Cutting school, with dire consequences

Condolences outside Oak Knoll Market

I’m supposed to be an education reporter, not a crime reporter, but lately there hasn’t been much of a distinction.

Today I reported on a tragedy that unfolded at a market near Youth Empowerment School in the East Oakland hills — which, according to the school principal, is about to close (not merge into the Castlemont campus, as originally planned).

On Tuesday morning, a 14-year-old YES freshman cut school and, police said, got into a violent struggle with the 57-year-old owner of Oak Knoll Market over bottles of vodka he was trying to steal. When the boy fled, the owner followed in his car; he hadn’t driven a block before he fell unconscious and died, possibly of a heart attack.

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A life cut short, a graduation celebration canceled

DITIYAN FRANKLINDitiyan Franklin would have graduated from Castlemont’s Leadership Preparatory High School next month. But on Wednesday afternoon, the Oakland teenager was shot and killed a couple of blocks from his house, near Arroyo Viejo park in East Oakland. Police said Thursday they had not determined a motive or identified a suspect.

Franklin is the second Castlemont senior in recent months to lose his life. His father said Chris Jones, a student at East Oakland School of the Arts who was fatally shot outside of his house Dec. 31, was a neighbor.

Yesterday, we talked to grieving family members and classmates about Franklin. You can find the story here.

MODERATOR’S NOTE: Please keep your comments respectful of those who knew and loved Ditiyan Franklin.


Oakland student newspaper takes fourth place in national contest

Jack Mejia-CuellarPHOTO CAPTION: Gloria “Jack” Mejia-Cuellar, a junior at Media Academy, won “Honorable Mention” during the National High School Journalism Convention’s write-off contests in editorial writing. Thousands of high school students from across the country attended the event, which was held in Anaheim last month.

Student newspapers are few and far between in Oakland, but one of them — Media Academy’s Green & Gold — is thriving. Last month, the paper took fourth place in a national journalism contest of the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association, which drew thousands of student-journalists nationwide.

Lisa Shafer, the paper’s advisor, wrote to share the news, saying, “It beat out schools that have APIs in the 800s and 900s and private schools whose students pay $35,000 a year in tuition to attend.”

Shafer said Kim Mejia-Cuellar, a junior, was one of 15 students at the convention to receive an “Excellent” ranking or higher in the newswriting category of the write-off contest. “In my 10 years of newspaper advising, including five at a suburban school, I have never had a student win an “Excellent” in this competition,” Shafer wrote.

Kim’s twin, Gloria “Jack” Mejia-Cuellar, received an “Honorable Mention” in the editorial writing category. Both sisters are members of Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia’s writing program and their school’s debate team.

Both girls wrote their pieces about the “Parent Trigger” proposal, which would allow parents to force the conversion of a public school into a charter school if it fell below an 800 on the API.

You can read the winning edition of the paper yourself, here:


An OUSD survey on working conditions

Staff meeting. File photo by John Green/Bay Area News Group

Oakland teachers, counselors, principals and other credentialed school-based staff: Friday is the deadline for completing an anonymous online survey about what it’s like to work at each school in the district.

How much time do you spend on various tasks during the school day? Outside of the regular school day? Are efforts made at your school to minimize interruptions, or routine paperwork? How much time do you have to collaborate with other teachers?

The results will be published online, by school, in June — that is, as long as the response rate is at least 50 percent for a given school. If not, those schools will be omitted from the results. Continue Reading


The competition was tough, and they loved it

Oakland debaters in NYC. Photo courtesy of Christopher Scheer

Four of the top debaters from the Bay Area Urban Debate League went head-to-head with some of the best in the nation in New York City last month. The league’s coaches sent me the below news release about the experience. My favorite quote was from Skyline student Zach Seidl: “Getting absolutely destroyed by an opponent was actually the high point of the trip for me.”

Four Oakland public high school debaters representing the Bay Area Urban Debate League returned from the Big Apple with a renewed belief in themselves and the power of debate to carry them forward in life.

“It changed the way I see myself, because I saw how far I have gotten and how much I have improved,” said Diego Garcia, a sophomore at Media Academy on the Fremont High campus Continue Reading


A teachable moment

discussion at the Oakland Military Institute. Photo by Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group

Social studies classrooms were abuzz today with debate and analysis of Osama bin Laden’s death. (See Tribune story here.)

Some teachers asked students to compare media coverage of the development. Others supplied basic facts about the raid and the broader conflict with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. They touched on a wide range of issues, among them: patriotism, war, sovereignty, the celebration of death, politics, justice and vengeance.

Brian Rodriguez, an AP history teacher at Encinal High School in Alameda, wrote this to me, in an email: Continue Reading


Oakland schools to cancel more layoff notices

A week after announcing that none of its elementary school teachers would be laid off strictly for budget reasons, the Oakland school district is gearing up to cancel more layoff notices — though not all of them.

Art, English and physical education are among the subjects likely to be completely spared from layoffs based on the results of budget cuts made at individual schools. Adult education, meanwhile, is the hardest hit; all 48 remaining adult education counselors and teachers are likely to receive final layoff notices, according to a resolution posted on the agenda of a special board meeting tomorrow night.

You can find the updated layoff list, by subject, here.

A partial layoff count (see above link for the full document): Continue Reading


So many students, so few counselors. But a student proposal doesn’t call for more.

The kids who enter Oakland high schools this fall will need to complete the UC/CSU `a to g’ course requirements to graduate in 2015. A major shift, considering that less than half of the district’s 2009 grads had done so.

But a survey by Californians For Justice found that nearly 1 in 4 of students at Oakland High School didn’t know about those requirements, and that 30 percent had never met one-on-one with a counselor. A counselor quoted in the report, “No Knowledge, No College: Oakland Students Rising to the Challenge,” said there were four counselors for more than 1,800 students.

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New teachers, searching for a toehold

Courtney Couvreur, a second-year math teacher at Oakland International High School and teacher convention delegate, writes about how the threat of layoffs has affected her school — and how it might continue to be felt, even after some of the pink slips are rescinded.

Courtney Couvreur (left) with her students at Oakland International High School

At Oakland International High School, each staff member at our school shares a vision of a high-quality, college-prep education for all immigrant children. We work in collaborative teams and have formed tight bonds with our colleagues. This March, all but two of our English and social studies teachers received pink slips. We have moved from outrage to grief as we recognize how disruptive this will be to our community. We rely on each other’s expertise and passion in teaching a wide range of ESL, and we know that to lose even one of our teachers to layoffs will change the fabric of our school.

We have experienced a slump in morale that some say will end once many of the layoff notices are rescinded, but we cannot just bounce back as though the pink slips never happened. We are worried about our own mortgages, student loans, and children’s futures. We have been made to feel insecure about losing the support of our colleagues, finding new jobs in other districts, whether finding a job will mean having to move. For those of us who have been bounced between several districts’ mass layoffs, we worry that we will never been able to gain a toehold in one community.

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Oakland’s pink slip imprint, by school

Luc DeArmey, a pink-slipped teacher at Futures Elementary in East Oakland.The Oakland school district has ranked its schools based on how deeply they were hit by the 657 potential layoff notices sent to its teaching staff.

This spreadsheet, created by OUSD, also includes the turnover at each school between 2007 and 2010, the API gains during that period, the percentage of students who are African-American or Latino, and the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals.

The top five are (or were) small schools that opened between 2003 and 2007, many of them with new teaching staffs: Continue Reading