The Oakland school district’s think tank

Along one wall at the Oakland Educational Center at Tilden is a series of questions that begin with: “How do you know if a school is _?” (Choose your adjective: effective, supportive, healthy, safe)

Sticky notes underneath contain the answers, at least of those who took part in the exercise.

The last time I visited Tilden, located in the East Oakland foothills near Mills College, it was a school for general education and special education students. Before that, it was the site of John Swett Elementary. Now it houses grown-ups — school district employees and trainees who are trying to improve Oakland’s public schools. I don’t know exactly how many people work out of there now, but the leadership, curriculum, instruction, charter school and new teacher support offices moved in, along with the new division called Quality Schools Development.

Denise Saddler, a longtime district administrator, describes it as a think tank.

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Thoughts on mentoring — and being mentored

Carmen and Cynthia. Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley's Sage Mentoring Program

Cynthia Clark met Carmen Avila-Hernandez, a fifth-grader at Sankofa Academy in North Oakland, last fall through a mentoring program at UC Berkeley. Cynthia writes about her experience — and then asks Carmen what it’s been like for her.

The Sage Mentorship Project has been a life-changing experience that has given me the opportunity to have a positive impact on a child’s life, both academically and socially. Carmen and I have established a unique relationship — one where she knows that I am there as a mentor to support and assist her in reaching her goals, but at the same time we have found a friendship where we are able to learn from each other.

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The Oakland police chief’s middle school strategy

Chief Batts. Tribune photo by D. Ross CameronOakland Police Chief Anthony Batts is in Washington, D.C. right now, lobbying the federal powers that be to give him $6 million for a pilot community policing program at four Oakland middle schools.

Batts’ plan is to hire 24 police officers and to assign them to four Oakland middle schools: Frick, Madison, Roosevelt and Westlake.

Officer Jeff Thomason, a public information officer for the police department, said four of the six officers at each school would provide security, and that two would serve as mentors and run the O.K. Program for gang and violence prevention.

“Basically, we want to start our community policing model at those schools,” Thomason said.

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East Oakland moms ask police for help

Oakland schools have a reputation for being dangerous. But for some families, they’re an oasis of security in an otherwise frightening and unpredictable world.

Walking to school in Oakland. Tribune file photo by Laura A. Oda.A group of East Oakland mothers told Oakland Police Capt. Ersie Joyner this morning that they live in perpetual fear — that they rarely feel safe, even in their own homes. That walking their children to and from school, past groups of young men flying gang colors, can be terrifying.

“I am tired of feeling like a hostage in my own house, in my own neighborhood, in my own city,” said Maria Soto, whose two children attend Greenleaf Elementary, a new school on the Whittier campus.

An incident this fall stoked parents’ worst fears: 6-year-old Leslie Ramirez, a Greenleaf first-grader, was wounded in the middle of the night by a stray bullet fired from outside of her house.

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Crime, punishment, grief, payback — and compassion?

So often — in life, in politics, in causes, on blogs — we end up in us-versus-them mode, so sure of the other side’s wrongness (and/or evilness) that we dehumanize them, at least to some degree.

That’s what I found so interesting about this story by my colleagues Scott Johnson and Angela Woodall. When I read the headline about the aftermath of tomorrow’s sentencing of Johannes Mehserle — which yours truly will be covering — I expected another story about merchants boarding up their shops and other signs of fear.

But that’s not what this story was about.

It opens with the perspective of Oakland Parents Together program director Kwame Nitoto, who went to a (figurative) place, he later admitted, he didn’t want to go. Here’s an excerpt from the story: Continue Reading


Another superhero: Measure L man!

You might have seen him yesterday at the Temescal Farmer’s Market, at the Rockridge Halloween parade or — if you live in Trestle Glen — trick-or-treating with his kids. Measure L man tells me he found a number of people who didn’t know much about the $195 Oakland schools parcel tax measure, but I’m sure he fixed that. After all, “fighting cuts to your public schools” is his middle name.

Are you voting for Measure L?

Measure L Man (aka Peter Fiske). Courtesy photo.


In Oakland, school produce stands are becoming a weekly fixture

Produce for sale at Hoover Elementary on Tuesday. Tribune photo by D. Ross Cameron/StaffWest Oakland may not have a full-service grocery store (that’s another story), but it does have another produce stand. Here are some photos we took on Tuesday at Hoover Elementary School’s new weekly market.

The Oakland school district and the East Bay Asian Youth Center opened two more stands this week — at Hoover in West Oakland and Global Family and Learning Without Limits in East Oakland — bringing the total to 12. They plan to expand the number to 25 by September. Glenview Elementary has one too, run by parent and community volunteers.

These mini farmer’s markets are open to the public, as well. Here’s the schedule: Continue Reading


A safer, greener place to play

photo by Robert Mohr/STOCK OPTIONS

photo by Robert Mohr/STOCK OPTIONS

The playground at Roosevelt Middle School in East Oakland didn’t always have a smooth surface, planter boxes, or a shiny new playing field. You can probably imagine what it looked like.

the old Roosevelt yard (courtesy photo)

It was transformed by the Oakland Schoolyards Initiative, a partnership between the East Bay Asian Youth Center, The Unity Council and the Oakland school district. Roosevelt’s new principal, Cliff Hong (a former teacher and assistant principal at Edna Brewer Middle School), sent me a photo of its unveiling today.

The outdoor spaces of Garfield Elementary, Urban Promise Academy and the Manzanita schools have undergone similar transformations through the schoolyards initiative. Next on the list? Continue Reading


No Promise Neighborhood grant for Oakland

The U.S Department of Education today released a list of 21 communities that won planning grants to design a system of educational, social and health support services for children in poor neighborhoods.

Los Angeles and Hayward are the only two cities in California that received those Promise Neighborhood planning grants of up to $500,000. Cal State East Bay will be the lead organization in the South Hayward project, which will involve people from the city, school district, university and nonprofit sectors.

I wrote a story about Hayward’s news, which will be in tomorrow’s paper.

It doesn’t mean, for sure, that Oakland won’t have a Promise Neighborhood akin to the one created in Harlem; Superintendent Tony Smith said today, via Spokesman Troy Flint, that the city will definitely apply for the much larger implementation grants next year. But it’s probably safe to say that the districts that won the planning grants will have an edge in the second round.

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