An unwise cut: help for new Oakland teachers

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland teacher and occasional blog contributor, writes about a cut to a program that supports hundreds of new teachers each year.

Since my retirement I have stayed involved with the district by providing coaching and mentoring to new teachers as part of the district’s Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program. Last week those of us who provide that help were told that the program will suffer a huge budget reduction for the coming year, with only about 70 new teachers receiving mentoring support instead of the 320 receiving that help today. Since each coach receives a $1,300 stipend for each teacher supported, this reduction will save the district about $400,000 next year.

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OUSD special education legal woes on the rise?

Guest blogger Stacey Smith is an OUSD parent and volunteer who has served on several district committees, including the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

The Oakland Unified School District’s 2011-2016 Strategic Plan calls for “a significant decrease in the number of special education litigious and non-compliant cases” by 2015-2016, a legal problem the district blames on negative relationships and communications with parents and the community.

Unfortunately, data so far shows that non-complaint cases and litigation have remained the same or increased, attorneys’ fees are up about 50 percent, and the real problem may be program implementation and lack of critical student support.

Let me explain:

OUSD has long complained about the high cost of special education litigation and compliance complaints, claiming these costs create a barrier to providing better special education. The goal it developed is hard to measure when there are no specific numbers, dollar figures or percentages included as part of the goal — or even a description of how OUSD defines “litigious cases.”

But it’s budget time again. It seems like a good time to talk about how OUSD is progressing toward this vague goal and how that could affect spending decisions for 2013-14. This isn’t just an exercise in data crunching – there is a real child with special needs behind each case.

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An Oakland Unified parent’s wish list for 2013

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.

I know it’s late, but I was just at the check-out counter reading magazine covers still touting magical resolutions that would change us for the better in 2013. I was musing about what I would list for OUSD to tackle in 2013 that would benefit students with disabilities. My partial list, in no order:

1. Identify and publicly celebrate those achieving positive results for these students. There are a lot of success stories out there – programs and individual educators and administrators who are helping students to reach their full potential. It continues to surprise me how infrequently OUSD highlights these achievements and we only hear about the same few examples. C’mon, OUSD – brag a bit!

2. Stop withholding resources from special education by limiting funds and cutting supports. In 2012 it was the budget cuts, avoidable staffing shortages and impossible caseloads for front-line resource specialists. In 2013 there’s more. OUSD wants to increase the ratio of students per aide in high-need classes. Continue Reading


Yu Ming Charter School Moving to New Location

By Serena Valdez

On Feb. 25, Yu Ming Charter School will continue the school year in a new home. After only one year at the original site in downtown Chinatown, 321 10th Street, Principal Laura Ross said she knew the school would need to move to a larger location and took advantage as soon as a new site arose.

A Mandarin immersion public charter school, Yu Ming’s new location will be at 1086 Alcatraz Avenue, about 4 miles away from the Chinatown location.

Parents of the students are behind the move as it provides a better learning environment for the students even if it may present challenges for some parents, such as a longer commute, Ross said.

Teachers have been preparing the 150-plus students for the big move for the past few weeks. They’ve presented slide shows of the new site, given them a chance to ask questions and provided information.

Several parents and students have already been to the new location.

“Every weekend lots of people are volunteering to help out by bringing boxes and unpacking,” she said. “It’s been really fun and a bonding experience.”

But it doesn’t stop here. The new location, set in a residential area, is only large enough to accommodate K-4 classes. Currently the school has classes from kindergarten to second grade, with enrollment already open for the next school year, which will include third grade.

As the school continues to grow into a full-fledged K-8 school, adding two new kindergarten classes each school year, administrators will need to find a new location. That gives administrators about three years to start looking for a bigger, more ideal school site.

Ross says she looks forward to being part of this new community and getting to know the families and businesses in the neighborhood. She hopes people will see the school as a positive change to the area.

To read more, go to the Yu Ming website at http://bit.ly/129H8N8

Serena Valdez is a Chips Quinn Scholar intern working for Bay Area News Group.


A fond farewell

Reporters change beats all the time. We’re not in the habit of telling our readers goodbye unless we’re leaving the paper, and maybe not even then.

But given all the time we’ve spent together on this forum – me writing about Oakland school news and you telling me what I missed and what I should look into (or debating something different altogether) – this feels different.

I’m going to be covering colleges and universities for the Tribune and its sister papers now, working mostly out of a newsroom in Hayward with other East Bay reporters who cover issues for the whole news group. I’m excited about the challenge. Who knows, I could end up writing about students I met when they were angsty teens, haunting the hallways of McClymonds High or Oakland Tech — or returning to those high schools to write stories about college.

I hope you stay in touch and send me your story ideas.

I’ve known about this for awhile, but have waited to tell you until I knew who would be replacing me. I’m afraid I don’t have an easy answer. The newspaper has been trying to fill the position, but so far has been unable to do so.

After all of the time we’ve all spent on this blog, I’m hoping it can survive until someone can take it on on a more regular basis. Another metro reporter plans to attend school board meetings and post occasionally. Maybe, if any of you are inspired, you could contribute.

This is hard for me to tell you; I know how important schools coverage is, especially to Oaklanders. My editor has set up an email for news tips and blog submissions: oaklandschools@bayareanewsgroup.com.

If you are interested in posting regularly, please let us know.

Thanks for reading, and for making the blog so lively and interesting. I’ll miss answering your questions, absorbing your insights and reflections, and, most of all, imploring you and “Nextset” to be civil to one another.


OUSD board stands firm on American Indian charter school recommendation

The Oakland school board voted 6-1 last night to issue a “notice of intent to revoke” the charters for three schools run by American Indian Model Schools: American Indian Public Charter School (6-8), American Indian Public Charter School II (K-8) and American Indian Public High School.

The next hearing will be Feb. 13. The final decision comes in March, possibly on March 20.

The OUSD board members — with the exception of Chris Dobbins, who cast the dissenting vote — made it clear they didn’t want to hear defenses or excuses. They said they wanted better accounting controls and governance practices — and assurances that the organization’s founder, Ben Chavis, and his wife, Marsha Amador, would be separated from all aspects of managing the organization and its finances.

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Closure threat is mounting for Oakland’s American Indian charter schools

2012 file photo of Ben Chavis by D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group

The American Indian Model Schools organization, whose governing board was accused last year of allowing its founder, Ben Chavis, and wife to funnel millions of tax dollars into their own companies and pockets, has failed to make the necessary fixes and should be shut down at the end of the school year, Oakland school district administration has concluded.

In a letter to families, written in English and in Chinese, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith has this to say:

The students, teachers, school-site staff, and families deserve recognition for their considerable work and for their outstanding academic achievements. We are committed to ensuring that every child in Oakland has access to a high quality public school in their neighborhood and that they are on a clear path to a successful future. You have found this in the schools you are in now. I will work with you to ensure that your children continue to benefit from a school community that is similar to where they are and that they continue on the pathway to success they are currently on.

However, due to many serious legal issues, I am recommending to the governing board of OUSD that they approve a notice to revoke the charter of American Indian Model Schools. Those responsible for the governance and management of the charter organization have broken the law, a conclusion reached after investigations by three separate government agencies. Continue Reading


OUSD headquarters is out of commission, indefinitely

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

It’s not looking good at 1025 Second Avenue, a week after a major flood in the four-story building.

A letter from Oakland school district spokesman Troy Flint this evening said the “initial assessment phase” will last eight to 10 weeks.

Wondering where to go? He lays it all out: Continue Reading


Online education: a leg up for high school kids?

photo by Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group

I’ve been at San Jose State today, learning about an online education experiment that could affect high school and college students – and would-be college students – alike.

The latest idea is to offer three entry-level or remedial courses online, for CSU credit, at $150 each. San Jose State professors created the course using the platform of a Palo Alto-based online education startup, Udacity.

The pilot will start with just 300 students – 150 from San Jose State and another 150 from community colleges and the two high schools Gov. Jerry Brown started when he was the mayor of Oakland — Oakland Military Institute and Oakland School for the Arts.

If the experiment works – and, as Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun acknowledges, it might not — the courses might be available to students throughout the U.S. as soon as this summer.

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Jerry Brown’s budget proposal for CA schools

AP Photo by Rich Pedroncelli

Today, the governor unveiled his first budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The plan would increase K-12 spending levels by $2.7 billion next year.

It would also, as expected, overhaul the funding formula for school districts.

Brown’s proposed funding formula would lift a number of spending restrictions that have long been in place for specific programs, instead granting school boards the latitude to allocate the funds where they see fit.

And here’s the biggest change: Brown’s proposal would give a base amount to school districts for each student — roughly $6,700 per pupil, on average. Then it would give districts an additional 35 percent to educate every child who is low-income, an English learner or in foster care, according to Nick Schweizer, of the Department of Finance.

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