“Everybody in the district had me in jail”

Norris Cooper, a custodian at Webster Academy, tells us about the humiliation he experienced last week when he was detained by police at school in a burglary investigation that led to the arrests of three other janitors. Cooper has not been implicated. -Katy

I was taking out the garbage at Webster Academy Sept. 8 when a police officer approached and asked if I were Norris Cooper. He said that there was a problem here, and that I knew about the problem, was a part of the problem, or could help them solve the problem.

I asked what the problem was, and he said it was computer theft. He then told me to step around the corner of the building and asked, “Where are the computers?” When I said that I knew nothing about the computers, he said that my fellow co-workers were “singing on me like birds.” Then he walked away as another officer approached. This second officer asked if I were on probation, if I had any outstanding warrants, and when was the last time I had been arrested. I told him that I was not on probation, had no warrants, and had never been arrested. He then said I was going to spend a long time in Santa Rita. I told him that I would not be spending any time in Santa Rita, and he walked away.

A third officer then approached and asked if I were Norris Cooper. He asked if I had any Oakland Unified property in my house, and I told him that I didn’t. He asked if he could see for himself, and I told him that he could if he had a search warrant. He wanted to know why would he need a search warrant if I had nothing to hide. Eventually, I agreed to sign a consent form to allow them to search my house.

That afternoon, I was placed into a squad car — in front of the school, with teachers, parents, administrators, and students Continue Reading


More on the custodians in custody

(New information has come to light! See the update below.)

Just last September, Sylvester Jack Lawson was one of 70-some Oakland school district employees who received an Expect Success award, honored for “for exemplifying the highest commitment to the success of our students and our district.”

Today, the 52-year-old Oakland High School custodian, who’s been a district employee for 15 years, stands accused of stealing district property, and even taking a kid’s lost wallet. He was formally charged today, and appears in court tomorrow.

Then there’s Kenneth Wayne Hill, 43, a janitor at Webster Academy in East Oakland. He had a 2005 felony conviction (smuggling Continue Reading


Grass Valley mourns the loss of veteran teacher

Room 4 at Grass Valley Elementary School seems awfully empty this year.

Deidria Etheridge — a third-grade teacher known by friends and family as Dee — suffered a heart attack and stroke just three days before the start of school. She died Aug. 26, at age 59.

I stopped by Grass Valley this week to learn more about Etheridge, since she had taught there for more than 20 years.

After hearing the stories, I have to say that I wish I could have met her. Continue Reading


Oakland’s new middle school administrator

When I reported on the departures of Harriet MacLean and Fred Brill, the two OUSD administrators who supervised Oakland’s middle schools, I neglected to mention MacLean’s replacement: Gia Truong. (I also didn’t tell you that yet another “network executive officer,” Donald Evans, left for a job in Compton. That’s four out of the eight nexos.)

Truong was the principal at Urban Promise Academy, a district middle school in the Fruitvale area, for the last four years. She must have been appointed after the initial list of incoming and outgoing principals was compiled, since the school didn’t appear on the list. I’ve asked for an update.

Here’s the announcement that went out to district staff in July: Continue Reading


Oakland administrator named Lafayette supe

Oakland Unified proved an solid stepping stone for Fred Brill, a network executive officer who supervised half the district’s middle schools for the last two years and helped design the Alternative Learning Community.

The Lafayette school board is expected to announce tonight that Brill — former principal of Lafayette’s Stanley Middle School — will be the district’s new superintendent. Lafayette has about 3,000 students, and five schools.

I always enjoyed my interviews with Brill. He struck me as a high energy, enthusiastic and straightforward guy who could serve up a good quote. The hiring committee at the Lafayette School District probably thought so too (except, maybe, for the quotability part).

Here’s a blurb that’s running tomorrow in our sister paper, the Contra Costa Times: Continue Reading


Student activism in the 21st Century


It may not be the ’60s anymore, but we students are still out there protesting.

On Wednesday, ten students from Skyline High School who are members of the Global Awareness In Action Club (www.globalawarenessinaction.com) attended the protest of the Olympic Torch in San Francisco. These students, including myself, had all been learning about the situation in Tibet recently, and felt compelled to attend the protest on behalf of Tibetans all around the world. Teachers and parents were incredibly supportive of this.

I am aware that this story has been very controversial in the news lately. I would like to make it clear that we students felt very strongly about the Human Rights Violations going on in Tibet, but we are not in any way against the Olympics, the Olympians, or the Chinese people. They have our support.

It would be very difficult to explain the experience I had at this protest to anyone who wasn’t there. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that to be condescending, all I mean is that it was overwhelming, incredible, fantastic, a bit nerve-racking, and a great learning experience. Continue Reading


Sobrante Park’s principal will stay put


Marco Franco, the well-regarded principal of East Oakland’s Sobrante Park Elementary School, told his staff today that he will keep his job, and that he will be back in the fall.

In February, Franco learned that he might be assigned to another school or fired over a February confrontation with two reportedly aggressive parents. His teachers formed an ad hoc committee in his support and wrote letters to district staff urging them to reconsider. (Read the blog post.)

According to Continue Reading


Will OUSD fire one of its star principals?

star.jpgLast week, I went to Sobrante Park Elementary School to see how its teachers — including one of the district’s teachers of the year — do literacy. Oakland’s chief academic officer arranged the visit, and I wasn’t surprised that he chose that particular school.

Sobrante Park, in East Oakland, is one of the few Oakland schools that has dug its way out of NCLB’s Program Improvement watch list. Its success at raising the test scores of its mostly low-income, Latino and African-American students was documented in a case study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform. The Christian Science Monitor wrote about it last year.

But I hear the school might lose its popular principal, Marco Franco, over a Feb. 19 confrontation with two parents who are said to have shoved him and threatened to harm him.

According to a letter signed by Franco’s supporters, police investigated the incident and “recommended that the family be moved to another school, which Mr. Franco and the staff supported as a sensible step to avoid future violence from the family.”

Instead, Franco learned that he might be fired, demoted or transferred to another school, said David Draheim, an attorney and the husband of Sobrante Park teacher Roberta Draheim. The Draheims and others formed an Ad Hoc Committee in Support of Marco Franco and Sobrante Park Elementary School and have written several letters, which they’ve sent to school and city officials. Continue Reading


Chris Rodriguez is out of ICU, starting therapy


Update: The benefit concert is from 2-7 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 10) at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave. More information can be found here.

Christopher Rodriguez is in good spirits, is recovering more quickly than expected and has left the intensive care unit of Children’s Hospital-Oakland. The 10-year-old now spends part of his day in a wheelchair and, according to his mom, is trying to do “wheelies.”

“He has not cried. He’s taken everything as a champ,” his dad said.

Christopher, who was critically injured and paralyzed by a stray bullet that sailed through the wall of his music school Jan. 10, knows he won’t be able to walk for years, at least, his father said. Continue Reading