Notes from the school closure meeting

The Oakland school board is expected to vote tonight on a proposal to close five elementary schools and to merge others. I’ll be updating this periodically throughout the night.

Want to watch it live? Go here. – Katy

11:05: The five elementary schools will close. The board voted 5-2 to approve the resolution. “You will pay the price!” someone just yelled.

10:55: Alice Spearman says, “Superintendent, I just can’t go with it. It’s not in me.”

“But the fact remains, we do have to close some schools.”

10:10: The board secretary just called 44 (or maybe it was 34) more speaker cards. The crowd has thinned out. Most of the children are gone by now. It’s past their bedtime!

9:15: The following exchange will give you a sense of the tone of the meeting and the kinds of exchanges happening between the board (mostly, Jody London, the board president) and the audience:

A public speaker starts talking.

London: “Please introduce yourself.”

Man: “I am a citizen. Quiet now.” (laughter)

Citizen: “I’m putting you guys on notice right now. What your vote is is going to decide your future.”

8:25: The Oakland teachers union officers read a statement opposing the closures: “We call on the district to abandon their plan and work with the many teachers, students and community leaders who have come to the past few board meetings with creative ideas for keeping their schools open.”

8:10: Public comment has begun. Little boy from Lazear Elementary: “I really love the school. It’s like the best thing that ever happened to me.”

8:00: Noel Gallo draws his third standing ovation as he questions the ability and/or willingness of district staff to do what they say they’re going to do.

Gary Yee stands up and yells into the mic to Gallo: “You’ve been here for 19 years. What have you done about it?”

7:55: It sounded like David Montes de Oca said that children entering grades 1 to 5 in 2012 would be placed in their top-choice schools before other students in OUSD enter the Options process. Jody London asked how the transition of displaced students would affect the current options priorities, and I think that was his response. I need to follow up and clarify. (He talks really fast!) Continue Reading


A cautionary tale: San Diego, on brink of insolvency, looks at Oakland school takeover

Former OUSD State Administrator Randolph Ward in 2006

Keegan Kyle, a reporter at Voice of San Diego, offers his readers a look at what’s happened in Oakland’s public schools since the 2003 state takeover. It’s interesting to note that Randy Ward, OUSD’s first state-appointed administrator (pictured above, in 2006), is the superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education, which oversees the finances of local districts.

What would you add to this history of OUSD’s state takeover?

P.S. I posted the story on my Facebook page last night, so you’re welcome to comment there, too. I’m trying to get (less anonymous) discussions going there, too, and might start a Facebook group pretty soon.

You can find me at Facebook.com/katyEmurphy. (Don’t forget the middle initial!)


An Oakland teacher’s thoughts on “consolidation” — and what to call it, instead

David Braden, a technology prep teacher and Bay Area Writing Project consultant teacher at Oakland’s Bella Vista Elementary School, wrote this essay after learning two of his colleagues would be moved, or “consolidated,” to different schools next week — in mid-October. I wrote about the issue too, in this story. – Katy

The Merriam Webster app on my Droid tells me the word “consolidate” has three different meanings: 1) to join together into one whole, 2) to make firm or secure or 3) to form into a compact mass. I looked it up because today our principal informed us that our school would be consolidated.

Leaving the third definition aside for a moment, it sounds like a pretty good thing. Unity, firmness, security are all admirable qualities that would be welcome in any environment, but especially an elementary school. A staff that is united around discipline with consistent rules and consequences gives students a sense of security. If a staff unites around a clear curriculum, then students will have a firm grasp of what they need to know before graduating to the next level of schooling.

These qualities also describe what we want for our students. Continue Reading


An unwanted fresh start, midyear

Staff Photojournalist

Today, I wrote about the practice of moving teachers from school to school, weeks into the school year, to balance the budget. It’s happening to five Oakland teachers this year, including Breianna Davis, shown above with her kindergarten students at Carl B. Munck Elementary School. Next week, she’ll be at another school, and her 22 students will be divided among the remaining kindergarten and first-grade teachers at Munck.

Three other elementary schools will undergo a similar adjustment: Bella Vista (which is losing two teachers), Laurel and Community United. All but one are kindergarten teachers.

According to Brigitte Marshall, the district’s new director of HR, the original list of consolidations was at least three times as long. Troy Flint, the district spokesman, said 400 fewer students enrolled than expected (and 28 fewer at Munck), creating a $1.4 million deficit. As I’ve written before, many families don’t show up on the first day — or even the first week — of school, which makes it hard to make staffing changes early in the school year. They rely on a count taken on Day 20, which is in late September.

But I imagine such explanations make little sense to the teachers and families making this kind of adjustment on the eighth week of school.

Stay tuned for a guest blog post from a teacher at Bella Vista.


How many schools are in OUSD, anyway?

The number 101 (as in “101 schools for 38,000 kids”) has a catchy ring to it, but how accurate is OUSD’s school closure talking point?

Board member Noel Gallo raised the issue last night, saying he’s seen totals in the mid-90s. A parent just asked about it too, wanting to get the number right for an editorial. It’s not a figure you can round very easily.

A school enrollment spreadsheet I requested from the district lists a total of 99 schools, and that includes Youth Empowerment, a small high school on the King Estates campus that closed in June. (Technically, it’s classified as a proposed merger, but I doubt many students who attended YES would define it that way.)

Maybe the disputed figure actually supports the argument that OUSD has more schools than it can manage — no one seems to be quite sure exactly how many that is!


Lazear parents: Close our school, and we’ll open a charter

Staff PhotojournalistThe families at East Oakland’s Lazear Elementary School have come to a decision, says parent leader Olga Galaviz Gonzalez: If the Oakland school board votes to close it next year, as Superintendent Tony Smith has recommended, they will try to reopen it as a public, independently-run charter school.

“We’ve been working on it,” Gonzalez said about the charter school petition.

Lazear’s school board representative, Noel Gallo, says he opposes the closure and that he is no longer interested in selling the property. He says that if the board votes to close the school on Oct. 26, he would support the charter petition.

I wrote about Lazear in the spring of 2010, when the parents went out on strike, unhappy with the principal and one teacher in particular. I revisited the school a year later — in April –and found a much happier, academically-focused place.

Now, Lazear is on a list of five elementary schools slated for closure, along with Lakeview, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. Its state test scores, though lower than neighboring schools, rose 27 points to 714.

“That school has turned around, and now we want to close it,” Gallo said.

Continue Reading


No plans Saturday night?

Staff Photojournalist

Saturday is the second annual Uptown Oakland Block Party and school fundraiser. It’s from 5 to 8 p.m.

Organizers aim to raise $60,000 for five Oakland schools (including two that are slated for closure): Manzanita SEED, Cleveland, Piedmont Avenue, Lakeview and Thurgood Marshall. Last year, they raised $13,000 for another group of schools.

Thirty-dollar tickets are available online through the end of the day. It will get you a cocktail along with your donation. (If you don’t have time to get your ticket in advance, you can buy one for $40 at Luka’s Taproom & Lounge on Broadway and Grand.)

See the Facebook post here.

Participating venues (subject to change): Ozumo, Pican, Era Art Bar, Luka’s Taproom & Lounge, Farley’s, Vo’s, 3000 Broadway, Shashamane, Inkwell, Somar, Dogwood, and Make Westing.


Instability in OUSD: a brief lesson in recent history


The number of students attending Oakland’s district-run public schools shrank by about 30 percent between 2000 and 2010 — a trend that’s partly explained by a decline in the number of children living in the city and partly by the explosion of independently-run, state-funded charter schools during that time.

Despite that striking statistic, the district has even more schools today than it did back then.

If you don’t count the already-closed Youth Empowerment School (which somehow ended up on the list of schools to be phased out next year), there are still 100 schools in OUSD — about 15 more than there were in 2000. As education blogger John Fensterwald pointed out to me, that amounts to an average of 640 students per school in 2000, compared to an average of about 380 per school today.

With numbers like that, you might think this is the first time OUSD has considered reducing the number of neighborhood schools it operates. Not so. Oakland Unified shuttered about a dozen during the 2000s — and that’s not counting the ones that were closed and reopened as a school improvement strategy, or the new schools were shut down soon after they opened.

Most of these schools closed their doors before I started covering OUSD, but not all: Burbank, Carter, Cole, Foster, Golden Gate, John Swett, King Estates, Longfellow, Lowell, Merritt Middle College, Sherman, and Toler Heights. (Am I missing any? Not sure how to classify Cole or Lowell, as West Oakland Middle School opened on the Lowell campus as Cole was closing, but years after Lowell closed. And Hawthorne Elementary was a charter conversion. ) Continue Reading