Oscar Wright: Oakland’s relentless education advocate

OSCAR WRIGHTFor years, I’ve listened to Oscar Wright speak at board meetings, calling on the district’s leaders to offer the same opportunities to all of the city’s students, regardless of race or income. He often weaves parts of his own experience into his remarks and entreaties, and I’ve long wanted a fuller story of the man behind the podium.

The profile on Wright, which appeared in Tuesday’s Tribune, includes two video clips of Wright addressing the Oakland school board (which, he said, he began doing in 1965, after the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act).

Wright’s full story doesn’t begin to fit in a newspaper article — he has almost 89 years under his belt, after all — but maybe you’ll learn something about him anyway.

This photo of Oscar Wright was taken last month by Tribune staff photographer D. Ross Cameron.



Despite hopes to the contrary, OUSD rejects Lazear charter

Tonight, the Oakland school board voted to block Lazear Elementary School from becoming a charter school (with Spearman and Gallo dissenting).

Lazear is one of five elementary schools slated to close in June as part of a school district downsizing plan. To keep it open, parents submitted an application to become an independently run charter school at the same location.

Most of the students at Lazear walk to school, and there weren’t enough spaces in nearby schools in the Fruitvale area to accommodate the children. Less than half got their first-choice alternative, and only about two-thirds got their top two choices.

In late March, Oakland school district’s charter schools office recommended the school board reject the petition, saying it failed to meet its quality standards. The school board tabled the decision, though, and directed staff to negotiate a partnership charter agreement, a la ASCEND and Learning Without Limits. Until this week, it appeared the board was ready to go for it.

Then came the numbers. Continue Reading


Saturday: Career Technical Education Expo in Oakland

Laney College is hosting a career tech expo on Saturday, featuring programs from biomanufacturing to culinary arts.

It’s from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 900 Fallon St in Oakland. You can register for the free event and find updates here.


Career and Technical Education Expo


Oakland school board to vote on local governance policy

Tomorrow night, the Oakland school board votes on a resolution that would establish its intent to give principals, school staff members and families greater authority to improve their school as they see fit.

Each school would create a “Theory of Action,” to which it would align its “people, programs, money, and time.”

The board would also attempt to give local leaders more say in who works at their schools, a strategy which proved to be a sticking point with the teachers union this year. (In resolution language:  “Strengthen the ability of school governance teams, through established collective bargaining protocols and agreements, to determine the composition of their employee teams.”)

It would allocate funding to schools based on student “needs and life circumstances.” Details TBD.

This one-page policy proposal (embedded below) was vetted by members of the Special Committee on School-Based Management and Budgeting and was presented to the school board for a first reading last week.

Here’s how it starts: Continue Reading


Teacher evaluations — and surveys of students and colleagues

Dave Orphal, a teacher at Skyline High School in Oakland, is writing a series of blog posts for The Education Report about revamping teacher evaluations — including a pilot program that two middle schools are using this year. Orphal serves as a veteran teacher leader for the Bay Area New Millennium Initiative and works with the California Teachers Association’s Institute for Teaching. You can read more of Dave’s thoughts on teaching and educational reform at TransformED.

David OrphalIn my last post, I offered an overview of a proposed teacher evaluation system that two Oakland schools are piloting. The proposed system would replace the six performance criteria outlined in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession in favor of five new, but remarkably similar, criteria. I also examined one major departure from the current system of teacher evaluation, specifically the use of student performance data.

In this post, we will look at another significant difference from the current and piloted systems: feedback from a teacher’s students and colleagues.

The proposed teacher evaluation system will add a component called 360-Degree Feedback. In essence, this is corporate jargon for using multiple perspectives and sources of information to inform an evaluation. Jargon aside, I applaud the effort to draw in more voices and viewpoints that just one administrator’s in the evaluation of a teacher.

The pilot evaluation system already doubles the number of people observing a teacher, simply by asking an instructional coach to do several observations in concert with the observations that a principal would do. The 360-degree feedback adds to this a set of surveys completed by the teacher’s students and another set completed by her colleagues.

I can already imagine some of the concerns that some teachers will have. Surveys can be influenced heavily by emotions. A student who is angry with me because I would not flex on a deadline might rate me as a poor teacher, while that same student may rate me an excellent teacher because I flexed on the deadline. Emotional responses like these would have only a vague reflection on my actual effectiveness as a teacher. At the same time, my colleagues may be reluctant to give me honest feedback in order to maintain harmony in the copy center and teacher cafeteria.

Continue Reading


A new teacher evaluation system being tested at two OUSD schools

Dave Orphal, a teacher at Skyline High School in Oakland, will write a series of blog posts for The Education Report about teacher evaluations — including a pilot program that two middle schools are using this year. He serves as a veteran teacher leader for the Bay Area New Millennium Initiative and works with the California Teachers Association’s Institute for Teaching. You can read more of Dave’s thoughts on teaching and educational reform at TransformED.

David OrphalIn the last session of the OEA/OUSD teacher conference last Saturday, I sat in a session about a new teacher-evaluation system piloted by two Oakland schools. Like my own school, these two are under interdict from the state and federal education authorities to dramatically remodel themselves because their test scores remain unsatisfactory.

The schools applied for, and received, a federal grant to help them with their remodeling. One of the conditions for the money is to revamp their teacher evaluation system so that student achievement data is included. Additionally, the new system will have to include provisions for teacher improvement, reward, and removal.

The panel talking about the evaluation system included teachers, principals, and district personnel in charge of school transformation.

The proposed teacher evaluation system used by these two schools includes six components: Continue Reading


Happy Earth Day!

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

I visited Peralta Elementary School in North Oakland this week to see how they are using the arts to teach children about the environment. A story about it ran in Saturday’s paper.

Below, you’ll find the “Miraculous Fungi” animation last year’s fourth-graders produced with their teachers to explain the concept of micromediation. (Normally, I’d explain such a term myself, but I’d rather let the students tell you how it works.) Next on the list: native bees.

You can view the other animation projects here.

What does your school do to promote environmental stewardship?


Tony Smith, on OUSD schools turning into charters

Staff Photojournalist
2011 file photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

At a meeting with principals and other administrators before spring break, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith apparently said he didn’t care how many of the city’s schools became independently run charters.

After reading the comments a couple of you posted about those remarks, I asked OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint if Smith did, indeed, say something to that effect. He did.

“Basically, the point of those comments was to emphasize that we need to create more good options for children, and that needs to be the focus of our efforts,” Flint said.

He added: “He was just emphasizing that these are Oakland’s kids, and we’re responsible for their success. Our job is to promote the best possible outcomes for kids, and we have to put that ahead of ideology.”

Flint stressed that Smith did not mean that he was giving up on its district schools, or that he preferred one option over another.

I didn’t hear the statement, or its context. I don’t know, for instance, whether the subject came up in response to another question or as part of his prepared remarks. Unless the meeting was recorded, which I doubt, I can’t even provide you with an exact quote of what he said.

Continue Reading


Last chance to attend Saturday’s OUSD Teacher Conference

Tribune file photo of 2011 convention by Laura A. Oda

Last spring, at its first-ever teacher convention, delegates told the district administration — loud and clear — that often the most valuable support and training came from colleagues, rather than outside experts, and that teachers needed a chance to come together and share ideas.

So this year OUSD’s Talent Development Office, with support from the teachers union, organized an all-day conference for some 200 teacher-delegates, asking each school to send two elected representatives. It takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Oakland Technical High School. (The schedule of courses is posted below — or, if it’s not there, should be soon.)

But not every school has selected delegates, and there’s still room for about 40 more teachers. Yesterday, the district opened enrollment to others who want to take part, said Margaret Dunlap, a former Glenview and Montclair teacher who now works in the district’s Talent Development Office.

Dunlap said teachers must register by the 8 a.m. Friday deadline to receive the $150 stipend. Interested? Fill out the registration form at the bottom of this post and email it to margaret.dunlap@ousd.k12.ca.us.  Continue Reading


Paying for college: looking for stories

Recently, my colleague Matt Krupnick wrote a story about the ever-rising cost of tuition at California’s state universities. It’s cheaper for a student from a middle-income family to go to Harvard (or other top private colleges) than to CSU East Bay, he found.

Now that many of the acceptance letters have arrived in the mail, another fellow reporter, Sharon Noguchi, is writing about families of high school seniors who are figuring out what they can afford and how to pay for it. She wants to talk to people from Oakland and elsewhere in the East Bay about the choices they’re making to finance a higher education.

TELL US: How you’re preparing for this massive expense?

If you’re in this situation — or know an East Bay family with a college-bound high school senior — I hope you’ll consider sharing your perspective with Sharon. You can reach her at snoguchi@mercurynews.com.