Public schools and the Parent Factor

A music class at Montclair Elementary School, taken in 2008 by Alex Molloy/Tribune

This morning I headed up the hill to Oakland’s Montclair Elementary School on a research mission.

It started with a story pitch about the PTA’s annual fundraiser, the Metrathon, and the school’s tied-for-first-place API score of 957. I don’t normally cover fundraisers — don’t get any ideas! — but after I hung up the phone, I decided to see for myself how the work of a powerhouse parent group can manifest itself at a school.

Let’s start with the front stoop. A large planter overflowing with greenery. Step inside, and you see a bulletin board with photos of families at the Back-to-School Coffee, the New Parent Party, and Play Dates in the Park. Next on the wall are a list of fee-based before and after school language courses: Mandarin, Italian and Spanish. Continue Reading


Smith: “This is our work over the next 10 years…”

There were more people than chairs last night in the library of Oakland International High School, the site of a District 1 town hall meeting with Superintendent Tony Smith. 

An air of agitation often accompanies well-attended meetings involving district administrators. But the mood of this event was decidedly optimistic, even warm.

Maybe it was the chocolate chip cookies that school board member Jody London baked for the occasion. That, and Smith’s earnest, reflective delivery, or the fact that the meeting wasn’t called to address a crisis or controversy.  Continue Reading


More from Tony Smith, Oakland’s new supe

Lillian Mongeau, of UC Berkeley’s Oakland North, sat down with Tony Smith last week and produced this Q & A. She asks the new superintendent about teacher quality, the racial achievement gap, teacher evaluations and the fact that he has never been a classroom teacher.

Do you agree with where he stands on these issues? Did anything strike you about his responses?

If you’re planning to attend tonight’s town hall meeting with Smith at International High School, maybe the interview will spark some follow-up questions.

In other Smith news: Continue Reading


Got questions for Tony Smith?

Oakland’s new superintendent will talk about the challenges ahead and respond to your questions and comments at a North Oakland town hall meeting at the end of the month. 

The forum takes place from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 at Oakland International High School, 4521 Webster Street. It’s open to the public, and you don’t have to be a North Oakland resident to attend, said school board member Jody London, who organized the event for her district.

“I think he’ll provide some great information about the state of the district — where we are, where we’re going,” London said.

London said other board members are planning to organize events with Smith in their respective districts. Read the Sept. 30 meeting flier here.

Tribune file photo by D. Ross Cameron/Staff


Forum at City Hall: “Battle of the Budgets”

Oakland school district’s superintendent says the public school system will have to shave another $25 million from next year’s budget. The city is also struggling to make ends meet (See: Parking Meter Uproar).

What can Oaklanders do about it? What services should the city, the county and the school district attempt to preserve?

The League of Women Voters is sponsoring a panel discussion on the topic on Tuesday, Sept. 15, featuring Tony Smith, Oakland’s new superintendent; Susan Muranishi, Alameda County Administrator; and Niccolo DeLuca, a lobbyist and former deputy administrator for the City of Oakland.

It’s from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 3, and you’re all invited. You can find the flier here.


First day of school!

photo of Washington Elementary in Alameda by Laura A. Oda/Staff

This morning, I tagged along with Oakland’s new superintendent, Tony Smith, as he visited Oakland High and Lafayette Elementary on the first day of the semester. Things seemed to be running smoothly at both schools; I’m sure Smith was relieved to see that Oakland High, which is undergoing major renovations and construction, was all cleaned up and ready for Day 1 — as he promised concerned teacher union leaders that it would be.

O High’s new principal, Alicia Romero, was busy making sure kids were showing their ID tags (most wore them around their necks) and, of course, getting to their next class on time.  “Look like you’re worried!” she told the stragglers.

What’s going on at your school? Got any reports for us?


Wife of Oakland schools chief resigns from nonprofit after conflict of interest inquiry

Kathleen Osta, the wife of Oakland schools Superintendent Tony Smith, will leave her post as associate director for the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, a school reform nonprofit with longstanding contractual ties with the Oakland school district.

The decision came about because of a conflict-of-interest ruling by the Oakland school district’s new general counsel, Jackie Minor. After reviewing state law and case law for about two weeks, Minor said, she concluded that Osta’s employment with BayCES was a conflict of interest for Smith and the school district.

Minor said concerns about Osta’s employment were raised shortly after Smith’s appointment in May; she wouldn’t say by whom. She concluded that one of two things would have resolved the problem: either Osta stepping down, or BayCES ending its work in Oakland Unified. Continue Reading


Can Oakland’s new supe find common ground?

New schools superintendent Tony Smith says he aims to get people to put politics and ideology aside — yes, he’s talking about doing this in Oakland! — and focus on what works for kids. 

As evidence that this was possible, Smith said the goals expressed by teachers union president Betty Olson-Jones at a recent one-on-one meeting overlapped with some of the core principles that emerged during an event organized by the new, reform-minded coalition Great Oakland Public Schools (to which Olson-Jones said she was not invited).

What common ground do you see in OUSD? I wrote a story about Smith’s first couple of weeks on the job, which is in today’s Trib. You can find it here.