today in Oakland — the state maintained veto-power over its spending. In late July, Emery officials repaid the last of the district’s emergency loans.

From everything I’ve heard, state receivership didn’t leave the same scars on Emery Unified as it did on Oakland. At an event today, local leaders actually thanked the state-appointed administrators/trustees, Henry Der and John Quinn, for helping to put Emery’s fiscal house in order. In contrast, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith (and former Emery superintendent) noted at Wednesday night’s board meeting that OUSD’s current state trustee, Carleen Naylor, is the first state appointee since 2003 to have expertise in finance.

According to this list posted on the California Department of Education’s website, the Oakland school district still owed $69 million on its $100 million loan as of July. Oakland also pays its state trustee a $117,600 salary (no extra benefits) and is required to pay the controller’s office $400,000 for its annual, mandated audit.

If OUSD stays on schedule, it will celebrate its full emergence from state control — in 2023.


School closures, “political reality”

Two weeks ago, as part of its big restructuring and school closure process, the Oakland school board approved a system of ranking schools, primarily based on where they are most needed, geographically. Board members talked about the importance of looking at the district as a whole when determining how many and which schools to close, rather than advocating for their respective districts.

That was all before anyone named names.

On Wednesday, the names of 10 schools “identified for possible closure consideration” appeared on a staff presentation, highlighted in yellow: Burckhalter, Kaiser, Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park, Santa Fe and Sobrante Park elementary schools; and Claremont and Frick middle schools. (Note: The superintendent said at the meeting it was unlikely any middle schools would actually be recommended for closure. The district is already consolidating a number of its high schools and doesn’t plan to recommend any more.)

District staff members stressed that the list was not a set of recommendations, but the result of initial number-crunching — running the district’s 101 schools through the first few steps of the formula the school board members approved. They began by ranking schools according to enrollment trends, population density and facility size. Schools that are already undergoing major changes are removed from the list.

Still, with those names in black and white, the conversation changed.

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