Update: Tony Smith and AIMS

At 6 p.m. tonight, the OUSD board is expected to speak publicly for the first time about the resignation of schools superintendent Tony Smith last week. There is nothing on the agenda but the board will say a few words and maybe we should expect some public comment.

In the meantime, at 5 p.m., AIPCS teachers will be “laying all details on the table” about efforts to oust AIMS board members Jean Martinez and Nedir Bey.  The teachers have invited parents and the public tonight (at the AIPCS II campus, 171 12th St.) to hear why the two should leave the board — as of tomorrow, Thursday. I can’t get to the rally tonight because of a breaking story and the OUSD board meeting at 6 p.m.

“Our goal is to inform the public, and put pressure on Dr. Jean Martinez and Nedir Bey to resign,” an AIMS teacher wrote in an email about their efforts.

Bey and Martinez are allies of former AIMS Director Ben Chavis, accused of fraud by state auditors. The OUSD board yanked the schools’ charter on March 20.

As long as Martinez and Bey are on the board, the thinking goes, Chavis is not far behind pulling the puppet strings. And as long as that’s the case, AIMS doesn’t stand a chance of keeping its charter. The teachers and other board members blame Bey and Martinez for standing in the way of hiring an outside consultant to get the AIMS finances in order. It was one of the key requirements of the OUSD board and may have cost them the charter.

“In order to bring Chavis down and hold him accountable for his actions we need to remove these two members from our school board,” the teacher wrote.

If the Alameda County Board of Education declines to overturn the OUSD revocation, AIMS can go to the state. That will be playing out in the coming months. But about a 1,000 pupils, their parents and teachers might not know the fate of the charter until summer break.

Bey is the “spiritually adopted” son of Your Black Muslim Baker founder Yusuf Bey. In 1994 Bey (Nedir) was charged with abducting and torturing a man who ran afoul of the bakery. He pleaded no contest to a felony charge of false imprisonment. He launched a failed health care company with more than $1 million in city money he never repaid. He also received public financing for a 2002 run for City Council. He was once a school site council leader at Fruitvale Elementary School. He used his birth name Victor Foster in documents filed to open a public charter school in West Oakland that he later withdrew. BART awarded him a contract for lighting work but had to reverse the decision because Bey had none of the required licensing and bonding.

But I am curious about business and other ties he and Martinez have to Chavis and I’m betting there are some of you who know a bit more.




Superintendent Tony Smith Resigns

Staff Photojournalist
photo by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

Superintendent Tony Smith announced in a closed session with the board last night that he is resigning as superintendent, effective June 30.

His reasons are family-related, as his wife’s father was recently hospitalized, and he and his family will now be moving to Chicago.

Smith wrote a letter to the board about his resignation, saying how proud he is of the accomplishments that have been made since working with the board.

While there is still much work to do, the district is well positioned to achieve the objectives outlined in the balanced scorecard and meet the goals described in our ambitious strategic plan.

Click here to read Smith’s letter to President David Kakishiba.

The board also released a statement on the district’s website to the community about the board’s reaction.

Also read Tribune reporter Angela Woodall’s story regarding the resignation.


Forum Speaks on Lowering Violence In Schools

On Monday the Children’s Defense Fund hosted a forum at City Hall for public officials, community organizations and youth advocates to discuss school safety and keeping violence out of the classroom.

Since the shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December, there have been major waves of demand for policy change and action in school safety. To address this call for action, the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit that serves underprivileged children, to evaluate what schools and the community could do to help increase school safety on a local basis.

The forum had two panels: the first discussing the role of policy, the second discussing the role of the youth. There was also a presentation highlighting the results of a telephone survey from California voters regarding their opinions of school safety in the state.

Continue Reading


American Indian schools’ charter revoked

Alleged corruption in leadership weighed more than excellent test scores and perfect graduation rates when the OUSD board voted 4-3 in last week’s meeting to revoke the American Indian Model charter schools’ charter.

It took one tip more than a year ago; five months of investigation and auditing; $3.8 million of questionable spending that accuses director Ben Chavis and his wife, Marsha Amador of taking that money for themselves; endless pleas from AIMS students, parents and teachers to keep the school’s charter regardless of what may be happening on the business end of running the charter schools; and one vote to shut the operation down.

There are plans to repeal the board’s vote. If the county and/or the state uphold the board’s vote, the vote will take effect on June 30.

Would it have been as hard of a decision to make if the students weren’t performing well?


Read Angela Woodall’s coverage of the meeting’s vote here and here.

Also, Andrew J. Coulson’s editorial about why closing the schools is a mistake.

Here is a look at Katy Murphy’s past coverage of events leading up to the final vote last week.


Still Seeing High Numbers for African American Male Student Suspensions

At Wednesday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Tony Smith and a small panel, including two principals, presented the Balanced Scorecard Accountability Report. The topic: suspensions.

One major focus of the report is to work toward reducing suspension rates overall, but specifically with African American male students.

In the 2011-12 school year, African American students accounted for one-third of enrolled OUSD students and 63 percent of the students who were suspended. Of the male students, African Americans make up 16 percent of all OUSD students and 41 percent of suspended students. Compared to other ethnicities in the district, this figure is disproportionate and raises a few red flags.

Latino students, for example, have proportionate suspensions compared to the total students enrolled in the district. They make up 38 percent of all OUSD students and 27 percent of suspended students. Latino males in the district and those who were suspended make up 38 percent and 27 percent respectively.

The report also details possible root causes of student suspensions and strategies schools are and should be utilizing to reduce the number of suspensions and be more proactive to all student success. Continue Reading


Violence is Traumatic for Teachers, Too

Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

You may have caught the recent news about street violence near New Highland Academy. On January 10th, teachers and children were preparing to leave on their regular visit to the nearby 81st Avenue Public Library branch when gunfire broke out and about sixty shots were fired. After this traumatic incident, visits to the library ended completely because it was considered too dangerous. The Oakland Tribune’s Tammerlin Drummond wrote a column about the incident and the police-escorted “peace march” to the library a couple of weeks ago that the teachers and the Lincoln Child Center helped organize to create some closure for the second- and third-graders. The march was widely covered and news reports focused on violence the children experience daily both in and near school and at home. Many touched on the trauma counseling the students received and teachers spoke of the great need to support the children. But something seemed missing to me.

Continue Reading


OUSD Says No to Renewing EOLA’s Charter, Concerns on Police Chief’s Report

At Wednesday night’s Oakland school board meeting, there were few empty seats and dozens of people with speaker cards to discuss the several adult education programs that may be cut. Adult education, however, was not on the agenda and the board did not make any comments regarding any cuts.

Instead, the board approved to deny the charter renewal for East Oakland Leadership Academy High.

Philip Dotson, acting director of the Office of Charter Schools, read the report highlighting why the charter should not be renewed for EOLA based on figures developed over the five years the charter has been in place.

Some of those points included:

  • Failure to meet enrollment target of 200 students and is under-enrolled.
    • Currently 54 students are enrolled in grades 9-12; the most enrolled in one year was 67 students last school year.
  • Failure to retain students.
  • Failure to maintain a 95 percent attendance rate.
    • First two years of charter met this qualification but remaining three years averaged 93.1 percent.
  • Not accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, although the school is scheduled for a WASC visit March 17-20.
  • The school lacks a visible leader.
  • The API scores gradually decreased in three of the four years, although scores last year significantly grew.

Although individual students have benefited from attending EOLA and the school as a whole has made progress in improving math scores, the evidence against them was enough to elicit a vote to deny the charter, which will officially end on June 30. Continue Reading


An Oakland Unified parent’s wish list for 2013

Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

I know it’s late, but I was just at the check-out counter reading magazine covers still touting magical resolutions that would change us for the better in 2013. I was musing about what I would list for OUSD to tackle in 2013 that would benefit students with disabilities. My partial list, in no order:

1. Identify and publicly celebrate those achieving positive results for these students. There are a lot of success stories out there – programs and individual educators and administrators who are helping students to reach their full potential. It continues to surprise me how infrequently OUSD highlights these achievements and we only hear about the same few examples. C’mon, OUSD – brag a bit!

2. Stop withholding resources from special education by limiting funds and cutting supports. In 2012 it was the budget cuts, avoidable staffing shortages and impossible caseloads for front-line resource specialists. In 2013 there’s more. OUSD wants to increase the ratio of students per aide in high-need classes. Continue Reading


Yu Ming Charter School Moving to New Location

By Serena Valdez

On Feb. 25, Yu Ming Charter School will continue the school year in a new home. After only one year at the original site in downtown Chinatown, 321 10th Street, Principal Laura Ross said she knew the school would need to move to a larger location and took advantage as soon as a new site arose.

A Mandarin immersion public charter school, Yu Ming’s new location will be at 1086 Alcatraz Avenue, about 4 miles away from the Chinatown location.

Parents of the students are behind the move as it provides a better learning environment for the students even if it may present challenges for some parents, such as a longer commute, Ross said.

Teachers have been preparing the 150-plus students for the big move for the past few weeks. They’ve presented slide shows of the new site, given them a chance to ask questions and provided information.

Several parents and students have already been to the new location.

“Every weekend lots of people are volunteering to help out by bringing boxes and unpacking,” she said. “It’s been really fun and a bonding experience.”

But it doesn’t stop here. The new location, set in a residential area, is only large enough to accommodate K-4 classes. Currently the school has classes from kindergarten to second grade, with enrollment already open for the next school year, which will include third grade.

As the school continues to grow into a full-fledged K-8 school, adding two new kindergarten classes each school year, administrators will need to find a new location. That gives administrators about three years to start looking for a bigger, more ideal school site.

Ross says she looks forward to being part of this new community and getting to know the families and businesses in the neighborhood. She hopes people will see the school as a positive change to the area.

To read more, go to the Yu Ming website at http://bit.ly/129H8N8

Serena Valdez is a Chips Quinn Scholar intern working for Bay Area News Group.


A fond farewell

Reporters change beats all the time. We’re not in the habit of telling our readers goodbye unless we’re leaving the paper, and maybe not even then.

But given all the time we’ve spent together on this forum – me writing about Oakland school news and you telling me what I missed and what I should look into (or debating something different altogether) – this feels different.

I’m going to be covering colleges and universities for the Tribune and its sister papers now, working mostly out of a newsroom in Hayward with other East Bay reporters who cover issues for the whole news group. I’m excited about the challenge. Who knows, I could end up writing about students I met when they were angsty teens, haunting the hallways of McClymonds High or Oakland Tech — or returning to those high schools to write stories about college.

I hope you stay in touch and send me your story ideas.

I’ve known about this for awhile, but have waited to tell you until I knew who would be replacing me. I’m afraid I don’t have an easy answer. The newspaper has been trying to fill the position, but so far has been unable to do so.

After all of the time we’ve all spent on this blog, I’m hoping it can survive until someone can take it on on a more regular basis. Another metro reporter plans to attend school board meetings and post occasionally. Maybe, if any of you are inspired, you could contribute.

This is hard for me to tell you; I know how important schools coverage is, especially to Oaklanders. My editor has set up an email for news tips and blog submissions: oaklandschools@bayareanewsgroup.com.

If you are interested in posting regularly, please let us know.

Thanks for reading, and for making the blog so lively and interesting. I’ll miss answering your questions, absorbing your insights and reflections, and, most of all, imploring you and “Nextset” to be civil to one another.