Oakland’s Students Go Back to School

Flurry of activities sprout around city as families and educators prepare for opening day

Students received free backbacks and school supplies at the annual Attend and Achieve Rally at City Hall organized by Oakland Natives Give Back.

Students receive free backbacks and school supplies at the annual Attend and Achieve Rally at City Hall organized by Oakland Natives Give Back.

By Ken Epstein

With school set to start on Monday, families of Oakland’s 48,000 public school students are getting ready while the Oakland Unified School District’s 2,500 teachers are already back at school, holding meetings, arranging desks and preparing bulletin boards in their classrooms.

Parents who are looking for backpacks and school supplies for their children can check out the Attend and Achieve Back to School Rally, organized by Oakland Natives Give Back on Saturday, Aug. 22 at Oakland City Hall. Registration is from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

To register online, go to attendandachieve2SR2015@eventbrite.com.

Educator Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein reminded teachers in an article published on her Facebook page that in the midst of the flurry of activity inside and outside the classroom, teachers should not to lose sight of the significance of the first day and the first week for setting the tone for the whole school year.”

“The first day of school is the most optimistic of the school year for many students,” she said. “They are sure that it will be a better year than last; they will do well; avoid old mistakes; make new friends; and make mom happy.”

“Start off with an interesting, interactive activity on which every student can do well. Do not waste the spirit on an hour of rules,” she said, while emphasizing the importance of ground rules like “No put downs.”

Within the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), work has been continuing nonstop all summer – hiring new staff, conducting trainings for teachers and other employees and cleaning and repairing schools.

The district has hired 16 new principals, who have been receiving training in new curriculums and developing safety plans for all schools.

In the midst of a regional and national teacher shortage, OUSD is also struggling to hire credentialed teachers for every classroom to start on the first day of school rather than to rely on substitutes who by law must be replaced every 30 days.

As of Aug. 12, OUSD had 77 teacher vacancies, including 38 in elementary schools, 12 in middle schools and 23 in high schools.

Eight of the vacancies were in science, five in math, three in elementary bilingual education and 20 in special education.

To reduce the numbers of suspensions and expulsions, OUSD has developed Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Support plans for every school.

District staff has also worked with school design teams on improvement plans for four Intensive Support Schools: Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds High schools and Frick Middle School.

School redesign plans are scheduled to be implemented in Fall 2016.

School repair and renovation projects included $600,000 to remove portables from Bella Vista Elementary School, $2.5 million for kitchen and cafeteria fire repair at Claremont Middle School and $60,000 for bleachers and restroom upgrades at Fruitvale Elementary School.

The district moved ahead this summer on building a new $32 million central kitchen and commissary at the site of the now closed Marcus Foster School in West Oakland.

OUSD is also spending $440,000 to relocate administrative staff from Lakeview Elementary School and other sites to the district headquarters at 1000 Broadway.

In his opening of school statement to the community, Oakland Unified’s Supt. Antwan Wilson emphasized the district’s commitment to improve educational opportunities for special education students.

“For too many years, students with special needs, both in Oakland and around the country, have not been afforded the opportunities that many other students take for granted,” he wrote this week in an open letter to the school community.

“To be frank, these students have often been excluded: from rigorous and engaging classroom experiences; from events that bring students together, like prom and sporting events; even from their school’s graduation,” he said.

“That is the culture of the past, which separated students and divided them from their peers. In the Oakland Unified School District, we are moving away from this history of exclusion to a new era of inclusion.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 21, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)