Looking for: Success stories, budget-coping tales

I’m scheduled to be on KALW’s Your Call program at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning — and I could use your help. We’ll be talking about examples of success in schools despite a bleak and tumultuous economy and budget, and ways that people have coped with diminishing state funding.

I don’t plan to sugarcoat the fiscal realities facing California’s public schools (and I doubt the host will, either). But I’d love to hear from you about what parents, staff, organizations and local businesses are doing to help children receive the education they deserve, regardless of the economy and the state’s politics. What steps have been taken to improve or support your school that haven’t cost extra money? How has your principal/school site council mitigated the impact of cutbacks when crafting recent budgets?

Thanks, in advance, for your help. It would be great if you’d provide your school or program’s name along with your comment. You’re welcome to call into the show, too!

Katy Murphy

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

  • OUSD Parent

    Hi Katy. Two great organizations come to mind right away. RBO and BOOF Math.

    RBO stands for Running for a Better Oakland. http://www.rboakland.org/
    It’s a all volunteer non-profit that works with students (5-12 graders) all over Oakland to develop healthy lifestyles through running. The group provides training, goal setting, and encouragement. I don’t know how many schools they are in but it’s a very successful program. Right now they are training for the various Oakland Running Festival events.

    The other is BOOF Math! It stands for Banking on our Future. It’s a 5-week program to teach financial literacy to OUSD kids. The BOOF volunteers teach banking basics such as checking and savings accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts, etc. I don’t have a website for them but I can put you in touch with one of the volunteers if you would like to get more info.

    And then there are the countless parent and teacher volunteers…

    Good luck with your interview on Wednesday. I look forward to hearing it.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, OUSD parent! That’s very helpful.

    Anyone else? Maybe a program that was started — or maintained — by volunteers or local fundraising?

    One success story that comes to my mind is the Oakland Fine Arts Summer School, which is funded by the OUSD parcel tax.

  • Jim Mordecai


    Might want someone from the following schools to call in: ACORN Woodland, Bridges Academy at Melrose, Brookfield,New Highland Academy, and Parker. Each was one of the five QEIA schools that met their targets for last year in class size, experienced highly qualified teaching staff and API.

    While only two schools of the 19 QEIA school didn’t met API target, these five schools maintained the targets for a good learning environment of lowered class size and minimum mix of experienced teachers. It could only have happened with teachers and administration working together.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Katy Murphy

    That’s a great idea. Thanks, Jim!

  • caroline stern

    Henry J. Kaiser is a thriving public elementary school in the Hiller Highlands neighborhood of Oakland. Kaiser truly reflects the diversity of Oakland35% African American, 27% caucasian, 16% multi-racial, 10% Latino and 10% Asian. Kaiser is a high-achieving school with API is the 885 and our African American students are thriving with exceeding the states API goals.

    We are a safe haven for LGBT families, multi-cultural and adopted children.

    To our dismay we were slated for closure, being one of only four school with such statistics for our African American population. After a long battle we are currently facing expansion or relocation.

    We serve the entire city. Students come from every neighborhood, literally to attend our school. North, West, East and South- representing diversity in all its forms.

    We have an excellent and committed principal and welcome to community of our fair city to learn about our success and help us to achieve better with the support of the school board, the city council and the Mayor. We can be a model for the city.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Caroline! Tell us: How has Kaiser weathered the budget cuts?

  • Moya Henderson

    Hi Katy,
    Our principal at Kaiser did a really great thing, he gave up his medical benefit pay and brought in a consultant to implement the Second Step program. We are the only OUSD school to fully implement this program. Second Step is an intervention program that helps kids learn positive and successful ways to deal with peer conflicts to help prevent bullying. He also brought another program–Roots of Empathy to our third grade students. This is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown dramatic effect in raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. At the heart of the program is an infant and parent who visits the class with a certificed Roots of Empanty Instructor every three weeks over the school year. Currently the program is in Canada and we were chosen as one of five schools in the Bay Area to participate. Our principal Rocks!

  • Katy Murphy

    Wow, I don’t think I’ve heard of a principal doing such a thing. Did he do it so the school could afford to fully implement Second Step?

  • Moya Henderson

    Yes! He really believes in the program and that was the only way we could pay for it.

  • caroline stern

    The school closures were done to save the district money but it has not been determined if it will in fact save funds after all the costs of relocation for the displaced students.

    As Kaiser was taken off this list, we have had to spend our energy working to save our school from OUSD’s plan instead of putting our energy into fund raising to keep out PTA funded programs of computers, PE and music alive. We have grant programs for art and the district supports our Second Step anti-bullying program. We are the only school in the district which has this program in every grade k-5.

    So there’s no easy answers. While we want to expand our current site to accomodate the districts needs and the needs of our students, we are unsure of how to pay for it.

  • OUSD Parent

    It’s great to read about some of the good things that are happening in our schools.

  • Katy Murphy

    I agree.

    Keep ’em coming!

  • OUSD Parent

    @ Caroline. I think the district should leave you guys alone.

  • Turanga_teach

    One smart, creative thing that Sequoia elementary school has done: through a combination of stellar community fundraising and careful allotment of discretionary funds, the school is able to offer science classes taught by a credentialed teacher. She takes half of each grade-level class at a time, to allow the classroom teacher to work intensively with the other half.

    It really makes a difference to be able to have a smaller class size, even for just 50 minutes at a time. And, in the spirit of making lemonade from lemons, it’s, er, nice to have that extra designated “science classroom” space from when OUSD cut a position from the site…

  • http://www.skylinehs.org David Orphal

    Hi Katie,

    Skyline High had created a great teach-collaboration system in 2010-2011 for our freshmen core teachers (math, English, social studies, & science). Each teacher worked in a team of four who shared 130 kids. These four teachers each got two of our six class period to work without their kids. While their shared kids were in PE, the four teachers could meet to talk about lesson planning, who was struggling and how to help, or project design.

    This costs money. We used a grant to pay for the extra time these teachers used to collaborate.

    This year, we wanted to expand this tool to all of the teachers at school – but of course – there’s no money. But we solved it.

    We moved from a 6 to a 7 period day. Now every teacher has five classes with kids and two period without. Five days a week, we can meet with our colleagues to talk about kids we share or help each other with lesson planning or professional growth. Additionally, we all still have one period each day for individual grading, photocopying, and calling parents.

    Of course, it not perfect. Not every teacher could be scheduled to be without kids during the same times and the all of the teacher they would like to work with. Nonetheless, I think it is a step in the right direction.

    Teaching is a team sport. It takes a team of adults to support our children’s learning and achievement. It’s time for schools to rethink their organization and resources to allow the team time to practice together.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org David Orphal

    I recently allowed my students to help me create the grading rubric that I would later use on their children’s book project. You can read about it in detail here:




    and here:


  • http://www.rooseveltbulldogs.org Cliff Hong


    We at Roosevelt Middle School put together a team to find ways to improve our students’ attendance. Comparing last January to this one, we reduced chronically absent students from 15% of the student population to 8% and improved our overall attendance #’s from about 91% average daily attendance to about 94%.

    Regular members of the attendance team are the school nurse, the attendance clerk, the Family Advocate, the site coordinator of the non-profit “Elev8″, a master’s intern, and the principal. We meet every Friday to talk about students by name and to figure out what we can do to get them to school. We have also worked with the Hedy Chang’s nonprofit AttendanceWorks to be our thought partners.

    Not only does this work result in a huge benefit to the students’ academics now, but will also help our school financially in the future since higher attendance translates to more funding.

    This has cost us nothing more than about an hour’s worth of meeting time each week, and some paper to print out data and reports.

    Cliff Hong
    Principal, Roosevelt Middle School

  • colibri

    EnCompass Academy could no longer afford to hire part-time faculty to provide reading intervention, so we looked at the resources we do have. Our afterschool instructors take the 1st-3rd graders to Physical Education during the last half hour of the day (it’s not counted as instructional minutes because the students aren’t with the majority of staff), and the homeroom teachers work with 5-6 students who need the most intensive support. Kindergarten teachers are also participating, but their students go home instead of going to P.E. Students in grades 4-5 have a longer instructional day and the Teacher on Special Assignment works with the students needing intensive support.

  • colibri

    I meant to write that P.E. isn’t counted under instructional minutes because the studetns are not with certificated staff.

  • Brian Rodriguez

    At Encinal High School in Alameda, our budget has been cut every year for the last 10 years. Only the recent passage of a parcel tax allowed us to forego the 8 furlough days we had to contribute last year. Despite financial hardship, all the Encinal teachers voted to extend their day for two things- teacher collaboration every Wednesday and Advisory classes where we meet twice a week with smaller groups of students to mentor and listen. Both programs required us to modify our contract and extend our day. We are also working much smarter with School Loop software, allowing us to post grades and assignments, blog with our classes, upload lectures, post educational videos, notes and testing tips, and email students and parents in as many languages as our students speak.

    It must be working as we are rated a 10 by the State of California on a scale of 1-10 when compared to similarly situated high schools.

  • Katy Murphy

    Very interesting. Did the shift to seven periods mean a longer day? Slightly shorter class periods?

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for sharing this, David. It seems like your students really got into their task. Maybe now they’ll think twice before turning in an assignment that will make their teacher shake his head!

    Thanks to them (and you), I finally know the meaning of SMH.

  • Liza Lyons

    Another Kaiser parent here…

    Due to budget cuts, we completely lost our librarian. But none to fear, an extremely dedicated parent, Jessica Forbes, has taken on the task of running the library with me as her sidekick. Jess dedicates at least 12 hours a week to this endeavor and I contribute at least 4. We have devised a “bookmark” system where every child has a laminated bookmark with their name on it (paid for by us) that they can leave in the book they wish to check out on the days we can’t be there in person. We also used this in the beginning when we went 2 months with no computer system. Because the library has been cut, theres nothing in the budget for our custodian to clean it. Today, another parent brought her vacuum from home!

    I love the library though! Its where our Second step takes place for 2nd and 3rd graders and now I know all their names and what they like to read. Also getting a quick education into children’s literature. These kids love their books!

    Not a day goes by that I don’t see at least half a dozen parents at school throughout the day. We are extremely lucky to have them. I wish there was some program in place bringing back assistant teachers to each and every classrooom. Our school has always operated in the black as many do (you never hear that, but its true). Admin and contracts are huge drains, that money could be better spent bringing in college grads working on their credentials, part-time employment. They’d be better trained entering the profession, the teachers would have more time to teach, high and lower achieving kids would get attention—-ALL of us would benefit!

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Cliff! That sounds like a very common-sense, low-cost solution to a serious issue. I wonder which other schools have created attendance teams, especially in light of the AttendanceWorks report on chronic absenteeism last year, and what results they’ve seen. What about the time spent following up with students who were often absent and their families? Does that take much staff time?

    As an aside, it would be fascinating to see how the grades, scores and even disciplinary records of once-chronically absent students changed with their improved attendance. And to know to what extent the improved attendance mitigated Roosevelt’s budget cuts. Is AttendanceWorks doing those sorts of analyses?

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Brian. By how many minutes a week did the Encinal teachers extend their work day? Did the solution originate among a group of your colleagues?

  • Liza Lyons

    I just have to add…

    Our PTA funds an awful lot. I don’t have it in front of me, but I believe the PTA pays for the computer teacher, the ORFF music program, PE and a lot more. Its hardly unusual and this has been going on for years….long before this recession. Schools were starved in times of plenty and not just from one cause like Prop 13 (property tax revenue exceeded wildest dreams in the 90s and 2000 and school budgets, actual sire budgets, got leaner). And certainly not because the teachers are too expensive.

    A very wise and experienced teacher of 25+ years once told me, ” Every time administrations threaten to take things away from you parents, you step up and do it yourself. Then they don’t have to. They will never fund your library again because you filled that void for them. If that money comes back, it will go somewhere else.” I can only hope she’s wrong.

  • http://www.rooseveltbulldogs.org Cliff Hong

    You’re right. We do take time to follow up by calling home and speaking with the students about their attendance. We are trying to crunch some numbers and also do some qualitative research like asking students why they are coming more consistently.

  • anon

    East Oakland School of the Arts has the highest CAHSEE pass rate last year and had the highest API jump of any high school last year!

  • Cranky Teacher


    “Every time administrations threaten to take things away from you parents, you step up and do it yourself. Then they don’t have to. They will never fund your library again because you filled that void for them. If that money comes back, it will go somewhere else.””

    I don’t want to post this under my name for fear of seeming to boast, but I put 10% of my gross salary each year back into programs that everybody and their mother says are “essential” “transformative” “life-saving” etc.

    With the latest cutbacks, I now have to create a nonprofit, get a board and go on a national fundraising drive — in what time? With what energy? The more successful I am, the closer to burnout I get!

    I know you are not trying to sugarcoat things, Katy, but I sure bet that’s how it will come across to many listeners — “See, these schools don’t need more money!”

    I am reminded of Jean Quan’s effort to find 2000 mentors for Oakland children. A noble effort, but in no way a replacement for systematic social services and education.

    Volunteerism is a huge boon to my programs, but in no way can it pay for essential supplies, rentals, fees, equipment, field trips, summer camps, internships, etc.

    And to be clear: I have seen ZERO ZERO ZERO increase in parent/community involvement/support of our school since the crash. If anything, our parents are now more depressed or scrambling to work two crap jobs and have less time to worry about their kids’ education/school.

  • Nextset

    Anon: That’s interesting. Now tell us what were the demographic changes at that school?

  • anon

    East Oakland School of the Arts is a small school on the Castlemont. The school this year is 10-12 as they started a Freshman Prep Academy on the campus.

    Staff worked tirelessly to integrate cross-curricular projects and essays as well as integrating CAHSEE prep into all classes.

    Hit an API above 600 for the first time at an East Oakland high school.

  • anon

    Oh and no demographic changes-split almost 50/50 Latino and African American. Just good teaching and rigorous expectations that students worked hard to achieve.

  • Katy Murphy

    The show is from 10 to 11 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) on KALW, 91.7 FM. It should also be posted later here.

    You can call or write in tomorrow at 866/798-8255 or feedback@yourcallradio.org.

  • Brian Rodriguez

    Our hours are longer by about 60 minutes a week over the course of a school year, and with 7 periods it is a looongggggg day Tuesday and Thursday. The interesting issue that arises is how to measure success. Academic is easier than social. Is it a decreased drop out rate, an increase in student club membership, attendance or participation in sports, fewer disciplinary problems, visits to the nurse, or absences?

    To add to what Cranky Teacher says, it is ironic that public school teachers do not get credit for all the innovations to keep things going but instead are attacked as somehow failing the kids. We do a poor job of getting the message out, and Districts are loath to do it, because they must negotiate with unions.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Very encouraging stuff in a discouraging environment. Folks are certainly not lack in creativity. Thanks for asking the question Katy.