Meet the new CFO for Oakland schools

On Monday, Vernon E. Hal will replace Leon Glaster as the Oakland school district’s chief financial officer. Unlike many of the school system’s top officials, he has deep roots in the school district — as a resident, an OUSD grad and a former district administrator.

Between 1990 and 2000, Hal served in the Oakland school district as controller; assistant superintendent for business services and operations; and associate superintendent for business services, according to information provided by the district.

He was there during the five-week teachers strike of 1996, and left in 2000, the same year former Superintendent Dennis Chaconas came on board. Continue Reading


Top-level OUSD staffer leaves for the Island

Oakland’s search for a permanent superintendent is underway, but Kirsten Vital — an associate superintendent and the district’s Chief of Community Accountability — won’t stick around to see her fourth boss in three years.

Vital has been tapped to run the nearby 10,000-student Alameda school district, replacing retiring Superintendent Ardella Dailey.

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The First Family’s school search

I found an interesting column today in the The Root, an online magazine that features black perspectives on the news of the day, about the Obama family’s search for a new school for Sasha and Malia.

The author, Meera Bowman-Johnson, writes:

Most parents struggle with where to send their kids to school. But the decision can be especially agonizing for upwardly mobile black parents. There are worries about low expectations from teachers and peer pressure to value coolness over studiousness. Inevitable accusations of “acting white.” Then there’s an extra pressure to ensure that your children Continue Reading


Dispatch from Washington: Election Night tension

Raven Tarrance, a 16-year-old from East Oakland who is serving as a page for the House of Representatives, wrote this essay about watching the presidential election returns in Washington, D.C. with pages representing both parties. -Katy

November 4, 2008: the Election Day that would make history. This was the day that every person, young or old, had the right to let their voice be heard and vote. But the person that made the day so special was Barack Obama, the African American presidential candidate.

My classmates and I watched CNN anxiously while waiting for the results. Obama T-shirts and signs filled the room. As the room overflowed with pages, you could feel the tension rise between the two parties. Harmless teasing turned into candidate bashing. Continue Reading


Denied: new American Indian charter school

The five local schools that use the American Indian Public Charter model might be among the highest-scoring public middle and high schools in Oakland (not to mention the state), but tonight, the state administrator stopped a new one from opening.

David Montes de Oca, Oakland’s charter schools director, was careful to say that his recommendation to deny the charter petition “is not a condemnation of the American Indian Public Charter School model or its schools — far from it.”

The problem, Montes de Oca said, was Continue Reading


More allegations, more documents

Today, I lugged a tall stack of papers out of 1025 Second Avenue. In response to a public records request, the school district released hundreds of documents related to its investigation of payments to the Bryant & Brown law firm (most of which came from construction bond money, for work with facilities projects).

Among them was a letter written by Deborah Cooksey, the district’s general counsel, to Meredith Brown, of Bryant & Brown. It accuses the firm of a number of things, including:

  • charging OUSD multiple times for the same work ($50,929)
  • mismanaging a “routine” case with an electrical company by taking it to court, rather than negotiating — and losing ($722,268)
  • copying and pasting City of Piedmont forms, making minor changes for a Waste Management contract, and billing OUSD $51,000 for the drafting work
  • refusing to cooperate with the General Counsel’s office

Cooksey also writes that Brown tried to get school board president David Kakishiba to call off the investigation, and that she contacted Gary Yee as well. Continue Reading


Meet Oakland’s 2008 teachers of the year

As OUSD tries to recruit more local teaching talent, it’s only fitting that Herman Brown (left), a math teacher at West Oakland’s Cole Middle School, was named an Oakland Teacher of the Year for 2008.

Brown, a 33-year teaching veteran, wasn’t just born and raised in West Oakland; he lives so close to Cole that he walks to work in the morning, Principal Ivory Brooks said.

Brooks said Brown is a mentor to many at the school. “He is really an inspiration to the other teachers,” he said.

Oakland’s other teacher of the year is Karen Pezzetti, who teaches 12th-grade English at Youth Empowerment School in East Oakland. Pezzetti has been teaching for six years, has a master’s degree in education, and still loves her job. Here’s what she wrote about it:

“Ultimately, I am excited to wake up each morning. Continue Reading


D.C. chancellor shakes up teacher firing policy

Michelle Rhee, the new chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s public schools, made a name for herself last year by announcing plans to fire 100 central office administrators and close 23 schools. Before her appointment, Rhee had never run a school, herself. But at age 37, she was picked by Mayor Adrian Fenty to reform a low-performing school district legendary for its bureaucracy.

The Washington Post reports today that Rhee has announced that she will bypass union negotiations and impose her own program to fire ineffective teachers if they don’t improve in 90 days.

Teacher evaluations will now be based mainly on test scores and other achievement data, according to the Post story: Continue Reading


Harris takes leave of absence from D.C. job

Phyllis Harris, Oakland’s former special education chief, left OUSD last fall to head up the special education department in Washington, D.C. schools.

”It’s an opportunity to change the special education system in the national capital, which has some improving to do,” she told me at the time.

I don’t know what kind of changes Harris made, but the Washington Post reported that Harris took a sudden leave of absence this month, and that a spokeswoman for Chancellor Michelle Rhee denied a report in The Washington Teacher blog that Harris had been fired.

Two weeks before Harris took her leave, a federal judge reprimanded the D.C. district for failing to make progress on a court order to better serve children with disabilities, the Post reported.

The Post quoted U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman as saying, “My fundamental problem here is the lack of accountability, lack of coordination, Continue Reading


Meet new principal Carin Geathers

I met Carin Geathers in July at a summer school program at Fruitvale Elementary School. She said she had seen the Trib’s series on rookie teacher Andy Kwok, and jokingly suggested I document her first year as principal of Burckhalter Elementary School — “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Here’s a short video I made of Geathers on the first day at school. You can find the story here.

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