Some girls are mean (and violent). Anything new?

Teresa Williams, the principal of Oakland’s Bret Harte Middle School, said it seems like a brochure for some “Mean Girls” conference crosses her desk at least once a week.

Williams hasn’t attended such a seminar yet, but her school experienced a real-life example Nov. 7, when a seventh-grader was jumped at lunchtime by another girl — and then by two or three of that young woman’s friends. 

The 13-year-old girl, who had transferred to Bret Harte from another Oakland school this year, suffered head, neck and arm injuries and spent at least two nights at Children’s Hospital Oakland. She did not belong to a gang, Williams said, but one of the suspected attackers claimed there was a Norteño/Sureño conflict at play.

The girl who apparently instigated the beating is awaiting an expulsion hearing and “most likely will not return,” Williams said.  (That girl and the victim are Latina, and the others are African-American, according to the principal.)

The victim probably won’t return to Bret Harte, either — or any other Oakland school, for that matter. Her family apparently plans to move to Guatemala.

“That’s what’s sad,” Williams said, adding that many of her students were upset by what happened. Continue Reading


Oakland’s new alternative school: a haven or a dumping ground?

Principal Dennis Guikema talks with students in the yard.

Staff at Oakland’s new alternative middle school have learned many things this year, through trial and error. But, perhaps above all, they came away with this: When you put 90 adolescents with educational, emotional and/or behavioral challenges under one roof, you’d better be ready for them. Really ready.

But the Alternative Learning Community wasn’t. Continue Reading


Berkeley school deals with charges of racism

You may have seen today’s story by Doug Oakley, my Bay Area News Group colleague, about accusations of racism at Berkeley’s Oxford Elementary School. Oxford is located in a predominately white area of Berkeley, and a number of children are bused in from other areas as part of the school district’s racial integration policy (See the school’s demographic breakdown here).

Two families have yanked their children from the school since January, apparently because they felt their kids were in a hostile environment:

“I recently pulled my kid out of Oxford right before spring break,” said Kim Oliver. “There has been so much blatant inequity on campus and in the classroom that I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Oliver and other parents told Oakley that they believe black children are disciplined more harshly Continue Reading


Is bullying inevitable?

irodriguez21.jpgAbout a month ago Katy posted a blog about Zachary Cataldo, a first-grader at Piedmont Avenue Elementary who was severely hurt by another student. This brought up the issue of bullying, a topic that my English class has been studying extensively for the past month.

Our assignment was to research the topic, come up with a solution (in this case a code of conduct, which is lacking at Skyline) and then present to various groups throughout the school (parents, teachers, students, faculty).

We presented last Wednesday and Thursday in groups of about 5, and now that I am more knowledgeable on the subject, I thought I’d share.

One thing I learned through this project is that bullying is hard to define and identify. My group presented to teachers and one point we discussed was that although bullying is obviously a problem at Skyline, it is hard to differentiate between bullying and “playing around” specifically in the hallways during passing period. The type of bullying I am speaking about and the type that is most common at Skyline is “sexual bullying” or sexual harassment. Continue Reading


Rockridge neighborhood patrol

windshield.jpgFor all of the progress I’ve been hearing about at Claremont Middle School, it sounds like a handful of kids are giving it a bad name in the neighborhood — most recently, by flashing a gun on their way home from school.

Below is an e-mail string between Kate Fitzgerald, a homeowner who apparently spotted a group of kids with a gun last Friday, and David Chambliss, principal of Claremont Middle School.

This isn’t the first I’ve heard of friction between Claremont kids and neighbors. Earlier this year, my editor handed me a copy of a letter that Jan Christensen-Heller, of the Christensen Heller Gallery on College Avenue, wrote to the manager of Trader Joe’s. She had met him at Claremont’s Community Day, and urged him to adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy with shoplifting.

“I really love it here,” Christensen-Heller wrote. “However, the aggressive behavior Continue Reading


Handcuffs can get smaller than you’d think

minihandcuffs.jpgIn January, I blogged about a middle school boy who was handcuffed at Montera Middle School. I thought that was pretty young.

How about 5 years old?

A mom recently called to report that a security officer cuffed her son to a chair at an elementary school in North Oakland. (She’s not sure for how long.)

The mother told me that the officer said he had been unable to control her son, who had been screaming and throwing a tantrum, and that he later apologized to her for what happened.  “My goal is to Continue Reading


The safety factor

After I returned from an education reporters’ conference and caught up on the follow-up coverage of the Piedmont Avenue Elementary School incident, I was struck by the ending quote in Erik Nelson’s story:

Parents at the school have worked hard to convince community residents the school is safe and worthy of sending their children to instead of private school, said Dave and Caitlin Martindale, who have a kindergartener at the school.

“It’s hopefully not going to set things back,” Dave Martindale said, adding, “but people believe what they read in the newspapers.”

I live near Piedmont Avenue — where BayWolf diners enjoy braised duck and wine pairings (around the corner from the revving bikes in front of Egbert Souse’s dive bar), and where Cesar patrons sip cocktails over pricey tapas dishes.

Continue Reading


Are schools doing enough to stop bullying?


When Zachary Cataldo’s daycare provider picked him up after school on Monday at Piedmont Avenue Elementary in North Oakland, she found him lying on the ground; an older kid had apparently slammed the 7-year-old into a tree, and he was too dizzy to stand up, according to Zachary’s aunt, Janine Cataldo.

Zachary was admitted to the intensive care unit of Children’s Hospital-Oakland with a fractured skull and was released last night, Cataldo said.

It wasn’t the first time the boy said he was attacked at school. Cataldo said her nephew’s front teeth were knocked out last year, when he was in kindergarten, and that he has been a regular target for bullies. 

“It’s not just bullying, it’s violent bullying,” Cataldo told me over the phone today. Continue Reading


Cut school, pay $250

skippingschool21.jpgOn the average day, as many as 4,000 Oakland kids (out of more than 40,000 public school chidren) are out of school, according to an analysis by the Oakland Think Tank, an independent local group which has identified truancy as the city’s number one problem.

The OTT has urged the school district and various city and county agencies to create a special program that looks at short-term and long-term fixes. Read its truancy resolution here.

Of course, Oakland isn’t the only community dealing with the effects of chronic school-skippers. In fact, the Oceanside Police Department has recently unveiled an idea of its own to stem truancy in the San Diego-area city (school district enrollment: 21,000).

According to the Associated Press, Oceanside cops want the authority to fine truants and order them to do community service. As of now, as I understand it, police have two options for kids who ditch class: Detain them or take them back to school.

How well do you think such a fine would work in Oakland — or anywhere else, for that matter? What solutions would you put forward?

Here is the AP story: Continue Reading


Handcuffing kids: When is it justified?

handcuffs.jpgI realize that headline sounds like a Nancy Grace special, but in the last 24 hours, I’ve heard about two cases — one in Oakland and one in San Jose — in which kids under 15 were handcuffed at school.

Are these isolated incidents, or do they happen more than the public (and certain members of the press) knows about?

Oakland case: At the school board meeting last night, the parents of a former Montera Middle School student spoke out about the time their son was restrained by a security officer.

According to the district’s account, the boy was sent to the office after disrupting the class. When a security guard and an assistant principal tried to take him into a conference room, the boy physically tried to prevent the AP from unlocking the door, and the security officer cuffed him.

District officials say the incident Continue Reading