Time is short for BEST, Robeson and Peralta Creek

Tonight, State Administrator Vincent Matthews decided to phase out two small high schools: the Business Entrepreneurial School of Technology (BEST), one of two schools on the West Oakland McClymonds campus, by 2011, and the Paul Robeson School of Visual & Performing Arts, one of four schools on East Oakland’s Fremont campus, by 2012.

Peralta Creek Middle School, which is in the second year of a phase-out (even if people at the school didn’t learn that, definitively, until more recently), closes at the end of the school year.

An emotional, historical discussion unfolded as retiring board member Greg Hodge, teachers and others traced the roots of these struggling schools to their much-celebrated origins not long ago. Continue Reading


Our new Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, will be our nation’s next education secretary.

The New York Times says Duncan “represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.”

Catalyst Chicago, which covers education reform in the Windy City, says improvements in the city’s public schools have been modest under Duncan’s leadership. A story published yesterday about Obama’s education pick reports:

Duncan’s oft-stated goal was to create the “best urban school district in the nation.” Yet here, as elsewhere, high schools have made little progress. Continue Reading


An early summer vacation for CA schools?

For many people, under normal circumstances, summer vacation can’t come soon enough.

But if lawmakers don’t work out California’s budget problems in short order, the state could run out of money as soon as February — and some are speculating about the possibility of closing public schools weeks early.

Last week, a reporter from our sister paper in Vallejo reported that California school officials have discussed the possibility of that “doomsday scenario.” In the story, Hilary McLean, the press secretary for State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, confirmed that it had, indeed, been “bandied about.”

You can read the Times-Herald story Continue Reading


Four Oakland schools win Title I awards

Around this time each year, the state education department gives props to schools whose low-income students cleaned up on high stakes tests.  These are high-performing schools with “socioeconomically disadvantaged” populations of at least 40 percent. 


This year’s Oakland winners are: Continue Reading


High stakes multiplication

This morning, 20 of Oakland’s best 8-year-old math students strutted into Lafayette Elementary School’s auditorium to adrenaline music and applause. It sort of felt like that moment before a big boxing match or basketball game, when the competitors enter the arena in their warmups.

Photos by Laura A. Oda/Oakland Tribune

The organizers of OUSD’s first math competition of its kind were careful to say, over and over, that everyone was a winner. All of the kids had already out-multiplied the other third-graders at their schools, so it wasn’t just a platitude. But you could see, in their eyes or in the cross of their fingers, how much they wanted to win it all.

The room fell still as the rules were explained: Erase your last answer. Start the problem. Markers down. Repeat. Continue Reading


Inauguration lessons, anyone?

At a staff meeting yesterday, we discussed possible story ideas for coverage leading up to, and on the day of, the presidential inauguration.

Schools, of course, came up.

I’m sure many Oakland teachers are using this historic event, and the enthusiasm surrounding it, as a teachable moment. Please, fill me in! I’m interested in class (or school) projects, or even just class discussions, related to Barack Obama’s inauguration.

I plan to visit at least one classroom for this story — with a photographer — in January. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com, or call me at (510) 208-6424.

I also welcome you to share your plans, thoughts, and ideas on this forum. Has Obama’s popularity among young people made it easier to interest kids in the political process?

image from seiu_international’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons


Kids cool the world

photo courtesy of Cool the Earth

North Oakland Community Charter School parents might be wondering why, all of a sudden, their kids are bugging them to use compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), to eat one less pound of beef per week, or to take shorter showers.

The Oakland charter school is one of more than 20 schools to join the Cool the Earth initiative. Started in 2007 by Marin County parents, the program educates kids (grades K-8) about global warming and gives them “action coupons” for saving water, paper, electricity and gas at home.

Cool the Earth is run by a small team of parents and/or other volunteers at each school  Continue Reading


Advanced Placement prowess

Here’s some happy news for your Thanksgiving week: 116 Oakland public high school students have been named “AP Scholars.”

That means they have earned a score of 3 or better (out of 5) on three Advanced Placement exams. Only 18 percent of the 1.6 million AP test-takers nationwide can claim that distinction, according to the College Board (via OUSD release).

Here are the number of AP Scholars at each high school: Continue Reading


Early morning skate

Three mornings a week before school, when it’s barely light outside, more than 100 teenagers are lacing up their skates at the Oakland Ice Center. They come of their own free will, even if it means showing up at 6:45 a.m. — more than an hour before they need to be at Oakland Technical High School.

photo by Laura A. Oda/Staff

Kelley Haskins, a physical education teacher at Oakland Tech, started the before-school P.E. class this fall. She said she worried that she wouldn’t meet the 35-student minimum, but her roster now includes 115 names.

I visited the class this morning with a photographer, and watched the teenagers swizzle, slide and speed around the rink. Continue Reading


Lessons from a “small school from the ‘hood”

photo of Oakland Charter Academy student by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

The racial and economic achievement gap comes up, in some form or another, at almost every Oakland school board meeting. Yet there are a handful of schools here in this city that have made that gap invisible, at least on their campuses, and I sometimes wonder who is paying attention.

Take the Oakland Charter Academy, a charter middle school in Fruitvale with a Latino population of about 93 percent. Last year those students — the vast majority of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — scored a 902 this year on the state’s Academic Performance Index out of a possible 1,000 points.

The average Latino middle schooler in California scores in the 600s.

I wrote a story in today’s Trib about the loads of work that these kids (and those at the American Indian charter schools, which use a similar model) are putting in every day — and about the general skepticism surrounding their success. You can read it here.

Continue Reading