Oakland elementary school explores gender norms, teaches acceptance

A lesson about gender

Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland is teaching kids this week that boys and girls don’t all fit into neat gender norms, and that they shouldn’t laugh at or tease someone if they do (or wear) something different or unusual.

Two parent leaders whom I interviewed for a story about the issue said they knew of no controversy about the training — until today.

A few weeks ago, Redwood Heights invited parents to a staff training by Gender Spectrum and held an information session afterward, said Michelle Hatchell, the school’s PTA president. Principal Sara Stone included the information in several editions of a weekly memo to parents. (The training is about gender identity, not sexual orientation or attraction; it was funded by a grant from the California Teachers Association.)

But the chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal organization, said he learned of seven families who didn’t know until recently that the lessons were about to happen.

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So much pink, so few layoffs (probably)

For all of the people who tried to attend the Oakland school board’s special budget meeting tonight and anyone else who missed the presentation, here’s the upshot:

The Oakland school district is bracing for a 16 percent cut in state general purpose funding for 2011-12. That amounts to $844 per student, or $30.5 million, rather than $349 per student, or $12.6 million, as previously thought. Not a small difference. But the district’s staff’s “best thinking” for making ends meet under that scenario does not call for additional cuts at schools, school closures or furloughs.

What it does entail is a whole lot of one-time funds taken from the state loan, adult education programs, and additional reserves. And, as a result, a much larger structural deficit — $22 million, rather than $7 million — and more cuts down the line. You can find the presentation here.

On layoffs: Continue Reading


A celebration of peace and harmony in Oakland

Parents at Manzanita Community School and Manzanita SEED organized an event today to celebrate their community, call for peace and welcome the area’s community police officers. Here are some clips of the neighborhood walk, which began on East 27th Street and 26th Avenue in East Oakland. (Note: In the confusion of the moment, I neglected to get the name of the teacher and guitar player who provides the soundtrack! Anyone?)


Tough-love parenting

Amy Chua says she won’t let her daughters play an instrument other than piano or violin, have “play dates” with friends or be in a school play, let alone watch TV or play video games.

In her Sunday Wall Street Journal essay, the Yale law professor champions the virtues of “Chinese mother”-style parenting, an approach with rigidly high standards and little concern about a child’s self-esteem. She says children aren’t as fragile as people think; she sees no problem with calling her daughter “fatty” if she’s gained weight or “worthless” if she is disrespectful or receives a B on a test.

“Western parents,” as she calls them (and she says she knows plenty of Chinese-Americans who fit into that category), worry more about their child’s individuality and feelings of self worth than about their success.

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To prepare for school’s opening, Oakland principals step outside

Here’s my latest Flip camera production and story about Superintendent Tony Smith’s vision for OUSD and a back-to-school bus tour (one of three) for OUSD staff last week. I didn’t make it on the bus — no room! too many administrators! — but photographer Laura Oda and I were hot on their tail, and we met up with a walking tour in West Oakland.

Here’s what we saw and heard:

P.S. If you want to know what region your school is in, check out this map. I understand the regions correspond with those of the Oakland police and the county’s public health department.


A strike on the first day of school? Unlikely.

Oakland teachers' strike on April 29If my inbox is any indication, the rumor mill is humming about the possibility that Oakland teachers will strike on the first week of the school year. (Some parents say they’ve heard it from teachers they know or other reliable sources.)

A new school year can be stressful as it is, without wondering whether it’s going to start as planned. One mom asked me if I knew how a strike school worked.

So I’m here to tell you not to worry.

Here’s what Betty Olson-Jones, the teacher’s union president, said this afternoon: Continue Reading


Considering Oakland High

Nia Lozano, a middle school parent, tells us about a new group that’s building support for Oakland High School.

An interesting new group has formed in the Crocker and Glenview neighborhoods of Oakland. It was formed by some parents from Edna Brewer who would like other neighborhood parents to consider Oakland High.

This is truly the first time I have ever heard families musing about Oakland High, even among the die-hard, Edna Brewer, go public, local school advocates. The communities of Crocker and Glenview have been relatively silent about Oakland High, which is interesting given that the last time I checked their scores were only marginally lower than Oakland Tech and Skyline (and may have been better in some areas of math, I can’t recall right now.)

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Parent group proposes a “people’s takeover” to keep Oakland preschools open

Oakland preschool classroom. File photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

At the end of the month, if nothing changes, seven of Oakland’s childhood development centers will close their doors because of massive budget cuts threatened at the state level: Manzanita, Jefferson, Golden Gate, Santa Fe, Piedmont Avenue, Sequoia and Hintil Kuu Ca childhood development centers.

Henry Hitz, the director of Oakland Parents Together, has another idea: staff the centers with volunteers (including some laid-off teachers) until the state Legislature approves a budget with preschool funding.

“Our feeling is if we allow the centers to close, they will never reopen,” Hitz said.

If you want to learn more — and vote — on this proposal, Hitz invites you to an Oakland Parents Together meeting at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Santa Fe CDC, 5380 Adeline St. in North Oakland. School district staff will be there, he said.

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A giant PTA for Oakland schools

Remember the discussion last fall about fundraising inequities in Oakland schools? Some, including Oakland school board member Jody London, said they thought there should be a better way for parents and other interested Oaklanders to support public education in a broader sense (rather than just school-by-school). 

Inspired by those discussions, a new group aims to bring together families, parents and businesses from all neighborhoods to share resources and know-how. The group has also created a wiki, a website where you can post events, resources and emergency needs yourself. You can find it here.

Want to learn more about it? The first meeting takes place from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Sequoia Elementary School, 3730 Lincoln Ave. Babysitting and translation will be provided; organizers ask that you RSVP with those details at sowingseeds@hotmail.com.

In what ways do you think a coalition like this holds the most promise? How would you like to see it work?