This year’s California Distinguished Schools

Staff Photojournalist
file photo of ACORN Woodland by Laura Oda/Bay Area News Group

Congratulations to ACORN Woodland and Henry J. Kaiser Jr. elementary schools. They were among 22 in Alameda County and 387 statewide to be named 2012 California Distinguished Elementary Schools, an award given by Tom Torlakson, California superintendent of public instruction.

Other nearby winners were Malcolm X in Berkeley; Amelia Earhart and Donald D. Lum in Alameda and Hanna Ranch and Olinda in West Contra Costa.

The awards went to schools that showed academic excellence for all students and which have narrowed the achievement gap. You can find the full list here.

“The schools we are recognizing today demonstrate the incredible commitment of California’s teachers, administrators, and school employees to provide a world-class education to every student, in spite of the financial hardships facing our state and our schools,” Torlakson said. “Their dedication is inspiring, and I applaud and admire their passion and persistence.”


OUSD board adjourns meeting after sit-in

sit-in at OUSD board meeting

UPDATE: OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint said 10 protesters were arrested, beginning at 12:35 a.m., after refusing to leave the building.

Tonight, a group of about a dozen or more activists from BAMN held a sit-in and protest in the midst of the board meeting, saying they wouldn’t leave until the board took back its October decision to close five elementary schools. (At one point Alice Spearman, who serves up at least two colorful quotes and/or insults per meeting, issued this challenge: “I want to say to these revolutionaries who want to camp out: I hope you’ve got your tent. I hope you do. Walk your talk.”)

After an hour-long recess, when the Oakland school board and the television cameras returned to the board room, activists resumed their chanting about children, gentrification and schools not being for sale. (None are for sale that I know of; some might be leased to charter schools or the Emery school district, which some protesters were describing as majority-white. You can find that district’s actual student demographics here. Oakland has a greater percentage of white students.).

Then, without further ado, the board members and staff grabbed their personal effects and left, adjourning the meeting to tomorrow afternoon.

After the board walked out the first time, a man in a Santa Fe Elementary T-shirt told the activists (which did include a couple of Lakeview grandparents) that he had been waiting for hours to speak on the agenda item to lease Santa Fe to Emery Unified after the school closes in June.

“The point is you deprived the community to make their point to the school board,” he said. “This was disrespectful.”

Earlier in the meeting, a number of teachers union leaders spoke out against Superintendent Tony Smith’s plan to replace the regular teaching positions at Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds high schools with teachers-on-special-assignment, or TSAs. Continue Reading


Will OUSD back off its high school reforms?

9 P.M. UPDATE: So far, Gallo has not made the below motion on the TSAs. His focus has been on supporting Lazear Elementary School’s charter school conversion.

UPDATE: OUSD board member Noel Gallo has confirmed that he might introduce a motion tonight to direct Superintendent Tony Smith to back off the teacher-on-special-assignment plan and negotiate a solution with the teachers union.

“Right now, there’s too much divisiveness going on,” he said.

Do you agree? What do you think about the timing of all of this — right before the hiring decisions are supposed to be announced? If he does introduce the motion, he’d need three of his colleagues to vote for it.

P.S. We’re hearing Occupy Oakland will be occupying the meeting too.


The Oakland Education Association is holding a rally today to protest the district’s decision to have teachers at Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds apply for a new, 11-month teaching position if they want to remain on those campuses. (In case I haven’t reminded you enough, the Tribune is holding a forum tomorrow on this very issue.)

Do you agree with the below assessment that the district’s plan is “the latest corporate-inspired flavor of the month,” rather than a real solution?

Here’s the news release: Continue Reading


Students to debate charters, criminal justice

Bay Area Urban Debate League
High school debater Kwodwo Moore (center). Photo by Ray Chavez/Staff

On Thursday, after you come to the Tribune’s public forum on high school reform and teaching in Oakland, you’ll still have plenty of time to head across town to a different — and decidedly younger — discussion about education and teenagers.

Charter schools and criminal justice are the subjects of debate at the 6-7:30 p.m. Bay Area Urban Debate League event at the St. Augustine Episcopal Church (not to be confused with the Catholic church on Alcatraz) on 29th Street and Telegraph.

Dmitri Seals, the league’s director, says his hard-working orators have been practicing three times a week for this moment, and that “they are ready to electrify the crowd.”

Admission to the debate, titled “Waiting for Superman,” is free. You can RSVP on Facebook or to dseals@baudl.org.

Here are the big questions the debaters will tackle: Continue Reading


On this week’s OUSD board agenda: school facilities, police review, charters and grading policy

I’m gearing up for a long night on Wednesday. Among many other agenda items, the Oakland school board will hear a report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Services (it hasn’t been posted as of this afternoon); a discussion about possible revisions to the district’s student grading policies and regulations; an update on the expansions of Burckhalter and Kaiser elementary schools; and lots of decisions about the use of district property.

The board will also vote on the Lazear Elementary School charter conversion petition. Staff has recommended denial, saying it presents an unsound program that is unlikely to be successful. Lazear is one of the five elementary schools the board voted last fall to close at the end of the school year.

FACILITIES DEALS: Proposition 39 is a California constitutional amendment passed in 2000 that, among other provisions, gave charter schools the right to available space in public school buildings. If the board adopts the below proposals, some of the city’s existing and new charters might open at schools that the district has shut down or planned to close.

There are so many of these facilities proposals on Wednesday’s agenda, they almost call for some sort of diagram. For now, I’ll try my best to sketch it out in words. Continue Reading


A teacher’s perspective on OUSD job showcase

Peter Von Ehrenkrook teaches at Santa Fe Elementary, one of the five Oakland elementary schools slated for closure in June. Below, he gives us his account of event the Oakland school district held on Friday evening for displaced teachers like himself.

The Advisory Matching School Showcase was indeed an opportunity for the displaced elementary school teachers to meet with school representatives. It was also much more, evidently, since there were tables there for charter schools, middle schools, and even high schools.

Some tables had nothing but a sign-in sheet for people who might be interested in the school – no ambassadors or information.

Most tables had one brave and often tired-looking teacher who gamely tried to answer questions posed by displaced teachers (as well as many other adults who were not from the closed schools).

A few schools made the effort to display pictures and stats, leading one student who walked by to ask if it was a science fair. Sankofa Academy displayed data on a portable screen.

On a personal note, I found little information that was not available online, and most of the $250 school ambassadors had no clue what the procedure was from here. The list of openings provided at the door did not match the verbal information offered by ambassadors either, at most sites. They were either hedging when they provided the information to HR, or perhaps dissuading teachers on the spot who did not fit their desired profile.

Continue Reading


Tomorrow: a showcase for displaced teachers

After school tomorrow, the Oakland school district is holding an event for the dozens of Oakland teachers who find themselves in the so-called “talent pool” because of school closures, a leave of absence or other reasons. The informational interview fair, which is voluntary, will give displaced teachers a chance to meet someone from each school that has posted vacancies for the upcoming school year.

Teachers will then be given two days to visit schools that catch their interest. Then, starting from the most senior teacher, they choose their placements from the list of openings. (Despite the administration’s efforts to give principals more of a say in that decision, mutual matching fell by the wayside.)

The Advisory School Matching Showcase is something new for Oakland Unified. Before, teachers just picked from a list of vacancies, often knowing little about the school besides its reputation and location. (Some might simply do that again this year, as they are not obligated to do any of this.)

I’d like to hear, from teachers and school representative alike, the expectations you have of this event — and, afterward, how it went. I wonder, for example, if anyone became interested in working at a school that they might not otherwise have considered. Do you think it will help inform your decision? Make you feel more comfortable at School B?

If you’d like to write up your reflections from the event and share it with your fellow blog readers — and you know you do! — just email it to me, along with your name and school, at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Here’s the district’s description of the showcase, which is happening in the Think College Now/International Community School auditorium: Continue Reading


High school students campaign for free in-state tuition in CA

Monica Mendoza, a 2011 graduate of Oakland’s Life Academy and a student at Hayward’s Chabot College, wrote the below piece about a ballot initiative she helped to write. College for California would make state universities free for most full-time, in-state students. The initiative still needs more than 800,000 signatures to qualify for a future ballot. We just posted this story on the effort — and on volunteer-based ballot initiatives in general.

College for California
photo by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

It all started with a lesson that our math teacher Mr. B (Boettner) had given us during the fall semester of our senior year. We’d just finished completing our college applications. The next thing on our minds was how were we going to pay for college? He gave us a lesson on college tuition and how much it had increased throughout the years. It was astounding seeing the huge difference in tuition between the 1970s and now.

I know personally it had me worried. I was worried because my family is low income. Our income is about $12,900, lower than tuition at a UC. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to pay for everything without having to get loans. I knew my parents were also worried about how they’d be able to help me as well. It was all really scary, especially being the first one in my family to go to college and not having anybody else in my family that I’d be able to look up to or ask for help.

Mr. B had then asked if a couple of students would be interested in being leaders in creating a ballot initiative. Continue Reading


Tribune forum on March 29: Join us!

On Thursday, March 29, the Oakland Tribune is holding a public forum to delve into the issue that has elicited more than 150 comments on this blog: the Oakland school district’s decision to create a new teaching position on three of its high school campuses, and to require even current teachers to apply for the job if they want to stay.

I’ll be moderating the panel discussion. We’ll have a Q & A section at the end, so bring your insights and questions. You’re also welcome to post them here, if you can’t make it. I hope to see you there!

WHEN: 3:30 to 5:15 p.m. Thursday, March 29
WHERE: 81st Avenue branch of the Oakland Public Library, 1021 81st Ave. (at Rudsdale)
CONFIRMED PANELISTS: Superintendent Tony Smith; Oakland Education Association President Betty Olson-Jones; Castlemont (EOSA) teacher Timothy Bremner; Fremont (Media Academy) teacher Howard Ruffner; Fremont (Media Academy) student Diego Garcia


In Oakland, transitional kindergarten is still a go

photo of transitional kindergarten pilot at Greenleaf Elementary by Laura A. Oda/Staff

It’s been a confusing few months for families with children who are turning 5 in November — kids who, until this year, would have been eligible to start kindergarten.

First, they hear that their local district will be required to offer a two-year kindergarten program for their child this fall (and, eventually, children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2). Then, they learn the governor wants to overturn the law instituting transitional kindergarten, and that districts — such as San Francisco Unified — are worried they might not have the funding for it.

Now, legislative analysts say that districts will have the per-student funding needed to pay for transitional kindergarten, even if Gov. Jerry Brown succeeds in repealing the mandate. And if the mandate stands, of course, districts will have to provide it.

Jeff Bell, who directs management consultant services for School Services of California, told me this: Whether current law stands or Brown’s proposal overturns it, “It looks like there will be resources in some fashion to have transitional kindergarten.”

Oakland Unified is going forward with transitional kindergarten , launching the new grade at 10 schools in the fall. Yvonne Delbanco, who is coordinating the Oakland school district’s new program, said her message to families and preschool providers has been simple: “We are moving forward exactly as planned.”

Have you signed up for transitional kindergarten? How has your district handled the uncertainty? We expect to have a full story about this next week.