A safer, greener place to play

photo by Robert Mohr/STOCK OPTIONS

photo by Robert Mohr/STOCK OPTIONS

The playground at Roosevelt Middle School in East Oakland didn’t always have a smooth surface, planter boxes, or a shiny new playing field. You can probably imagine what it looked like.

the old Roosevelt yard (courtesy photo)

It was transformed by the Oakland Schoolyards Initiative, a partnership between the East Bay Asian Youth Center, The Unity Council and the Oakland school district. Roosevelt’s new principal, Cliff Hong (a former teacher and assistant principal at Edna Brewer Middle School), sent me a photo of its unveiling today.

The outdoor spaces of Garfield Elementary, Urban Promise Academy and the Manzanita schools have undergone similar transformations through the schoolyards initiative. Next on the list? Continue Reading


Oakland teachers union stays neutral on tax

The Oakland teachers union opposed the school district’s last (failed) attempt to raise its members’ salaries via local taxation (“Outstanding Teachers for All Oakland Students Act“). But tonight, union leaders decided to take a neutral position on a similar initiative, Measure L, according to union President Betty Olson-Jones.

“I think it was the best we could have hoped for, given the track record,” said Peter Fiske, a Chabot Elementary School parent who’s volunteering on the parcel tax campaign.

Rebranded as “Oakland Unified School District’s Student Achievement, Support and Safety Measure,” Measure L would cost Oakland property owners $195 a year and generate an estimated $20 million. Though “teacher” does not appear in the title, most the funds would go to the salaries of teachers and other school-based employees.

The teachers union, which held a one-day strike in April and has yet to resolve a contract dispute with the district, withdrew Continue Reading


Tired of acronyms, some Oaklanders “want Mack back”

Mack remained the name of the high school sports teams. File photo by Anda ChuOakland saw a flurry of new and redesigned schools in the last decade. Along with the more substantive changes came a slew of inventive names — many with acronyms for aspirational adjectives, nouns, verbs and phrases: BEST, EXCEL, ASCEND, EnCompass, Reach, United for Success, and EXPLORE, to name a few.

McClymonds High School, or Mack as it’s also known, was officially closed in 2005. The names of the two small high schools that opened on its campus were a mouthful: Business Entrepreneurial School of Technology (BEST) and Experience, eXcellence, Community, Empowerment and Leadership (EXCEL).  

BEST closed in June, though, and now that McClymonds will be a one-school campus again, a group of people — possibly, alumni — want to undo the name change. They’ve circulated a petition titled “Change the name back to McClymonds High.” Continue Reading


Promise Neighborhoods: “Hope or Hype?”

Prince Charles visits Harlem Children's ZoneSuperintendent Tony Smith has talked about creating in Oakland what Geoffrey Canada has built in Harlem: a pipeline for kids “from cradle to college.”

The Harlem Children’s Zone has received no shortage of attention, even from the likes of President Obama and Prince Charles (shown here during a visit in 2007). But is enough data in on this ambitious, costly effort? And can it be successful in other places with the help of a federal start-up grant?

Those are issues that reporter Helen Zelon explores in “Hope or Hype in Harlem?” a thoughtful, in-depth report published in the City Limits magazine.

Continue Reading


A new security system for Oakland schools

view from a security camera at Oakland's Fremont High in 2002The Oakland public school system is about to embark on a new initiative with a new acronym: SOS, which stands for “Secure Our Schools.”

The district plans to install 750-plus cameras at 26 middle and high schools between now and the end of the 2010-11 school year, using a $1.5 million Department of Justice grant.

It’s hoped that the infusion of technology — and the ability for school police to monitor the happenings on every campus from one location — will keep a lid on a number of the district’s chronic ills, including truancy, neighborhood crime, on-campus fights. Continue Reading


More of OUSD’s small schools might close in 2010

District staff are recommending that Explore Middle School, a small school that opened in East Oakland in 2004, close at the end of the year.

Also on the 2010 closure list are two schools that were scheduled to close a year or two down the road, following a lengthy phase out: BEST High School (McClymonds campus in West Oakland) and Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts (Fremont campus in East Oakland).

Staff didn’t come out with a definitive recommendation for Martin Luther King Jr. and Lafayette elementary schools in West Oakland Continue Reading


A sped up phase-out at McClymonds

mcclymondsSoon, the McClymonds high school campus will have just one small high school, instead of two.

District staff is recommending that BEST High School close in June — a year earlier than planned, Chief Academic Officer Brad Stam told a crowd gathered at the McClymonds cafeteria tonight.

Stam said it would be unfair to BEST students and too costly for the school district to keep it open next year with just a few dozen students, and that this year’s juniors (the youngest class at BEST) will likely attend EXCEL, the other high school, next fall. This year, the school district is providing a subsidy of about $330,000, Stam said.

EXCEL’s enrollment has dwindled to less than 250, and just 65 juniors and seniors attend BEST, according to a recent districtwide data report. In 2004-05, the year before McClymonds split into two schools as part of the Gates-funded small schools reform, 761 kids went to the West Oakland high school, according to data from the California Department of Education. Continue Reading


Survey: Oakland principals like to control their own budgets

THURSDAY UPDATE: You can find the memo here.

A survey of Oakland principals by a local advocacy group found support for the district’s unorthodox, largely decentralized school budgeting system, known as RBB; it also found that one-third of the principals surveyed didn’t feel prepared or equipped to run their entire school budget, as they’re expected to do.

A memo to the superintendent and school board, which contains the survey results and recommendations, was led by Think College Now Principal David Silver and Esperanza (at Stonehurst) Principal Sondra Aguilera. It was staffed by Great Oakland Public Schools, a coalition that supports greater school autonomy, so I would have been surprised if the survey found that principals disliked the model. About half of the OUSD principals completed the survey.

Here is a summary of the findings, straight from the memo: 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


A tax for Oakland teachers: Take 2?

Tribune file photo by Laura A. Oda

Ever since a parcel tax for Oakland teachers fell flat without the support of the local teachers union, a committee has been meeting to try again, this time with a broader support base. There’s been talk of placing a tax measure on the June 2010 ballot.

And once again, talks about ways to boost teacher salaries in the midst of ongoing state budget cuts — and tense contract negotiations — have run right into a teachers union sticking point: whether any of the money raised by local property taxes should go to the city’s 30-some independently run, non-unionionized, public charter schools.

No way, the union says, even if most of the money would go to its own members. Continue Reading