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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. All teachers want a class in which students are united in support of each other. A child’s ideal development is a process of firming a sense of self. In kindergarten, children enter with runny noses and loose-socket gazes like disembodied leaves that just blow in the door. One thousand and eighty school days later, they graduate as more clarified individuals with opinions, personalities, voice, attitude and preferences.

Security is an essential basic that we all need as educators and human beings. We spend a lot of energy making sure that our students are safe and secure, and that they feel secure. We arrange our day with predictable routines. Creating this daily sense of security takes hard work and commitment. Teachers do this work day in and day out, and carry it home on the weekends in order to make sure that everything is ready for students by 8:30 Monday morning.

The process of school consolidation does none of these things, and in fact does the exact opposite. This year, for example, our consolidation involves letting two kindergarten teachers go, moving one first-grade teacher and one second-grade teacher down to kindergarten. Then those first- and second-graders are dispersed into the remaining first- and second-grade classrooms so that all the K–2 classrooms are at maximum capacity. And this madness is implemented one month after school has begun.

Instead of unity, students are torn from their teachers and teachers are torn from their school. Teachers look at each other and ask, “Which one of us is going to move?” We usually look forward to October as the routines of school become firm. Now with consolidation, all those routines and norms have to be re-instilled, re-practiced. It’s like starting the whole school year over again.

Consolidation destroys security. For various reasons, we don’ t tell students or parents who their teacher will be until September. All summer students wonder if they will get Ms. X or Mr. Y; they deliberate the pros and cons of each, and pray that they get the teacher they want (or don’t get the teacher they DON’T want!). Their teacher on the other hand is given her assignment in May. She dreams away through summer vacation, imagining, visualizing the students she will have next year, the changes they will make to their room, and how she will try this or that activity with them. Consolidation takes these hopes, trepidations and dreams away. It sends a message to students and families that the school is NOT secure, that those class lists in the hallway didn’t really mean anything.

Trust is a pre-requisite for security. Any trust we have built between school and home now has to be completely re-won. And consolidation tells teachers, “Don’t get too attached to your students. Don’t spend too much time planning your lessons or classroom. Don’t bother going to any staff development. Don’t reach out to your parents. Or at least don’t put any effort out until you know which grade you will really teach, which room you will really be in, and who your students will really be.” Trust is hard won and easily lost.

The truth is, that consolidation is more aligned to the third definition of a “compact mass.” I’m thinking here of a trash compactor. It’s a machine that squeezes everything down into an undifferentiated homogenous cube of solid waste. True, compacted trash is more neat and tidy to work with. It’s certainly more convenient and economical. In our anger we look for someone to blame. But there’s no one to blame. It’s just a trash compactor. It’s just doing what it was designed to do.

After our principal announced the consolidation at our faculty meeting, and after a few minutes of gloomy silence, one colleague pointed out that it wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular. She waved her arms wide and called it a “systemic problem.” Now we had somewhere to lay the blame for all this pain and suffering and undoing of all that we’ve worked to achieve in our classrooms: someone named Mr. Systemic. If we could just get his phone number, and call him and explain that this was really a bad idea. But even if he did answer his phone, he would shrug and say, “I didn’t turn the trash compactor on. I only made it.”

Through the years we have united together as a staff, we have felt safe to take risks and learn from each other, and we have firmed and solidified our teaching practice. We have consolidated ourselves into a high-functioning school of people who live, learn and achieve. To use the same word to describe the process we’ve been asked to endure, and which will surely set us back in our race to the top, is nauseating and hurtful.

What term, then, would be more accurate? Disintegration.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Mary H.

    Well said!

  • Nextset

    And it’s going to get worse – if worse means wrenching change. As the urban schools such as OUSD collapse there will be more automation, larger classes, less personalization and in general less schooling and more processing.

    The question is will that make a difference anyway? Are the reading levels going to fall adjusted for race?

    And by the way, the ethnic demographics are about to change – a lot. Watch for the schools trying to take credit for every demographically produced uptick while blaming the teachers for the downticks.

    Brave New World.

  • J.R.

    ……Take a look, at the situation(and also at the public comment portion of the school board meeting) that is before us. Now that schools are closing, school and education is suddenly priority number one to these people. Have they ever watched the PBS series “eyes on the prize”, and took notice of the people who marched and were beaten,set upon by vicious dogs, firehosed and generally endured abuse in order to have a chance to be treated fairly and educated? Why has it devolved to welfare dependence and the thug culture? It is so so said that there is so many good and innocent people that pay the price because of the greedy,stupid, sand irresponsible portion of people.

  • J.R.
  • Katy Murphy

    I wrote about the chronic absenteeism issue as well. If you missed it, here’s a link to the post, in which I embedded some graphics (with permission) from the Urban Strategies Council:

    http://www.ibabuzz.com/education/2011/05/18/chronic-absenteeism-in-oakland-schools/

  • Katy Murphy

    The report by Attendance Works found that 14 percent of OUSD students missed at least 18 days of school in 2009-10, excused and/or unexcused. I’m glad J.R. reminded me of this; I’d been looking for a statistic about the financial cost of absenteeism in the context of current discussions about tight budgets, consolidations and closures. From the report:

    If the 5,421 students chronically absent in 09/10 had each attended 6 more days, OUSD would have received more than $1,147,000 in additional ADA.

  • J.R.

    Katy,
    Thank you, I missed that one. It looks like a very well done report.

  • CogInthe OUSDWheel

    Interesting post from David Braden. I certainly can testify to most of it, although many teachers do NOT know their assigments in May. Or June. Or July. Or much before the first bell.

    I too was “consolidated,” and, compacted as in trash being compacted, is about how I was treated. I was moved out of a job where I was highly successful into a job I would never have applied for, because I knew it was the wrong population for me to work with. My complaints fell on deaf ears, and I could not get responses to email from HR or any other department, and I was told I should be grateful to have a job. Well, I say that sets the bar pretty low. Just having a teaching credential does not mean that one is a match for every job and every school. I went from loving from my job to dreading it. I used to be a great teacher, but that is not true now. I do keep plugging away, but my heart was sort of broken by being forced out my job that I loved.

    Unfortunately, in OUSD, teachers are pawns and cogs in a wheel, interchangeable and easily replaceable. And what’s really sad, is that non-certificated staff get even less respect than teachers, which is hard to imagine, but true.

  • Nextset

    Remember the stories about the UC Demonstration Summer School put on at Oakland tech during the summers decades ago? Miss more than 3 days for any reason and you are out. Get sick, go water skiing, attend a funeral it doesn’t matter. No required attendance, no certification for the school credit. No refund.

    And by the way, you had to apply for that school, get accepted, and pay your fees before you could walk in the door.

    It was a real school.

    Real schools don’t have certain problems. Students who can’t cut the mustard have to so somewhere else.

    The solution is for OUSD to field a set of “real” schools and let those who don’t want to meet the high standards of a real school go to the lesser schools.

    Maybe you’d still have attendance problems in the lesser schools. Maybe you wouldn’t if you set programs people would care about enough not to want to be kicked out of them.

    Me, I liked the Cinnamon rolls.

    Brave New World.

  • Katy Murphy

    That really stinks. I’m so sorry to hear that.

    This year, consolidated teachers are interviewing at schools with vacancies; they list their top preferences, and so do the schools. Do you see this matching system as an improvement over the system you experienced? The list of vacancies is short, of course, and — no matter what the school — I imagine it’s hard to come into a new classroom in late October.

  • del

    Consolidation is a huge problem and nightmare for students, families, teachers, administrators, and everyone else. But what else can be done? There is no money to pay teachers if there are not enough students. Union rules understandably make the situation even less flexible.

    And Nextset, your arguments are common and understandable. But remember that schools are governed by laws, and many of the things you suggest are in fact not allowed by education code or state law.

  • CogInTheOUSDWheel

    Katy: I was consolidated at the end of the year, and in fact, could not even get an interview, despite years of experience and a stellar resume. Too many interviews are given out based on politics rather than qualifications. In fact, in OUSD, another teacher told me, boastfully, that she gets jobs because she knows “the right people.” She made a point of emphasizing that it really is not what you know, it’s who you know.

    I know a lot of people myself, but I am rather high on the salary schedule, which is a whole second problem. Qualifications, though, clearly are fairly far down on the list of “requirements” when it comes to hiring.

  • J.R.

    “Qualifications, though, clearly are fairly far down on the list of “requirements” when it comes to hiring”.

    I am relieved to see someone else write that down.I have witnessed buddies of the principal,and the union president get positions when everyone felt these individuals should not be in front of students. Cronyism does happen if and when a corrupt system does not have accountability.

  • Ms. J.

    I think it is worth repeating (and I’m shocked that you are not doing so, JR) that the victims of consolidation are not only the teachers (and I am going to take on 8 first graders as a result of the consolidations at Bella Vista, taking my class to 30 kids) but the students. The district may not have any money but the thing that is so frustrating and tragic is that this mismatch of funds is being sorted out 34 days into the school year. As Mr. Braden mentioned, we could have been successful with our students had we started the year with our full classes. Now, two whole kindergarten classes of children are having a hugely disruptive experience as their introduction to school, just as they were beginning to trust their teachers.

    Don’t get me wrong; I am outraged on behalf of our two k teachers and immensely frustrated for myself and my colleagues, whose job just got much more difficult. But I just want to stress that the district here is doing a disservice not only to the adults but to the children entrusted to the system.

  • Katy Murphy

    Oh, I should have been more clear about the consolidated teachers matching process I referred to: By “this year,” I meant this school year (i.e. right now). I believe each teacher has the chance to interview at each school with a vacancy for which he or she is credentialed, rather than be assigned a school. It’s a new system the district and the OEA are testing. I’ll be interested to know how it works.

  • J.R.

    Ms.J
    It goes without saying that the kids always get the short end of the stick(when it comes to priority in education in the last three decades). Would you hate teachers being shuffled(as happens in other districts because of seniority and bumping)does that bother you as well? Do circumstances matter, due to the fact that we cannot tax citizen tax payers enough to sustain the insatiable demands placed upon them? The deficits will only get larger because pension obligations are growing exponentially, and the numbers of actual earners(taxpayers)is shrinking. I feel sorry for the taxpayers and their children most of all. A world of hurt is yet to come. A bit off on a tangent, but I was compelled to address economic reality.

  • OaktownTeacher

    The other side of this consolidation situation is that there are classes that have been without a teacher since the beginning of the school year. My school is about to get one of the consolidated teachers, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. We’ve had a class that’s been without a teacher since school started. There have been a string of substitutes – some better than others – but no continuity and very little structure. It’s been heartbreaking to see the kids languishing when their more fortunate friends in the stable classes are thriving. The thing is, we knew last spring that we would need another teacher. Even after maximizing all the classes for this school year, there were some kids “left over.” But budget, union and bureaucratic issues have led us to having to wait until now before we finally got the extra teacher we needed. Meanwhile, the kids in that class have fallen further behind.

  • Gordon Danning

    Del makes a good point. Every year, the district gives schools a prediction re: how many students will attend next year. Principals use those predictions to decide how many teachers they need.

    Obviously, the predictions are never 100% accurate. Sometimes, they are too high, so a school ends up with teachers that they don’t need, and some other school ends up with a shortage of teachers. So, teachers are transferred from one school to the other. It is annoying and cumbersome, and mildly traumatic for some kids (all of whom will get over it), but until humans get better at predictions, it is inevitable, at least in this universe.

    So, unless there is evidence that OUSD is more subject to consolidations than other districts, how is this a story?

  • Katy Murphy

    That’s a fair point. I haven’t come across other districts where teachers are moved from school to school in mid-October, though. (I doubt OUSD is the only Bay Area district in this position, but I haven’t come across any others, and I checked with my reporter colleagues as well). In some districts, such as Mt. Diablo, students are sometimes moved to a different classroom shortly after the start of school because of overcrowding.

    It might be worse in Oakland because of its unstable enrollment and beginning-of-the-year attendance patterns. Since families tend to trickle in during the first 20 days of school, districtwide, it’s hard to make a decision on the first week of classes that might have to be reversed later.

    The other interesting issue, which I didn’t have space to get into in the story, is that some schools in the red were spared consolidations, based on recommendations made by network executive officers. Parents at Munck were told at a meeting I attended that their school was stable enough to withstand the shake-up, while other schools were not.

    But there is only so much money in the district’s “balancing pool” — which, as I understand it, provides subsidies for schools with low enrollment and/or high teacher costs — and it apparently ran dry.

  • Pamela Curtiss-Horton

    Gordon, The reason this is a story is that Bella Vista only has 4 fewer students than in the spring and the budget was approved for the current number of teachers. We are not under enrolled. Another issue is that we are losing not one but two teachers and every student in kindergarten through 2nd grade is being impacted, either through losing their teachers in 4 classes or by having their class sizes increased. Munck has 28 fewer students so it makes sense that the lower number would correlate to one fewer teacher. This is not the case at Bella Vista.

    The other reason this is a story is that these changes are being made in the 8th week of school and we were not notified of these changes until last week, which is a violation of our contract.

    I have been teaching in Oakland since 1977 and went through many consolidations and many lay-offs, but I have never seen a school as negatively impacted as Bella Vista is this year.

  • Lisa C

    Katy, this is worth looking into. Oakland Unified is talking about not having money and small schools need to be closed/consolidated. YET at a faciliies meeting it was approved to have over 8 million dollars, yes 8 million for a rennovation of a school with less than 200 students. What is up with that?!! Is the school board really looking at the fiscal health of Oakland Unified or are they just playing games with our children to serve their own needs. Kaiser, like Santa Fe, is looking to expand, but with no real guidelines or assistance from Oakland Unified. Why is it that Jody London picks and chooses the schools in her district she will support? Shouldn’t she support ALL the schools in her district? Or is it only the ones where she is has a personal investment in? The school board is being under-handed and decietful. They need to be transparent in their processes, criteria and decision making.

    Right now it feels like there are a lot of back room deals being made. And the school board wonders why there is declining enrollment in Oakland?

    Fyi: This commented posted on the Oakland school blog by Peter Von Ehrenkrook, a teacher at Santa Fe. Check out what the district is spending
    on Sankofa, a school with less than 200 students.

    “This evening, October 18, 2011, I attended the Oakland Unified Facilities Meeting and received some answers to questions I have been asking over the
    last few weeks.

    It seems the Sankofa site is not restricted by a will solely for use as a public school. The neighboring Bushrod facility is restricted. In addition,
    there has been $8,802,811.00 approved for renovations of the Sankofa site. While I do not doubt this may be necessary, that amount of money is the more
    than four times what is being touted as the cost saved through the five proposed school closures.

    I asked the Facilities Committee what criteria are used for allowing a school to go K-8, and I hope to receive a response. David Montes de Oca informed the staff of Santa Fe today through Principal Guzman that our application was never received. He also indicated that it would never have been approved. I asked the Facilities Committee to clarify how this judgement was made if an application was never received.

    It is still a mystery to us how our former principal and Board President Jody London failed to follow through on this application after our April 12,
    2011 School Site Council meeting, in which President London recommended we improve our student population by going K-8.

    I made two other statements to the OUSD Facilities Committee. First, Santa Fe has a shut down but fully operable CDC facility, as well as a vacated
    Adult School complex on the Santa Fe site which would provide ample space for expansion to a K-8 with no extra cost to the district. These spaces could and should be used to increase our incoming student population. By the way, the district has spent $16 million on building and renovating other CDCs, according to a report made at tonight’s meeting. Secondly, we are a QEIA school, whose yearly funding of $204,388.64 will not follow our staff
    if we are transferred to new sites. In terms of fiscal responsibility, these should be major factors in the board’s decision regarding the closure of Santa Fe.”

  • livegreen

    The attendance issue makes one think a Youth Truancy Curfew might be necessary. It’s good for the kids AND good for the district.

    Instead Councilmember Desley Brooks argued against making the kids do anything because it will criminalize youth. (What, staying out of school won’t do that?) & she argued that some school age kids have to stay home and look after their siblings [when their parent(s) are at work]. This is the kind of backwards ultra-liberalism that runs the City of Oakland.

    At least it agrees with our return (intentional or not) to a 3rd world agrarian society. But I don’t think that’s a deliberate pairing…

  • http://PetervonEhrenkrook Peter von Ehrenkrook

    Thank you Lisa C. I wasn’t sure if my notes applied to this thread, but I appreciate your reposting them here where they might be read more students, parents, and community members who might be impacted.

    I did receive a response from David Montes de Oca, via our new principal, and I responded as follows:

    Dear Mr. Montes de Oca,

    I appreciate your lengthy response to my concerns, sent to our current Principal Monica Guzman, regarding the process involved in the Grade Configuration Change process. She shared the e-mail with me this afternoon. I understand that you may not always be able to respond to non-administrator requests for information.

    As you outlined, several schools were handpicked by the facilities department, a Regional Executive Officer, and Board leadership to take part in the pilot process, this being the first year. You also mentioned a Letter of Interest was generated and sent out to all Principals and Regional Officers to determine if any other school communities had begun serious consideration about pursuing grade configuration changes. The deadline for response was June 10, 2011, and it seems neither our former principal nor our OUSD Board President responded on behalf of Santa Fe Elementary. I regret that you were not personally made aware of any interest by members of the Santa Fe community until October 6, 2011.

    While you state in your response that the inclusion of schools under consideration for Grade Configuration Change in Step 2 of the Restructuring Criteria was in no way intended to stave off a potential school closure, the outcome is clear. Sankofa, originally listed as the number 1 candidate for closure, was effectively removed from the list. You also state that you reflected on past new school design experiences, so I question how Sankofa’s recent failure as a K-8 was not a decisive factor.

    In addition, you state that the Grade Configuration Change process is not designed as a school improvement strategy or as a method to increase school enrollment. Why should those not be included in the criteria? Are they not key qualities desired of all schools?

    As you acknowledge, this process is a work in progress. I look forward to hearing how you have revised your criteria during your proposals to the Board of Education in November and December. I also look forward to engaging you in reconsidering Santa Fe in your next proposed cycle of decision-making in late January of 2012.

    Another major concern, which your office has still not addressed, is the issue of safety for the children of Santa Fe who walk to school daily and often walk home after 6 PM if they take part in our After School Program. As you surely recall, a former Oakland Police Department captain, and current member of Assemblyman Swanson’s staff, testified before you, Superintendent Smith and Board President London at our Community Engagement Evening at Santa Fe on October 6, 2011. He stated quite clearly that asking our children to walk across town to Sankofa, Emerson, or Piedmont Avenue would put them at serious risk. A quick check of the AC Transit website will show you there are no direct bus lines to any of those schools from our area. This will require the 65% of our students who walk to school, well over 100 children ages 5 to 11, to travel through neighborhoods where their safety will be at serious risk.

    No one wants to consider the impact on our community if one of our children were to be abducted or harmed in any way. I can also speak for the children in my 4th and 5th grade classes over the past few years, who have already engaged with or even identify themselves as members of local gangs. Asking them to walk through rival neighborhoods in the early morning and early evening hours is clearly disregarding their personal safety.

    As you weigh all of the input you are receiving from the community and fellow administrators, please keep the safety of our children as your top priority.

  • Nextset

    The above post is facinating since we never seem to have an opportunity here to debate or discuss OUSD policy on criminal gangs.

    I for one do not believe that gang member children or for that matter children of criminal gang members have any business in a normal school sitting with “normal” children. To me, certainly the children who are themselves tattooed or otherwise associated with criminal gangs should be disqualified from normal public schools as a danger to others and should be homeschooled or otherwise segregated away from decent people. The danger they present is both physical and moral. But then I wouldn’t allow promiscous children in a normal school either.

    It’s not just that a rotten apple can spoil the bunch – it’s that decent society does not have to suffer the presence of such people. I don’t believe honest people should have to send their child to a school with such dangerous people. We have continuation and alternative education for such people.

    I would also not be teaching “tolerance” for any of this. Decent people should not be associating with amoral/criminal types. Not good for your health. Lead poisoning is contagious – especially in Oakland.

    And my final point is that poor but honest black kids should not have to be schooled with thugs. The whites are long gone. Ditto Jewish kids. Just because OUSD is a public school does not require that it be an “anything goes” school.

    It’s this sort of tolerance that leads to the rise of the Charters and the demise of public education. Too bad. Public schooling seemed like a good thing for society at one time.

    Another concept. Is the school in any way responsible for transporting the kiddies from their homes to and from the schoolhouse? Isn’t that the parent(s) job? If it is their job/burden – why is the district concerning itself? Next thing you know the district will be expected to provide the proper sheets to tuck the kiddies into bed with, and maybe the proper bedclothes too. And the right toothpaste, and the correct brushes also. It never ends. So why start it?

    The more you provide anything for free to the masses the greater their inability to manage their own affairs. Our eagerness to “help” is the main reason these problems exist, not the depression or life in general.

  • Request

    I am copying a previous response within this stream of responses because I have noticed a curious trend: whenever a comment is made about a school’s commitment to Special Education and to children with special needs, the silence that follows is resounding. Instead of getting into a prolonged synesthetic reflection about this phenomenon, I invite all those concerned with equity in education to respond. The crickets and I welcome your sincere reflections.

    Special Education Parent Says:
    October 13th, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    An important statement made by Peter von Ehrenkrook: “My concern is for those children who are rejected by the local charters and private schools. Either their parents don’t have the savvy to get them in, or once they fail there the charters and private schools send them back to us.”

    Sadly, children with Special Needs very rarely set feet in those schools and even in many traditional public school campuses in our district.

    There are many losers in this closure situation. Yet, let’s not forget that disability cuts across race, class, gender, etc.

    Children with Special Needs are an indicator population. If you serve them well, you are probably serving all children well.

    Sankofa is doing what very few schools in OUSD are doing: placing children with Special Needs at the center of school life and planning. While there are many reasons to support the work of this rare gem of a school, that one alone should cause everyone to pause and consider. The many of us who suffered through the closure of Tilden and the effects our often very vulnerable children, fought to find schools who would welcome all of the children from Tilden. We chose Sankofa as one of those schools because of its strikingly inclusive vision and practice, and Sankofa chose us. I do not have a child at Sankofa but fully support the rare work that the school is doing on behalf of children with Special Needs.

    Few schools expressed their solidarity when Tilden became an easy first target in a wave of closures. We were the canary in the gold mine and the closure happened a year after a long re-incubation process. We are all still healing from those 2 long years of difficult organizing given the daily challenges of supporting our children and the fact that we come from many neighborhoods and experiences by no design of our own. We get placed in “programs” and we work like hell to build a school experience for our children.

    Children with Special Needs do not often figure in all of the comments made by and about schools. Yet, the schools that support our population of children do so at a cost to their site budgets and their population numbers (e.g. Special Day classrooms have less children and impact the total population numbers.)

    I will defend Sankofa because it took risks for our children when they most needed it.

    That vision was not temporary and expedient. They continue in that sacred, joyful, and difficult work.

    Thank you.

  • Special Education Parent

    I am copying a previous response within this stream of responses because I have noticed a curious trend: whenever a comment is made about a school’s commitment to Special Education and to children with special needs, the silence that follows is resounding. Instead of getting into a prolonged synesthetic reflection about this phenomenon, I invite all those concerned with equity in education to respond. The crickets and I welcome your sincere reflections.

    The following comment was posted on October 13:

    An important statement made by Peter von Ehrenkrook: “My concern is for those children who are rejected by the local charters and private schools. Either their parents don’t have the savvy to get them in, or once they fail there the charters and private schools send them back to us.”

    Sadly, children with Special Needs very rarely set feet in those schools and even in many traditional public school campuses in our district.

    There are many losers in this closure situation. Yet, let’s not forget that disability cuts across race, class, gender, etc.

    Children with Special Needs are an indicator population. If you serve them well, you are probably serving all children well.

    Sankofa is doing what very few schools in OUSD are doing: placing children with Special Needs at the center of school life and planning. While there are many reasons to support the work of this rare gem of a school, that one alone should cause everyone to pause and consider. The many of us who suffered through the closure of Tilden and the effects our often very vulnerable children, fought to find schools who would welcome all of the children from Tilden. We chose Sankofa as one of those schools because of its strikingly inclusive vision and practice, and Sankofa chose us. I do not have a child at Sankofa but fully support the rare work that the school is doing on behalf of children with Special Needs.

    Few schools expressed their solidarity when Tilden became an easy first target in a wave of closures. We were the canary in the gold mine and the closure happened a year after a long re-incubation process. We are all still healing from those 2 long years of difficult organizing given the daily challenges of supporting our children and the fact that we come from many neighborhoods and experiences by no design of our own. We get placed in “programs” and we work like hell to build a school experience for our children.

    Children with Special Needs do not often figure in all of the comments made by and about schools. Yet, the schools that support our population of children do so at a cost to their site budgets and their population numbers (e.g. Special Day classrooms have less children and impact the total population numbers.)

    I will defend Sankofa because it took risks for our children when they most needed it.

    That vision was not temporary and expedient. They continue in that sacred, joyful, and difficult work.

    Thank you.

  • Nextset

    I have yet to see a Charter School for Norteno gang children.

    Now what does OUSD think will occur if and when Norteno princesses enroll and black boys sexually hit on them? While you would think the boys would get a clue and know better, there is always going to be somebody that has to learn the hard way. It is the school’s responsibility to warn the boys? Is it the school’s responsibility to get them out of town when there’s a likely gang hit out on them? Does anybody still think the police are in the business of protecting blacks from Mexican Gangs?

    What to do! What to do! I suppose we could show a DVD of “West Side Story” in class… Follow it up with “Romeo and Juliet”.

    If OUSD has no protocol for these dust ups yet I think they may have something new coming down the pike as the gangs quickly consolidate their presence in Northern CA.

    I once told a black family to get their teen out of the state at once after he avoided a rape case involving a Mexican girl (drunk girls make bad witnesses in court) at a party. I don’t believe any of them took the situation seriously. They didn’t seem to fathom that what happened with that girl is simply a killing affair as far as some people would be concerned. They don’t seem to know any black family that would kill without question and without hesitation should anyone lay a hand on one of it’s women (black families not being patriarchal). So they don’t see it coming just because Mexicans are involved.

    Whites don’t go to these parties for the most part so Black Students don’t grok that situation either. My how things have changed since the early ’60s. And how they haven’t.

    My guess is that the urban schools wash their hands of the entire issue and let the chips fall where they may. Think of it as Evolution in action. Most of the real student/non-student/student violence I’m hearing about with the gangs is now coming from the Jr Colleges which have significant parolee enrollments. The knives/guns/death threat incidents are gang & parolee driven.

    Maybe my concern for the high schools is premature – it’s more of a Los Angeles thing so far.

  • Ms. L

    I really think the heart of the consolidation is the options process itself. Every year, for the past five years, our school has been under projection numbers(some years by 100 students) and two out of those 5 years we have had to consolidate teachers, which disrupts learning, changes chemistry in classes, makes class sizes bigger and essentially makes the first month or two of the school year a wash. While I think the heart of the options process is in the right place,, it should be more binding and not a “back up” when other things, such as private schools or charter schools don’t pan out. It’s not fair, that our school, after going through so much, also has to make this shift in October. Schools that are successful have things brainstormed in March and set in May. Yet, because we simply can’t depend on enrollment numbers, we have to continue having varying contingency plans that accomodate for numerous X factors. Yet, we change the options process and all of a sudden, we can have schools that open at the end of August and have no more shifts to make. Then, schools can have a strong start and not have to spend the first two months back pedaling.

    The other frustrating thing about the options process, is that we don’t ever seem to have time to make our school better, because by October or November we are too busy doing a dog and pony show.. Between constant turnover in teachers and administration, and reeling from the ramifications of projected enrollment numbers(which form the basis of many organizing school principles such as teaching positions and master schedules), we simply do not have enough time to clean up all the pieces and create a working solution(in october) before we are asked to prove our worth for the following year. So instead of administration working to fix the school for the current year, they are taking parent groups around the school and trying to figure out how best to make our school look good instead of being given the time to do the work so the school can look good on its own merits!

    This year, we had to consolidate an elective teacher, and since the master schedule did not intend for this to happen, my 4th period class is nearly twice the size of my other classes, because that elective class was the only class that my students could go, to elleviate class size. Now, the students in that class have a harder time getting access to the material then my other classes due to sheer numbers alone. Yet, we can’t do anything else, without throwing the whole schedule out the window, which is not a reality in October.

    Is it possible to make the options process more binding? It makes struggling schools struggle even more and creates wait lists for the high performing schools. When we as teachers don’t equip our students with every stability, and possible organizational and academic advantage we are considered bad teachers for leaving students in flux, as it widens the achievement gap between the haves and the have nots. Yet when we give a steady stream of students to the high performing schools and leaving other schools with an erratic and changing enrollment numbers its called equity? This process, while good intentioned is hurting our schools BIG TIME and needs to be revamped or scrapped!

    We have the power, as a community to change our schools and change district processes that are causing more harm then good. If we can start examining these systems district wide, then schools can begin operating appropriately. I’ve rarely met someone at the district office, or schools sites who doesn’t want to see Oakland succeed. If we all believe in it, why are we continuing systems that are harmful?