Sweat equity in Oakland

This spring, as California schools face yet another round of budget reductions, some are giving this fundraising formula a try: Oakland pride + a fitness challenge + a way to help a school in need.

Sankofa Elementary School library, photo by Hasain RasheedDagmar Serota was in a meeting at the Sankofa Academy library when she noticed the bare shelves. The few books that were on them, she said, were old and outdated.

Like other schools in the district, the North Oakland elementary can’t afford a library clerk, let alone a librarian, to manage the collection and lend books to the children.

Then Serota thought about Urban Promise Academy, a middle school in Fruitvale, and the money it was able to raise last year through the Oakland Running Festival. She thought of all the excitement surrounding the marathon, and the fact that people seem to like running for a cause.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we have Run for Sankofa.

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Oakland’s middle school “brain drain”

Students at an Oakland middle school. File photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

The Chronicle had an interesting story in yesterday’s paper (print-only until tomorrow) about the brain drain in the Oakland school district after the fifth grade.

According to this analysis by the Oakland school district, 28 percent of all fifth-graders — and 40 percent of those who scored “advanced” on this year’s reading test — dispersed to non-OUSD middle schools this year.

At Lincoln Elementary School in Chinatown, the city’s first public, non-charter school to win a National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education, a staggering 77 percent of last year’s fifth-graders left the district, up from 57 percent a few years ago.

Superintendent Tony Smith told Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker, whose son goes to Peralta Elementary in Rockridge (a school with the fifth-highest “leaving rate” in OUSD – 44 percent), that the loss of top students was one explanation for the drop-off in district test scores at the middle and high school level.

I’m sure that’s true at some middle schools, such as Westlake, Claremont and Montera, which are located near strong feeder schools with high OUSD defection rates. But it’s not just high-achievers who leave. If you look at districtwide numbers, the student make-up — categorized by STAR test score tier — changes only slightly after the so-called brain drain.

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The Oakland police chief’s middle school strategy

Chief Batts. Tribune photo by D. Ross CameronOakland Police Chief Anthony Batts is in Washington, D.C. right now, lobbying the federal powers that be to give him $6 million for a pilot community policing program at four Oakland middle schools.

Batts’ plan is to hire 24 police officers and to assign them to four Oakland middle schools: Frick, Madison, Roosevelt and Westlake.

Officer Jeff Thomason, a public information officer for the police department, said four of the six officers at each school would provide security, and that two would serve as mentors and run the O.K. Program for gang and violence prevention.

“Basically, we want to start our community policing model at those schools,” Thomason said.

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Kaiser gives Oakland schools $7.5 million

Smith at Kaiser news conference. Photo courtesy of the Oakland school district.

When Superintendent Tony Smith was appointed to his post in 2009, his supporters said they expected he would restore interest, support and outside funding to the Oakland school district.

This fall — until today — the district endured some heartbreak on the funding front. Oakland lost its bid for the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods planning grant in September (despite accolades from the secretary of education just weeks before). And the district’s November parcel tax election was defeated by about 700 votes, less than one percentage point.

But this morning, the district announced it had received a $7.5 million gift from Kaiser Permanente. It is the largest corporate donation yet to support Smith’s vision for Oakland’s schools, district spokesman Troy Flint said.

The money won’t solve the district’s structural deficit or guard against deep mid-year budget cuts. But $7.5 million is still $7.5 million.

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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


Test scores in motion

I expected tonight’s OUSD test score wrap-up to be another dry Power Point of weeks-old news. I did not anticipate the “motion chart.”

Don’t know what that is? I didn’t either, but you can see for yourself.

If you want to see six or seven years worth of Oakland Unified test score trends by school or by grade-level, and subject, and if you want to see how Oakland kids have measured up to their peers statewide on the tests, click one of the above links, check the boxes of interest and hit play.

Yes, play.

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Make some noise! A back-to-school assembly

I hope to watch the year unfold at United For Success Academy, a middle school that opened in 2006 on the Calvin Simmons campus in East Oakland. It won a $4 million grant from the federal government to improve student achievement and has added three hours to the school day for all sixth-graders.

Elia Bustamante, the school principal, says her staff plan to set a more encouraging and less punitive tone this year. They started with today’s all-school assembly, in which they recognized students who raised their state test scores:


Do boys learn differently than girls?

Jason Baeten thinks so. He taught for 10 years at the Julia Morgan School for Girls, and this week he opened an all-boys middle school in Berkeley, the East Bay School for Boys. Their first assignment was to build their own desks, which was fun (and at times, sort of funny) to watch:

We’ll have a story about this new school in Sunday’s paper. In the meantime, I’m curious about the idea of designing instruction around girls or boys, which is becoming more common in public schools. Gender-specific classrooms have been considered in Oakland Unified, though lately that’s been overshadowed by lots of other changes, school board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge told me this week.

Should the district create gender-specific schools or, at some places, classrooms within a school? What advantages and disadvantages do you see with that approach?

Some have proposed schools with an even more specific group in mind: African-American boys. Chris Chatmon, of 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, wants to open charter schools in Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco modeled after the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx, NY.

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Oakland teacher wins national TFA award

Meg Stewart, Bret Harte Middle School teacher and Teach For America corps memberMeg Stewart, a second-year special education teacher at Bret Harte Middle School (East Oakland’s Laurel neighborhood), is one of four Teach For America members in the United States to win the Sue Lehmann Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Go Ms. Stewart! Way to represent Oakland.

Here’s the news release, which has more background about her classroom and the other TFA winners: Continue Reading


Barbara Lee tours Claremont Middle School

Rep. Barbara Lee visits Oakland's Claremont Middle School. Courtesy photo.

I wasn’t there for Rep. Barbara Lee’s visit to Claremont Middle School in Rockridge, but it sounded from the CTA press release like a chance to promote the benefits of Quality Education Investment Act funding for struggling schools. (And, maybe, a plug for the author of the bill, state Assemblymember Tom Torlakson, who’s running for state superintendent for public instruction with the CTA’s endorsement.)

QEIA (pronounced QUEE-a) money comes from the 2006 settlement of a school funding lawsuit the CTA filed against Gov. Schwarzenegger. Continue Reading