“We are Oakland International,” a graphic novel

"We Are Oakland" book cover

Students at Oakland International High School have come to California from all around the world — most of them, in the last few years. Through a project led by art teacher Thi Bui, the teenagers have told their stories in graphic novel form.

I wrote about this project in the fall of 2010; now the collection of stories is coming out in a book.

The book launch is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. tonight (Thursday) at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library, 125 14th St. The event is in the teen zone on the second floor.

Books are $25 — and, if you go, you’ll get a signed copy. You can also find it on Amazon.

Oakland International book release


Notes from a long and eventful board meeting

Tonight’s — or should I say, last night’s —  5 p.m. Oakland school board meeting went till midnight. I observed so much from my ergonomically incorrect wooden seat:

The NAACP‘s Oakland branch showed up in force to register their concerns about complaints they’d heard from students and alumni about problem teachers, institutional racism and African American students’ opportunities for success at Skyline High (where a transcript review last fall revealed a whole bunch of students who weren’t on track to graduate), McClymonds and Castlemont high schools.

Teachers showed up to voice their support for retired teachers whom the district hired to coach them when they were first starting out. The retired teachers said they were told their services would no longer be needed. Superintendent Tony Smith said he had known nothing about this — and that he wished he had been informed of this development by his staff, rather than at a school board meeting. (Sounded to me like the program would be restored.)

Nikita Mitchell, one of the school board’s student directors, gave a rousing, seemingly extemporaneous end-of-term speech about education in Oakland, the “two Oaklands,” and how she and other students had been saying for years what members of the NAACP reported on Wednesday.

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An Oakland school’s transformation

April 15, 2010 parent strike at Lazear Elementary School. (Bay Area News Group file photo)A year ago this morning, I interviewed parents who were on strike and picketing outside of Lazear Elementary, a school located right off the 29th Avenue/Fruitvale exit of Interstate 880. They said they were fed up with some teachers — one, especially — and with their principal’s response to their concerns.

I returned to Lazear this month to see how it was faring under new leadership. I visited twice, and must have talked to half the teaching staff about their experiences. I was struck by the power of morale (low and high) and trust in this school’s story.

You can read about it here.

(Below is a photo of Kareem Weaver, left, Lazear’s new principal.)
Lazear Elementary Principal Kareem Weaver (left). Photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group


New language immersion school, a year later


Last fall I visited Oakland’s Melrose Leadership Academy, which had just begun a new Spanish-English immersion program, starting with a kindergarten class of about 35 students. When the teacher said “stand up” in Spanish (90 percent of kindergarten instruction is in Spanish), at least a third of the children — most of the native English-speakers — sat on the rug, looking around in confusion.

English-speaking parents at the school — who are likewise addressed by most of the staff in Spanish — said they gained an appreciation for what English learners and their families experience in California’s schools.

I went back last week for the kindergarten promotion ceremony to get a sense of how far the children had come. I made a short video with my handy new flip camera to go with the story in today’s Tribune.


More shocking news for adult ed in Oakland

Next week, the Oakland school district will consider a proposal to salvage what it can of its preschool programs for low-income families — at the expense of adult immigrants, refugees, high school dropouts and others looking to better their lives through education.

Adult education teachers and workers were told today to attend an important meeting at McClymonds. I’m told they sat in stunned silence as they heard the latest development:  The district administration will propose taking an additional 44 percent cut from adult education programs ($5 million) at a special school board meeting on Monday, June 14. Checking on the time; it wasn’t yet posted this afternoon.

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Oakland middle school to get a plug on the “Today” show tomorrow

Urban Promise AcademyUrban Promise Academy, a small middle school in East Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, will be one of three schools in the nation to be featured tomorrow morning on NBC’s “Today” show for a segment on innovative schools in low-income communities.

Because the show will be filming live from UPA for its East Coast broadcast, a group of teachers, parents and students will get to the school by 5 a.m. Mark Triplett, the school principal, said he’ll probably be there by 4.

Hey, if tonight’s board meeting goes late enough, maybe I can pull an all-nighter! (That was actually Triplett’s suggestion. I’m SURE he was only half-serious.)

It is scheduled to air after 8 a.m. Pacific Time, likely around 8:30, Triplett said. Continue Reading


Oakland’s Lincoln Elementary nominated for National Blue Ribbon

Lincoln Elementary School kindergarten
Tribune file photo by D. Ross Cameron

Lincoln Elementary School in Oakland’s Chinatown has just been nominated for the prestigious National Blue Ribbon Award, which honors schools for high academic achievement.

Lincoln was one of 35 public and private schools statewide to be nominated for the 2010 award by the California Department of Education, and the only one from Oakland. The school has an API of 933 out of a possible 1,000 points, one of the highest in the district.

About 78 percent of Lincoln’s roughly 600 students  Continue Reading


An Oakland science teacher’s message to Obama

Katie Noonan, a science teacher at Oakland High School, puts national education politics into a local context.

Oakland High School students

I heard about President Obama’s Educate to Innovate science initiative yesterday while driving 13 tired students back from a four-day intensive workshop in geospatial technology in Sacramento.

My students gave up four days of their Thanksgiving vacation, slept on the floor in classrooms, ate cheap food we cooked ourselves, and put in 15-hour days in the field and computer lab to develop real science technology skills. They collected GPS waypoints and created a computerized map of River City High School. They produced seasonal climate maps of U.S. cities from data they collected on the Internet — original products that took up to eight hours to complete. Continue Reading


The dismantling of California’s adult ed system

Photo by Dan Honda/Contra Costa Times

If you look around, you’ll see adult education coming apart, piece by piece. That was the message teachers, students and administrators gave state politicians this morning at a forum in Richmond.

Not only were adult ed programs cut by 22 percent this year, but this spring, the state Legislature gave school districts the go-ahead to spend the money as they wished.

Faced with huge budget shortfalls, districts have been doing just that. According to a new survey taken by the California Council for Adult Education, 85 percent of Bay Area school districts have used at least some adult ed money to balance their 2009-10 books.

Alameda and Contra Costa counties alone are serving 15,000 fewer students this fall as a result of all of these cutbacks, according to the council. Continue Reading