Happy Earth Day!

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

I visited Peralta Elementary School in North Oakland this week to see how they are using the arts to teach children about the environment. A story about it ran in Saturday’s paper.

Below, you’ll find the “Miraculous Fungi” animation last year’s fourth-graders produced with their teachers to explain the concept of micromediation. (Normally, I’d explain such a term myself, but I’d rather let the students tell you how it works.) Next on the list: native bees.

You can view the other animation projects here.

What does your school do to promote environmental stewardship?


CA lawmakers reconsidering `zero-tolerance’ student discipline laws

As we reported in a story this week about the number of California school kids who received an out-of-school suspension in a single school year, the state’s public schools are required, by law, to suspend or expel kids who are caught selling drugs, brandishing a knife, possessing a firearm or explosive, or sexually assaulting someone.

Assembly Bill 2537, introduced by Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella) — as introduced  — would remove that requirement, with the exception of the firearm and explosives offenses. In essence, the legislation would leave it up to school officials to decide on the appropriate disciplinary action. It would also lift a requirement that principals report illegal activities to legal authorities; the failure to do so now constitutes an infraction.

Lastly, it requires a governing board’s decision to expel a student to be based not only on the act, itself, but on the grounds that “other means of correction are not feasible or have repeatedly failed to bring about proper conduct.”

A vote on this bill is scheduled for next week.

Another bill, AB 2242, from Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) would remove “defiance” as grounds for an out-of-school suspension (but would still allow schools to place students under a supervised in-school suspension as a consequence for willfully defying authority). The Associated Press reported last week that 40 percent of California school suspensions are given for that reason.

Dickinson’s bill passed out of the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday (7-3 vote) and heads next to Appropriations.

Do you support either of these bills?

A statement from Perez’s office: Continue Reading


Students to debate charters, criminal justice

Bay Area Urban Debate League
High school debater Kwodwo Moore (center). Photo by Ray Chavez/Staff

On Thursday, after you come to the Tribune’s public forum on high school reform and teaching in Oakland, you’ll still have plenty of time to head across town to a different — and decidedly younger — discussion about education and teenagers.

Charter schools and criminal justice are the subjects of debate at the 6-7:30 p.m. Bay Area Urban Debate League event at the St. Augustine Episcopal Church (not to be confused with the Catholic church on Alcatraz) on 29th Street and Telegraph.

Dmitri Seals, the league’s director, says his hard-working orators have been practicing three times a week for this moment, and that “they are ready to electrify the crowd.”

Admission to the debate, titled “Waiting for Superman,” is free. You can RSVP on Facebook or to dseals@baudl.org.

Here are the big questions the debaters will tackle: Continue Reading


Tribune forum on March 29: Join us!

On Thursday, March 29, the Oakland Tribune is holding a public forum to delve into the issue that has elicited more than 150 comments on this blog: the Oakland school district’s decision to create a new teaching position on three of its high school campuses, and to require even current teachers to apply for the job if they want to stay.

I’ll be moderating the panel discussion. We’ll have a Q & A section at the end, so bring your insights and questions. You’re also welcome to post them here, if you can’t make it. I hope to see you there!

WHEN: 3:30 to 5:15 p.m. Thursday, March 29
WHERE: 81st Avenue branch of the Oakland Public Library, 1021 81st Ave. (at Rudsdale)
CONFIRMED PANELISTS: Superintendent Tony Smith; Oakland Education Association President Betty Olson-Jones; Castlemont (EOSA) teacher Timothy Bremner; Fremont (Media Academy) teacher Howard Ruffner; Fremont (Media Academy) student Diego Garcia


The Oakland school district might be finished downsizing

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

I meant to post this story sooner: OUSD’s school closure process — which was supposed to last for two to three years and shrink the district by 20-30 schools — will likely stop after the first round, when the district is a dozen schools smaller than it was last fall.

District officials say the target changed because they are projecting a balanced budget for 2012-13, one without a structural deficit for the first time in more than a decade. You can find the story through the above link and read up on the district’s latest budget report here. The financial report will be presented at tomorrow night’s 5 p.m. board meeting.

P.S. Some have asked whether, in light of this development, OUSD will once again use adult education funding for adult education. California school districts are now — at least, for the time being — allowed to use the once-protected funding stream for any purpose, and many have spent it on k-12 programs. OUSD eliminated its large high school diploma program and its adult ESL classes, with the exception of Family Literacy, among others. I’ve submitted your queries; so far, however, I’ve heard no talk about rebuilding adult ed.

Two related school closure issues:

On March 28, the school board discusses what to do with the closed school buildings. OUSD spokesman Troy Flint said the district is considering moving the offices (including the Family and Community Office) now located on 2111 International to Lakeview Elementary, one of the five elementary schools slated to close in June.

UPDATE: Flint initially thought the future use of Lakeview and other closed school buildings was on the March 28 agenda, but it’s not. I’ll let you know when I find out more.

– Flint also confirmed what some have posted here on this blog: oversubscription of the high-performing Crocker Highlands Elementary School. Continue Reading


Team Awesome and Ice Cream Snails take on long-term problem synopses

Edna Brewer's Odyssey of the Mind team
Edna Brewer Middle School’s Odyssey Angels

Normally I try to synthesize and rewrite the information that people send me, but I so enjoyed reading these coaches’ descriptions of the international creative problem-solving contest called Odyssey of the Mind that I thought I’d share them with you. You can also find the “long-term problem synopses” for 2012 here.

First, from Steve Trowbridge, who coached an all-girls team from Oakland’s Edna Brewer Middle School (Brewer’s only team), which is pictured above.

Problem 5: Odyssey Angels
The Angel students with their special powers took on the evil Angels and saved the day for a community of hippies. The evil Angels were trying to cut down the sacred tree.

Roger B. Moore, a Glenview Elementary School dad, gave us this summary:

This year Glenview had 49 students participating on seven different teams, four at the Division I level (Grades 3-5) and three at the primary level (Grades K-2). At last Saturday’s regional tournament, each team did an eight-minute presentation on their “long term” problem and worked on an impromptu solution to a “spontaneous” problem. The four Division 1 teams worked on different problems:

  • The “Ooh-Motional Vehicle” team created and drove a working vehicle that could respond to commands and show human emotions.
  • The “Weird Science” team presented explorers on a scientific mission explaining the cause of mysterious events shown in a NASA photograph.
  • The all-girl “To Be Or Not To Be Team” put on a Hamlet-inspired musical comedy, in which playwright Wilma Shakespeare visited the future, argued with Stevie Jobs, and uncovered secrets of her past.
  • The “Odyssey Angels” team created a play in which a traveling group turns negative situations into positive ones.

Continue Reading


“We are Oakland International,” a graphic novel

"We Are Oakland" book cover

Students at Oakland International High School have come to California from all around the world — most of them, in the last few years. Through a project led by art teacher Thi Bui, the teenagers have told their stories in graphic novel form.

I wrote about this project in the fall of 2010; now the collection of stories is coming out in a book.

The book launch is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. tonight (Thursday) at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library, 125 14th St. The event is in the teen zone on the second floor.

Books are $25 — and, if you go, you’ll get a signed copy. You can also find it on Amazon.

Oakland International book release


The Oakland Way

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Discussions are underway for radically changing how things work for Oakland school district employees and the students they serve.

Like a good newspaper lede, the opening line of the below human resources document makes you want to keep on reading — despite the fact that it’s an HR document.

“Current OUSD Human Resource practices are failing children,” it begins.

The ideas put forth in the discussion paper embedded below are comprehensive and wide-ranging, from strengthening relationships with local teacher colleges to creating “career ladders” for teachers, updating antiquated job classifications and lobbying state lawmakers make changes in the law with respect to labor rules.

One bullet point suggests that the district “assertively pursue separation for those whose service undermines the success of our children” — a topic that’s later couched, euphemistically, as a transition (i.e. helping ineffective staff find “future opportunities outside the district”).

The meeting was interesting too — more so than most, at least to me. The leaders of four different unions each had 12 minutes to contribute to the discussion. You can watch the video of the meeting here.

I’d give it a listen, especially to what Morris Tatum (AFSCME) and Mynette Theard (SEIU) had to say about the marginalization — and potential — of support staff, a topic that rarely surfaces at board meetings. If you really want to know what’s happening with the students, Tatum said, just ask the custodian. Both leaders said their members would like to be asked their opinions from time to time, or invited to meetings. (On the other hand, Tatum said, classified staff are often afraid to pipe up, worried their position will be cut.)

What do you think of this “discussion paper?” What ideas jump out to you?

The Oakland Way


Common state standards in math and English — a step forward?

By now, all but five states (Alaska, Texas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia) have adopted what’s known as Common Core State Standards for math and English, a common agreement of what students in the United States should know and be able to do in those subjects.

A Learning Matters blog post features differing views of what this major development might mean for the U.S. educational system — and whether the current system (each state having its own separate set of standards) really does lack focus. I thought you might find it interesting, and I’m curious to know what you’ve heard about this initiative and what questions you have about how it will work, in practice.

Continue Reading