In split vote, OUSD board puts American Indian charter schools on notice

Last night, the Oakland school board issued a 1,080-page “notice of violation” to all three American Indian Model Schools over its fiscal and governance practices. (Link to the massive file here.) It’s the first step in a long process that could end in the closure of all three schools.

Supporters of the charter school organization begged for four more weeks, noting the hiring of a new financial team and the appointment of some new board members. And, of course, the schools’ near-perfect test scores.

Paul Minney, a lawyer representing AIM Schools, told the board that if it tabled the decision for a month, “…we are confident that we can arrive at an action plan to fully assuage the district’s concerns.”

“A notice of violation creates a high degree of fear, uncertainty and anxiety,” he said.

But the appeals made by Minney and the stream of parents and students after him were not enough to sway the board, which voted 4-2 to issue the notice. Board members Alice Spearman and Chris Dobbins voted no, and Noel Gallo was absent.

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One school’s (enrollment) numbers game

Rachel Kargas is a parent at Oakland’s Cleveland Elementary School, where fewer children enrolled this fall than expected because of a nearby school’s kindergarten expansion. She tells us how this shortage has led to last-minute combination classes, and what she fears that will mean for students. How has the numbers game affected your school? — Katy

My son is a first grader at Cleveland Elementary. We have enjoyed the school thus far; it is a high-performing school with a wonderfully diverse population. My son had a great kindergarten experience at Cleveland.

On day one of first grade we were informed that my son would be placed in a mixed first- and second- grade class. This came as a shock to many parents. We had been given no advance warning about this class structure, and it appeared the teacher was almost equally surprised. After several weeks the second graders were moved out of the classroom, but now we are told that due to a shortage of students at Cleveland, they will be eliminating a kindergarten teacher and forming a combined first grade/kindergarten class.

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Oakland Unified comes back to its teachers with a proposal

The initial proposals to be presented — or “sunshined” — to the Oakland Education Association at Thursday night’s board meeting don’t mention any numbers. (The meeting is on Thursday, rather than Wednesday, because of the Yom Kippur holiday.)

Instead, they call for a restructuring of the step-and-column system, a career ladder for teachers, revamped evaluation systems and an agreement to give “school governance teams greater voice in determining the composition of their school staff teams.”


District’s Initial Proposals to the Oakland Education Association


The hidden problem of chronic absence

Staff Photojournalistphoto by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

We’ve just posted a story I wrote about chronic absenteeism — when a student misses 10 percent or more school days for any reason, excused or unexcused.

A small, but growing number of school districts in California have begun to crunch the numbers to see which of their students are habitually out of school, and how many. Traditionally, schools have looked only at how many of their students attend school each day, on average, or how many were truant or tardy.

When you count excused absences, the number of kindergartners who miss 18 or more days of school might surprise you (unless you’re a kindergarten teacher).

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In Oakland, new player eligibility rules and forfeited games

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

Castlemont High has canceled its second football game on Friday because it lacks enough eligible players.

Skyline High, a school of nearly 2,000 students, forfeited its very first football game of the season — also, because it couldn’t field a team. At the time, its coach wrote a widely circulated letter to Superintendent Tony Smith saying the Oakland Athletic League’s new rules were keeping many of his otherwise-eligible players off the field.

The new rules, passed in the spring by high school principals who sit on the Oakland Athletic League policy committee, caused a big stir and plenty of confusion and alarm in the prep sports world. The policy originally stated that a student needed an overall 2.0 GPA, or C average, to be eligible (rather than a 2.0 in the previous marking period) as well as a certain number of credits. If not, the student would be sidelined for the entire school year.

So in the last few weeks, after plenty of, well, `input’ from coaches and others, the policy has softened. The GPA policy went back to the way it used to be (and the same as nearly every other league).

And perhaps more significantly, some players with poor academic records will have a second chance to participate on a team if they show they’re making up credits and raising their GPAs — if not for the fall season, possibly for a sport they play in the winter or spring. The OAL policy committee on Wednesday created an appeal process for players who are behind on credits or who received a GPA below a 2.0 in their last 6-week marking period.

What’s new this year, after all of the changes, has to do with making sure players aren’t falling behind on their course credits. Continue Reading


“Won’t Back Down” fuels education reform wars

Liz SullivanLiz Sullivan is an OUSD grandparent, a former teacher and a community organizer. The views expressed in this article are her own.

“Won’t Back Down” will be released in theaters on September 28, but the new film is already stirring up controversy. Produced by the team who brought us “Waiting for Superman,” the movie stars Maggie Gyllanhaal and Viola Davis as two moms who use a “parent trigger” law to turn around a failing school. Michelle Rhee screened the movie at the Democratic and Republican Conventions, and Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, attacked the film in a press release, saying: “…the movie resorts to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes.” The film is the latest dust up in the school reform wars. One side blames teachers’ unions for blocking change, and the other side characterizes school reform as a corporate privatization scheme.

The movie’s story line should feel familiar to local folks. Oakland’s parents and teachers have created scores of new schools over the last decade. Yet school reform Oakland-style does not fit easily into the overheated narratives competing on the national stage. The rhetoric of school reform resorts to gross oversimplifications that play well to a crowd. The reality of school reform involves real people navigating a marvelously complex world.

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A rough start for Oakland’s special education students

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. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

The 2012-13 school year did not begin well for Oakland’s 5,000-plus special education students.

Last June, after a united protest by teachers, families and community members, the school board directed Superintendent Tony Smith and staff to hold off on special education budget cuts and program changes. The original proposal sent teachers and special day classes to different schools while cutting key staff. It also increased resource specialist caseloads and special day class size. The board said no change should happen until a full community engagement process had occurred.

It seems one or more top administrators are ignoring the board’s directive.

At the September 12 board meeting many resource specialists and special day class teachers spoke out against caseloads and class sizes that had increased to the point where instruction and support were close to impossible. (Families have also been raising concerns about this problem.) Board Director Alice Spearman reported principals in her district were complaining that resource specialists were on site the first day of school and then “disappeared.” Three weeks into the school year principals “don’t know whether they’re getting any assistance for these children.”

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Oakland schools that went way over budget

Some of you have been asking for this information, as I reported it a couple of years ago: A list of OUSD schools and how closely they’re sticking to their budgets.

The closing-of-books presentation on last night’s agenda contains that very list, starting on page 26. I’ll embed it below as well.

NOTE:  Some schools received an extra sum of money last fall through the district’s $3 million “balancing pool” — extra money for schools that end up in a fiscal bind, often because of bad enrollment projections or tiny enrollments. (You’ll find a spreadsheet I put together with the money requested and rewarded in 2011-12 here.)

That extra money was rolled into those schools’ working budgets and did not count against them in the over/under column.  But, even with the extra help, you’ll see that some of them still overspent.

Elementary schools, combined, spent $917,276 more than they had; middle schools, by $456,130; and high schools by $784,047. That’s more than $2 million.

Schools that went well over their general-purpose budgets, according to the district presentation: Continue Reading


Want to work with Oakland kids? Volunteer fair this Saturday

Attention prospective volunteers! If you’ve ever wondered how you might lend your skills and time to some Oakland schoolkids, the answer might be awaiting you — in a middle school multipurpose room.

The annual volunteer fair is from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Westlake Middle School (2629 Harrison), and it’s organized — at least in part — by the neighborhood group Volunteering for Oakland.

On Saturday, 20 organizations are expected to send representatives to the event. Organizers say there’s free parking in a lot off 27th Street.

Katie McLane, a retired OUSD principal, wrote this in a letter to the editor:

This is a special opportunity for those of us with a little extra time on our hands to find out about the amazing range of volunteer opportunities to work with the youth of Oakland.

Have you gone to this fair — and gone on to volunteer? Tell us about it.

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Oakland schools, facing civil rights investigation, could adopt “voluntary resolution”

The Oakland school district’s approach to student discipline has become the subject of a federal investigation. But that inquiry might come to a halt if the school board agrees to take action first, voluntarily — which it might do on Wednesday.

Given the disproportionate number of out-of-school suspensions handed to Oakland’s African-American students, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights began looking in May to see whether those practices are racially discriminatory. (Since Oakland is hardly unique in these patterns, I called the Department of Education this morning to see how many other school districts are under investigation. I have yet to receive an answer.)

At Wednesday night’s regular meeting, the Oakland school board will be asked to approve a so-called “voluntary resolution” — a 20-page document that includes remedies ranging from parent education and staff training to schoolwide strategies such as restorative justice programs. It has identified 38 schools — roughly 45 percent — with the most disproportionate suspension and explusion rates of African American students, but the plan would be taken districtwide.

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