Category: Education/Schools/Youth

Oakland Teachers Shut It Down

Teachers say: ‘Get up. Get down. Oakland is a union town!’

Oakland teachers on strike. Photo by Ken Epstein .

By Ken Epstein

Oakland teachers went on strike Thursday, Feb. 21 smaller class sizes, more support for students, a 12 percent wage increase and to halt to destructive school closures

 “Bargaining with the district has not — in two years — produced an agreement that will pay teachers enough to allow them to stay in Oakland or make class sizes more conducive to teaching and learning or provide our students with the supports they need to thrive,” OEA President Keith Brown said, speaking last Saturday at a press conference announcing the strike.

“The only option that Oakland teachers, parents and students have left to win the schools Oakland students truly deserve, and to take control of our school district back from the control of billionaire campaign donors, is for the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association to go on strike,” Brown said.

The teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), can legally strike any time after a neutral state-appointed fact-finder issued a report on Friday, Feb. 15.  The report, which is nonbinding, does not go far enough, according to the union.

While the factfinder proposes a 6 percent raise, Oakland educators are seeking 12 percent over three years to help halt what they are calling a “teacher retention crisis.” The report also supports hiring more counselors and reducing the student-to-counselor ratio from 600:1 to 500, while OEA had sought a 250:1 ratio.

“There is only one party in our bargaining with Oakland Unified School District that is pushing to improve our public schools for 36,000 Oakland students, and that is the Oakland Education Association,” said Brown. “It is time for the Oakland school board and our superintendent to make a choice – are they on the side of the billionaires who fund their campaigns and are pushing for more draconian budget cuts and school closures that will further hurt our kids, or are they on the side of teachers, students, and parents fighting for the schools Oakland students deserve?”

Responding to the strike threat, OUSD issued a statement over the weekend. District Communications Director John Sasaki said, “We want it to be clear, the district has been and continues to be prepared with comprehensive solutions to address all issues and to reach an agreement,” the statement said. “Furthermore, we believe the recommendations in the report provide ideas that will facilitate the parties reaching a fair contract and avoiding the harm a strike would cause our school communities.”

OUSD is also saying that all schools will be open during the strike.

“Qualified OUSD central office employees and screened temporary teachers will join school principals and site staff to supervise, care for and educate OUSD students.

Striking teachers march through Oakland streets

In an open letter to Oakland teachers, parents and students last Friday, Brown criticized school board members who were backed by billionaires for pushing a competition-based “portfolio” model for Oakland that “has led to a patchwork of privatization, school closures, and unimproved student outcomes in districts like New Orleans, Newark and Detroit.”

The fact-finder’s report is posted on the union’s website: www.oaklandea.org. The full and comprehensive OEA presentation to the fact-finder – titled “Remedying Educational Malpractice,” with extensive data supporting the union’s positions – is also posted on the website.

Oakland educators have been working without a contract since July 2017 and are the lowest-paid in Alameda County.

The news conference announcing the strike can be viewed art https://www.facebook.com/OaklandEA/

Published February 24 2019, courtesy of the Oakland  Post

State Pushes School District to Shut Schools, Sell “Surplus” Property

Parents and community meeting rally against school closings in Oakland Friday Feb. 15 at Roots International Academy in East Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Parents at targeted schools are beginning to come together to demand the school district and the state halt the proposed closing of as many as 24 Oakland schools in the next few years.

The first speaker at a rally last Friday on a cold and blustery morning in front of one of the targeted schools, Roots International Academy, was Tamella Jackson, educator and parent at Kaiser Elementary School, which is on the school board’s closure list.

“Something that I can’t get out of my mind (is the saying), ‘If you stand for nothing, you fall for anything.’ We’re not falling – we’re standing for equality. We are standing for our city. We’re standing for our kids,” she said.

“Closing schools displaces (students) and causes family strains so parents can’t take of their kids. We’re slowly understanding and letting more and more people know that this system is set up to fail us,” Jackson said.

“None of us here are going to stand for letting you displace us or choose which teachers you want and what type of schools (we will have),” she said. “I’m speaking directly to the State of California.  Give us our damn schools back.”

Roots parent leader Ady Rios has been active in the fight to save her son’s school since December when the district first announced that Roots would close in June.

“We’re here to fight for our kids. We’re here to keep our schools open,” she said.  “We know that another 23 schools will be going through this. We’re not going to let them take those schools.  We’re going to fight. This is just the beginning.”

Teacher education professor Kitty Kelly Epstein said she was inspired by the commitment and perseverance of Roots parents and teachers “to fight with the school board to show them that their assessment of their school is totally wrong.”

The board justifies its decision based on “bogus” numbers, she said, racially biased test scores that do not prove what they claim to prove, and assertions that closing schools save money, which has been shown to be false in urban school districts across the country.

The district claims it would save a small amount of money – $325,00 – by closing Roots, a neighborhood school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard, currently serving 309 students.

But in a report issued last Friday to the state-appointed fact finder, OUSD wrote that “the district’s attempts to close schools have been difficult and have not led to significant reductions in cost over time.”

When OUSD officials realized that this statement was included in the report, they asked everyone in the room to rip that page out of their binders and return it to the district.

Meanwhile, the school district is moving ahead with plans to lease school property to charter schools for as long as 40 years and has set up a surplus property committee to sell public school parcels to developers and charters.

The pressure to dispose of public property district comes directly from the state and raises the question of what state legislators are doing to defend the existence of public education in Oakland and other urban districts.

According to community members speaking at Friday’s rally, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks and State Senator Nancy Skinner have a responsibility to intervene against school closings and the selling and leasing of public-school land,

A state law passed last year, AB 1840, encourages the dismantling of Oakland’s public-school system.

According to the law, OUSD can get a loan from the state if it “sell(s’) or lease(s) surplus real property… owned by the school district and uses the proceeds from the sale or lease to service, reduce, or retire the debt on the emergency apportionment loan, or for capital improvements.”

The state law also hands over significant decision-making control over school district finances to the Alameda County Office of Education and the state-funded nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT).

The law said the district is required, “in collaboration with and with the concurrence of the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools and the … Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, to take certain actions by March 1, 2019 regarding its financial plans and school district construction plans.”

Though the wording of AB 1840 says the district “may” sell school property, rather than “shall” school property, the state’s overseers at FCMAT and the County Office of Education have made it clear that they expect the district to close schools and sell the property.

Published February 20, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Commentary: Data Points and Dollar Signs: Roots, School Closure, and the New “Demand Rate” Metric

Roots International Academy in East Oaklad

By Jane Nylund

 Ultimately, the growth of charters will be fundamentally constrained as long as districts fail to consolidate or close under-enrolled district schools. Serious attention needs to go into developing a strategy that requires or incentivizes these actions and provides political backing to district and board officials who are trying to make these adjustments.”   

So, in order to follow the direction of CRPE, the district must close and consolidate schools to make room for charter schools. Because of the predictable, crushing loss of revenue, the district is now trying to find ways of generating new revenue. Like clawing back students from charters into district schools.

Hence the proposed closure of ROOTS. In my opinion, ROOTS is also being thrown under the bus to satisfy the requirements of both FCMAT and the terms of AB1840. The students are in danger of losing their school because of political theater. Closing the school won’t save money, won’t improve student outcomes, and won’t create more “opportunity.”

But it will disrupt the education of a student population (ELL/newcomers) that has been extraordinarily communicative as to why their children need and deserve a neighborhood school like ROOTS that supports their unique needs.

That word “opportunity” has been tossed around lately as a silver lining to the ROOTS closure. It has morphed into the concept that some schools have “opportunity” and some don’t. Really? ALL Oakland schools have opportunity. Every single one.

The question is whether the adults in the room have the courage to admit to the students and parents at ROOTS that they aren’t worthy of the district’s attention or finances; that splitting up their population and scattering them like leaves is in the best interest of the community.

History of ROOTS and the Small Schools Initiative

Both ROOTS and CCPA were part of OUSD’s Small School Initiative. It was a huge redesign experiment on our kids, and I want to emphasize the “experiment” part.

The experiment allowed Bill Gates to use our kids as lab rats, collect some data, with the idea that we would learn some really cool stuff about how schools should work and create a lot of new schools.Even though the educators already knew how existing schools should work because, well, they actually do the work. At the school.

Inevitably, part of the experiment would involve merging/expanding the smalls schools that were deemed “successes” and closing the ones that “failed.”

Fast forward, and a lot can change. Neighborhoods, economics, demographics, political climate. Both ROOTS and CCPA are now coexisting, until…the powers that be decide to close ROOTS, supposedly to save money, manage our “portfolio”, and generate some additional revenue. What’s the fun of having a portfolio district if you can’t actually close schools and massage data? (Remember, data points and dollar signs, that’s the theme).

There are rumblings about test scores compared to CCPA, and that CCPA should expand because it has higher test scores. Meaning what?

Meaning not much. Difference in test scores between schools is generally correlated with several factors: ELL, SPED, wealth, demographics, and test prep. In addition, the populations are self-selected at both schools.  The student populations are NOT THE SAME, and therefore you can’t make any meaningful comparisons regarding test scores (as proxy for learning) when comparing the two schools, or any two (or more) schools for that matter.

Just for starters, ROOTS has nearly half of their students classified as ELL, compared to CCPA which has about one-third. In addition, CCPA received more funding than ROOTS (could be because of the grade makeup), and ROOTS has more inexperienced teachers. In 2016-17, nearly all of the teachers at ROOTS had 1-2 years’ experience. All of these factors can affect outcomes, so it is simply not a fair comparison and should not be the justification for school closure.

The Demand Rate

So, what other metric can the district use to support school closure? The latest weapon in the privatization tool box is something called the demand rate.

The district invented a way to quantify “demand” for a school. It’s a way to manufacture a metric that stands as a proxy for “quality”, but is actually disguised as nothing more than a way to judge a beauty contest; a way to show which schools are more popular, but not necessarily better for certain populations with unique needs, such as ELL (newcomers) and SPED. Oddly enough, the district does not include second or third choice in the demand model. Only first choice.

The district doesn’t consider second or third place worthy of inclusion in the demand calculation. Only winners and losers. And in this case, the loser is ROOTS, and the parents and students who chose it. According to the district, they chose the wrong school. This is not how school choice is supposed to work, but no one should be surprised by this. Nothing about school choice is working the way it was supposed to because the entire concept has been hijacked by billionaires who know what’s best. For them and their kids.

The demand rate will never qualify the reason behind the enrollment at school sites, and this is one of its greatest flaws. This metric will no doubt be used as a tool to justify school closure, not just for ROOTS, but for other district schools. Corporations and billionaires who support the portfolio model believe that schools should be run like businesses (data points and dollar signs). Data can then be manipulated in all kinds of ways to justify school closures.

Finally, the closure of ROOTS is one more way of showing disrespect for the parents and students who chose the school. They are being told that they have better opportunity elsewhere, but not at CCPA (CCPA has indicated it doesn’t want to enroll the ROOTS students). Encoded in this decision is that neighborhood schools aren’t that important.

That having a school within a safe walking distance isn’t important. That having peer, community, and ELL support isn’t important. That it’s better to get into your car (or a bus) and drive across town (assuming you have that luxury) to a different school environment (but not CCPA) because someone who doesn’t even know you or your child’s needs think that’s best. Because of test scores.

Finally, the district did put a price tag on all the disruption and displacement for those families. $81K. That’s all the immediate savings they project the first year for closing ROOTS. If any ROOTS students decide to move, leave the district and/or attend a charter, that’s $8-10K per student. Gone. You do the math. Pitiful.

There happen to be two charter schools right down the street from ROOTS, Aspire and Aurum. Maybe the parents will just decide their student needs to stay in the neighborhood, so they will go to those schools by default. If CCPA won’t enroll them, there aren’t any other neighborhood middle schools left, except for charter schools.

Finally, OUSD has a duty to engage with these parents/students/caregivers openly and honestly, and that isn’t happening. The district has no business closing the school,or any other school, if they aren’t even willing to publicly articulate the reason for the closure (data points and dollar signs).

Parents and students deserve that much. Better yet, leave ROOTS open and get them the support they need. The ROOTS community has exhibited far more courage, honesty, and integrity through this challenging time, and they deserve the same in return.

See: www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/crpe-slowdown-bay-area-charter-school-growth.pdf

Posted at Oakland Crossings, January 23, 2019

Sick Outs and Solidarity Schools: Oakland Teachers Prepare for Possible Strike

Oakland teachers hold one-day walkout and picket school district headquarters. Photo courtesy of KQED.

 

By Zack Haber

Pressure is mounting as Oakland teachers and their supporters push for decreased class sizes, a 12 percent pay increase for educators, the hiring of more counselors, and for the district to cancel plans to close up to 24 schools in the next few years.

After teachers have worked for over a year and a half without a contract with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), a vote to strike has been scheduled from Jan. 29 – Feb. 1 for all 3000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) union.

While the OEA is leading negotiations and strike preparations, school-based coalitions of teachers are also taking action. Teachers have begun holding one-day sick-outs and marches to the district headquarters at 11th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland.

One group, the Wildcat Underground, made up of Oakland High School teachers, has called for and participated in two sickouts.

“The sick outs are our way of flexing. We’re showing that teachers are ready to strike, that we’re organized and mobilized,”said Oakland High School teacher Alex Webster Guiney.

The momentum behind sick outs is growing. While the vast majority of those who participated in the first sick out in December were teachers from Oakland High School, many teachers from at least nine different schools, including Skyline and Fremont High Schools, called in sick and participated in the second sick out.

On the morning of the second sick out, at 8 am, several hundred community members joined an Oakland teachers’ protest, meeting in front of Oakland Technical High School and marching – while chanting and carrying signs – about two and a half miles to OUSD’s headquarters.

In an email to OUSD staff, superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said the district was disappointed in the sick out actions. Since OEA did not officially sanction the sick outs, Trammell characterized them as “unauthorized.”

After the Wildcat Underground led action, OEA president Keith Brown and vice presidents Ismael Armendariz and Chaz Garcia wrote a letter to the district sympathizing with the sick out teachers.

“When we tell our members to ‘let the process work,’ they look at us like we’re fools,” the letter stated. “I can’t blame them. They’re being priced out of their apartments when negotiations seem to go nowhere.”

OEA and individual teachers are working to set up solidarity schools, also called strike schools.

“Strike schools are places in the community that are holding space for people to send their children during the exact same hours that schools are open,” said Fremont High School teacher Kehinde Shalter, who thinks it’s important to provide parents safe educational places to leave their children while parents work.

Salter’s been working to secure spaces for these schools. The East Bay Youth Center, Peralta College, and the main and MLK branches of the Oakland public library have already agreed to host students during the strike.

Coliseum College Preparatory Academy (CCPA) teacher Becca Rozo-Marsh wants help from community volunteers at solidarity schools so more teachers can spend their time on the picket line. She’s been happy at the response she’s gotten so far as she’s reached out to parents and activists.

“We’ve had an outpouring of support from community members, and our role has been to bring those resources together and coordinate them,” she said.

Published January 22, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parents Ask: “Who’s Behind Roots School Closure?”

“Who are really the key players here. It appears board members don’t have any control,” said a Roots parent

Roots International Academy parent leaders Sylvia Ornelas and Adelaida B Rios, with teacher Quinn Ranahan and a contingent of Roots students at the march and rally for public education in Oakland, Saturday, Jan. 12. Photo by Mona Lisa Treviño.

 

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is moving full throttle with the closing of Roots International Academy, even though the proposal has not yet been approved by the Board of Education and though the district so far has not determined how much money closing the school would save, if any.

Nor does the district provide answers why the up to 24 schools that are being considered for closure are in flatland East Oakland and West Oakland neighborhoods. None of those affected are Oakland’s 44 charter schools or schools that serve more affluent students.

Studies about the wave of closures across the country, which have hit predominately Black and Latino schools, indicate that school districts save no money and that the long-lasting effects are detrimental to the education of students who are displaced as well as those who attend the receiving schools.

A big question about the closing of Roots, located at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland, is one about democracy: Who made the decision to close the school if it is not the elected school board.

School district officials say that the decision to close the school in June means they have to move ahead quickly, so Roots students will have other schools to attend in the fall. The board is scheduled to discuss the issue on Jan. 23 and make the final decision Jan .28 at a special meeting.

According to OUSD spokesman John Sasaki, “Staff is making a recommendation, and the school board will make the final decision.”

However, the administration  seems to have been decided the issue without waiting for the board to act on its recommendation. Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell met with the Roots community in December, the week before the holiday break, to notify teachers and parents that their school would close.

The district is already starting to counsel students and parents about other schools in East Oakland they can attend next year instead of Roots. No decision has been announced about paying for bus transportation for the families.

And CCPA (Coliseum College Prep Academy), the more favored public school that shares the campus with Roots, called a meeting this week about what to do with all the extra classroom space once Roots shuts down.

“Parents are invited to give input about CCPA’s expansion plan. Roots is scheduled to close next year, and CCPA is planning to grow to serve more students in the community,” according to a CCPA newsletter. The CCPA administration told parents the school is not willing to take more than about a half dozen current Roots students.

“What’s the real deal? Who made the decision? Asked Sylvia Ornelas, a parent leader at Roots.

“We’re not getting any answers,” she said.  “Who are really the key players here? It appears the board members don’t have any control.”

The Oakland Post this week filed a Public Records Act (PRA) Request with the district asking for communications related to Roots and other school closings.

In addition to communications and reports by district officials, the PRA requested said, “The documents should include exchanges with the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), the Alameda County Office of Education, Oakland’s state-appointed trustee, representatives of the State Department of Education and atate legislators and representatives of GO Public School, Educate78, New Schools Venture Fund and the California Charter School Association.”

Asked why the district objects to sending current Roots students to CCPA, which would minimize disruption of the tightknit Roots school community, District spokesman Sasaki emphasized that the merging of the two adjacent schools would have a harmful impact on students.

“Merging the two schools was not an option as that would have been too disruptive for all the students, families and staff,” he said

Presumably, displacing Roots families to schools around East Oakland – Elmhurst Community, Greenleaf, Madison Park Upper and Urban Promise Academy, according to the district – would not disrupt the educational stability of those schools or the displaced students.

Sasaki said the reason for closing Roots has to do with saving money and efficiency:

“All the changes the district is look at are aimed at making the district function more efficiently with better schools while saving money. The changes for Roots have to do with declining enrollment and problems with staff retention.”

However, Sasaki says the district still not know how much will be saved by closing the school.

“The district is still working to determine what the savings will be  with the closure of Roots,” according to KQED, citing an email from Sasaki.

In a strong statement of support for Roots, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown said:

“Our association firmly believes that every student deserves a quality public education. So, we are dismayed by discussion of school closures and consolidations,  particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. We should be building up our community schools, not shutting them down.”

Published January 19, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Teachers Demand State Increase School Funding

“The state owes OUSD – I stand in solidarity with you,” said Senator Nancy Skinner

East Bay teachers and supporters march through the streets of Oakland, Jan. 12. Shown are California Teachers Association Secretary Treasurer David Goldberg (third from left) and Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown (fourth from left). Photo by Amir Saadi.

 

By Zack Haber

As Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) teachers prepare for a possible strike, many teachers, students, and community members are showing support for their demand to increase public education funding.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, several thousand East Bay teachers and their supporters gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater and marched to Oakland City Hall for a “Rally to Fund Public Education Now,” organized by the Oakland Education Association (OEA).

Many in the enthusiastic crowd wore #RedforEd t-shirts and carried signs reading, “Fight for the Schools Students Deserve” and “Ready to Strike.”

At Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall, musicians showed support by playing brass instruments and drums while union leaders and educators led chants such as “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Where did all the teachers go?” – addressing OEA’s concern that because OUSD teachers are paid so much less than neighboring districts, between 20-25 percent of Oakland teachers leave every year.

“We’re fighting for essential resources for our students, smaller class size, investment in student supports, and we’re fighting for a living wage to keep good teachers in Oakland,” OEA president Keith Brown, a Bret Harte Middle School teacher.

Brown said OUSD would be able to raise teacher salaries if the district cuts its spending on central office administrators and outside consultants, and stops handing over students, state funding and school sites to charter schools. He also called on the state to increase funding for the long term health of public education.

“We want to have a competitive salary so people stop leaving the district,” said physical education teacher Toussaint Stewart, who added that positive long term relationships with teachers are crucial for young people.

“It’s traumatizing for our kids when so many of their teachers leave,” he said.

The City Hall rally was organized by The East Bay Coalition for Public Education, which called for increased funding for all East Bay schools with a special focus on Oakland, and was supported by over a dozen local teachers unions.

Speakers also spoke out against OUSD’s proposal to cut 24 schools. Teachers and parents from Roots International Academy in East Oakland have been pushing for a dialogue with Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammel and the school board since December, when Trammel announced that Roots was closing.

The Roots’ speakers said their school needs increased funding, not closure. They want the district to strengthen their neighborhood school, not scatter students and families to other schools throughout East Oakland.

One of the speakers was David Goldberg, Secretary Treasurer of the California Teachers Association, who flew up from Los Angeles to show solidarity.

He said the teachers’ fight for better salaries and the students’ fight for a better education are inseparable.

“Our struggle for dignity for our teachers has to be connected to our struggle for social justice for our students,” said Goldberg.

In her remarks, East Bay Senator Nancy Skinner said the state has contributed to the financial difficulties OUSD is currently facing, including the state takeover in 2003.

“The state owes OUSD,” said Skinner. “I stand in solidarity with you.

Published January 18, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Memorial for Street Academy Principal Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams Myrick

As the school’s leader, she helped raise generations of students for 40 years

Patricia Williams Myrick (right) and her daughter Kelly Mayes in 1976.

A memorial will be held for former Oakland Academy Principal  Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams Myrick, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Bakewell Hall, 525 29th St. in Oakland.

A resident of Richmond, CA, she died on Dec. 19 at the age of 80.

Ms. Pat was born on Sept. 8, 1938. Always a nurturer, she was the oldest of nine siblings and eight cousins (her mother’s twin sister’s children). She took care of all 16 siblings and cousins and took that job seriously.

She watched over of all of her cousins.  She also had an uncle Bob who had children, and she watched over everybody.  As she matured, she continued to help everyone when needed. Her upbringing shaped her into the woman she became

After graduating from Des Moines Technical High School in 1957, she moved to the Bay Area in 1966 and received her AA in Business in 1976. She worked at UC Berkeley for a number of years. Then she became employed by The Bay Area Urban League, the first fiscal agent for the Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy, an Oakland public alternative high school, located at 417 29th St. in Oakland.

Her journey with Street Academy lasted 40 years, and  she retired as the school’s administrator.

She is survived by her only daughter Kelly (White) Mayes of Richmond; 3 granddaughters, Meichele Kacee Mayes-Blackwell, Tiani Powers and Genai Powers, plus 4 great-granddaughters, Chazae, Chalynn, Avri and Chazity.

Ms. Pat was preceded in death by siblings, Lance White, Verdo White, Margo White and Terrie White. She is survived by her brothers Ricardo White and Antonio White of El Cerrito; two sisters, Brenda Rakestraw of Oceanside, CA; Veronica Carr of New Mexico; and a host of nieces and nephews.

Published January 17, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Roots’ Families Tell School Board, ‘Don’t Close Our School’

Teachers’ union President Keith Brown (right, in green shirt) speaks in solidarity with Roots‘ families and teachers at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.  The parents, students and teachers from Roots International Academy at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland turned out for the Oakland Board of Education meeting to stand up in defense of their neighborhood school. The district administration is moving forward, without waiting for school board approval or consultation with the families, with plans to shut down the school and scatter the students to neighboring schools. Photo by Ken Epstein

Roots’ students stand up for their school. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Published January 13, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Opinion: We Must Reduce Gentrification in Our Classrooms

The lack of teachers of color, particularly Black and Latino, is undermining the education
of students in our schools, says Alexandra Mejia.

By Alexandra Mejia

Gentrification of Oakland leaves many of us with empty pockets and anxiety about a rent increase, but have we ever thought about gentrification af­fecting more than just where we live?

As families and educators, we are facing gentrification in our classrooms. Students are being referred to special edu­cation classes, missing out on class lectures, and being put in situations where they are at risk of dropping out.

There is a disconnect between our highly diverse youth and the teachers who educate them. One issue many students face is the educators’ idea of “safety.”

Because frequently teachers are not from Oakland commu­nities or similar communities, they struggle to connect with students who have been shaped by the communities in which they live.

These new white educators do not comprehend the every­day struggles and traumatic situations that the students of Oakland may face. These teach­ers are caught off guard by the culture shock they have been hired into, and they may adopt a narrative that their students make them feel unsafe or en­dangered.

Our students face every day issues that these new, naïve teachers are not prepared to ad­dress, and so they simply teach to the small portion that they feel comfortable with and deem the rest as low-performing.

These “low performing” stu­dents are taken out of class to re­ceive some sort of punishment, referred to special education classes for behavior problems, or even expelled.

Thus, students are placed on a path that leads to the teachers’ self-fulfilling prophecy. They believe that because everyone thinks they are “bad” and, that is what they must become.

Frequently these new teach­ers give up and resign, begin­ning a new cycle of inexperi­enced, ill prepared teachers. Education becomes associated with institutionalized oppres­sion and students reject the school system that treats them like outsiders in their own com­munities.

There is an immediate need to hire teachers devoid of the systematic biases that target our students of color.

So why is this influx of white middle class educators such a trend? It is easy to assume that there are just simply not enough teachers coming out of the Oak­land community, but that as­sumption is entirely false.

The reality is that there are teachers who are shaped by these types of communities who are exploding with pas­sion about teaching the youth that they see themselves in, but simply struggle to survive eco­nomically as a teacher.

After four years of racking up student debt to earn a bachelor’s degree, prospective teachers must partake in an intensive credential program that requires them to volunteer themselves for a year of free teaching and pay hundreds of dollars to pass a series of tests in order to gain their credential.

Then, when hired on as teachers, they are barely mak­ing enough money to pay their rent. Many teachers face the choice to either sacrifice finan­cial stability, or sacrifice having a career where they can shape and educate youth in an effec­tive way.

If we begin to support and value effective teachers, we will see a change in the community. The city of Oakland would ben­efit immensely by hiring teach­ers in their own communities as educators, but what steps must be taken to make this possible?

The students of Holy Names University propose that afford­able housing for public school teachers from the Oakland community would lead to an in­crease in student performance, a greater teacher retention rate, strengthening of the Oakland community and an overall more productive, welcoming school environment.

Alexandra Mejia is an Oakland resident preparing to be a teacher and a graduate student at Holy Names University.

Published January 12, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Considers Sharing Individual Student Data with Charter Industry Company

An Oakland teacher prepares posters for upcoming teacher protests. Photo by Bethany Nickless Meyer.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland public school par­ents were shocked to learn this week that the school district is considering a data-sharing agreement with a charter school industry nonprofit group.

The proposal on this week’s Board of Education agenda would share student personal information with the nonprofit “Oakland Enrolls,” which runs the enrollment program for nearly all Oakland’s char­ter schools and has a board of directors compromised almost entirely of local charter school leaders.

An Oakland teacher prepares posters for upcoming teacher protests.

After a flurry of community complaints, the proposal was pulled from this Wednesday’s board agenda, according to Board President Aimee Eng.

“We need to get more clarity from staff about how student information (will be protect­ed)” and perhaps strengthen the protections in the proposed contract with Open Enrolls, she said.

Eng said the issue may come back to the board at its next meeting on Jan. 23.  According to district spokesman John Sasaki, the purpose of gathering information is so that the district will know which stu­dents are applying to both charter schools and district schools in order to improve planning and staffing at the beginning of the school year.

“This information is not to be used for recruiting students to charter schools,” Sasaki said. “It is legal to exchange this infor­mation was long as you have a (signed) Memorandum of Under­standing.”

“(However), we will let parents opt out of if it if they wish,” he said.

The resolution on this week’s agenda was placed on the school board’s consent calendar, which is reserved for non-controversial items that are generally approved without discussion.

The data-sharing agreement data may include individual stu­dent information collected by the district such as: name, address, telephone Listing, ethnicity or race, nationality, participation in officially recognized activities and sports and the most recent previous education institution attended by the student.

While the contract with Oakland Enroll says the data can only be used for specific purposes, parents are concerned about the legality of letting personal information outside of the district’s control and the potential for data mining, selling information to private companies, a scandal involving supposedly “reputable” companies that is currently in the media.

“I would say that the danger for our students and families are not just getting advertisements thrown at them later,” said Jane Nyland, a parent and member of board of the Skyline High School PTSAs.

“This digital information is connected to the student forever,” she said. “Personal information gets sold off and sold off and sold off. You have no idea who has it.”

Added parent Ann Swinburn, “This agreement is an indication that the district is not actually serious about achieving financial stability for our kids because giving personal information for ev­ery student in the district to the charter school industry will fur­ther threaten the district with enrollment loss, and further erode parents’ trust in OUSD.”

Oakland Enrolls and OUSD both use enrollment software de­veloped by SchoolMint, a company that In addition to OUSD serves several of the nation’s largest school districts including Chicago Public Schools and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

SchoolMint, which was recently purchased by Hero K12. A press release in 2017 said, “Hero K12, which is backed by BV Investment Partners, has acquired San Francisco-based School­Mint, a provider of mobile and online enrollment and school choice systems for PreK-12 public, charter and private schools. SchoolMint’s backers included Runa Capital, Reach Capital (New Schools), Fresco Capital, Govtech Fund, Kapor Capital, Crosslink Capital, Maiden Lane Ventures and CSC Upshot.”

Hero K12’s applications are used to track student discipline records. “A complete, digital solution for tardy and attendance improvement, HeroReady brings accuracy to and radically sim­plifies the process for the front office,” according to the Hero K12 website.

This data sharing proposal is one of the steps OUSD is tak­ing to merge functions of the school district with the privately managed charter industry based on Board Policy 6006, adopted in June, which was crafted by GO Public Schools – an Oakland-based, charter school industry-funded organization.

BP 6006 is policy designed to convert Oakland to a “portfo­lio school district “ – a controversial model that has led to rapid charter school proliferation in other districts like New Orleans, Indianapolis and Denver.

Published January 11, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post