Schoolboard approves new charter school in East Oakland

on October 30, 2015

At the school board meeting on Wednesday night, board members discussed plans to make the school more welcoming to students, approved a resolution to establish a new charter school, and approved another that would continue collaborative efforts with the city and community organizations to end the sexual exploitation of children.

The meeting opened on a celebratory note, as Director Jumoke Hinton-Hodge (District 3) introduced the 100-year anniversary committee from McClymonds High School—eight McClymonds alums all wearing orange shirts with the school logo on the front, spoke about the two-year process of arranging the celebration. The official celebration took place in July, featuring a meet and greet, a country club dinner and the distribution of a souvenir book called McClymonds High School’s First 50 Years, which honors the first half of the school’s history.

“It took us nearly two years of planning the activities and keeping together the committee in order to raise the funds that we needed,” said Sylvester Hodges, class of 1960 and the chair of the centennial celebration, who came to the meeting dressed in his high school wrestling jacket. “It was a difficult situation, but we managed to get through it.”

Hinton-Hodge read aloud from a plaque that was awarded the group, pausing to express surprise when she arrived at a date that reached back before the 20th Century. “It officially took the name McClymonds, after former Oakland Public Schools Superintendent John Williams McClymonds, who served splendidly in the role from 19—I’m sorry, is that right? Whoa—1888 to 1913. Wow!” she read.

The first public comments portion of the meeting took one hour, 30 minutes longer than the allotted time. The group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a frequent presence at school board meetings, came to protest changing special education policies. An altercation ensued between special education teacher Adriene Hoag, a member of BAMN, and an audience member, who was angered by the group’s disruptive board meeting tactics. After BAMN members refused to stop chanting and shouting, Hoag and BAMN members Yvette Felarca and Tania Kappner were escorted out of the meeting by police officers.

“I am completely enraged at how every time I have to come to these meetings, and we have people here, who have their own agendas, who say that they are for young people,” said student director Darius Aikens, at which point he was cut off by BAMN members shouting angrily.

Once the initial public comments session concluded, the room emptied out, leaving a group that largely consisted of parents and teachers in t-shirts for Lodestar, a proposed charter school that the board would be asked to vote on later that evening. Their young children colored and played on the floor of the auditorium, surrounded by fruit snack boxes and crayons.

The board continued with the student directors’ report, the president’s report, and the superintendent’s report. “We live in a great city,” said board president James Harris (District 7), during his report. “But in order to face the challenges and get to where we need to be, we’re going to have to be great.”

A recurring theme throughout the reports was the idea of schools as safe and welcoming spaces for students.

“As students, we feel how welcoming the school is,” said student director Bianca Ramirez. “For example, at my school, they’re having a hard time, right, with that. For us as class leaders, what we’re doing is trying our best to get into the staff’s head, it’s better to say ‘Good morning, glad to see you! I’m very happy you came to school today,’ versus ‘Please put your phone away, go to class.’”

Aikens spoke about his own family, contrasting himself with his brother. While he had found support in God, he said, his brother had not had a support network and dropped out of high school.

“If a student doesn’t feel like they are cared about, they will not care about learning,” said Aikens.

School board members connected the idea of caring to Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and restorative justice models already in place within the district. The former is a disciplinary approach that focuses on rewarding positive behavior instead of using punitive measures. Restorative justice is a disciplinary model in which students face consequences intended to repair the damage inflicted by misbehavior, rather than being punished for infractions.For example, if a student damages a window, a restorative justice model would have him or her fix the window. More complexly, restorative justice practices provide an alternative to suspensions, and, in OUSD, aim to reduce the number of minority students disproportionately affected by more punitive disciplinary measures.

Deputy Chief Curtiss Sarikey, of the Community Schools and School Services Department, attributed the rapid growth of restorative justice methods within OUSD to “$1.3 million from the San Francisco Foundation money that came to us” for these programs.

On an agenda item that President Harris called a “special meeting,” Director Nina Senn (District 7) presented a resolution to help end the sexual exploitation of children. According to a memo given to the board by Senn and Hinton-Hodge, “Oakland has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation,” and “experts estimate that an average of 100 children is exploited every day in Oakland.”

The resolution proposed that OUSD continue to collaborate with the City of Oakland and the District Attorney’s Office to reduce the number of children trafficked for sex. Specifically, the resolution stated that the act of purchasing a child for sex should be acknowledged as “immoral, illegal and inhumane,” that the district should continue to work with outside agencies and community based organizations to reduce the demand for children purchased for sex, that that district employees and partners should be encouraged to take part in prevention and intervention training.

Part of the resolution focuses on ensuring that schools offer a caring space for children, so that they have a supportive system to turn to if they have been victimized or are in need of preventative help. Hinton-Hodge focused her comments on how policies can be implemented on a teacher-student level, noting that teachers need to know how to identify and help potential victims in their classes.

“It’s not going to be an easy thing, for us to say that these young people are going to show back up in their classrooms,” said Hinton-Hodge. “They’re going to also be behind. They’re also going to be shamed. There’s also going to be a lot of drama when they show up in that classroom.” She added that the resolution’s policies “only mean anything so much as our teaching staff and our school site staff embrace them.”

Director Roseann Torres (District 5) addressed her comment to Mayor Libby Schaaf, who had come to the meeting after giving her State of the City speech. “I would implore the mayor, since she’s here, to drive down International Boulevard any day, morning or night, and see what kids see walking into International Community, and Think College Now,” said Torres, referring to schools that are located along a street that is a well-known pick up spot for people seeking prostitutes. “Because every single day … you can see the men from other cities coming to pick up those children for prostitution. And they’re not men from Oakland, because the pimps have told them not to get in the cars with people who are from Oakland, or look like Oakland men. So this is a very serious issue, and our city would probably never stand for it on Piedmont Avenue, near a school, as well.”

The resolution passed by a unanimous vote.

In other business, the school board approved the proposed Lodestar Charter School, in a five to two vote, with Directors Torres and Shanthi Gonzales (District 6) dissenting. Lodestar Charter will partner with and join the site of the already-existing Lighthouse Community Charter School in East Oakland, and serve East Oakland students. It will open in August, 2016, serving 48 students in kindergarten through second grade, and 72 students in sixth grade, ultimately moving towards a kindergarten through 12th grade model.

Hinton-Hodge expressed enthusiasm for the school, saying that Lodestar and Lighthouse Charters have made huge steps in partnering with the district and in ensuring that they serve all district students. Torres and Gonzales, in their dissent, stated that there are already too many schools in the district. Directors Jody London (District 1) and Senn voted for the charter, but with cautionary guidelines, especially regarding collaboration.

“I am going to support this charter,” said London. “Let me be clear, though. I’m going to bring it back to you all.” She predicted Lodestar would soon begin to recruit students away from both district schools and other charter schools. “Charter schools are really struggling, and district schools are really struggling,” London said. “We need to come together as a community and develop a vision.”

The board also approved a motion to offer ethnic studies in all OUSD schools. Within the next three years, all OUSD high schools will offer ethnic studies classes for students to take. In past meetings, board members, presenters and audience members have discussed the value of ethnic studies classes both for students of color and for Caucasian students. On Wednesday, Torres added that this could provide another opportunity for former students to return to Oakland schools and teach.

“Now we have another area to have students study, potentially go to college and major, and then come back and be the teachers of it, and be more diverse as well,” said Torres. “Because our students are 90 percent students of color, if not more.”

The board tabled the vote on the motion for the construction of a Central Kitchen for district food services at the request of an audience member.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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