The Oakland Way

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Discussions are underway for radically changing how things work for Oakland school district employees and the students they serve.

Like a good newspaper lede, the opening line of the below human resources document makes you want to keep on reading — despite the fact that it’s an HR document.

“Current OUSD Human Resource practices are failing children,” it begins.

The ideas put forth in the discussion paper embedded below are comprehensive and wide-ranging, from strengthening relationships with local teacher colleges to creating “career ladders” for teachers, updating antiquated job classifications and lobbying state lawmakers make changes in the law with respect to labor rules.

One bullet point suggests that the district “assertively pursue separation for those whose service undermines the success of our children” — a topic that’s later couched, euphemistically, as a transition (i.e. helping ineffective staff find “future opportunities outside the district”).

The meeting was interesting too — more so than most, at least to me. The leaders of four different unions each had 12 minutes to contribute to the discussion. You can watch the video of the meeting here.

I’d give it a listen, especially to what Morris Tatum (AFSCME) and Mynette Theard (SEIU) had to say about the marginalization — and potential — of support staff, a topic that rarely surfaces at board meetings. If you really want to know what’s happening with the students, Tatum said, just ask the custodian. Both leaders said their members would like to be asked their opinions from time to time, or invited to meetings. (On the other hand, Tatum said, classified staff are often afraid to pipe up, worried their position will be cut.)

What do you think of this “discussion paper?” What ideas jump out to you?

The Oakland Way


Oakland teachers push for changes beyond charter school conversion

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

Teachers from two East Oakland elementary schools are on a mission to shake up the status quo in the Oakland school district.

This fall, they voted to turn their schools — ASCEND and Learning Without Limits — into independently run charters so that they could have more control over staffing, curriculum, budgeting and other things, such as the school calendar. Hearings on those charter conversion petitions and others begin at 6 p.m. Monday evening in the district office at 1025 Second Avenue.

But the teachers at these two schools have goals beyond charter conversion. They want to organize like-minded educators around some of their ideas, such as changing the way teachers are evaluated. They also want to do away with a layoff system driven almost entirely by credential and years of service in a district (though they’re not against including seniority as a factor). They, like the union’s current leaders, think teachers should have more say in what materials they use to teach children.

At the Oakland Education Association’s membership meeting last week the teachers circulated a flier that said: Continue Reading


Oakland schools and Wednesday’s general strike

Staff Photojournalist

I’ll be blogging about the general strike for the Tribune tomorrow, and I’d love to hear how the day is shaping up for staff and families in the city’s schools. If you think of it, send me an email (kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com), message me on Facebook (facebook.com/KatyEMurphy) or post a comment below with your plans, thoughts and stories.

If you’ll be posting photos and updates on Twitter, send me your name so I can follow you! Mine is @katymurphy.

Here’s what I have so far:

  • All district-run schools will remain open tomorrow.
  • OUSD has gotten 268 requests for substitute teachers, compared to 24 for last Wednesday. Continue Reading

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


Leadership changes on Oakland teachers union board

Challengers have unseated at least three incumbents on the executive board of the Oakland Education Association.

Ben Visnick, an Oakland High teacher and former union president, beat out incumbent Mark Airgood as treasurer. Toni Morozumi, a teacher at Montclair Elementary, unseated Tania Kappner; and Benjie Achtenberg, of Melrose Leadership Academy, will replace Craig Gordon.

Other seats will have new leaders, as well.

Isabel Toscano, a Castlemont Business Information & Technology teacher, won the open position currently held by Bob Mandel. Kei Swenson, a Fruitvale Elementary School teacher, will be the second vice president; she ran for an open seat against Mark Rendon.

Remember Oakland TIES, the group I blogged about last month? The group didn’t officially endorse any candidates, but sent out an email before the election noting that “several members of Oakland TIES” had endorsed Morozumi, Achtenberg, Toscano and Swenson.

All of them won.

Here’s the complete list of results, posted by OEA President Betty Olson-Jones: Continue Reading


Video of Oakland bank protest, teacher arrests

Oakland teacher and union leader Craig Gordon took this video of a demonstration this evening at a Wells Fargo branch at 12th Street and Broadway. Gordon reported in a mass email that seven teachers were arrested during a sit-in to demand that the rich pay higher taxes. I’ll post those names once I’ve been able to confirm them.

By 10 p.m., at least one of the teachers had been released, and a welcoming committee awaited the others at the downtown jail.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, California Teachers Association President David Sanchez and about two dozen others were arrested today during a sit-in at the offices of Republican legislators Connie Conway and Bob Dutton, who are fighting the tax extension ballot measure, Oakland Education Association President Betty Olson-Jones has reported.

Here is a link to the Sacramento Bee story.


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


Why they came, and what they hope for

After the opening speeches, after Superintendent Tony Smith said he wants to “create a place where it feels good to be a teacher,” deputy superintendent Maria Santos asked delegates to discuss their hopes and aspirations for the teacher convention.

One teacher, an Oakland native, stood up. “I feel a little bit of hope,” she said. “I just hope to leave with a lot more.”

Others said they were hoping that…

– the energy in the room lifts

– this will make me want to stay here (in OUSD)

– the passion that brought the teachers here “catches fire” at all schools

– the discussions go beyond “surface conversations”

– the convention will inspire teachers to collaborate more

– the dream of equity will become a reality

– we have a better idea of what we can do as a district to help beginning teachers become effective, feel effective, and stay

I’m sitting next to Bart Alexander, from Garfield Elementary. “It’s nice to see the union president and the administration talk about the same things. At the same time, there’s a gigantic elephant in the room, because I know these two teachers (to his left) got pink slips.”

But, he said, he’s encouraged by the direction the district seems to be going with respect to teacher practice. He sees it at his school. “I feel like we’re going back to real teaching, which is nice,” he said. “We were told what to do for so long.”

Now, everyone at my table is eating dinner and talking about their students.


Oakland Teacher Convention, here I come

As of Tuesday, 210 teachers from 90 schools had been selected by their fellow teachers to represent them at the three-day teacher convention, according to Ash Solar, the district staffer who co-chairs the Oakland school district’s Effective Teaching Task Force. (This story gives some context about what the task force is up to.)

I will be dropping in several times between this evening and Saturday, and I plan to blog from the event. Who knows, I might even tweet, too. Tonight there will be mostly speeches; the meatier discussions won’t happen until tomorrow.

Delegates: If you feel like sharing your impressions with a reporter, look for a tall woman with a skinny notebook, tapping people on the shoulder or otherwise awkwardly approaching them to ask questions. You could also, of course, email me after each day’s session at kmurphy(at)bayareanewsgroup.com or comment directly on the blog.


Oakland teachers propose new platform for union

They call themselves Oakland Teachers for Innovative and Equitable Schooling, or Oakland TIES. Their platform (which I posted in full, below) calls for better teacher retention, a more representative union, greater teacher control over working conditions, needs-based funding allocations, and union involvement in revamping teacher evaluations.

The small group — it has five core members — has encouraged like-minded candidates to run for a seat on the Oakland Education Association’s executive board in May.

Emily Sacks, a special education teacher at Redwood Heights Elementary and Manzanita Community School, said TIES is not a splinter group, despite fears to the contrary, and that it’s not affiliated with any outside organizations. (Great Oakland Public Schools has also taken an interest in executive board elections, but Sacks said there wasn’t a connection.)

“Really, it was about how we strengthen the union by getting more voices into the mix,” she said.

The OEA’s executive board has pushed for smaller class sizes, particularly in flatlands schools, and for other policies that affect the daily lives of classroom teachers and their students. But the volunteer board also gets involved in causes that relate less directly to the working conditions of its members — taking a stand against the Fruitvale gang injunction, for one, or protesting the federal bailouts of banks.

And the union’s leadership did not support school parcel tax campaigns in 2008 and 2010, though the extra revenue would have raised millions of dollars a year for its members’ paychecks.

“I just don’t feel like I know what the union does for me,” Sacks said.

Sacks said she feels strongly that it’s the responsibility of members to make sure their union is representative. So she began meeting with other teachers, including Greg Cluster from Metwest and Karen Pezzetti from LIFE Academy, to see if they could figure out how to boost participation in the OEA. They began with this question: “If there were different issues at the forefront of the union conversation, would more people get involved, and more enthusiastically involved?”

Continue Reading