“This is not a lecture:” Oakland Youth Forum on Crime and Safety

The original flyer.

The City of Oakland Youth Commission, the City’s Neighborhood Services Department, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, Strategic Policy Partnerships, and  Councilmember Lynette McElhaney will facilitate the Youth Forum on Crime and Safety on Thursday, May 9, 2013 from 4:30-7:30pm. The forum will take place at Laney College at 900 Fallon Street in the Forum Lecture Hall (off 10th Street). This forum is one of the six town hall meetings with the consultants of the Strategic Policy Partnerships which took place throughout the City this spring.

These town halls are intended to seek input from residents about the community’s public safety priorities as the Strategic Policy Partnership consultants develop a comprehensive crime reduction and suppression strategic plan.

Questions for these small groups will include:

  • · What do you want to see the police do differently?
  • · What can young people do to make Oakland safer?
  • · If you were a police officer, what would you do to earn people’s respect and trust?

Oakland Unified to score … everyone

matrix 2

The above matrix of nine elementary and six middle schools — which underwent a pilot School Quality Review process last school year — is just a sample of the kinds of targets and scoring systems being put in place in Oakland Unified.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the OUSD board holds a special meeting to discuss this and other parts of its “Balanced Scorecard,” which sets goals for student achievement, attendance, discipline rates (racial disparities, in particular), effective teaching, teacher satisfaction, teacher retention — and, yes, for a balanced budget that maximizes teaching and learning with an equitable (read: not equal) base funding model for its schools.

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Oakland’s American Indian charter schools respond to violation notice

photo of Ben Chavis, founder of American Indian Model Schools, by D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group

Thirteen binders of material from the American Indian Model Schools were delivered to the Oakland school district offices this week in response to the “notice of violation” the charter school organization received this fall from OUSD.

The prospect of OUSD shutting down three of the city’s top-scoring schools stems from a damning Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team investigation which cited numerous examples of self-dealing and conflicts of interest by the organization’s founder, Ben Chavis, and his wife (and former accountant for the organization), Marsha Amador.

The case has been turned over to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. So far, no word on what, if any, criminal charges will be filed.

The Oakland school district has not released the response from AIM Schools, but Troy Flint, the district’s spokesman, says we can expect a summary from OUSD next week.

No word yet, though, on when the board will respond to the response.

“We just received a voluminous response – thousands of pages – from American Indian on Monday night and are still sorting through it. No determination has been made on when this matter will be heard by the Board.”

What happens next? Continue Reading


Another Oakland student news blog: Castle Crier!

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


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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In recent school board meetings, an empty seat

Staff Photojournalist
photo by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

The seat in the middle of the Oakland school board dais — belonging to Superintendent Tony Smith — has been empty the last two board meetings.

I felt it was worth noting; schools chiefs do miss the occasional meeting, but rarely two in a row. In fact, I can’t remember the last time it happened here. Both agendas were lighter than usual, and the meetings ended early, by OUSD’s standards.

Given the often brutal tone of the public comment sessions, I doubt attending school board sessions is high on Smith’s list of cherished superintendent duties. (With respect to that imaginary list, I imagine most school board regulars — myself included — can relate!)

Of course, the recent absences might have nothing at all to do with his reception in the board room. Smith was traveling on official business both days, according to the district’s spokesman, Troy Flint.

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Another attendance boundary change?

WEDNESDAY NIGHT UPDATE: The Oakland school board voted unanimously to put this item on the Dec. 12 agenda.


The Oakland school board on Wednesday considers whether to put a motion on the Dec. 12 agenda that would address the oversubscription of students at Crocker Highlands Elementary School. One option would be moving the western boundary from Grand Avenue to Lakeshore.

Approval by Board of Education of a directive to the Superintendent of Schools to report to the Board of Education at its Regular Meeting on December 12, 2012, for its deliberation and possible action, recommended remedies to effectively mitigate the incidence of over-subscription of available kindergarten seats by children residing within the Crocker Highlands Elementary School attendance area including, but not limited to, consideration of moving the school’s western boundary from Grand Avenue to Lakeshore Avenue, as an effective remedy.

What are your thoughts on this?


School lunch news: California poll, Kansas high school video, and praise for OUSD

Staff Photojournalist Jane Tyska
Photo by Jane Tyska/Staff

A recent statewide poll released by The California Endowment, a health foundation that promotes nutritious school lunches, found that 82 percent of students and 91 percent of parents surveyed support the latest changes in school lunch nutrition standards, overall. The changes include a greater variety of produce, more whole grains, portion size guidelines and calorie limits.

After hearing summarized arguments for and against calorie restriction, about 64 percent of students and 56 percent parents said they thought the calorie limits should continue, the California Endowment reported.

Students who made headlines with this music video parody, “We Are Hungry,” seem to feel differently. They argue that active students, especially those who play sports, simply need more fuel. (Some student-athletes at Berkeley High told me the same thing a few years ago, when I was doing a profile on Ann Cooper, who transformed the district’s lunch offerings.)

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Across the United States, a backlash against school closures

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Oakland, you’re not alone.

I found this story in Education Week about school closures in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. to be incredibly relevant to what I’ve observed here. It raises many of the points and questions that Oakland residents and school officials have been grappling with for years. (This particular story is subscription-only.)

The writer, Jaclyn Zubrzycki, touches on charter schools, gentrification, race, enrollment declines, and the reasons districts close schools: when they have fewer students and/or financial pressures — or in response to the idea (advanced by the federal government in its School Improvement Grant program) of closing schools as a way to create new and better opportunities for students.

Oakland Unified’s own Troy Flint even gets the ending quote, after he’s quoted as saying that all students from closed schools were placed in a higher performing school:

“Ideally, no one would want to go down that path,” said Mr. Flint, the Oakland spokesman, “but sometimes you have to endure some pain as part of a restructuring process to create something better and more sustainable.”

I’m still asking for the school closure analysis; I’m told it will be coming soon.


Small beginnings, big difference

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.

Burbank Preschool fanWhen I walked into the room I was struck by the sunlight pouring in across a classroom of tiny tables and chairs.

The woman next to me was immediately struck by a small body hurdling itself at her knees for a hug.

Christie Anderson, director of the Burbank Preschool Center, paused mid-sentence to disentangle and chat with the child (and a few others) before we continued our tour.

Moving from classroom to classroom I felt like this could be any preschool in Oakland. Parents were dropping off little ones. Teachers and aides were giving multi-lingual direction to students (Burbank families speak over 15 languages). The reading nook, the imagination corner, and the riot of colors and activities tempted me to just get right onto the floor and start playing. The children were totally engaged.

I did notice in one room a child was using an electronic board with pictures that the child would touch to communicate instead of using words. In another room a wheelchair was pushed up to the snack table with the other chairs. And in one classroom there was a nurse, always, because the students have such severe health impairments that there must be medical support available at all times.

This is what special education preschool looks like. Continue Reading