Category: Education/Schools/Youth

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

Oakland Teachers Are Getting Ready to Strike as Contract Fight Escalates

Educators across the state are demanding more funding for California’s underfunded public schools

Rally for Oakland teachers

Starting this week with solidarity events before school Friday and a huge rally Saturday of educators from many East Bay districts in Oakland, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) is escalating its contract fight and is strongly considering a strike authorization vote by the end of this month.

Living wages to end teacher turnover, smaller class sizes and more resources for the district’s 37,000 students remain the OEA union’s urgent priorities. OEA is demanding a 12 percent raise over three years, while the district is only offering 5 percent.

In addition, educators and parents will also spoke out, Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Oakland Unified School District school board meeting about the district’s disrespectful ongoing plans to close up to 24 neighborhood school sites in the next few years, many in low-income areas. Parents and teachers have launched a petition to save Roots International Academy and all of the targeted schools. Roots middle school could close in June.

The Oakland educators’ showdown comes as more than 30,000 Los Angeles Unified School District educators represented by the United Teachers Los Angeles union are mobilizing for a potential strike on Monday, Jan. 14, in the nation’s second-largest school district.

After seven Oakland mediation sessions and working a year and a half without a contract, Oakland educators are considering all options to protect public schools, said OEA President Keith Brown.

“Educators in Oakland are ready to fight for the public schools our students and our community deserve,” Brown said. “We are tired of being undervalued and disrespected at the bargaining table. We are being loud and clear about our priorities. We demand a living wage, lower class sizes and the resources our students want and need.”

The union expects to take the final steps this month in the bargaining process before it can legally strike – a fact-finding hearing by a state-appointed neutral and a strike authorization vote that would allow OEA leaders to call a strike.

Local teachers’ unions statewide are organizing a #RedForEd Day of Action on Friday, Jan. 11in solidarity potential looming strikes by the Oakland Education Association and United Teachers Los Angeles.

Many teachers will wear red, joining parents or students and starting the school day by walking in together.

Also in support of Oakland and Los Angeles Unified teachers – and calling for more funding for California’s underfunded public-school system – hundreds of East Bay educators from many school districts will converge for a rally at noon Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Oakland City Hall Frank Ogawa Plaza.

The rally is organized by the East Bay Coalition of Public Educators, a group of at least 13 CTA union chapters that will be joined by parents and students. The Oakland contingent will meet at 11 a.m. at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater, and then march at 11:30 a.m. to the nearby rally.

In a special community solidarity event, the OEA is hosting three days of a public “art build for public education” to show support for Oakland educators during their potential strike. The art could be used in rallies, marches and picketing.

The family events are all at the OEA offices, 272 East 12th St., Oakland, 94606. Local food vendors will offer meals. These events will be held from 4-10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18, and then from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 19-20.

For more details, call OEA at (510) 763-4020 or go to www.OaklandEA.org

Posted January 9, 2019 in Oakland Crossings

Roots Families Heat Up Fight to Save Their Neighborhood School

Roots International Academy in East Oaklad

By Ken Epstein

Students, parents and teach­ers at Roots International Academy in East Oakland are reacting with shock and deter­mination since learning right before the holiday break that their neighborhood middle school will be closed in June.

Responding to Oakland Unified School District Su­perintendent Kyla Johnson- Trammell and her staff, who held a meeting at the school on December 18 to announce the closing, an eighth-grader at the school wrote a letter to the superintendent, accusing the district of “destroying/interfer­ing with our education and our relationships with our teachers and peers.”

Students at Roots

“You (aren’t) closing Roots about equality,” the student wrote. “It’s about money, the money you are supposed to pro­vide, but you are not providing. You provide (it) for CCPA and OUSD schools in the hills.” CCPA is the better funded school that shares the campus with Roots at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard.

The district has already closed 15 schools in the last dozen years or so. Once the justifications were no longer needed, nobody mentioned anything about the closings saving any money, improv­ing the quality of the remain­ing schools nor the poor test scores of many the charter schools that replaced the pub­lic schools.

One teacher at Roots told the Oakland Post that she does not buy the arguments she has heard that Roots is a failing school. District officials and local charter school propo­nents frequently justify school closing based on statistical analysis of test scores.

Students at Roots

“We don’t feel it’s a failing school,” she said. “They’re displacing a community, a community that is often over­looked and underserved.”

More resources go to fa­vored schools than those that are neglected, which can be seen at the school next door that shares the campus with Roots, according to the teacher. The other school even has wa­ter fountains that work better, she said. “You can see the dif­ference in how they’re served by the district.”

Student athletes at Roots International Academy

Speaking on “Education To­day,” a program on radio station KPFA 94.1 FM, Roots parents Addy Rios and Silvia Ornelas explained what Roots means to them and their children.

“For me as a parent, it was devastating,” said Rios. “My kid still doesn’t comprehend or doesn’t want to believe (it).”

She said her son is doing well at the school. “It’s a good school. With the help of us, the parents, he is doing really good (in) his classes, with his teach­ers and his classmates,” Rios said. “I don’t understand why they are saying that it’s going to be closed because it’s not doing good. We asked questions, but just don’t have an answer.”

Ornelas said Roots has been a great fit for her daughter. “It’s a smaller school (than her previ­ous school) where she didn’t get the necessary attention. With her teachers at Roots, all the staff is so committed to ev­ery single student who walks through those doors.”

In the mornings, she said, the teachers and staff mem­bers “greet the kids with a high five, a hug, a handshake, a smile on their faces. Every single child feels accepted at Roots.

“The school district is try­ing to take it away from our kids.”

Rios said the real reason for closing of schools in Oakland has to do with “money, gentri­fication.”

“They’re going to sell the (schools) to build housing, which is going to be very expensive, for the techs and everybody (who) is going to come and replace us and push us out,” she said.

The message they are giv­ing to the kids is that they are no good, that “they don’t de­serve education, they don’t de­serve to have a public school,” said Rios.

The parents said there is no community engagement: no­body is listening to them, not the superintendent, not the school board, not even Shanthi Gonzales, who is supposed to represent Roots families on the board of education.

At the December 18 meet­ing, Gonzales said she support­ed closing Roots but would not answer the parents’ questions or even look directly at them, according to the parents.

Added Ornelas, “This is a public school – it is not private­ly owned. t’s not funded by bil­lionaires. They need to answer our questions before taking such drastic measures. “

According to a message on her email account, Board­member Gonzales is out of the country and not available for comment until late Janu­ary. Questions emailed to the district were not answered be­cause most staff are on holiday break, according to OUSD Communications Director John Sasaki.

In an email newsletter dated December 30, Supt. Johnson- Trammell said, “The effort to re-imagine OUSD relates di­rectly to the work we are doing to address the Community of Schools Board Policy, which is moving forward towards a right-sized district with the aim of offering a high qual­ity school in every neighbor­hood…In order to right-size, changes will be made that will be challenging.”

The Roots community is are asking for people to attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5 p.m., at La Escuelita Education Center, 1050 2nd Ave. in Oakland.

Published January 4, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Community Reacts to Proposed Wave of School Closures

Social studies classroom at Roots International Academy at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland.

 

By Ken Epstein

The announcement that the Oakland Unified School District is planning to close up to 24 schools in the next few years, starting with Roots International Academy in East Oakland in June, is stirring concern throughout the city.

“We need to protect and strengthen our public schools, including to protect neighborhood schools for the

Rebecca Kaplan

areas being proposed disproportionate closures,” said Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan.

Though names of most of the schools facing closure have not yet been released, they are all located in poorer neighborhoods in East and West Oakland. None are located in the more affluent Oakland hills, and none are charter schools.

Councilmember Noel Gallo, who represents the Fruitvale District in East Oakland, says the school district needs to do a better job of improving performance and marketing its schools to the local families.

Noel Gallo

“I know we’ve got to balance the budget, but we have to be very selective in what schools we choose to close – because we are going to lose more families. I’ve seen that in the past,” said Gallo, who served 20 years on the school board before being elected to the City Council.

Newly elected Councilmember Loren Taylor represents District 6, which is where Roots Academy is located, is reaching out to learn more about the issue.

“I know there are some financial realities, but it’s important that we look at the needs of the community in all the planning,” said Taylor. “I’m in the

process of meeting with school board members and members of the school community so I can have a

fuller perspective on what’s going on.”

Loren Taylor

Esther Goolsby, a community leader and longtime East Oakland resident, says she is deeply concerned that OUSD is closing public schools, promoting charter schools and preparing to sell public school property to

private investors.

“What do they want to do with this land?” she asked. “I’m sure they already have plans. They want housing for the new people with the new money.”

“Who are the people (in the school district, the city and the state) who are making these decisions? What are their morals and their values?” she asked. “They talk about an Oakland Promise, but none of their actions change this cycle (of school neglect) that has been happening for years.”

Esther Goolsby

The only way to change the situation will be through community organizing, said Goolsby.

Pamela Drake of the Wellstone Democratic Club and the Block-by-Block Organizing Network said she has seen the district close schools and cut educational programs for years.

“Year after year, the parents go begging for schools they love and the teachers the love,” said Drake. “I hate to see a school closed that teachers and parents care about. It seems a real tragedy.”

Sylvester Hodges, a former school board member and president of the McClymonds High School Centennial Alumni Committee, says the school board and district administration are betraying their responsibility to the public.

“They are giving up on public education,” he said. “They are selling or giving up on public schools. They are helping to destroy the school system that was designed for the public.”

The growth of charter schools nationally and locally represents a “reversal of integration,” creating a new school system that is “separate and unequal,” he said.

“School officials are contracting out their responsibilities,” Hodges continued. “I think they should all resign from their positions. They are not qualified to handle the problems facing the Oakland
schools.”

The teachers’ union, the Oakland Education (OEA), says school closings are a threat to the continued existence of public education as the district moves into high gear in its merger with charter school

Pamela Drake

organizations, noting that Oakland is now in danger of following in the footsteps of New Orleans.

“The privatizers on the New Orleans school board handed the very last public school in the city over to a charter company (in December). There are no more public schools left in New Orleans,” according to statement on Facebook released by the OEA.

“Wonder why OUSD is threatening to close 24 public schools in the flatlands when our city’s population is growing? The same people who privatized New Orleans schools have their sights set on Oakland and are trying to push our public school system past the point of no return,” the OEA statement said.

“We won’t let them privatize our schools. We will fight for justice, equity and democracy. We will fight for the schools our students deserve.”

By the Oakland Post’s deadline, Mayor Libby Schaaf, a charter school supporter, did not respond to request for a comment on school closures.

Published January 3, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Wants to Close Roots International Academy This School Year

Holiday Robocall upsets parents and teachers at East Oakland middle school

Roots International Academy football team. Roots is a neighborhood middle school located at the old campus of Havenscourt Middle School at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard.

B Ken Epstein

As students and teachers were celebrating and preparing for the holiday winter break, officials of the Oakland Unified School District held a meeting at Roots International Academy to tell families and teachers that their school will be closed at the end of the current school year.

The announcement on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 18 – only four days before the start of the holidays – was delivered by Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell, a team of central

Roots is a neighborhood middle school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland. The school shares a campus with a much better funded sixth through 12th-grade school, Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), which make may take over the entire site if Roots closes.

The district’s decision, re­peated in a robocall to the entire school community on Friday – the last school day of the year, was blunt. The school will be closed and the students dispersed to other schools throughout the district. Students were promised an “opportunity ticket,” a pledge they would be able to enroll at a higher preforming school else­where in the district.

Without waiting for Roots or public input, the Board of Edu­cation is scheduled to start the process of closing the school at its first meeting after the win­ter break on Wednesday, Jan. 9, making the final decision on Jan. 23.

The large turnout at Tuesday’s meeting was surprising, accord­ing to people at the school. More than 100 parents, students and teachers took time from their holiday preparations to come to the meeting to speak out against the district’s rushed decision.

Reacting with surprise and anger, speakers expressed their concern that the district was making the decision without consulting them. They said the district is disrupting their children’s education and destroying their school community.

The district bears responsibility for neglecting and under-funding Roots for years, as well as frequently disrupting the school by chang­ing principals and removing staff and teachers, they said.

“They told the staff and community (at the Tuesday meeting) … that they would displace our neighborhood kids to schools that are not in their community,” said Roots teacher Quinn Ranahan in a Facebook post.

“The district told us that community voice(s) would not have anything to do with their choice as to whether to close a neigh­borhood public school,” Ranahan said. “School Board Rep. Shanthi Gonzales verbally committed to closing Roots without reason.”

“OUSD, how can you close a school you never fully funded?” she asked.

Silvia Ornelas, an eighth-grade parent who is active at the school, asked why the district is not answering the school community’s questions.

Roots parent Silvia Ornelas plays the robocall she received from the school district announcing that her child’s school would be closed in June. To view  a video of Ornelas playing the robo-message, go to www.facebook.com/pelesmom/videos/10218240051741630/UzpfSTY2ODI3ODMxNzoxMDE1NjI1MTU5MDg2ODMxOA/

“Why are they targeting Roots so quickly? What’s the rush?” Asked Ornelas.

“We’re trying to get the answers for our community,” she said. “People are devastated, parents and students alike. It’s heartbreak­ing. There are no clear answers.”

“Our kids need a one-on-one connection with adults,” she said. “They need to know they have somebody they can talk to. At Roots they have it. If they go to a bigger school, many of them will fall through the cracks.”

In statement to the Post, district spokesman John Sasaki said, “The plan is to absorb many students into the adjacent Coliseum College Prep Academy. All other students will receive an opportunity ticket which will give them priority placement to a higher performing mid­dle school.”

The Oakland Post has heard from staff that only a handful of stu­dents will be able to transfer to CCPA. The district so far not ex­plained whether the “Opportunity Ticket” amounts to more than a vague promise, which “higher preforming” schools students will be made available or why Roots cannot be merged with CCPA.

Last year, Roots had 309 students, 29 percent African American and 60 percent Latino, according to state statistics. The student popu­lation may have fallen last school year after an infestation of rats or mice led parents to pull 40 to 60 children from the school.

Megan Bumpus, a member of the Oakland Teachers Association (OEA) executive board, questioned why the district is ignoring its own community engagement plan for closing up to 24 schools in the next few years.

“Getting a robocall at the start of winter break announcing that your child’s school is closing is not community engagement,” Bum­pus said.

“Saying that there’s a three-year Blueprint process with a Board vote but then officially announcing that a school is closing in a few months without following the plan creates mistrust in a system de­signed to fail students of color in targeted neighborhoods,” she said.

The Roots community is are asking for people to attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5:30 p.m., at La Escuelita Edu­cation Center, 1050 2nd Ave. in Oakland.

Published December 29, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Patricia Williams-Myrick,80, Beloved Oakland Street Academy Principal

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

By Post Staff

 Dozens of family members and hundreds of students mourn the passing of Patricia “Pat” Williams Myrick, who raised generations of young people as the principal of the Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy.

She was also the matriarch of a wonderful family – her daughter Kelly; her three granddaughters – Mechele, Tiani, Genai and four great-granddaughters – Chazae; Chalynn, Avri, and Chazity.

“She made kids want to learn,” said Kelly, who spent much of her young life at the Street Academy and speaks with pride of her mother’s accomplishments.

Pat, the oldest of nine children, is credited with a remarkable combination of love and determination, which made the Street Academy an oasis of peace for the 40 years that she led it and to the current day.

The school has no security guards, no police and virtually no fights. Because families trusted Pat, she always knew the news, both good and bad, and she could head off problems before they occurred.

She trusted the faculty to create and carry out culturally relevant and rigorous curriculum. The school was one of the first in the country to require an ethnic studies history course, in addition to math and science courses that could lead to college admission for all students.

Gina Hill, the school’s current principal, says that Pat was the person she always called for advice in the years after Pat retired. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Ms. Pat. She is my West Coast auntie who believed and stated often, ‘Together we can make a change.’ “We need to believe this today more than ever. Ms. Pat loved and led fiercely, and I am proud to stand on her shoulders.”

Corrina Gould, a leader of Oakland’s Ohlone community, graduated from the Street Academy in 1984 and sent her own children to the school. She talks about Pat’s leadership on Facebook:
“She ran a school that was safe, and it didn’t matter what ‘hood’ you rep’d cuz when you were at Street, you were a student, and she would find out stuff about you even if you were messing up on the weekends. She would hold you accountable for your actions. “She never really had to yell; she could talk to you low and quiet and get your attention. She was always dressed to the nine’s and kept up her hair and ‘those nails’…

“I will miss her laughter and the way she stood up so straight that you felt like she could tower over anyone. She was bigger than life and I love her. I thank our ancestors for allowing us to cross our life paths.”

Musician and Street Academy Executive Assistant Bobby Young worked with Pat for 40 years and says of her, “The fact that the Street Academy continues today and is so effective is her legacy.”
Toynessa Kennedy, a doctoral student at Mills College, credits Pat with changing her life. “She helped me in high school; she helped me get to college; and she helped me get together with my now husband.”

There will a celebration of Pat’s life during the Martin Luther King Day week-end and more stories about her in next week’s Oakland Post.

Published December 28, courtesy of the Oakland Post

State needs to help maintain, not close, Oakland schools

Roots International Academy, a middle school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland, is slated to be closed at the end of the school year.

The Oakland school district is considering closing 24 more public schools. Oakland has already closed 15 schools, even though the city population is growing.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

An extensive study of public school closures, conducted by the National Education Policy Center, indicates that closing schools in urban communities does not save money and causes the greatest harm to the lowest income students. Closures do not save money on buildings, because the district may be forced to give the closed facility to a charter school, and the school to which students are transferred often needs renovation to accommodate the transferring students.

Closing schools disrupts the lives of children and drives more students out of the district, resulting in lower enrollment and further budget problems. A 2012 audit of Washington, D.C.’s closure of 23 schools found that the cost of the closures was $39 million, four times what the district was expected to save.

In Oakland, the school closings are especially unfair. Of the 24 threatened schools, all are in the low-income flatland neighborhoods; zero are in the affluent hill area; and zero are charter schools. The 15 schools that were already closed are also in the lower-income areas. When these facts are raised the hand-wringing begins. “We know these are difficult decisions, but…”

These are not difficult decisions. They are wrong and unnecessary decisions. So who is making them?

In 2003, the state took over the Oakland school district, a step which has since been condemned by many. The district argued that it did not need a loan because it could borrow from its own construction bonds, a step which had been taken by other districts.

At the insistence of then-state Sen. Don Perata, the state imposed a $100 million loan which was three times more than the highest estimate of the district deficit. The power of the elected school board was removed; a series of state administrators had total authority over the funds with no input from anyone in Oakland. Most of the money was spent on items that had nothing to do with the stated purpose of the takeover — correcting the finances.

And, by the end of the takeover period, the district’s finances were in worse shape than before the state took control.

Yet the state continued its power over the district through the non-elected, Bakersfield-based Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team and a state trustee. With all this “help,” the district now owes $40 million, which is more than the highest estimate of what Oakland needed in 2003.

There are other ways that the state makes both the financial and educational situation difficult. The state is in charge of who gets to teach. Its nonelected, nearly invisible Commission on Teacher Credentialing increases bureaucratic requirements, tests and fees almost every year, leading to an artificial teacher shortage, particularly of Latino and African American teachers who are least likely to afford the extra time and money required to jump through the ever-expanding series of hoops. A school with a constantly rotating set of temporary teachers is unlikely to be the first choice of parents.

And then there are the charter school laws, which do not allow a district to control how many charters open within its jurisdiction and will not allow districts to close any of them.

The State of California is the fifth largest economy in the world. It has a super-majority of Democrats in its Legislature and a large budget surplus. Yet for 15 years, it has played the role of hostile mortgage-holder to the Oakland schools.

The State of California needs to rescind the remaining debt, help the district maintain rather than close its community schools, and reform the laws that make quality education for nonaffluent Californians impossible. We hope that newly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond will take up that task.

Kitty Kelly Epstein is an education professor and the author of two books about Oakland.

Published December 19, 2018 in the San Francisco Chronicle