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School board president James Harris (District 7) honors Greenleaf Elementary teacher Ann Park, who was one of five California Teachers of the Year for 2016. Photo by Katherine Rose.

Oakland school board celebrates California Teacher of the Year Award

on November 20, 2015

At Wednesday’s sparsely-attended school board meeting, the board discussed the superintendent’s report, which is presented at every board meeting, and funding options for the Dr. Marcus Foster Educational Leadership Campus.

The board opened the meeting by celebrating Ann Park, a 5th grade teacher from Greenleaf Elementary, who won the California Teacher of the Year Award. This award goes to a teacher who has demonstrated excellence and innovation in teaching, and Park received a plaque from the board members.

“If it was just for Ann’s incredible accomplishments in the classroom, she would deserve this award. If it was just for her involvement in parent education, she would deserve this award. If it was just for dedication to creating an evaluation system that is both supportive of teachers and fair, and has worked many years to make this happen, she would deserve this award,” said Trish Gorham, president of the Oakland Education Association. 

The bulk of the meeting was spent listening to reports, as Curtiss Sarikey, Ray Mondragon and David Montes de Oca presented the superintendent’s report, which consisted of three items: reports on the disproportionate use of discipline on African American students, on Early Childhood Education programs, and a roll-out of the School Performance Framework (SPF), which serves as a measurement tool to evaluate school quality.

The first report was an update on the district’s five-year voluntary resolution plan, established in 2012 with the Office of Civil Rights. This was established after the Office of Civil Rights filed an inquiry regarding the exceptionally high rates of African American male students being sent out of class, suspended or expelled. According to a report by the Urban Strategies Council, in the 2010-2011 school year, African American boys consisted of 17 percent of the OUSD student population, but accounted for 42 percent of students suspended.

Currently, the report states, African American students are four times as likely as other students to be subject to an out-of-school suspension.

The OUSD’s goal is that by the year 2020, 97 percent of African American and Latino males will receive no suspensions. Sarikey said that 35 school sites have implemented restorative justice (RJ) programs for the 2015-2016 school year, up from 24 in the 2013-2014 school year. Restorative justice programs establish a disciplinary system in which students make reparations for infractions, rather than receiving harsh punitive measures. These programs provide alternatives to suspensions, which take students out of valuable school time and put them farther behind in classes.

The report noted in particular that OUSD schools have reduced the number of suspensions for defiance by 75 percent over the last four years, after the implementation of restorative justice models.

Director Nina Senn (District 4) lauded the 35 schools that have restorative justice programs, but added that work needs to continue to ensure that all schools have access to these models. “That’s a big achievement,” said Senn. But, she said, more schools also needed to implement restorative justice models.

Ray Mondragon, the deputy chief of early learning in OUSD, spoke about the Early Childhood Education program’s goal to increase enrollment in preschool classes. Enrollment has declined since last year, and the district is working to reverse that trend, he said, taking measures like collaborating with outside partners such as Parent Voices, an organization that works to ensure child care is accessible to all families.

Director Roseann Torres (District 5) suggested that there be some sort of incentive for students in preschools to have good attendance, setting a precedent for their later studies. “I go to schools, and I see people showing up at 10, 9:30, walking their kids into the school, and they’re late,” she said. “This would be an age to build some really high incentives for perfect attendance.” She also voiced concerns that many students were not using the programs, and asked about outreach efforts in the district.

Senn agreed, requesting more specific and measurable goals from the department, saying, “There’s so many outreach outlets that feel like they’re untapped, and the decreasing enrollment does trouble me when I know there’s tremendous need.”

David Montes de Oca, the deputy chief of continuous improvement, spiced up his presentation on the School Performance Framework with a pop quiz and some yoga. The plan was a component of OUSD’s “Pathway to Excellence Strategic Plan,” that was introduced in November, 2014, and is a way to measure the quality of schools. Its indicators measure the “health” of a school, and a decrease in these scores may warn of a school’s underperformance. Some indicators include high school readiness, suspension rates and English learner reclassification, meaning a student has developed enough language proficiency to be reclassified as a fluent English speaker.

He opened by asking board members, “What are the four nationally and internationally recognized vital signs?” (The answer was body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate.) His point was to compare the human body’s vital signs with those of a school system. On a slide, he had showed the different parts of the human body with indicators like test scores pointing to the head, while graduation and chronic absence were linked to the legs.

“Used appropriately via school leadership and governance team, the central office can assess and address schools with growing challenges and prevent adverse outcomes for students,” said Montes de Oca.

He rolled out a draft of the plan to board members, and emphasized that the quality of schools is now measured holistically: Rather than just focusing on one indicator, such as graduation rates or high school readiness, quality measurements now focus on the whole school and community.

Funding options for the Dr. Marcus Foster Educational Leadership Campus were laid out to board members by Dante Gumucio of Public Economics, Inc., whose firm was charged with finding alternative funding sources for the campus. The campus will include a new leadership center that can replace the Paul Robeson Building, which flooded in January, 2013, and a new Dewey Academy High School. The leadership campus will provide a centralized location for the OUSD’s central staff and services, which have been spread out over the district since the flooding.

The school board authorized $75 million to be used for the initial project costs. Voters had passed Measure J in 2012, giving the project bond money to be spent. But that bond money only accounts for $49 million, leaving a $26 million gap in funding.

Gumucio presented three secure funding options for the district. The board discussed the feasibility and security of these options, but nothing was decided.

Student board director Darius Aikens asked what was being done to repair schools like McClymonds High School, to which Director Jody London (District 1) responded that the Robeson is not up to the California Education Code, and that district staffers need a centralized location. “We need offices where we all can be together,” she said, “and Dewey deserves a nicer campus.” 

During public comments on agenda items, teachers’ union president Gorham and public commenter Mike Hutchinson expressed frustration over the long Superintendent’s Report and only having two minutes to respond to all the items presented.

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