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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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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

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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?

4

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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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.

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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?

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Oakland schools, students step up to host candidate forums

Life Academy school board candidate forum
photo courtesy of Preston Thomas, Life Academy

Students at Oakland’s Life Academy of Health and Bioscience interviewed District 5 city council and school board candidates Thursday night in a public forum they organized.

Principal Preston Thomas described the event as “totally authentic and student-led.”

“This was a great example of what it means to be a full service community school,” he wrote in the email he sent to me afterward.

If you missed it, here are some other election-related events: Continue Reading

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Tonight, Oakland parents to protest the teacher shuffle

AFTERNOON UPDATE: OUSD just sent me the information I requested about its teacher consolidations. There are 14 teachers from 13 schools being reassigned this year: from Bella Vista, Cleveland, Hoover, Kaiser, Claremont, Melrose Leadership Academy, Bret Harte, Roosevelt, Frick (2 teachers), Piedmont Avenue, Allendale, La Escuelita, and Rise.

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The week before last, Rachel Kargas, a parent at Oakland’s Cleveland Elementary School, wrote about the effects of consolidation: losing a teaching position and moving students into different (and often, grade-level combination) classrooms, mid-year, because fewer students enrolled than expected in certain grades. Parents from Cleveland Elementary spoke out at the last board meeting, urging the district to reconsider.

Tonight, the uber-organized parents and teachers at Kaiser Elementary School, who fended off the threat of closure last fall, plan to make their case. Parents say that because some families held onto their children’s seats until the last minute and enrolled them elsewhere, the school (which normally has a waiting list) had three vacancies — and is losing a teacher as a result.

I’ve requested information from OUSD on enrollment projections, the 20-day enrollment count (which, I’m told, should be coming soon — given that the 20th day of school was two weeks ago), and teacher consolidations — when a teacher is moved from one school to another to maximize class size loads.

The big question is how many fewer students than expected showed up to OUSD schools this fall, as that is likely driving some of these decisions.

The Kaiser parents (didn’t I tell you they were organized?) issued a news release this morning: Continue Reading