Saturday: Conference for Oakland’s African-American families

Parents can learn about transitional kindergarten, how to advocate for their children, how to help them at home, and what it will take for them to graduate high school and be ready for college at a free Saturday event for African-American families.

The African American Spring Parent Conference, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, is at Bret Harte Middle School, 3700 Coolidge Ave, in the Laurel District.

OUSD’s Office of African-American Male Achievement is hosting the event, which includes breakfast and lunch. You can register here.

In February, OUSD held a similar day of workshops for Latino families, a conference co-sponsored by Educational Coalition for Hispanics in Oakland, and there have been others, as well.

Have you attended a parent workshop recently? Did you find it useful — and in what way?


CA lawmakers reconsidering `zero-tolerance’ student discipline laws

As we reported in a story this week about the number of California school kids who received an out-of-school suspension in a single school year, the state’s public schools are required, by law, to suspend or expel kids who are caught selling drugs, brandishing a knife, possessing a firearm or explosive, or sexually assaulting someone.

Assembly Bill 2537, introduced by Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella) — as introduced  — would remove that requirement, with the exception of the firearm and explosives offenses. In essence, the legislation would leave it up to school officials to decide on the appropriate disciplinary action. It would also lift a requirement that principals report illegal activities to legal authorities; the failure to do so now constitutes an infraction.

Lastly, it requires a governing board’s decision to expel a student to be based not only on the act, itself, but on the grounds that “other means of correction are not feasible or have repeatedly failed to bring about proper conduct.”

A vote on this bill is scheduled for next week.

Another bill, AB 2242, from Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) would remove “defiance” as grounds for an out-of-school suspension (but would still allow schools to place students under a supervised in-school suspension as a consequence for willfully defying authority). The Associated Press reported last week that 40 percent of California school suspensions are given for that reason.

Dickinson’s bill passed out of the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday (7-3 vote) and heads next to Appropriations.

Do you support either of these bills?

A statement from Perez’s office: Continue Reading


Five Oakland schools win Title I achievement awards

Some good news for your spring break (or when you return to reality):

The California Department of Education has announced the winners of the Title I Academic Achievement Award, a distinction for schools with rising test scores that receive funding for low-income children.

All five Alameda County winners were public schools in Oakland: American Indian Public Charter School II (which will remain open, after all), Burckhalter Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, Lighthouse Community Charter High and Lincoln Elementary. Two Contra Costa County schools also won — Highland Elementary in West Contra Costa Unified and Los Medanos Elementary in Pittsburg Unified.

Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, had this to say about the 117 winners: “The progress being made at these schools, which serve our neediest students, should serve as a beacon of hope for California. At a time of fiscal crisis and economic uncertainty, they continue to improve, building a brighter future for their students.”

Eligibility criteria (from CDE): The school must demonstrate that all students are making significant progress toward proficiency on California’s academic content standards. Additionally, the school’s socioeconomically disadvantaged students must have doubled the achievement targets set for them for two consecutive years.

You can find more information about the award here.



Database on out-of-school suspensions in California

In the 2009-10 year alone, 7 percent of California’s public school kids were sent home from school, at least once, on an out-of-school suspension, according to a new report by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

In Oakland Unified, 11 percent of all students (k-12) got one that year — and 20 percent of students with disabilities and 21 percent of its African American students, according to the report. (The rate for black boys was 26 percent and for black girls it was 15 percent.)

Three percent of white and Asian students and 8 percent of Latino students were suspended in 2009-10.

The reasons for the suspensions weren’t available (districts aren’t required to report this info to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, where the data for this analysis came from), and we don’t have school-level data.

How does your school deal with disciplinary issues?

You can find the full story here. Find the data for your district and others in this database created by my colleague Danny Willis.


Even in retirement, teachers bring warmth to their former Oakland school

Carrie Johnston, a teacher at Oakland’s Bella Vista Elementary School, wrote this reflection about a group of retired teachers. 

Retired Bella Vista teachers
Photo courtesy of Carrie Johnston. Left to right: Karen Chin, Louise Broome, and Carolyn Matson

Bella Vista School teachers gathered on this last morning before spring break for a treat — breakfast prepared by three retired teachers. The delicious repast included home fries, grits, donuts, and cheesy scrambled eggs. Tired staff, looking forward to the coming break almost as much as their students, took time to gather, enjoy the food, and spend some time together before the last day.

Carolyn Matson, Louise Broome, and Karen Chin have always been generous when it comes to sharing their cooking gifts with the staff at Bella Vista; ask any member of the staff from the past four decades and she will remember a potluck (or several) featuring one of Mrs. Broome’s tasty cooked treats, and for the past several years the social committee has been helmed by the dedicated, enthusiastic Mrs. Matson and Ms. Chin.

I began my teaching career at Bella Vista. After leaving the school and the district for several years I counted myself lucky to return here, because the staff have a wonderful way of caring for each other. Many of the teachers and support staff have worked together for decades, and the trust and comfort they take in each other is heartwarming. Although no teams of researchers have been in to confirm my beliefs, I am pretty sure the consistent staff and the fellowship among the adults at Bella Vista have contributed to the steady improvement in student achievement. It is a place where adults have felt at home, and these comfortable adults provide a feeling of home to the students at Bella Vista as well.

Continue Reading


Lawsuit to halt closure of Santa Fe

Just before the Oakland school board agreed to lease Santa Fe Elementary School to Emery Unified for $500,000 a year (for three years), the law firm Siegel & Yee filed a lawsuit to keep it open.

The plaintiffs plan to ask the Alameda County Superior Court for an injunction. If it goes through, this will be the second of the five planned closures that have not gone according to plan (See: Lazear Elementary. Its charter conversion hearing is scheduled for April 25).

Here’s the news release from Michael Siegel:


Decision to Close Santa Fe Elementary School is Racially Discriminatory, a Waste a Public Resources, and in Violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, Plaintiffs Say Continue Reading


Children from soon-to-close Oakland schools: where they might land

You can say what you like about the Oakland school district’s policies and tactics — say, its decision to close schools — but when it comes to putting out granular data in user-friendly maps and charts, you’ve got to hand it to them.

Below is a series of five maps that show where the children from Lakeview, *Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe were placed for the 2012-13 school year. At the bottom of each one, you’ll find the percentage of children, by grade, that got their family’s first, second, third and fourth choices.

Student placements after school closure

*Of course, the data for Lazear could well be moot. Parents at that school have a charter application pending, and the OUSD board seems poised to approve it later this month — yet again, despite the recommendation of the charter school office. Why go out of their way to support a new charter at a school they voted to close, just months earlier? It could be in response to an unexpectedly low first-choice placement rate for families that school (49 percent), compared to the other four, especially since most Lazear kids walk to school.

I’ve also asked the district for an update on the Crocker-Highlands enrollment crunch (still waiting!), and whether other schools also turned away neighborhood children. As soon as I hear back, I’ll let you know.


Live blog: American Indian charter hearing

Tonight, the Oakland school board went against its staff’s recommendation and renewed the charter for American Indian Public Charter School II. There was an overflow crowd at the meeting. Its director, Ben Chavis, entered the board room to applause.

10:00: The vote on Alice Spearman’s motion to approve the charter, with conditions, just passed, 4-3. Spearman, Noel Gallo, Chris Dobbins and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge approved it; David Kakishiba, Jody London and Gary Yee voted against it.

9:50: Board member David Kakishiba said the American Indian board members’ statements didn’t inspire confidence in him. Sounds like he’s going to vote to deny the charter, according to the staff recommendation.

“The academic program and the outcomes are fantastic, and I really feel angry that you are in this position and that I’m in this position, because it’s not your fault, and it’s sure as heck not my fault,” Kakishiba said.

“Here’s what I think should be done. I’m going to vote for the original motion. The school has an opportunity to appeal to the county. It gives you time to address, in a very honest way, about whether there is anything to address. If there’s nothing wrong … you’ll be able to convince the county board, which has a strong record of overturning our denials.”

Jumoke Hinton Hodge said she agreed with much of what Kakishiba said.

9:40: Board member Jody London said she felt the school’s governing board and administration had violated the public’s trust. “That’s why this is so difficult, because the students are doing very well, and the organization is not following the law. …

London added, “I found the response from the (American Indian) board to be not serious enough. … I’m very interested in finding a way to let the academic program continue.”

Still, she said, she had serious concerns about the schools management, and she is in favor of denying the charter and allowing AIM to appeal to the county. By that time, the full FCMAT report is expected to come out.

9:20: Alice Spearman makes a motion to deny the staff’s recommendation and grant renewal of the school, with conditions: 1) “that the governance team seeks professional development and growth” and 2) that the administration works on creating “acceptable accounting principles.”

Gallo seconded it. Jumoke Hinton Hodge wants to see the renewal be for two years, instead of five. Spearman said she had no problem with that. “I feel the school will rise up to it.”

General counsel Jacqueline Minor says the board can only renew the school for five years, not less than that. But that the board can impose conditions on charter.

9:17: Board member Chris Dobbins is speaking in favor of keeping the school open. “Frankly, I think (parents) don’t care what’s going on with the leadership of the board. Their school’s giving them a safe environment and a safe education. … if there’s malfeasance going on, present it to the district attorney.”

Dobbins added, “I think we need to allow them some time to remedy some of these issues without closing the school down.”

9:15: The last speaker (I think.) The board will then start to deliberate.

8:30: There’s still a long line of speakers. Just about everyone is speaking in support of the school, talking about its safe environment and strong academics. Judi Marquardt-Norris, who’s listed on the charter petition as a board member but told me she was on the board only until the beginning of this year, said publicly that she would take the blame if there was wrongdoing. But in her remarks, she was a bit vague about her tenure on the school’s governing board, saying: “Was it 6 months? Was it a year and a half? Was it all my life? I don’t know.”

8:05: Eighth-grader Arlette Hernandez starts to cry as she reaches the podium, temporarily unable to give her remarks. Chavis comes up and comforts her, telling her to keep going. She says: “I could be at home, hanging out with my friends, maybe going on Facebook. But I’m here for my little sisters … for them to get the same education I got, or even better.”

8:05: An AIPHS high school senior talks about how his mom was right to send him to American Indian. After extolling its virtues, he announces, “Now I have to leave, because I have to study for a statistics test tomorrow. Goodbye.”

7:55: Carl Chan, of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce: “Closure? Are you kidding me? It’s quite shocking.”

7:45: A former teacher, Lorissa Zavala Singleton, says Chavis and his wife committed fraud: “Chavis will try to hide fraud behind these great kids,” she said. “… It is the teachers and students who make American Indian successful. … I’m for the school. I’m not for Chavis.”

7:40: Ben Chavis, on the FCMAT report: “Nowhere do they say they discovered any fraud. The key word when you read the report is `concerns.’ I heard on the news, they said `He got $3 million.’ Ahh, I’d like to see it.”

On the rate he charges the schools per square foot: “I want to charge what you guys charge, if I can…. My building’s 40,000 square feet. … No mathematics was involved in anything, just allegations. … You can take numbers and do anything you want with them, and there’s been a lot of number twisting.”

On allegations of wrongdoing: “If Ben Chavis has done anything wrong, if Ben Chavis has stolen money, if Ben Chavis has committed a crime, you get Ben Chavis. That’s what people want, is to get Ben Chavis, but they’re using Ben Chavis to get the kids.”

7:33: Gallo calls Chavis up to the mic.

7:30: School auditor says he has issued “a clean opinion” for four years.

7:20: Kakishiba to Michael Stember, president of the American Indian board: “Are you categorically denying each and every one of these concerns?”
Stember: “Yes”
Spearman: “Each and every one of them?”
Stember: “Yes”

7:15: Spearman notes that Chavis is the founder, the owner of the building, and the owner of a construction company with which it entered into a contract. “Is it an illegal practice for a charter school to enter into an agreement with a personal business?”

Jacqueline Minor, OUSD’s legal counsel, says it depends on the governing board’s minutes, and whether the board knew that the company was owned by the founder.

7:05: Kakishiba says the school’s performance isn’t in question, “but the issues of the caps of your gov board to provide the necessary oversight for your particular school, and the management.” He asks Michael Stember, president of the American Indian governing board, to speak.

STEMBER:  “The board is relatively new. It was a very accusatory report, but Gail Greely is paid to do that, and we commend her because what she put together, and the pressure from FCMAT to the community is only making us stronger. … We’ve addressed every single one of the weaknesses. … ”

“This happened before I was board president and I was on the board. … I think the report was so preliminary, their findings weren’t in conclusion.” (Has been on board for 1.5 years.)

Stember says he isn’t prepared to respond to the allegations, saying that it was intended to be a group presentation. He taps a woman to speak who identified herself as the financial administrator. (I believe the founder’s wife was, until recently, the financial administrator.)

7:00: Public comment has begun. A sixth-grade teacher urges the board to put the students first.

6:55: Jumoke Hinton Hodge says she is concerned about the school’s sustainability. “I’m concerned about a foundation not necessarily being there. … I do know what can be our process to ensure or demand, quite frankly, administration and operational corrections are made.”

6:45: Spearman continues her speech in support of American Indian, saying the process “looks like a witch-hunt”: “We’re in the business of providing the best education possible to children. … When you do not allow an entity due process, it’s very problematic to me as a black woman, period. … In the United States, as far as Chinese people go, due process wasn’t given to them, either.”

6:40: Alice Spearman is now starting in on Greely, questioning the validity of the concerns: “… was the school given the chance to remedy some of the fiscal improprieties that you found?”

Greely: “We did not go to the school with a list of improprieties and provide an opportunity to cure. …”

Spearman: Before I make a decision I would like to have some of these concerns answered by the school. … This is the United States of America. In the United States of America … everyone has due process. You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty.”

…”The fact that they have an API of over 900 is extraordinary.”

It sort of feels like a play. The audience is quiet, listening intently, and then breaking in with cheers (or boos).

6:35: Noel Gallo is questioning Gail Greely, director of OUSD, about the timing of the report. Greely: “Our procedure is we make the reports available to the school at the same time we make the report available to the public.”

6:30 Noel Gallo: “In terms of the allegations, accusations, whatever it may be, it hasn’t been proven.”

6:28 Board member Noel Gallo: “For a student body that has an API score of 990 – outstanding.” (cheers) “I wish I could say it in Mandarin or Cantonese, but your community is an example I’d like my community to follow.”

6:20: Gail Greely, director of OUSD’s Office of Charter Schools, gives her report, outlining the preliminary FCMAT findings.


Will Oakland’s top-scoring school be closed?

BEN CHAVISDuring a 6 5:30 p.m. special meeting Wednesday night, the Oakland school board considers the fate of American Indian Public Charter School II, a middle school in downtown Oakland with a near-perfect Academic Performance Index of 990.

American Indian Public Charter School II, one of three schools run by American Indian Model Schools, is up for its 5-year charter renewal. At the same time, state auditors are investigating allegations of financial fraud in the school’s charter management organization. The Oakland school district’s charter schools office has recommended that the board reject the American Indian renewal application.

You can find our story here, and the district’s report here, along with a progress report from the auditors from the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team.

The staff report cites numerous reasons for its conclusion, from compliance issues (teacher certification and occupancy permits) to a pending investigation into allegations of fraud, conflicts of interest and deliberate misappropriation of funds.

Continue Reading