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“Thriller” lives on

With two hours left of Halloween, I thought I’d post a video of some sweet dance moves on display at Bridges Academy at Melrose. Students at the East Oakland elementary school first put on this performance in 2009, after Michael Jackson’s death, and it’s becoming a Halloween tradition, says Linh Nguyen, the school’s music teacher (a.k.a. Mr. N).

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Elementary school to join Occupy Oakland strike

The staff at Bridges Academy at Melrose sent a bilingual flier home to families, inviting them to join them in Wednesday’s general strike in support of Occupy Oakland — and informing them that teachers would not be in their classrooms that day.

They’re meeting at the East Oakland elementary school in the morning and traveling to Oakland City Hall together, by BART.

“We, the teachers at Bridges, are joining the Occupy Oakland protest on Wednesday, November 2. We will not be in our classrooms that day, all day,” the flier says. “We are the 99%!!”

Are the teachers at your school thinking about joining the strike?

Strike flier

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Notes from the school closure meeting

The Oakland school board is expected to vote tonight on a proposal to close five elementary schools and to merge others. I’ll be updating this periodically throughout the night.

Want to watch it live? Go here. – Katy

11:05: The five elementary schools will close. The board voted 5-2 to approve the resolution. “You will pay the price!” someone just yelled.

10:55: Alice Spearman says, “Superintendent, I just can’t go with it. It’s not in me.”

“But the fact remains, we do have to close some schools.”

10:10: The board secretary just called 44 (or maybe it was 34) more speaker cards. The crowd has thinned out. Most of the children are gone by now. It’s past their bedtime!

9:15: The following exchange will give you a sense of the tone of the meeting and the kinds of exchanges happening between the board (mostly, Jody London, the board president) and the audience:

A public speaker starts talking.

London: “Please introduce yourself.”

Man: “I am a citizen. Quiet now.” (laughter)

Citizen: “I’m putting you guys on notice right now. What your vote is is going to decide your future.”

8:25: The Oakland teachers union officers read a statement opposing the closures: “We call on the district to abandon their plan and work with the many teachers, students and community leaders who have come to the past few board meetings with creative ideas for keeping their schools open.”

8:10: Public comment has begun. Little boy from Lazear Elementary: “I really love the school. It’s like the best thing that ever happened to me.”

8:00: Noel Gallo draws his third standing ovation as he questions the ability and/or willingness of district staff to do what they say they’re going to do.

Gary Yee stands up and yells into the mic to Gallo: “You’ve been here for 19 years. What have you done about it?”

7:55: It sounded like David Montes de Oca said that children entering grades 1 to 5 in 2012 would be placed in their top-choice schools before other students in OUSD enter the Options process. Jody London asked how the transition of displaced students would affect the current options priorities, and I think that was his response. I need to follow up and clarify. (He talks really fast!) Continue Reading

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Rumors (and denials) of a rogue charter school opening next week

American Indian Public Charter School

Sometimes when I write about the American Indian Public Charter School I feel like I’ve entered an alternative reality. This is one of those times.

For that reason, I can’t tell you definitively whether an unauthorized elementary charter school will open on American Indian’s downtown campus on Halloween, as rumored — though it’s looking unlikely. I’ll just share the information I’ve collected so far.

Evidence that suggests a school affiliated with American Indian is (or at least was) slated to open two months into the school year:

- I called the receptionist at the school last week, told her I was a news reporter, and asked if American Indian was opening a new elementary school in October, as I had heard. She said, “Yes it is.”

- An OUSD mother who attended a recent informational meeting at American Indian said parents were told that a new elementary school would indeed open on Oct. 31. Continue Reading

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Two Oakland schools to split from OUSD

ASCEND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

On Wednesday night at Oakland Technical High School, the Oakland school board votes on a staff resolution to close five elementary schools, Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. But the board is expected to be presented with another downsizing proposal, too: The faculties at two other schools, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, have voted to secede from OUSD and operate those schools as independently run charters.

You can read more about it here. That story will be in Tuesday’s Tribune. (And here is a link to a Sunday story about school closures.)

Continue Reading

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Science Night: Rock-sorting, butter-making, and slime production

Family Science Night

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in West Oakland is taking its science and math lessons up a notch this year — and to do it, Principal Roma Groves told me, the faculty is enlisting parents’ help.

This evening, the school held its first Family Science Night to let parents know about the school’s new STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) focus. Teachers led demonstrations while parents helped out or took it all in.

I didn’t make it to all the classrooms, but I observed a geology lesson and watched the liquid substances kids dropped into a plastic baggie turn into goo. And I tried some butter another group of kids made (pretty good!).

making slime

Jasella Jones said she doesn’t remember getting any science when she attended another West Oakland elementary school, years ago. Now, she said, her 8-year-old daughter Amunique Usher comes home from school and teaches her — and her younger siblings — what she’s learned.

“She always has important questions that I can’t answer about the moon and the stars and the sun,” Jones said. “Just imagine what the future holds, not only for her, but for her kids and her grandkids and everyone else.”

Michele Williams’ first-graders took home their ziploc bags of neon-colored slime — but only after solemnly swearing to take care of it and not eat it, or smear it on other children, or use it “as a rocket.” (I hear that was a recent addition, and not entirely hypothetical.)

What do your schools do to promote science and to involve families in the process?

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A cautionary tale: San Diego, on brink of insolvency, looks at Oakland school takeover

Former OUSD State Administrator Randolph Ward in 2006

Keegan Kyle, a reporter at Voice of San Diego, offers his readers a look at what’s happened in Oakland’s public schools since the 2003 state takeover. It’s interesting to note that Randy Ward, OUSD’s first state-appointed administrator (pictured above, in 2006), is the superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education, which oversees the finances of local districts.

What would you add to this history of OUSD’s state takeover?

P.S. I posted the story on my Facebook page last night, so you’re welcome to comment there, too. I’m trying to get (less anonymous) discussions going there, too, and might start a Facebook group pretty soon.

You can find me at Facebook.com/katyEmurphy. (Don’t forget the middle initial!)

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An Oakland teacher’s thoughts on “consolidation” — and what to call it, instead

David Braden, a technology prep teacher and Bay Area Writing Project consultant teacher at Oakland’s Bella Vista Elementary School, wrote this essay after learning two of his colleagues would be moved, or “consolidated,” to different schools next week — in mid-October. I wrote about the issue too, in this story. – Katy

The Merriam Webster app on my Droid tells me the word “consolidate” has three different meanings: 1) to join together into one whole, 2) to make firm or secure or 3) to form into a compact mass. I looked it up because today our principal informed us that our school would be consolidated.

Leaving the third definition aside for a moment, it sounds like a pretty good thing. Unity, firmness, security are all admirable qualities that would be welcome in any environment, but especially an elementary school. A staff that is united around discipline with consistent rules and consequences gives students a sense of security. If a staff unites around a clear curriculum, then students will have a firm grasp of what they need to know before graduating to the next level of schooling.

These qualities also describe what we want for our students. Continue Reading

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An unwanted fresh start, midyear

Staff Photojournalist

Today, I wrote about the practice of moving teachers from school to school, weeks into the school year, to balance the budget. It’s happening to five Oakland teachers this year, including Breianna Davis, shown above with her kindergarten students at Carl B. Munck Elementary School. Next week, she’ll be at another school, and her 22 students will be divided among the remaining kindergarten and first-grade teachers at Munck.

Three other elementary schools will undergo a similar adjustment: Bella Vista (which is losing two teachers), Laurel and Community United. All but one are kindergarten teachers.

According to Brigitte Marshall, the district’s new director of HR, the original list of consolidations was at least three times as long. Troy Flint, the district spokesman, said 400 fewer students enrolled than expected (and 28 fewer at Munck), creating a $1.4 million deficit. As I’ve written before, many families don’t show up on the first day — or even the first week — of school, which makes it hard to make staffing changes early in the school year. They rely on a count taken on Day 20, which is in late September.

But I imagine such explanations make little sense to the teachers and families making this kind of adjustment on the eighth week of school.

Stay tuned for a guest blog post from a teacher at Bella Vista.