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What do you want to ask Tony Smith?

Posted by novometro on October 12, 2009


Tony_Smith


This is Tony Smith’s honeymoon. The full scale of the state’s budget crisis is not yet in the headlines, but the new superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District will have to make some brutal decisions his first year on the job. OUSD will be forced to cut at least another $25 million from its budget before the school year is over. Following two years of serious blows to the district’s budget, these further reductions will be painful, controversial, and will not be eased by Federal stimulus money.

So we thought now would be a good time to speak to Smith about his new job. We’ll be interviewing Smith in his office on Wednesday and we want to know what you want to know. Do you have a question about his stance on charter schools, or the decision process the district uses to close schools? Are you curious about class size, and school overcrowding? Send your questions to editors@theOakBook.com

This is Tony Smith’s honeymoon. The full scale of the state’s budget crisis is not yet in the headlines, but the new superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District will have to make some brutal decisions his first year on the job. OUSD will be forced to cut at least another $25 million from its budget before the school year is over. Following two years of serious blows to the district’s budget, these further reductions will be painful, controversial, and will not be eased by Federal stimulus money.

So we thought now would be a good time to speak to Smith about his new job. We’ll be interviewing Smith in his office on Wednesday and we want to know what you want to know. Do you have a question about his stance on charter schools, or the decision process the district uses to close schools? Are you curious about class size, and school overcrowding? Send your questions to

editors@theOakBook.com and we’ll pose them to the supe.

Tony_Smith

Posted in Education, Oakland | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

What do you think about punishing parents for truant children?

Posted by novometro on June 10, 2009

The Chron reported on Tuesday that recent efforts to combat chronic truancy in the San Francisco Unified School District yielded modest returns especially at the K-5 level, where the number of students with 20 or more unexcused absences dropped by 23 percent over last year. The results were less impressive in the upper grades. Truancy dropped by 4 percent in middle school, but rose 2 percent in high school. To be fair, it sounds like the school district focused on the lower grades. Last year, around 100 families were directed to intervention programs where the consequences of truancy were spelled out in clear terms. And seven families were sent to court. After all, it’s against the law to let your kids skip school.

San Francisco’s anti-truancy results come as Oakland Unified prepares to close a truancy center in West Oakland because it’s not working and costs the district around $1.2 million a year. School districts lose money every time a student is truant, so a truancy center should at least pay for itself. A source says that one of the chief reasons it failed was because Oakland Police Department officers who picked up truant kids resented the time it took to deliver them to the West Oakland Truancy Center. Plans to open an East Oakland Truancy Center never materialized. In 2007-08, OPD picked up 592 truants, which is only a fraction of the 4,000 truants in Oakland skipping school on any given day in that year.

Today, the number should be less. While the Truancy Center was not a success, OUSD reports it has made strides in reducing the number of truants. Last school year, elementary truants dropped by 27 percent,  middle schools reported an impressive 18 percent decline, and high school truancy came down by 1.5 percent.

Taking a tougher stance with parents in the San Francisco model is not something that’s likely to happen in Oakland. According to sources in OUSD, Gail Brewster Bereola, the presiding judge of Juvenile Court at the Alameda County Superior Court, is opposed to measures that would punish parents for truant children.

Posted in Education, Oakland | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

OUSD on the Exit Exam

Posted by novometro on April 25, 2007

The Oakland Unified School District just issued a press release announcing that the district is aiming for 100 percent pass rate on this year’s high school exit exam. It hadn’t occurred to me that OUSD would have made anything less than 100 percent a goal, but I suppose a noble ambition is worth repeating.

The press release says that 79 percent, or 1,538, of OUSD’s seniors have already passed the test. A remaining 404 still have to clear the hurdle to graduate. Almost 80 percent sounds pretty good. But what the press release does not mention is that when today’s seniors first took the test two years ago as sophomores, OUSD counted 3,523 10th graders. What happened to those 1,600 students? Not all of them moved.

Two years ago, 54 percent of 10th graders passed the English Language Arts portion of the test, and 57 percent passed the math section. If OUSD wants to write press releases announcing targets that we all should be taking for granted, they might want to consider a 100 percent pass rate on the exit exam for 10th graders. Then they could shoot for a zero percent drop out rate.

Posted in Education | 1 Comment »

Teacher Union Protests

Posted by novometro on October 11, 2006

The Oakland teachers’ union will hold a rally Wednesday at 4 p.m. in front of OUSD HQ to protest “consolidation and layoffs in the district’s early childhood program,” the “complete negligence of the special education program,” OUSD hiring decisions that the Oakland Educators Association claims are tantamount to union busting.

The press conference/rally is the OEA’s response to a recent report, which credited the school district with small but steady progress while under state control.

Posted in Education, News, Oakland, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Oakland’s Detroit Complex

Posted by novometro on October 9, 2006

As the Oakland Athletics take on the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series that begins Tuesday, we can count on at least one offering from the sports commentariat that compares and contrasts the two cities. We already know the adjectives to expect: Gritty, working-class, overshadowed, etc. Race will be an unvoiced subtext. But apart from a black population above the national average, Oakland and Detroit have little in common. Detroit is at the epicenter of the American automobile industry’s slow-motion implosion and has lost 51,000 residents between 2000 and 2005. No one argues that. Oakland’s population is a matter of debate.

Fortunately, we have an alternative to the social commentary coming from the press box at the Coliseum this week. The American Studies Association hosts its annual conference in Oakland, October 12-15. With the title of “The United States from Inside and Out: Transnational American Studies,” race will not be under the surface.

On Saturday, just when the A’s will be (God willing) preparing to sweep the Tigers in Detroit in game four, the ASA will host a panel called “Visualizing Oakland and Bay Area Communities: Art, History, and New Immigration.” Here is the description from the ASA: The current demographics of the city of Oakland illuminate the wide range and complex racial and ethnic diversity of the United States in the new millennium. According to the U.S. Census 2000, whites comprise approximately 31% of Oakland’s population, African Americans 35%, Asians 15%, Latinos 21%, and Pacific Islanders 0.5%. This panel will provide an important visual corrective to the traditionally binary black and white ways race has been imagined in Oakland through an exhibit-format panel that brings together visual work on Chinese, Iranian, Latino, African, and Tongan American communities that have not shared a common space. In contrast to the traditional one-at-a-time group-by-group exhibit approach, this panel will provide a space for exploring the relation of these communities to one another.

Here’s another interesting panel to check out on Thursday. It looks at labor in the East Bay.

Posted in Education, Events, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics, Race | 2 Comments »

Eat This Book

Posted by novometro on October 2, 2006

The person in charge of securing a victory for Oakland’s first library bond since the late-1940’s told me I’d begin seeing evidence of the campaign this week. Sure enough, a volunteer rang the bell Saturday afternoon with a handful of Yes on Measure N signs and a pamphlet detailing the many ways the bond would improve the Piedmont branch.

The literature emphasized the local benefits and soft-pedaled the $148-million bond’s chief element: A new main library in the shell of the shuttered Henry J. Kaiser auditorium. The woman who came to my door said the new library and the adjacent Oakland Museum of California would form a kind of “cultural district” on the south shore of Lake Merritt. If the bond passes, the quarter-mile stretch between Oak Street and Peralta Park may one day brim with culture, but it will be empty of people. I’ve been to the museum on a Sunday afternoon. And I’ve been to the library on a Sunday afternoon. There are usually more people eating dim sum a few blocks away in one Chinatown restaurant than in both cultural institutions combined.

Chinatown’s Sunday bustle ought to provide inspiration for the city as it decides what to do with the Kaiser should the bond fail to win the necessary two-thirds of the vote. The library option emerged after the City Council scotched a last-minute push from the port to install a permanent world trade expo in the Kaiser. But why are we forced to choose between a library and an ill-conceived world trade center? At the moment, there is really no place to enjoy a good meal and a view of Lake Merritt at the same time. A creative remodeling of the Kaiser could remedy that. Think San Francisco’s Ferry Building meets International Boulevard.

Oakland’s best taquerias, pho parlors, dim sum spots, injera makers, and sandwich shops could share space with upscale patisseries, cheese mongers, and wine sellers. At last, Oakland’s two greatest assets – natural beauty and delicious food from all over the world – would be brought together in one place.

But what about the library? What about the future of literacy in Oakland? Perhaps the Measure N campaign spokesperson was mindful of a Public Policy Institute of California study released in September that showed the majority of voters in California are over 45. She said it’s important that the paramedics who respond to 911 calls are able to read. I don’t care if the paramedic can read so long as he can drive fast and knows how to restart a stopped heart. Either way, a new library in the Kaiser won’t do much for the state of literacy in Oakland.

Measure N supporters will tell you that it would cost more to renovate the current main library than to erect a swank new flagship in the Kaiser. That’s true, if the renovation includes a $13 million parking garage and other features whose absence would not be missed in a perfectly adequate main library. But we don’t need a fancy library. We just need a library that serves downtown, houses the historical archives, and maintains the bulk of the library’s reference materials (a section of increasing irrelevance thanks to the Internet). The excess books that circulate to other branches can be kept in inexpensive warehouses.

If the library does move to the Kaiser, don’t expect great things to relocate to the current site. A library employee told me that one tentative plan calls for turning the site into a youth center since it resides in “neutral turf.” Even if the library doesn’t become a place for the Sharks and the Jets to put aside their differences, history has shown it will be hard to raze it and erect something the city actually needs, like more housing. I would be surprised if the application isn’t already filed to designate it a landmark.

The measure N campaign plans to spend $150,000 between now and November convincing us we should spend $40 a year for every $100,000 of assessed property value to support this plan. Like any bond measure, the proposal includes funding for some much-needed projects. Laurel needs a library. So does East Oakland. Improvements and expansions throughout the system are long overdue. But we can do it for less money and in a way that doesn’t waste the Kaiser’s potential.

Posted in Development, Education, Going Out, Housing, NovoMetro, Oakland, Opinion, Politics | 19 Comments »

Want To Know What’s Really Going On in Oakland Unified? Ask A Teacher.

Posted by novometro on September 18, 2006

Teri Hudson, a teacher at Sobrante Park elementary school in East Oakland for nine years, shares her take on why that school posted better than expected test scores last year.

Her description of dedicated teachers and a respected principal working long hours to turn a struggling school around jibes with NovoMetro’s belief that students all over Oakland Unified can receive the education they deserve.

We are always on the lookout for hidden gems in Oakland Unified. Let us hear from you at alex@novometro.com, if you know of one.

I have been teaching at Sobrante Park for over nine years, and I wanted to comment on the “secrets” of our success over the past few years (most notably, this last year).

There are a number of practices that we have put into place that have helped us raise the achievement level of our students. Morning intervention (an extra 50 minutes of instruction), math workshop, English transition in second grade for students in the bilingual programs, full implementation of the core math and reading programs, institutionalized collaboration amongst teachers, and a school-wide writing program directed by a writing teacher are some of the ones that jump immediately to my mind.

But I feel that the real “secret” to our budding success is more fundamental. Essentially, we have evolved into being a very dedicated staff who works well together and with our equally-dedicated principal.

Threatened with the loss of our school under Program Improvement of No Child Left Behind, we were willing and able to fight hard to get the district to allow us to implement “Option 5”, which was self-initiated restructuring. Part of the reason we could do this was because we had already been posting some promising gains in our test scores.

In the spring of 2005, towards the end of a grueling and discouraging school year, a handful of staff members got together after school, in the evenings and on weekends to hammer together a plan to improve the performance of our students and meet our targets for 2006 (with the knowledge that failure to do so could cause us to lose our school). For me it was one the highlights of my career to be able to have such a strong voice in how our school was going to operate.

The “self-initiated” aspect of the process meant that the returning staff had a high level of buy-in to the program at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year. The new staff members (about 30% of the faculty) immediately followed our lead.

For example, almost all teachers agreed to come into school to teach an extra 50 minute “intervention” class. Our principal did find funds to pay us for some of those hours, but most of us were doing it whether or not we got paid. Many teachers routinely work well into the evening or come in on weekends. We have developed a culture of increasing collaboration amongst the teaching staff.

I believe that the “secret” to our success is not a particular curriculum or set of practices. And it is certainly not “wise” policy-making from above. Our “secret” is hard work and willingness to think outside the box. It is the opportunity to have a say in how we do our jobs. It is who we are as individuals and professionals that has helped us bring our students up.

I think that many people won’t like this answer, as it is not something that can easily be copied in other schools for instant success. But I want to make this very clear: the teachers, principal, and other staff members are the ones who make the difference in a school. By investing more in school professionals, in the form of resources, salary, effective training, and – perhaps most importantly – decision-making power, other schools and districts may see a similar rise in the achievement level of their students.

Posted in Education, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Big Money for a Big Job

Posted by novometro on September 15, 2006

State school chief Jack O’Connell announced Friday morning that Kimberley Statham will be his woman in Oakland. Ms. Statham will earn $240,000 a year as the state administrator overseeing Oakland Unified School District. Previously Oakland Unified’s former chief academic officer, Ms. Statham took the job on an interim basis after Randolph Ward left Oakland in August to manage the San Diego County Office of Education.

Sunday: This from OUSD’s public information officer: “Dr. Statham is getting the same salary as Randy Ward got. Ward’s salary was the same as the last superintendent’s salary, which was set by the board.”

Posted in Education, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Oakland: We Moved Here for the Schools

Posted by novometro on September 12, 2006

In 2003, I was a reporter for the Stockton Record in San Joaquin County. At that time, school districts in affordable housing boomtowns like Tracy and Ripon couldn’t build new schools fast enough to accomodate the flood of new students from the Bay Area. In hindsight , I know now that the giant sucking sound I was hearing from the other side of the Altamont Pass was the sound of demographic predictions in Oakland and other Bay Area school districts going down the drain.

It was only four years ago that Oakland Unified School District forecast elementary school enrollment for 2005 at 27,300 students. According to the California Department of Education, the actual number was 24,000. While the prediction for middle school enrollment was off by 2,000, high school forecasts were close to the actual 2005 enrollment of 13,000. Jeanne Gobalet, one half of the OUSD’s demographic team of Lapkoff and Gobalet, said the effects of the housing boom caught them by surprise. “Things looked very different then,” she says. “It’s amazing how quickly things can change in a district.”

It wasn’t complicated economics. Expensive housing drove people to cheaper cities, and they took their school age children with them. Ms. Gobalet also says that the negative publicity surrounding a rash of school closures in recent years caused more students to abandon the district. That’s probably true. Unlike in places like Tracy, you never hear anyone in Oakland say, “We moved here for the schools.”

Posted in Development, Education, NovoMetro, Oakland | 1 Comment »

10 Secret Ways to Stop NIMBYs

Posted by novometro on September 9, 2006

Ask a developer what he (let’s be honest, how many are women?) thinks about a community group organizing to defeat his project, and you will likely be treated to painful, implausible bromides about the “process” and “inclusion.” That’s especially true in the Bay Area where builders long ago learned the argot of community activism.

With activists in Oakland mustering opposition to Oak to Ninth, and the sale of school district property for a large residential complex on Lake Merritt, the developers involved will be crafting their counter strategies. It’s impossible to know what’s said in their war rooms. But an article this month in Builder’s News offered this revealing pop quiz to its readers. The article acknowledged what every developer knows only too well: It’s often easier to stop something new than to build something new. “It doesn’t take much for opponents to turn out NIMBY neighbors, but it takes sophisticated tactics to minimize community opposition and mobilize supporters for your development. Test your community relations skills with our quiz on development opposition.” Take the quiz, and see if you recognize any techniques from the last community hearing you attended.

Posted in Development, Education, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics | 4 Comments »