Who would you like to see in the Tribune?

morning paper
Photo from Hitchster’s photostream at Flickr.com/creativecommons

Every once in awhile, someone sends me a news tip on a person who’s doing important work with little attention or press, or someone who has a story to tell. Do you know anyone like that — someone in your school or district that has an interesting job, or who’s been doing it for a gazillion years and has a formidable (and rare) institutional memory?

Now’s your chance! Let me know — by tomorrow morning, if possible — if you have any ideas for one of our regular profile features. You can post them here or email me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

I look forward to hearing them.


OUSD: Changes in the principal’s office

Here it is, your long-awaited account of who’s in and who’s out of various Oakland schools this year. From this 2012-13 directory, I count 15 new principals — seven at elementary schools, three at middle schools and five at high schools. Did I miss any?

This means that about 17 percent of OUSD’s 86 schools will have new leaders. Last year, if you recall, there were 20 new principals for 98 schools.

Two schools are also trying out the co-principal model — two people who share the job. Burckhalter Elementary School, which expects to take on dozens of children displaced from the shuttered Lakeview Elementary, will take on Lakeview’s former principal as well — along with its existing leader. Claremont Middle School, which has undergone some serious turnover in recent years, was appointed co-principals as well: twin brothers whose mother attended Claremont.

I’m curious about this setup — the financial implications (Are they paid the same as if they were the sole principal? Who’s covering the additional cost?), the potential benefits, the division of labor, and the reasons those two schools were chosen to have two leaders — and will have more for you later.


Elementary: Brookfield, Burckhalter (which will add a co-principal; Carin Geathers is not leaving), Esperanza, Grass Valley, Lafayette, Sobrante Park (which will share a principal with Madison Middle School, even though the schools aren’t supposed to merge until 2013) and International Community School

Middle: Claremont, Elmhurst and Montera

High/alternative: Bunche Continuation, Castlemont High, Dewey Academy (continuation), Oakland High and Community Day School

Where did the principals of the five closing elementary schools go? Continue Reading


A tour through one of California’s polluted port cities

Port of Long Beach, Calif.

Photo by Alison Yin

This week, as I rode a tour bus around the streets of the working-class, 51,000-person port town of Wilmington, Calif., past oil refineries and yards stacked with shipping containers and along busy freeways, I couldn’t help but think of West Oakland, Richmond, and the Bay Area’s industrial corridor.

I was struck by how many schools and playgrounds were right off the freeway, a short distance from the main sources of air pollution. One of our tour guides, Wilmington native and USC grad student Anabell Romero, told us about an explosive fire that raged in a junk yard for 32 hours in 2010, right by a school; children played outside, she said, while firefighters worked to contain the fire.

When she went to UC Santa Cruz for college, she said, “I was like, `The air is so fresh here — too fresh.'”

Romero and her friends started a blog, the Wilmington Wire, about these issues and others, and she has done reporting for KQED. While her reporting has brought to light the toll that heavy industry has taken on her community’s health — USC studies have linked diesel emissions to asthma, underdeveloped lungs and cancer — she has a nuanced perspective. Workers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles make $30 to $50 hour, she said, and — ironically — have some of the best health benefits. Romero’s fiancé works at the port.

Two employees for the Port of Long Beach characterized the department (which, though government-owned agencies, operate just like businesses) as a national leader on air quality improvements. They said recent investments in cleaner technology — an estimated $2 billion in LA and Long Beach in the last five years — have resulted in a reduction in air pollution, and that the goal is to stop burning fuel altogether.

But David Freeman, a former commissioner on the LA Board of Harbor Commissioners (appointed by the mayor at the time), said the ports only responded to community pressure and lawsuits. Continue Reading


A new project, on childhood asthma

Every so often, reporters have the luxury of stepping back from the routine of our daily beats and consider ways of doing work that is more ambitious, wider-reaching — to learn about what we’re not covering, but should be, or, maybe, a fresh take on an issue we’ve been following closely.

For me, that’s happening this week. Photographer Alison Yin and I are teaming up on a project for the Oakland Tribune about childhood asthma and air quality. We’ll be at USC for the next few days with other  journalists whose work is being supported by a National Health Journalism Fellowship.

The project, which the Tribune is also supporting, will explore the rising asthma rates among kids in the U.S. and its strong grip on parts of the Bay Area, particularly among African-American children. We want to look at the role of air quality (indoor and outdoor) and, in general, what’s known about the causes of the disease. As we continue to brainstorm ideas, we’re open to yours. If there are angles you think we should pursue, or people we should talk to, email me! I’m at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Tomorrow, we visit the Port of Long Beach, which is especially relevant to our story. I’ll be tweeting occasionally from the sessions, which began last night, if you’re interested or want to add your thoughts. I’m at Twitter.com/katymurphy (or @katymurphy), and we’re all using the hashtag #nhjf12.

I look forward to hearing your ideas!



Another reason for summer school: national security?

Staff PhotojournalistRetired military officers think so.

The nonprofit Mission: Readiness (affiliated with the public safety-related group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids) put out a report this week arguing that summer inactivity was contributing to the obesity crisis and high dropout rate — which, in turn, poses a threat to the economy and the military’s ability to recruit.

What do you make of that link? I wrote about it in today’s Oakland Tribune.

While we’re on the subject: In case you missed it, summer programs at Global Family Elementary School, Roosevelt Middle School and Madison Middle School were featured in Sunday’s paper.

Along with the story, you’ll find a video of the new summer science classes at Global Family (free STEM courses are in place at 17 Oakland elementary and middle schools this year) and a very practical feature on how to make s’mores without a campfire. (As my friend Sandler found out, solar ovens are great for melting chocolate, but don’t do much to marshmallows.)

photo by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune


Child abuse reporting failures in schools: a matter of policy?

In a recent story, Mercury News reporters Julia Prodis Sulek and Sharon Noguchi asked why some school personnel don’t report complaints of child abuse, especially when they involve a colleague. Here’s the crux of their report:

From Moraga to Palo Alto to San Jose, child sex abuse cases in schools and day care centers have surfaced alleging that school employees entrusted with the safety of students failed to do what their oaths and the law required: report to police or child protective services when they have a reasonable suspicion that a child has been abused.

Child advocates blame a lack of courage and a lack of training.

“It’s not so much about protecting people, but not having the leadership ability to step up,” said Margaret Petros, a commissioner on the Santa Clara County Child Abuse Council. “People in general want to get along and not rock the boat.”

Their piece followed the latest developments in the Jerry Sandusky scandal and apparent cover-up at Penn State; it also came in the wake of a series of investigative reports by Bay Area News Group staffers Matthias Gafni and Malaika Fraley that uncovered another dark story (stories, really) that happened at a school much closer to home, at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in the sleepy town of Moraga. You should really read their work, if you haven’t.

Today, Congressman George Miller announced he was asking the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to examine the effectiveness of current laws and policies on child abuse reporting. Continue Reading


Improper fractions and scale, on a warm summer day

Staff Photojournalist photo by D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group

On a hot (by Oakland standards) summer afternoon this week in Oakland’s Sobrante Park neighborhood, a group of almost 50 soon-to-be middle schoolers were in the thick of problem solving at their local school.

I mean, check out that whiteboard!

The topic was measurement and scale, a concept that’s fundamental to our lives — and to the work of engineers, architects and planners — but sometimes difficult for kids to wrap their minds around.

To demonstrate the pitfalls of creating small-scale models with inexact measurements, Ryan Patrick O’Neill, an Oakland math teacher, pulled up an ancient map of the world and compared it to a modern one, made with the benefit of satellite technology.

“What’s wrong with this map from 200 CE?” he asked the class of 10- and 11-year-olds, later noting the different sizes and shapes of India, Australia, and the African continent.

The history and purpose of units of measurement could easily be a dry lesson. But at the new summer engineering academy at Madison Middle School (also in place at Frick and West Oakland middle schools), students learned the value of a ruler by moving around the room and measuring various lines with a juice box, a pencil, an umbrella and other objects that proved a bit unwieldy.

Continue Reading


In their words: Oakland teens reflect on their trip to Central America

This week I recorded a conversation with Luis Robles, 15, and Javi Becerra, 13, about their recent environmental education and service learning trip to Costa Rica. The two boys were among 10 students at Coliseum College Prep Academy in East Oakland (66th and International) who were chosen for the travel scholarship from the AFAR Foundation.


Oakland’s special education reorganization: a parent’s critique

Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. I invited her to contribute periodically to The Education Report; any topic she writes about — including the below piece – does not reflect the view of any group. — Katy

By now you may know that the Oakland school board voted to reinstate $1.75 million in cuts it was asked to approve on June 27. The program specialists still have their jobs, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education was assured that class sizes and caseloads would not increase and that vacant positions would be filled for 2012-13.

In a press release vetted by high-level special education, finance, and Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction staff that came out late the day before the board meeting, OUSD described the reorganization and the position cuts as something very different than the Sharon Casanares memo I blogged about.

The press release focused on program specialist cuts and additional cuts that would occur and also contained misrepresentations about the program. It said teachers and staff were “versed in the law, theories of learning and disabilities” but not in academic areas, so OUSD had to move students into general education classrooms. This, while so many veteran special education teachers hold general education and special education degrees. This, when the district refuses to accept general education credentialed teachers into their special education credentialing program despite widespread community support for the idea.

Continue Reading


Protesters take rally to superintendent’s front lawn

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith and his family weren’t home on Tuesday evening when the anti-school closure rally at Lakeview Elementary moved to his house. They didn’t hear chanting demonstrators demanding that he reopen the closed elementary schools or quit his job, though they might have seen a sign left on his front porch that he was ruining OUSD. (KTVU documented some of it.)

In an interview last month, Smith told me that some of that some of the behavior in Oakland that “passes as activism” is actually bullying. I imagine he would put a rally outside his home, where his two elementary school-age children live, in the same category.

Would you, or do you think that’s an appropriate and/or effective action?

OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint said today that many Oaklanders are encouraged by the district’s direction under Smith, “although they might not go to the lengths of protesting in front of people’s houses.”

“He’s not going to be intimidated into changing course because he knows what’s necessary to create a school district that’s sustainable and that will work for all students,” Flint said.

(Another plug for our online polls about the superintendent: Share your views on Smith’s leadership and on his community schools vision.)