BAMN Whitesplains “Jim Crow” to Oakland



I am beginning to hate Oakland’s carpetbagger protesters.  Idiots who come from Berkeley or Walnut Creek, to break windows, snarl traffic, and now F up the Oakland Unified Board meetings.  Enter the Oakland Education Association’s BAMN caucus, a group of largely White people whose recent infamy comes from ramblings about the “New Jim Crow”, or calling our Black Supe “a Tom”.  Meanwhile Black folks who actually lived through Jim Crow, shake their head in bemusement.  You can read more about it here.

Were these crackers not so misguided it would be funny.  Elaine Brown, from the Black Panthers is in the room and a bunch of young White people are railing about “Jim Crow”.  Something they totally misunderstand, but are unwilling to listen to actual Black folks about.  Many of us want to learn from Elaine Brown, Mr. Oscar Wright, Ms. Oral Lee Brown, these are our elders and heroes, who actually have fought for other Black folks.  Not the BAMN folks, they would rather shout down a meeting than listen.

A friend of mine who grew up in Mississippi—where they had real Jim Crow—where you walked to school, and you could see the bus with the White kids blow by you every day, where you literally picked cotton, sun up to sun down, for a couple of dollars on a good day.  She just shook her head.  She could not understand, and did not want to come back to another OUSD meeting.

It’s farcically ironic, but there is a cost.  These idiots suck the air out of the room, and actually make what should be a public space, less hospitable.  For students to see this as a model of public decision making is tragic, and when these people claim to represent the “public” and they show their ass, and disrupt the meetings—a reasonable response is to alter the meeting rules and limit public comment.  So the fools set a standard that lowers the discourse for those that actually want to participate.

Nobody who goes to these meetings, in their right mind, wants to sit through this crap, exploiting kids, spreading misinformation, and then the idiotic chanting and disruptions.  Hey Ho Hey Ho These Berkeley crackers have got to go.

And I use the term “cracker” deliberately.  You didn’t see these people out there doing this crap when the White dude was running things.  I have to agree with the NAACP on this one, where they have critiqued the denigration of the dialogue.

And again, it’s particularly galling to see a bunch of mighty White folks, parade Black and Brown kids, and disrespect their elders and our Superintendent.  Disagreements are fine, I like disputes, but this racialized disrespect if out of bounds.  And in the Black community we teach our young to respect our elders.  Not sure what is happening in Antioch.

We have a ton of work to do in Oakland to deliver quality education equitably.  The special education system that BAMN is so fervently defending gives special education students a 9.6% chance of completing the A-G courses required to even apply to UC or CSU, and 7% chance of reading on grade level in grade 6.  Looking at the numbers I don’t see a whole lot to fight for there.

If you care about Oakland, or our most vulnerable students, let’s start talking about what we do to change things, with some concrete proposals.

If you want to come to OUSD and bang a drum—stay in Berkeley.

And if you want to throw around epithets or sound a racial dog whistle—just stay the F home.

We got work to do while you are just wasting everyone’s time.

Why Don’t We Have More Paideias


A weird thing happened last night at the OUSD Board meeting.  A real, substantive, solution oriented, question was asked by the Oakland Education Association; why don’t we have more Paideias?

Paideia is the wildly popular and academically successful Oakland Tech program that students actually return from private middle schools to come back into the OUSD (shocking I know).  It’s not new, its success is not new, so why haven’t we worked to develop something similar at Fremont or Mack, or as a stand-alone somewhere in the Deep East or Deep West?

Coming back to Oakland after a decade away, it’s the same crap, same large high schools that are struggling, same types of turnaround strategies, and it seems like the same outcomes more or less.  At the same time we have some very popular and successful District schools and programs, that are oversubscribed, deliver strong outcomes, and basically don’t grow or replicate.

And when you look at the more popular schools in Oakland (that aren’t necessarily in the Hills) most of them are survivors of the New Small Autonomous Schools movement—LIFE Academy, Met West, Urban Promise, Think College Now, Ascend among others.  There is probably another takeaway there for another day.

So instead of these endless dizzying turnarounds—which haven’t seemed to work.  How about a deliberate partnership and replication strategy?  Why don’t we grow another Paideia in Fremont, or a LIFE 2 at Castlemont, a Met Deep West at Mack, borrowing best practices, and developing staff in the initial school who can carry the vision to the new one, with an ongoing partnership to support quality.

Returning to Oakland it’s depressing to see the same mess, hear the same talk over and over, while we see basically the same dismal results for our most deserving students.  So we keep redesigning our “failing” high schools when we have designs that work.

Replication happens all the time in charter schools, and tends to be an effective strategy—why not with the District?

And while recent OUSD meetings have been spectacles of the absurd, with OEA BAMN caucus members ranting and rambling about “Jim Crow”, this was a welcome return to sanity. Thank you OEA for asking that question.

I think I am still waiting for a good answer.

The Schools We Need- Coping with Substance Abuse, Shepherding Students

4489997995_b45a8c3836_zaddictionWhat happens when a child is caught at school high or drunk—they are suspended, they do it multiple times they are expelled.  If they ask for help from school staff, their parents are called.  If they could talk to their parents they already would have.  And if you are student in recovery, where do you go, how do you avoid relapses?

These are the real problems children and schools are facing and thankfully we are starting to move away from punishment and towards support.  One of my NY schools hosted actress Kristen Johnston (Third Rock from the Sun) yesterday and we launched a program to realistically support students facing substance abuse or addiction.

According to studies 12% of high schoolers meet the clinical definition of addiction, and this is higher is specific communities.  Yesterday we addressed the school community in honestly addressing these problems and creating supports at the school.  Some excerpts below,

“We’ve gotten real good at getting out the message to kids about the dangers of substance abuse, we haven’t done near a good enough job at working with kids who don’t heed the warnings,” explained Dr. Ken Byalin, the President of Lavelle Prep and New Ventures Charter Schools.

In August, Johnston’s non-profit, Sobriety, Learning and Motivation or SLAM, launched a recovery program at Lavelle Prep for students struggling with addiction–the first of its kind in New York City.

“Basically, it’s a non-punishment scenario. And we just want to present people with the option that there’s some place for you to go,” said Johnston.

“We are instituting programs to educate the teachers and make them aware of some of the issues that are likely already going on in their classroom,” added Thomas Krauss, the Co-Founder of SLAM.

Organizers hope that the program can eventually become a model for schools across the country.

“Young people are in schools more than they are anyplace else, it’s really up to the schools, we think to figure out a way to be supportive of kids who are struggling with recovery,” said Dr. Byalin.”
Believe me Oakland, Staten Island is not unique in having these needs, what are we going to do about it.  If we are looking there are models out there.

Who’s Really Choosing in School Choice? Part 1

10967030725_7b9f43bcd1_zgirlSchool choice, for me, was about empowering underserved families to have the same range of quality options that well off parents had, without having to buy a house in the Hills.  Montessori, dual language, arts, technology-infusion, even military school, these were the options that families craved and we helped develop.  Choice is empowerment.

But there’s another side that many of us have known about for a while but has recently gotten more press in the recent NY Times article, At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’.  That often, it’s not families choosing schools, but schools choosing families.  And don’t get it twisted, this is not limited to charter schools.

Look no further than the selective admission district schools, gifted and talented programs, and the way that residential segregation and neighborhood based enrollment all reinforce existing privileges and squeeze out the underserved. And at charters we got referrals from district schools, and typically those were the students with big thick files.

That’s not to say it’s OK in any case, or that we should not do better, but if we are honest, the lofty rhetoric of schools being equalizers is a crock, and bears no resemblance to a street level view and the vast disparities one sees on the ground when they go from West Oakland to Piedmont.

And it has always been this way for the underdogs, in the worst schools, separate and unequal.  Despite the proclamation of a far removed court.

So a school pushed out some high needs students.  This is happening every day in every City in subtle and not so subtle ways, most of them completely legal and institutionalized.

So it’s worth spilling some ink, for Success Academy’s “got to go” list, but the main reason it is news is because someone was green enough to write up the list that so many just keep in their heads.

And the real news should be the rules that limit access to the best programs and schools (in general) to the more privileged, and a system that tends to reinforce and magnify existing privilege and disadvantage rather than recognize or ameliorate it.  We call that system; public education.

The Schools We Need- Understanding Trauma and Focusing on Recovery

14119306492_8c12d743ad_kschool“Johnny” was having a bad day.  He has had a lot of bad days.  Mom wasn’t there to take him to school.  Less than 10, he walked to the bus stop.  He tripped, and he thought that some older students laughed.  He wanted to fight them.  By the time he is at school, he’s angry and staff can tell.

He wants to put the ball he brought to school in its cubby, which is the process.  School staff block him, he pushes through, and it’s on…The police are eventually called.  He’s suspended, though not arrested, he has been detained before, paraded in handcuffs to a police car as the student body watched.

Johnny is a nice kid, but he’s traumatized, some of it I know, some I don’t, but from an unsettlingly early age he has talked about hurting himself or worse. He will pick fights with adults on the street for some perceived injustice, and as he gets bigger they will stop seeing him as a child, and he will probably get hurt, unless he gets help.

So often schools just shunt kids like Johnny into behavioral classrooms, where the academic content is watered down, they are concentrated with all the highest needs students, and fall further and further behind.  The school doesn’t know how to deal with him, and they don’t really try, they just separate him from the other kids.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  There are great examples out there of models for understanding and really supporting student needs, let’s look at two; Mott Haven Charter and John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter.

Mott Haven Charter School (aka “the Haven”), founded by friend and colleague Jessica Nauiokas, in partnership with the NY Foundling serves 1/3 foster children, 1/3 foster involved children and 1/3 kids from the community.  They were recently profiled in this article in the74.  The school normalizes the experiences of these kids, does comprehensive early screenings for academic, social, and developmental needs, creates a rich staffing structure that includes counselors and support staff, and overall works to create a stable, safe, caring family within the school that supports both the wellness of kids as well as their academic growth.

You can read more about how they do what they do, but the approach is really to understand the students and their needs, and to provide a set of wraparound services to meet them.  They built the school for the kids and families and not for the adults that work in it, or based on the inertia of our own experiences.  And they are getting great results.

John W. Lavelle Preparatory Academy (aka “Lavelle Prep”) is the first school in NY to target students with emerging mental health challenges, deliberately build a program consciously around meeting those needs and supporting recovery.  Something like 12% of adolescents will be challenged by a significant mental health issue, and these students have the highest dropout rate of any special education category.  Many of these students are suspended, and many more just stop coming to school.

Lavelle was designed with the mental health community to integrate supports, develop relationships and ultimately to help students develop the skills to cope and recover.  All students work through their “stuff” at the school with supportive staff.   Addressing challenges is an explicit part of the curriculum, and again here, students who might feel different at other schools are normalized, fit in, and are embraced by the school structures.

Full disclosure—I am on the Board of Lavelle—but one of the things that sticks out with these schools, is that students facing significant challenges – don’t stick out.  As the founder of the Haven said, “I feel like one of our responsibilities is to normalize the experience of a child welfare child or a child in foster care has by being here…I think we help make it easier for our children just to be able to share natural components of their day and not feel stigmatized about it.”

And similarly at Lavelle Prep—I remember one potential funder who toured the school, who left unimpressed, stating that it just looked like any other school.  That he didn’t see anything special and couldn’t even tell who the kids who were facing severe mental health challenges were.

To me, that’s the point exactly.