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OUSD District 7 race not over yet: Spearman files legal challenge

Staff PhotojournalistStaff Photojournalist

As promised, Alice Spearman’s attorney has filed a motion to declare James Harris, the candidate who beat her on Election Day, ineligible for the seat.

“I’m going to do what I said I was going to do,” Spearman told me last week.

The motion, filed Tuesday, essentially makes the same case as the pre-election challenge: Harris might be an Oakland resident, living in City Council District 7, but his neighborhood is part of the San Leandro Unified School District.

Harris votes for City Council District 7, but for a San Leandro school board representative. He wasn’t able to vote in his own race.

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With Prop. 30 passed, Oakland teachers give thanks — and return to the bargaining table

OEA pic 1
photo courtesy of Janet Lau

On Wednesday evening, you might have seen teachers standing at various Oakland intersections holding “thank-you” signs (as well as the more commonplace posters calling for a fair contract). The act of public thanksgiving was meant for voters who supported Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative.

The measure’s success at the polls spared California school districts billions of dollars in midyear cuts. It’s also opened the door to renewed contract negotiations between two groups that have long been at odds: the Oakland school district and its teachers.

That’s right, a new teacher contract could be in OUSD’s sights for the first time in — could it be? — nearly seven years. Continue Reading

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Meet the Oakland Tribune’s three health reporting interns

Mack meeting
At McClymonds High School, from left to right: Romanalyn Inocencio, Breannie Robinson and Pamela Tapia. Photo by Alison Yin.

I mentioned a few months ago that I was working with photojournalist Alison Yin on a project about childhood asthma and its disproportionate impact on families in Oakland and elsewhere along the I-880/80 corridor. It’s a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.

Now we have some help! I’m happy to announce the names of our three reporting interns, who will be producing stories and videos for the project with a grant from Annenberg: Pamela Tapia, a recent McClymonds graduate; and Pearl Joy Balagot and Henry Jean-Philippe, both from Fremont High.

Their adviser for the project will be Lisa Shafer (below, left), and I’m sure they’ll get some support from Nadine Joseph, a writing coach who advises the McClymonds journalism club. Pearl and Henry are standing in the back, with their cameras, in the picture.

Mack 2
Photo by Alison Yin

We met with them yesterday, along with some other McClymonds and Fremont high school students, who shared their stories about asthma and helped us brainstorm ways to reach students and families with the finished projects.

My favorite piece of advice came from Breannie Robinson, a no-nonsense Mack student-athlete (basketball star), who had asthma as a child.

After listening to us go back and forth about Twitter, Facebook, video screenings, newsletters and other ideas, she jumped in with this tip: ”Make it interesting.”

Well said!

If anyone has an idea for the interns — someone you know with a story to tell about asthma, or an issue you feel needs attention —  please share it, either on the blog or to me, at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Congratulations, Pearl, Henry and Pamela. I can’t wait to read (and watch) your work.

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Another Oakland student news blog: Castle Crier!

Pre-Distribution
High school newspapers, ready to be distributed (not at Castlemont) from elizasizzle’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons.

Student journalism in Oakland has popped up at yet another high school. At Castlemont High, students have launched an online site with a wonderfully old-school newspaper name, the Castle Crier.

AP English language students are the publication’s first reporters.  Guided by teacher Marguerite Sheffer, they post updates three or four times a week. This winter, the Crier will have its first print edition.

Today, we can read all about John Lynch, the new principal of the newly consolidated school, an ethnic studies partnership with San Francisco State, and what it’s like to be an Asian-American at Castlemont. Not to mention an exclusive interview with Castlemont’s Freshman Princess, photographed in a Raiders hat and Holy Names University sweatshirt. Continue Reading

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Lazear Elementary, omitted from another Oakland school closure analysis

Staff Photojournalist
Families from Lazear Elementary protest their school’s potential closure in October 2011. Photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

For a short moment today, I thought the OUSD administration had given the public a full accounting of where students from recently closed elementary schools ended up this fall — more specifically, how many of the children at Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe remained in the district.

It’s been the subject of speculation for months, as student enrollment is closely tied to the amount of funding a school district receives from the state. If a school district loses too many students after it closes schools, it also stands to lose the savings underlying the whole plan.

The text at the top of Slide #6 on the enrollment presentation suggests that everything went according to plan — that only 19 percent of the affected left the district, about the national average. What’s more, it notes that the steep enrollment drop that crept up on the Oakland school district this fall had little to do with the restructuring plan.

The slide reads: “Percent of student loss from closed elementary schools is slightly lower than national average closure loss (20%). Total student loss represents small portion of total enrollment loss for OUSD in 2012-13.”

Then I saw the four bar graphs, one for each of the elementary schools on the closure list — except for one that’s nowhere to be found: Lazear Elementary.

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Your unofficial OUSD winners

This tally doesn’t include all of the mail-in ballots that have yet to be counted, but the results for the Oakland school board races and Measure J (which I’ve rounded) are pretty decisive. Two of the three incumbents, London and Hinton Hodge, have won.

District 1: Incumbent Jody London, 76% — defeated Thearse Pecot

District 3: Incumbent Jumoke Hinton Hodge, 61% (after ranked-choice voting ran its course) — defeated Richard Fuentes and Ben Lang

District 5: Rosie Torres, 54% — defeated Mike Hutchinson in an open race for a seat long held by Noel Gallo.

District 7: James Harris, 57% — defeated Alice Spearman, who has said she might raise a legal challenge again, after the election; Harris lives in Oakland, but in a neighborhood affiliated with the San Leandro school district.

Measure J: 84% (needed 55 percent to pass)

What do you think this outcome will mean for OUSD — besides two new board members?

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Two of three OUSD incumbents are winning

Oakland school board incumbents Jody London and Jumoke Hinton Hodge are beating their opponents after the early returns, while Alice Spearman, the District 7 incumbent, is lagging behind her opponent, James Harris.

In District 5, Rosie Torres is ahead of Mike Hutchinson, 55 to 45.

This is a ranked-choice election; to win outright, Hodge needs 50 percent of the vote. As of 9:30 p.m., she had 45 percent (to Richard Fuentes’ 28 percent and Ben Lang’s 26 percent).

And, last but not least, Prop. 30 is winning (barely), and so is Measure J — the Oakland schools bond. Measure J has gotten tremendous support, with more than 80 percent approval.

You can find the latest election results on the Alameda County Registrar of Voters site. And statewide Proposition results here.

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Expecting more of students with disabilities

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.

“State should expect more of students with disabilities, say federal officials”

That’s the headline from a front-page San Francisco Chronicle story about how California schools have lowered academic expectations for special education students statewide by over-using the simplified California Modified Assessment (CMA) rather than using the regular California Standard Tests (CST).

The CMAs and CSTs are two standardized tests California students in grades 3-11 take annually. The U.S. Department of Education has expressed concern that California uses the CMAs more than twice as often as recommended by federal guidelines. According to the feds, the rate of special education students taking the CMAs should be 2 percent of the total student population and only 20 percent of the special education population.

How is OUSD doing? In 2011-12, Oakland reported that 7 percent of the district’s population enrolled in grades 3-11 took the CMAs for English Language Arts (ELA), more than three times the expected rate.

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Enrollment plunges in Oakland schools

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

On the 20th day of school, Oakland’s district schools counted about 36,260 students. That’s 1,750 fewer kids than there were a year ago, a drop of 4.6 percent, according to 2012-13 enrollment figures recently released by OUSD.

Multiply that loss by $5,000, a rough estimate of general-purpose, per-student state funding (otherwise known as the revenue limit), and you are approaching $9 million. OUSD will have that much less to spend in 2013-14, in addition to any statewide trigger cuts and reduced special-purpose money, according to that crude calculation.

So much for the district’s optimistic projections. What’s more, this year’s drop follows several years of relatively flat enrollment. The school system experienced a crippling loss of students in the early to mid 2000s, a major factor in its infamous fiscal meltdown, but the trend began to level out a few years years ago.

The two most apparent factors influencing this sudden development are last year’s school closures and this year’s charter school openings — though as I’ve reported, Oakland’s school-age population (5-17) dwindled by 20 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Charter schools: Continue Reading

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Another big donation to Great Oakland Public Schools PAC

This week’s campaign filings show another major donation to the Great Oakland Public Schools PAC – $49,995 from the California Charter Schools Association. That brings the group’s fundraising total to $184,980 — a staggering amount for local school board races. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, when the total was about $123,000.

The GO PAC is supporting three candidates: Jumoke Hinton Hodge in District 3, Rosie Torres in District 5, and James Harris in District 7. It’s supporting neither candidate in District 1.

GO’s director, Jonathan Klein, stressed in a recent letter he posted on an Oakland parents email list that GO is in favor of both charters and traditional public schools, that its staff and board members are Democrats, and that the group is being supported by volunteers from across the city (Policy platform here.): Continue Reading