Happy Earth Day!

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

I visited Peralta Elementary School in North Oakland this week to see how they are using the arts to teach children about the environment. A story about it ran in Saturday’s paper.

Below, you’ll find the “Miraculous Fungi” animation last year’s fourth-graders produced with their teachers to explain the concept of micromediation. (Normally, I’d explain such a term myself, but I’d rather let the students tell you how it works.) Next on the list: native bees.

You can view the other animation projects here.

What does your school do to promote environmental stewardship?


Even in retirement, teachers bring warmth to their former Oakland school

Carrie Johnston, a teacher at Oakland’s Bella Vista Elementary School, wrote this reflection about a group of retired teachers. 

Retired Bella Vista teachers
Photo courtesy of Carrie Johnston. Left to right: Karen Chin, Louise Broome, and Carolyn Matson

Bella Vista School teachers gathered on this last morning before spring break for a treat — breakfast prepared by three retired teachers. The delicious repast included home fries, grits, donuts, and cheesy scrambled eggs. Tired staff, looking forward to the coming break almost as much as their students, took time to gather, enjoy the food, and spend some time together before the last day.

Carolyn Matson, Louise Broome, and Karen Chin have always been generous when it comes to sharing their cooking gifts with the staff at Bella Vista; ask any member of the staff from the past four decades and she will remember a potluck (or several) featuring one of Mrs. Broome’s tasty cooked treats, and for the past several years the social committee has been helmed by the dedicated, enthusiastic Mrs. Matson and Ms. Chin.

I began my teaching career at Bella Vista. After leaving the school and the district for several years I counted myself lucky to return here, because the staff have a wonderful way of caring for each other. Many of the teachers and support staff have worked together for decades, and the trust and comfort they take in each other is heartwarming. Although no teams of researchers have been in to confirm my beliefs, I am pretty sure the consistent staff and the fellowship among the adults at Bella Vista have contributed to the steady improvement in student achievement. It is a place where adults have felt at home, and these comfortable adults provide a feeling of home to the students at Bella Vista as well.

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This year’s California Distinguished Schools

Staff Photojournalist
file photo of ACORN Woodland by Laura Oda/Bay Area News Group

Congratulations to ACORN Woodland and Henry J. Kaiser Jr. elementary schools. They were among 22 in Alameda County and 387 statewide to be named 2012 California Distinguished Elementary Schools, an award given by Tom Torlakson, California superintendent of public instruction.

Other nearby winners were Malcolm X in Berkeley; Amelia Earhart and Donald D. Lum in Alameda and Hanna Ranch and Olinda in West Contra Costa.

The awards went to schools that showed academic excellence for all students and which have narrowed the achievement gap. You can find the full list here.

“The schools we are recognizing today demonstrate the incredible commitment of California’s teachers, administrators, and school employees to provide a world-class education to every student, in spite of the financial hardships facing our state and our schools,” Torlakson said. “Their dedication is inspiring, and I applaud and admire their passion and persistence.”


OUSD board considers charter school conversions tonight

UPDATE: The OUSD board voted 6-0 (board member Alice Spearman wasn’t present) to approve the charter conversions of both ASCEND and Learning Without Limits. You can find the full story here.

As a result of the higher-than-normal facilities rate the schools will pay OUSD to remain in their buildings ($2.50 per square foot, compared to $1.35 per square foot), their per-student contributions to the state debt, and the services the schools plan to buy from the district as part of a services agreement, OUSD expects to lose about $48,000 after it’s all said and done, down from the original $826,350 projected just a few weeks ago. (Note: OUSD will lose $4.5 million in state revenue from the conversion, but $3.67 million in costs will be eliminated, bringing the difference to $826,350.)


In January, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith recommended that the school board reject efforts by ASCEND and Learning Without Limits elementary schools to secede from the district and operate as independent charter schools. The board did just that.

Then, last month, the two schools submitted revised applications — and the district administration is asking the board to approve them this evening.

Why the reversal? Last month, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits principals said the district was interested in what they called a “partnership charter.” We should learn more tonight at a special meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. You can find the petitions and the recommendations for ASCEND here and Learning Without Limits here.

If the Oakland school board approves the charter petitions, the schools’ leaders say they will stop their appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education, which is scheduled to hold a hearing next week. If the county approved the charter school petitions, the county — not the Oakland school district — would oversee the schools.

What should the OUSD board do?


Team Awesome and Ice Cream Snails take on long-term problem synopses

Edna Brewer's Odyssey of the Mind team
Edna Brewer Middle School’s Odyssey Angels

Normally I try to synthesize and rewrite the information that people send me, but I so enjoyed reading these coaches’ descriptions of the international creative problem-solving contest called Odyssey of the Mind that I thought I’d share them with you. You can also find the “long-term problem synopses” for 2012 here.

First, from Steve Trowbridge, who coached an all-girls team from Oakland’s Edna Brewer Middle School (Brewer’s only team), which is pictured above.

Problem 5: Odyssey Angels
The Angel students with their special powers took on the evil Angels and saved the day for a community of hippies. The evil Angels were trying to cut down the sacred tree.

Roger B. Moore, a Glenview Elementary School dad, gave us this summary:

This year Glenview had 49 students participating on seven different teams, four at the Division I level (Grades 3-5) and three at the primary level (Grades K-2). At last Saturday’s regional tournament, each team did an eight-minute presentation on their “long term” problem and worked on an impromptu solution to a “spontaneous” problem. The four Division 1 teams worked on different problems:

  • The “Ooh-Motional Vehicle” team created and drove a working vehicle that could respond to commands and show human emotions.
  • The “Weird Science” team presented explorers on a scientific mission explaining the cause of mysterious events shown in a NASA photograph.
  • The all-girl “To Be Or Not To Be Team” put on a Hamlet-inspired musical comedy, in which playwright Wilma Shakespeare visited the future, argued with Stevie Jobs, and uncovered secrets of her past.
  • The “Odyssey Angels” team created a play in which a traveling group turns negative situations into positive ones.

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Kaiser Elementary School has its day

It’s not just leap day in Oakland. Feb. 29, 2012 has been proclaimed Henry J. Kaiser Jr. Elementary School Day. A Kaiser mom forwarded me this proclamation from Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. I didn’t know mayors did that. Has your school ever had its day?

The document is admittedly hard to read in this size, so here’s an excerpt:

Henry J. Kaiser Jr. Elementary School is to be commended for its unwavering dedication to providing a place where diverse cultures are honored and celebrated, fostering academic excellence and creativity, and imparting the tools necessary for self motivation and independence that are required of well-rounded, reflective and socially aware individuals.

Mayor's proclamation


Oakland considers a different kind of charter school

Two Oakland elementary schools whose attempted breakaway from the district was recently denied (by the district) are taking a different approach in their quest for independence. Tonight, the principals of ASCEND and Learning Without Limits turned in revised charter conversion applications — this time, for “partnership charters,” which would work closely with OUSD and its five-year strategic plan.

The faculties at both schools voted last fall to separate from the district in order to have more control over staffing, finances, curriculum and scheduling — conditions they said they felt all public schools should have. It was a blow to the district, and it came out as the board was holding its contentious school closure hearings.

But in recent weeks, district staff and the leaders of the two would-be charters — brought together by OUSD’s general counsel, Jackie Minor — have been negotiating a compromise.

Unlike other charter schools in OUSD, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits would chip in to pay down the district’s enormous debt from its 2003 meltdown and state bailout loan, a bill that comes to $6 million a year. They would also buy services from the district, including professional development and school meals, and its teachers and administrators would participate in some trainings and collaborative workshops with their district counterparts.

Students would enroll exclusively through the district’s student assignment process (though that doesn’t mean they’ll have more room for students displaced from closed schools),  Continue Reading


Transitional kindergarten, California confusion


A transitional kindergarten class at Oakland’s Greenleaf Elementary. — Laura A. Oda/ Bay Area News Group

The parents of 4-year-olds with fall birthdays — not yet in the public school system — have already come face to face with the topsy-turvy ways of Sacramento.

Take the parents of kids born in November 2007. Since 2010, they’ve been told their children will be too young for kindergarten in 2012 under the new cutoff date, but that they will be entitled to a spot in a new grade-level, transitional kindergarten.

Now, about seven months before the first day of school, they learn that the governor is proposing to cut the program to save $223 million.

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Drawing new attendance boundaries

This afternoon, the Oakland school district posted maps showing how it might redraw its boundaries for 2012-13, after five elementary schools close.

OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint is double-checking on this, but it appears that the remaining schools’ boundaries would only expand — not shift — under this plan. In other words, that the only residents who’d be redistricted would be those who live in the attendance areas of Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. I think. If it appears otherwise to you, let us know!

Lakeview and Lazear each have two scenarios for consideration. Marshall and Maxwell Park have three (including one for Maxwell Park that splits the current zone into seven pieces). Santa Fe has just one three. You’ll find more detail below.

WHAT’S NEXT: The district is holding five community meetings, beginning Nov. 29, in each of the areas (see above link for dates and locations). It holds a public hearing Dec. 14, and is scheduled to make a decision on Jan. 11.

Here are the scenarios, with a list of all of the schools that would incorporate part of each existing attendance area: Continue Reading


Next step for families affected by Oakland’s school closures

Staff Photojournalist

As they come to terms with the upcoming closure of their schools, families from Oakland’s Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe elementary schools must now decide where to send their children next fall.

Typically, OUSD (and prospective OUSD) families submit their top school picks — mostly for kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades — by Jan. 15. The hundreds of children affected by upcoming school closures will make their choices earlier and will receive their placements by Dec. 19, according to this letter from OUSD.

In other words, they have first dibs on the open seats in grades 1 to 5.

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