Sustenance in the classroom

Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, a special education teacher at ASCEND school in Fruitvale, wrote this piece about a recipe writing project her students recently completed. -Katy

photo courtesy of Kathryn Fishman-Weaver

My grandmother used to tell me a Jewish proverb that “worries go down better with soup.” It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. I am talking to my student Isaiah’s grandmother. I am worried about a bureaucratic decision that I think is under-serving students. Just as my own grandmother would have done, Isaiah’s grandma starts baking for me.

In my multicultural classroom, our common love of food is often a point of connection. In fact some of my sweetest memories as a teacher are of eating with my students and their families: Christian’s mom’s surprise strawberry chalkboard cake; cooking Thanksgiving lunch with my students in our community kitchen, slurping up melting popsicles on the play yard with 20-plus extended family members at a spring party; sipping creamy chocolate with seven-year-olds on the morning of Day of the Dead; an eclectic gratitude potluck that included spaghetti, fried chicken, banana bread, enchiladas, the best flautas ever, and orange soda.

Just as I bring apples and honey to share with my students each Rosh Hoshana, I also bring to the classroom a passion for the written word. Our most recent writing project, a cookbook, combines these two forms of sustenance. Continue Reading


Tilden: another ed experiment cut short?

photo of Tilden classroom by Sean Donnelly/Oakland Tribune

Tilden School is a fascinating study in special education — and, more broadly, in promising and potentially short-lived Oakland school district experiments. You can find today’s Tribune story here.

Tonight, the board is expected to vote to close the 125-student elementary school (a plan that might entail relocating its students to one of six different schools) at the end of the 2009-10 year because of facilities and enrollment concerns. It was originally slated to close this June, but parents quickly organized and pushed for another year to craft a stronger plan with more community input, which two board subcommittees approved.

One of the school’s biggest challenges Continue Reading


Time to act

Brian Blaisch, a pediatrician and the parent of an autistic 6-year-old, writes about the challenges he has faced advocating for his child in the Oakland public schools. — Katy

photo of Dr. Brian Blaisch and his son, Jackson, courtesy of Blaisch

I’m used to writing as a physician, not as a parent. I’m a pediatrician in Oakland who has devoted my career to working with the underserved children of our community. But as I come to realize that I’ve done a better job of helping and advocating for my patients and families than my own child, I find myself at a crossroad.

Although I specialize in caring for children with developmental, learning, and behavior issues, I was caught completely off guard when my now 6½ year-old son, Jackson, started developing classic symptoms of autism at around 1 ½ years of age.  What was surprising and disappointing was that when we finally got past our denial and asked for help with diagnosis and treatment, help was and continues to be difficult to find. Continue Reading


The federal stimulus and California schools

With the failure of state lawmakers to close a budget deal over Presidents Day weekend — one that was thought to have enough votes to pass — California, as a New York Times reporter put it, “appears headed off the fiscal rails.”

Scary stuff, but at least our state and its schools are expected to receive a chunk of money from the feds. Under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, which Obama is expected to sign today, the Oakland school district could receive roughly Continue Reading


Creative Use of Jargon 101

I referred to the closure of Tilden School in a post last week, but you won’t find that term on tomorrow night’s Teaching and Learning Committee agenda. You see, what district staffers have in store for Tilden is actually a “Restructuring of Instructional Program and Redesignation of Facilities.”

I know I keep harping on the dearth of plain English coming out of the central office, but I just don’t understand the purpose behind all of this jargon. Would any concerned parent see the Tilden agenda item and think: “Oh, my special needs child might have to go to a different school next year, but that’s OK, because her school isn’t being closed. It’s just being redesignated”? Continue Reading


Tilden Elementary School faces closure

photo from Tilden’s Web site

Tilden Elementary School might close in June.

OUSD staff have determined that the district can’t afford to complete the repairs necessary to make the school — which offers 16 special education programs — clean and safe, said district spokesman Troy Flint. Last year, I wrote about the lack of a functioning alarm and intercom system at Tilden. Flint said the school’s uneven terrain also creates access problems.

Tilden’s closure isn’t official, yet. The recommendation goes before the Teaching and Learning Committee on Tuesday night, and the Facilities Committee on Wednesday night — and then before the full board in March. Some parents are fighting to save the school rather than see their children splinter off into four schools: Bella Vista, Burckhalter, Brookfield and Howard.

Christa Dahlstrom, a Tilden parent, wrote about the closure today in her blog, Hyperlexicon: Continue Reading


Do school districts need more flexibility?

image from Ingorrr’s photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons

If you’ve been following news about the state education budget, you’ve probably been hearing the term “flexibility” quite a bit. At a press conference yesterday, Oakland’s interim superintendent, Roberta Mayor, asked for more of it — minutes before a state PTA representative spoke out against it. (You know you’ve got a contentious issue on your hands when clashing appeals emerge from a joint publicity event.)

But what is budget flexibility, exactly, and what might it mean for California schools? 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


New principal tries to break up PTA

Some Tilden Elementary School parents were dismayed this week to learn that their new principal, Rachelle Sallee, wanted no part of the school’s PTA.

In a rather abrupt e-mail to parent Steve Asztalos and other PTA members, Sallee announced that she planned to disband the existing parent group and create a new one that would focus on “fundraising and community engagement.”

Date: Tuesday, October 7, 2008, 8:03 AM
Dear Steve,
As the administrator of Tilden, I am selecting NOT to have
a PTA this year. I have established another group that will be
working towards fundraising and community engagement.


Rachelle Sallee
Tilden Elementary School
Oakland Unified School District
(510) 879-1560

Tilden serves a large number of disabled children, and parents had worked closely with the previous principal, Joslin Johnson, to address safety issues (such as an evacuation plan and the lack of a coordinated alarm system), Asztalos said.

“It’s a rather stunning development,” he said. Continue Reading