A charter debate to watch, at your own risk

UPDATE: I’ve just learned that the debate has been postponed — not sure why.

Tribune file photos of Ben Chavis and Yvette Felarca

Let’s just say that when I chose my furlough dates last month, I had no idea that the below event would be happening in the middle of my time away.

Ben Chavis, the infamously temperamental, “Bay Area liberals”-loathing former director of the American Indian Public Charter Schools is taking on Yvette Felarca, a likewise outspoken leader of BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights And Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary) and her colleague, Shanta Driver, in a debate about charter schools.

I wonder if OUSD is taking any additional security precautions. Continue Reading


“Keep up the good work”

At his Tribune retirement party the other month, Bill Brand told me he’d start posting comments on this blog, now that he was no longer a colleague, but I don’t think he ever did. He said he actually found the site interesting, which I took as high praise.

Bill was a reporter and a beer blogger and, when I first started at the paper, he edited copy on Friday nights. He used to go out of his way to let me know when he liked something I had written. Then he’d shake his head and say how boring he found most articles about education.

Yesterday, I dug up an email Bill wrote me about a year ago. He had just read one of my pieces, which shall remain unnamed. “Fascinating, horrible, depressing,” he wrote. “Keep up the good work.”

He died early yesterday morning, almost two weeks after he was hit by a Muni train in San Francisco. Angela Hill wrote a humorous and touching obituary about him, which I thought I’d post. You can read it here.


Blogs for teachers

Kafi Payne taught Spanish at EXCEL High School at McClymonds before taking a job in the Oakland school district’s new teacher support department. Payne posts the latest workshops, free supplies and Web resources, as well as discussion topics, on a new blog called, “So you want to be a teacher in Oakland?”

For national perspectives, there’s Ed Week’s Teacher Beat, which today has a post about proposed teacher tenure reforms in Ohio, Florida and D.C.

And if you’re in the mood for something mindless and silly, check out education blogger Alexander Russo’s post today of the “20 hottest education folks of 2009.” It’s titled Hot…for Education 2009. I didn’t nominate anyone, I swear, but Russlynn Ali did make the top 20, and there’s a San Francisco school board member in there, too.

photo of Kafi Payne from her teachers blog


More turmoil in the Skyline principal’s office

The principalship at Oakland’s largest high school is notorious for its political challenges. It’s no place for beginners. But from what I’ve heard, Skyline High School‘s various factions have embraced Al Sye, a veteran administrator — and the latest in a string of people to inhabit the principal’s office.

Recently, however, Sye became the subject of a central office investigation, and it remains to be seen how long he’ll stay at Skyline, or whether he’ll return for a second year. Chris Dobbins, a school board member who represents the high school, said Sye is off for two weeks, but didn’t say why.

What happened? Continue Reading


Metamorphosis. Ophthalmologist. Surveillance.

One of my good friends studies ophthalmology, and I learned just the other week that I was at least two letters away from spelling her field correctly in my mind. The first `h’ and the first `l’ really threw me for a loop. 

Those two consonants didn’t faze Trinh Huynh, of Westlake Middle School. Trinh took first place in the middle school division of the OUSD Spelling Bee with that very word. Linnea Gullikson, of Joaquin Miller, won the elementary division with “metamorphosis.” (Hopefully I’m spelling these words right. Writing about a spelling bee can really set you up for public humiliation…)

Anyone take photos at the event? Just send them to kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Here is a list of the winners of the 2009 OUSD Spelling Bee, and their schools. The top five will advance to the county bee: Continue Reading


Obama taps Russlynn Ali for civil rights post

President Obama announced today that he would nominate Russlynn Ali to be the assistant secretary for civil rights at the United States Department of Education.

Ali is vice president of Education Trust, a civil rights and education advocacy group. She also directs its Oakland-based partner, Education Trust-West, so she’s endured a number of interviews with me.

In case you were wondering, Ed Trust supports the “results-based accountability” of No Child Left Behind as a way to narrow the racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. Continue Reading


Racketeering in OUSD?

I admit it: The more I learn about the Bryant & Brown law firm controversy, the more confused I become.

As I reported in today’s Trib, the Oakland school district filed a federal lawuit against the small Oakland law firm (pictured here), alleging racketeering, fraud, theft of public funds — you name it.

What I didn’t realize until recently was that Deb Cooksey — who led the Bryant & Brown investigation for OUSD until she resigned (her last day was Friday) — was once a close friend of Meredith Brown and Guy Bryant. Continue Reading


Your new school board prez

School board meetings can be painfully long, but they promise not to be dry, bureaucratic affairs this year. That’s because today at Oakland City Hall, the board elected Alice Spearman its new president.

Spearman is not one to tip-toe around the issues. I’ve watched her chest bump a teacher who insulted her (at a televised meeting); cross-examine an eighth-grade KIPP student about her high school selection process; accuse a fellow board member of racism; and, most recently, chide parents for taking advantage of the district’s school choice policies, rather than opting for their neighborhood school. Continue Reading


Here to stay

Cliff Hong, an assistant principal and new teacher coach at Oakland’s Edna Brewer Middle School, is one of 20 young teachers and administrators from across the country this year to be honored as an Emerging Leader by Phi Delta Kappa International.

In a podcast interview posted on the organization’s Web site, Hong said that he quit law school after one year and went into teaching — first as a Teach for America newbie in the South Bronx, and later as an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Brewer.

“I haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Hong said he fully intends to stay in Oakland Unified for his entire career — eventually as a school principal, but no higher up the chain — and that he encourages new teachers to put down roots as well by emphasizing the impact they can have in an urban school district. Continue Reading


First the furor, then the silence

Tim White, left, showed Interim Superintendent Roberta Mayor around the district in July, when she first arrived in Oakland. About three months later, Mayor apparently asked White to resign, before changing her mind. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO by Alison Yin

Not long ago, Oakland Unified’s assistant superintendent and facilities director Tim White thought he was out of a job.

According to White, an internal investigation into legal, construction-related contracts with the Bryant & Brown law firm initially concluded that he had entered into those agreements without the approval of the board or the state administrator, and he was asked to resign.

But White said that as soon as he showed Interim Superintendent Roberta Mayor the board minutes (which are posted online, for public access) that showed otherwise, the pressure suddenly lifted.

About two weeks ago, White said, he got a letter from the district saying that he failed to catch $20,000 in duplicate billing by the law firm, but that was it.

Now, he said, it’s almost like nothing ever happened. Except that it did. Continue Reading