Oakland school wins National Blue Ribbon award


Here’s some more good news: Peralta Elementary School in Rockridge is one of 21 public and private schools in California — and 305 in the United States — to be awarded the 2011 National Blue Ribbon from the United States Department of Education.

The school scored a 937 out of 1,000 points on the state’s Academic Performance Index this year. Its African-American students, who made up about 16 percent of the enrollment in 2010-11 (down from 66 percent percent in 2005-06), had an average API of 857. Latino students, about 12 percent of the students, had an API of 939, higher than the school average.

Peralta is the fourth public school in Oakland (and the second non-charter school) to be honored for academic excellence. Previous winners: Lincoln Elementary in Chinatown (2010), American Indian Public Charter School in the Laurel District (2007), Oakland Charter Academy in Fruitvale (2008).

Other Bay Area schools to earn this distinction in 2011 were James Leitch Elementary School in Fremont; Ulloa Elementary in San Francisco and Ruskin Elementary in San Jose.

You can find a list of winners here.


First day back

I love the first day of school, but the parents at Oakland’s Grass Valley Elementary put my enthusiasm to shame this morning. You can see the PTA moms (and Dad’s Club dads) in action in a video I took of my visit, which will soon be posted to this Tribune story.

Some Oakland schoolchildren didn’t have such a stellar first day, through no fault of their their own or anyone at their schools. A manhunt in East Oakland led to an afternoon emergency lockdown at Castlemont and East Oakland PRIDE. For students at those schools, it meant noisy helicopters hovering overhead, hours stuck in the cafeteria, or hours without lunch. Hopefully they will have a much better day tomorrow.

How was your first day back? Tell us about it — even if it’s the second day of school by the time you read this.


How to teach about Sept. 11

My colleagues and I are working on a story about how Bay Area teachers plan to cover the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. So tell us: What aspects of the event and its ongoing aftermath will — or should — social studies teachers address in their classrooms?

Given the religious and ethnic diversity of California’s classrooms, I wonder how teachers will approach such sensitive topics as the role of religion and international terrorism, if at all, and generally what they will consider as they put together their lesson plans.

How do you make an event — one that’s still so fresh in the minds of many adults — relevant to children who were toddlers or small children when the World Trade Centers collapsed? How much emphasis and time, if any, to you plan to devote to this topic?

The Education Writers Association posted this link to a blog post with curriculum for teachers. Are there other resources you’d recommend?

I’m looking for teachers, parents and students to interview and, possibly, for lessons to observe. If you’re interested — Don’t be shy! — or know someone who might be, send me an email with your contact information so we can talk at greater length about how you and your colleagues plan to approach this important moment in our world’s history.

I encourage you to post your thoughts and ideas here. Want to write a piece for The Education Report about the subject? Please submit it to kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com. Just remember to include your basic information (name, school, grade, subject, etc.) and, if possible, a photo of yourself. I look forward to hearing from you.


Not the welcome she expected

Lindsey Smallwood (courtesy photo)

On Saturday, special education teacher Lindsey Smallwood headed to her new West Oakland school, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, to take pictures of her classroom. The trip didn’t turn out at all like she planned.

The following passage is taken from her blog, Smallwood at Large.

Dispatch: 911 – What’s your emergency?

Me: We were just robbed at gun point. We – my husband and I.

Dispatch: Are you hurt, do I need to send an ambulance?

Me: No, we’re not hurt. They took our money, took Chris’s money.

Dispatch: Where are you now?

Me: We’re at the liquor store across the street.

The liquor store across the street from the school. The new school. Where I just took the new job. The place where I am going to go every work day for at least the next year. That school. That’s where it happened.

Teachers: Do you feel safe on your way to and from school? What precautions do you take? Has anything like this happened to you?


The skinny on OUSD’s leaner-than-lean budget

The Oakland school district on Wednesday night unanimously passed a budget for the upcoming school year — a conservative plan that included deep cuts and extra cash reserves to help cushion the district against the state’s volatile funding stream.

The school district’s total budget for 2011-12 is projected to be $472.8 million, down from $650.5 million in 2010-11. More than three-quarters of the decline — $136 million of the $178 million drop — is construction related. That’s because the district has used much of its voter-approved bond money. So (Can you tell where this is going?) board members are already talking about asking Oakland taxpayers to support another levy, possibly next year.

The school district’s general fund is smaller, too, without federal stimulus funds to mitigate years of state cutbacks: $376 million, down from $412 million in 2010-11.

Continue Reading


Notes from a long and eventful board meeting

Tonight’s — or should I say, last night’s —  5 p.m. Oakland school board meeting went till midnight. I observed so much from my ergonomically incorrect wooden seat:

The NAACP‘s Oakland branch showed up in force to register their concerns about complaints they’d heard from students and alumni about problem teachers, institutional racism and African American students’ opportunities for success at Skyline High (where a transcript review last fall revealed a whole bunch of students who weren’t on track to graduate), McClymonds and Castlemont high schools.

Teachers showed up to voice their support for retired teachers whom the district hired to coach them when they were first starting out. The retired teachers said they were told their services would no longer be needed. Superintendent Tony Smith said he had known nothing about this — and that he wished he had been informed of this development by his staff, rather than at a school board meeting. (Sounded to me like the program would be restored.)

Nikita Mitchell, one of the school board’s student directors, gave a rousing, seemingly extemporaneous end-of-term speech about education in Oakland, the “two Oaklands,” and how she and other students had been saying for years what members of the NAACP reported on Wednesday.

Continue Reading


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


Oakland Unified’s strategic plan: It’s here.

Futures Elementary School, 2011. Photo by Laura A. Oda/StaffI plowed through a draft of the Oakland school district’s strategic plan today — all 50 pages of it. It’ll be discussed at a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday (tomorrow) at the district headquarters. You’ll find links to the report below.

I won’t be surprised if long-time observers of the school system remind us all of the Five-Year Plans of OUSD Past — enthusiastically presented, but long since forgotten. I wonder how this plan compares to former superintendents’ visions for Oakland Unified. It certainly contains some provocative ideas, such as “risk screens” for African American male students at certain transitional points, and school quality reviews that go far beyond the API score.

The plan describes various school funding formulas that the district might adopt Continue Reading


Leadership changes on Oakland teachers union board

Challengers have unseated at least three incumbents on the executive board of the Oakland Education Association.

Ben Visnick, an Oakland High teacher and former union president, beat out incumbent Mark Airgood as treasurer. Toni Morozumi, a teacher at Montclair Elementary, unseated Tania Kappner; and Benjie Achtenberg, of Melrose Leadership Academy, will replace Craig Gordon.

Other seats will have new leaders, as well.

Isabel Toscano, a Castlemont Business Information & Technology teacher, won the open position currently held by Bob Mandel. Kei Swenson, a Fruitvale Elementary School teacher, will be the second vice president; she ran for an open seat against Mark Rendon.

Remember Oakland TIES, the group I blogged about last month? The group didn’t officially endorse any candidates, but sent out an email before the election noting that “several members of Oakland TIES” had endorsed Morozumi, Achtenberg, Toscano and Swenson.

All of them won.

Here’s the complete list of results, posted by OEA President Betty Olson-Jones: Continue Reading


Video of Oakland bank protest, teacher arrests

Oakland teacher and union leader Craig Gordon took this video of a demonstration this evening at a Wells Fargo branch at 12th Street and Broadway. Gordon reported in a mass email that seven teachers were arrested during a sit-in to demand that the rich pay higher taxes. I’ll post those names once I’ve been able to confirm them.

By 10 p.m., at least one of the teachers had been released, and a welcoming committee awaited the others at the downtown jail.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, California Teachers Association President David Sanchez and about two dozen others were arrested today during a sit-in at the offices of Republican legislators Connie Conway and Bob Dutton, who are fighting the tax extension ballot measure, Oakland Education Association President Betty Olson-Jones has reported.

Here is a link to the Sacramento Bee story.