Special education advocates press OUSD to hire more experienced teachers

In the last two years, teaching candidates from Oakland Teaching Fellows and Teach for America pretty much had a lock on all open special education positions in the Oakland school district.

All but three of the 70 new hires during that time period were teachers placed in Oakland schools through one of those two programs, according to a report the school district released today.

But district staff say in the report that is about to change:

This year, we made no job guarantees with OTF or TFA, so we’ll group partner program teachers and all external hires in same pool, so principals and program coordinators will be able to make the selection they deem the best fit.

The report (posted in full, below) was issued in response to a public records request from the local Community Advisory Council (CAC), which advocates for special needs children. The CAC has also questioned why the district’s in-house training and credentialing program for new special education teachers only admits interns — brand new teachers who are earning their credentials as they teach — rather than fully-credentialed general education teachers who want to make the switch.

District officials said OUSD’s special education training program is only accredited to work with intern teachers (half are from Oakland Teaching Fellows; half are from Teach for America), but that the idea of opening it up to experienced teachers “has enormous potential.”

The council is holding a meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at Metwest High School, 314 E. 10th St., to discuss OUSD’s strategic plan — and presumably, this report — with district staff.

Quick stats from the report, which includes some interesting charts and tables detailing retention rates of its teachers, by year and subject: Continue Reading


Next week at the Grand Lake: An Acquired Taste Film Festival

A Beautiful Thing. Image courtesy of Jake Mulliken, Bayhill High SchoolRomantic Comedy. Image courtesy of Jake Mulliken, Bayhill High School

An Acquired Taste Film festival — noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 24 at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater — will showcase an eclectic group of student-produced films: noir, horror, romantic comedy, comedic spoofs, surrealist films and documentaries.

You can check out the trailers for yourself, on the festival’s website.

Jake Mulliken’s film students at Bayhill High School, a nonpublic school in Oakland (off Lakeshore Avenue, near Lake Merritt) for students with language-based disabilities, made the movies and designed the festival, itself.

Continue Reading


Oakland teacher must leave her kids — and her life in the United States — behind

Bambi In February 2003 Bambi Rodriguez, a Filipina citizen with a master’s degree in special education, filled a special education position at Tilden School — one that that had been vacant for months.

Two weeks ago, she learned her application for permanent employment was denied based on the Department of Labor’s finding that there were enough U.S. workers qualified for her job.

Her work visa expires next week, and so she left as she came in: in the middle of the school year. We met Rodriguez Wednesday, on her last day at the Burbank Preschool Center, a program that migrated from Tilden after that school closed.

Here is the story about her case, and how it has affected Burbank families and teachers.


Oakland teacher wins national TFA award

Meg Stewart, Bret Harte Middle School teacher and Teach For America corps memberMeg Stewart, a second-year special education teacher at Bret Harte Middle School (East Oakland’s Laurel neighborhood), is one of four Teach For America members in the United States to win the Sue Lehmann Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Go Ms. Stewart! Way to represent Oakland.

Here’s the news release, which has more background about her classroom and the other TFA winners: Continue Reading


Big changes in Oakland’s special ed department

The Oakland school district’s special education department is about to undergo some serious staffing changes. Not only is its executive director, Lisa Ryan Cole, leaving, but so are elementary school coordinator Kimberly Noble and personnel coordinator Iris Wesselmann.

To top it off, all of the coordinators’ administrative assistants have been bumped into other jobs, according to Ryan Cole. (More on bumping — a huge issue right now — later.) “There are a lot of changes, and I want to believe they are going to be positive for the kids in this district,” she said.

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Tilden update: Can one shuttered school save another from closing?


Tribune file photo by Sean Donnelly

For well over a year, parents from Oakland’s Tilden School have cajoled, grilled and held district administrators to task about the future of the unique program, which serves children — many of them, with special needs — in preschool through third grade.

Tilden will close in June. Still, those behind the dogged effort to keep elements of the program alive have scored a substantial victory: a new preschool and special needs diagnostic center at the nearby Burbank campus. Most of Tilden’s students are in preschool. Continue Reading


OUSD’s former special ed director dies at 64

Phyllis HarrisAs some of you might have heard, Phyllis Harris, the Oakland school district’s former director of special education, has died. She was just 64, and passed away Dec. 15 “after a year-long battle with cancer,” according to her obituary, which was published last week.

Harris left OUSD in October of 2007 to become the Deputy Chancellor of Special Education in Washington, D.C. In September of 2008, she took a leave of absence. I believe she moved back to Oakland, where she died.

My condolences to her family.


How will OUSD use its special ed stimulus check?

They’ve got the cash. Now’s your chance to tell Oakland Unified how it should spend about $5.5 million of its one-time special education stimulus money.

Oakland’s Community Advisory Committee on special education has until tomorrow to give feedback on this proposal. Apparently there are two rules: No new staff can be hired with this money, and it must be spent within two years.

You’re welcome to give your feedback here, and to share it directly with the committee by sending an email to cacoakland@comcast.net.