The amazing Oakland International High School

As part of lifting up successes in Oakland Unified that are not being sufficiently celebrated, I am happy to get to write about Oakland International High School (OIHS).

Last week I went to an open house at the school, which is a very successful program for students who are newcomers to the U.S. The other attendees were teachers and administrators from other nearby districts who were coming to learn from the OIHS model since it has become so well-known.

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School Tours at North Oakland Public Schools

The enrollment window for OUSD is open from November 4, 2019 - February 7, 2020. More information is available at www.ousd.org/enroll

The following are dates and links for prospective family tours at North Oakland public schools.

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Finding Silver Linings in the Oakland Schools

News of the Oakland schools was dominated last week by the confrontation at the school board, where police hit and tussled with protesters who shut down the meeting. I'll address that in a moment, but first I want to highlight some good news.

Bad news always gets more press and 'likes' than good news. But at the same time as protesters were getting arrested across town, parents from both Kaiser and Sankofa met to form a "design team" for the new merged school. One parent told me she was surprised to see more than 40 people in the room from both schools, some of whom had strongly opposed the merger, but decided to show up with goodwill to make the best of it now that it is going forward.

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Charter School in North Oakland Applying to Nearly Triple in Size

Yu Ming Charter School is applying to expand from its current 488 students to 1,400 (an additional 912 students, nearly tripling in size) over the next ten years. Please contact your Alameda County Board of Education Trustee to ask them to deny this application.

If approved, this will hurt Oakland Unified's enrollment and finances at a time when the district has been closing schools to try to become more financially stable. Currently, 42% of Yu Ming students live in Oakland, but even if that low percentage holds over time, 42% of 912 additional students is 383 students. Losing 383 students to Yu Ming would be a big hit for OUSD.

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Why are people confused about the meaning of 'public schools'?

There could not be a clearer example of how pro-charter philanthropists have changed how we talk about education than this one: you hear so many people in education policy insisting that charter schools are public schools too. Both of my parents were journalists and copy-editors, so I was brought up to be careful with my words. So if you notice that I don't use the word 'public' to refer to charter schools, it's for a reason. 

When I say, 'charter schools are not public schools,' I don't think most of my friends who are parents or teachers at charter schools are offended - they live that difference every day - but say that to somebody who works at a pro-charter non-profit or foundation and prepare yourself for a lecture.

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The budget "surplus" and what should be done with it

There was some unexpected good news when OUSD released the 2018-19 unaudited budget actuals - the District had a lot more money at the end of the year than expected! Although it would be much better if the District was more accurate at predicting its spending - so that the money could have been spent last year on helping kids - this is better than what happened a couple of years ago, when the district under-budgeted, and then had to make desperate last-minute cuts, at one point dipping into its insurance fund to pay for operating expenses.

Some people exaggerated how much money was left over - I saw mentions of a "$21 million surplus" - and said the District should reverse all of the school consolidations because there are no budget problems after all. That's not true - I'll explain why - but this news should make us re-examine some of our assumptions about this year's budget.

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My activism in the Trump years

(last chapter of my mini-autobio-blography)

After Trump was elected, some members of Kehilla Community Synagogue, where I belong, were moved to start organizing monthly protests outside the Richmond jail, which had a contract with the federal government as an ICE detention center. The Let Our People Go protests started as a way to increase the pressure by the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, which had held monthly vigils at the same jail for many years. 

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My Trajectory in Oakland Education

In 2006, I started working at a family literacy program at the Manzanita campus in Fruitvale, where I taught parents both the English skills they needed for everyday life, as well as how to get involved in their students' education. 

This program was axed due to the recession's budget cuts in 2011, but I had fallen in love with the Manzanita community and I enrolled my son at Manzanita SEED School that fall, and was also hired as the school's family outreach coordinator.

That same year, I also got involved in Oakland Community Organizations (OCO). Emma Paulino, an organizer for OCO, was helping parents to demand safety improvements in the neighborhood of the school. I helped organize a neighborhood Peace Walk to draw attention to how the new strength of the Manzanita schools was making the neighborhood as a whole safer. (This was before the dynamic of gentrification came to that neighborhood - the recession was causing a crisis of foreclosures throughout Fruitvale, and property values were plunging.) 

At the same time, OCO was organizing a city-wide campaign against OUSD budget cuts, insisting that reductions due to the recession be made at the central office first, to affect school sites as little as possible.

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Growing up in New York...

Growing up in Queens, New York, I took advantage of neighborhood-based busing to go to a middle school and high school that were far from the struggling schools near where I lived (in a rougher part of Queens called Jamaica - famous for musical stars like 50 Cent and Nicki Minaj). 

At these schools, I saw how tracking and my own middle class/white privilege separated me from the mostly African-American students who were on the same bus as I was every morning. We would take the bus together to school, but then I wouldn’t see those other students for the rest of the day because my middle school tracked students into the ‘honors’ classes, the ‘regular’ classes, and the ‘special’ classes - if anybody had any doubt, they were actually numbered from 1 to 8 so everybody knew how we were ranked.

In my senior year of high school, I benefited from the demands of the Black and Hispanic Student Union for an African-American history elective...

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This week in North Oakland Schools

(at left: an Oakland SOL student at the SF Youth Climate Strike today)

After that really difficult last school board meeting, I needed to have my faith in humanity restored. The Emerson PTA meeting on Sept. 12 did just that: a wonderful warm gathering of involved parents, with potluck dinner and translators in three languages. Ben Grieff from Evolve did a great presentation to the PTA on Schools and Communities First, the proposed reform to Prop 13 that will raise billions of dollars for education, and only affect commercial property, not any residences. There will be an exemption for small businesses on properties worth less than $3 million.

If you also want to bask in the positive energy at Emerson, you should go to their Superhero Walkathon on Fri., Oct. 4. Volunteers are needed all day from 8:00 to 3:00 pm and you can sign up to help here. There will also be a Fall Family Reading Celebration on Oct. 10 at 5 pm at the school.

This week I also went by Sankofa Academy and Chabot Elementary. Sankofa's Back to School Night had very high turnout, and everybody was moved to hear that the local realtor's office would be donating supplies and volunteer time to the school. Parents voted to form a PTA starting next month. Sankofa will also have a family-oriented event on Oct. 10, a Space Science Family STEAM Event from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in the Auditorium.

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