Back To School, The Green Way

The amount of trash a school can generate is staggering.

This year, Montclair Elementary plans to join other schools in the area in trying to cut down its trash. There’s a lot to reduce. Each week, a garbage truck hauls 12 cubic yards of trash away from the school. The Green Team is the brainchild of parents Jane McCrea and Kim Hoffman. McCrea said that once they had the idea last school year, it didn’t take long to find a bunch of other parents eager to make the school more green. The Green Team will have six components: Gardening and composting, zero-waste lunch, walk to school, art and the environment, energy efficiency, and green fundraising.

McCrea said the Green Team will borrow best practices from other schools, such as Peralta, Joaquin Miller, and Glenview, which have made efforts to make their campuses greener.

Rara Avis in Claremont Canyon

We’re going to stick with the wildlife a little bit longer.

Indigo Bunting (Photo by Pat Bachetti)Kay Loughman runs a beautiful and fascinating website called Wild Life in the North Hills. It’s all about the flora and fauna in Claremont Canyon. She has pictures of everything from a grey fox lounging on a patio chair to a banana slug slithering across a stone. She’s a keen naturalist and a skilled photographer. The only thing more remarkable than all of the natural beauty at our doorstep is how easy it is to forget it’s there during the course of a busy week. Loughman’s website is a good reminder.

We asked Loughman for the news this summer from the world of Oakland’s birds, bugs, and other critters. She said that the big story so far was the indigo bunting sharp-eyed birdwatchers spied in Claremont Canyon back in June. Common back east, the indigo bunting is very rare this far west. Phila Rogers wrote about it on her blog at the Lawrence Hall of Science.

Dead Trout Mystery in Sausal Creek

What killed the rainbow trout in Sausal Creek? At the beginning of August, city workers found dead trout in the creek not far from the culvert at Wellington Street. They found 25 in all, the largest was nine inches long.

Rainbow Trout in Sausal Creek (City of Oakland)

A federal lab in Charleston, South Carolina is investigating the cause of death. But until there are answers, Kimra McAfee, the executive director of Friends of Sausal Creek, wants to remind folks that the city’s riparian habitats are fragile. Tap water in our creeks can be lethal for fish.

What many people don’t realize is that tap water is disinfected with chloramine or chlorine, and both can be toxic to fish. Residual traces of chloramine at concentrations considered safe for human consumption remain in tap water. As aquarium owners know, chlorine dissipates into the atmosphere pretty rapidly, but chloramine combines chlorine with ammonia, and ammonia is very toxic to fish and doesn’t dissipate like chlorine. Consider, for example, the act of draining a swimming pool or Jacuzzi spa directly to a storm drain or a creek. Without first treating the water to remove traces of chlorine and ammonia, fish and other aquatic life in the creek could be harmed. – Kimra McAfee

McAfee said that the dead fish were found in only one location, and creek watchers have spotted healthy fish in other pools. Whatever killed the fish is out of the creek now.

This isn’t the first time there’s been a fish kill in Sausal Creek. In February 2008, runoff from a construction site killed 11 trout.


District 4 Candidate Forum Announced

It’s settled. A whopping seven candidates have qualified with the City Clerk’s office to run to replace Jean Quan as District 4’s representative on the Oakland City Council. In alphabetical order, they are: Jill Broadhurst, Jason Gillen, Ralph Kanz, Clinton Killian, Libby Schaaf, Melanie Shelby and Daniel Swafford.

A few months ago, the Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association had a cocktail party for the candidates to meet some potential voters, as well as one another.  Jay Ward, a member of the PPNA’s board, said that the “debutante’s ball” drew around 60 people. Ward expects a lot more for the candidate forum the PPNA is hosting on September 14 at Joaquin Miller Elementary School.  He said that the precise format hasn’t been finalized, a tricky task with so many candidates.  All of the candidates have confirmed that they’ll be there except for Daniel Swafford, said Ward.

Since that party at Monaghan’s in early June the candidates have made progress.  Take a peek, for example, at Libby Schaaf’s list of endorsements.

What: District Four Candidate Forum

When: September 14, 7pm

Where: Joaquin Miller Elementary School, 5525 Ascot Drive

Montclair’s Storyteller

He was exactly what NPR needed. Three years ago, Montclair’s own Glynn Washington entered an NPR contest looking for a new host. He won.

Now Washington presides over a burgeoning multi-media empire in downtown Oakland, of which the flagship is Snap Judgment – the freshest show going on NPR. OakBook interviewed Glynn way back when he was still just a contender. This week, the Trib and the Chron both did great profiles of Montclair’s newest radio star.

Snap Judgment is on at 11 pm Saturdays on KQED 88.5 FM and at 11pm Tuesdays and 1pm Wednesdays on KALW 91.7 FM. Listen anytime at Submit your own snap judgment stories on the website, or call the “Snap Judgment” hot line at 888-304-7627.

Master Teachers at Hillcrest

Big congrats to Hallie Bahr and Christina Freshl, fifth-grade teachers at Hillcrest School.  Everyone of their students last year will enter middle school proficient or advanced in reading, writing, and math. It was the most successful 5th grade cohort of any Oakland public school.

Christina Freshl

Hallie Bahr

Oakland Unified is blessed with some fantastic teachers, but not all teachers are equal. The Los Angeles Times is about to publish the names of thousands of elementary school teachers next to a measurement of their effectiveness. Teachers in LA are ticked. But how are parents and guardians supposed to choose teachers? Any principal can tell you that some teachers are more popular than others. As the LA Times noted, popular teachers aren’t always the ones whose students earn the highest scores on standardized tests.

While Hillcrest goes all the way up to the 8th grade, we looked at the 5th grade test score results released Monday for all of the Hills’ elementary schools. It wasn’t a scientific study, but all of the schools improved scores for fifth graders with the exception of Glenview. We know that standardized tests are but one way to measure schools, and not always the best way. We looked at 5th grade, because it’s in middle school that test scores begin to decline for many students. The stronger the foundation a student has at the beginning of middle school, the better. You can see test results for all grades and schools in the state here.

Crocker Highlands: English Language Arts (ELA) – 88 percent proficient or above, Math – 82 percent proficient or above

Glenview: ELA – 56 percent, Math 29 percent *

Henry J Kaiser: ELA – 84 percent, Math – 70 percent

Hillcrest School (K-8): ELA – 100 percent, Math 100 percent

Joaquin Miller: ELA – 84 percent, Math – 68 percent

Montclair: ELA – 90 percent, Math – 90 percent

Redwood Heights: ELA: 91 percent, Math – 93 percent

Sequoia: ELA – 62 percent, Math – 76 percent

Thornhill: ELA – 91 percent, Math – 91 percent

* This is a pretty steep decline from the year before (ELA – 69 percent, Math – 67 percent), so we called the school district too learn if there any special circumstances to explain it. We’ll keep you posted.

Good News and Goodbye

Dear Today in Montclair members,

As you may know, your faithful blogger started the Today in Montclair site on a lark.  There just wasn’t enough coverage about our Oakland Hills and, as this site grew, it started to fill gaps in local reporting.  Over the past couple years, we somehow entered the firmament of Bay Area sites and are here to stay.  This membership site was also established to share events, listings and social posts here and on the main site.

Although we have been a little quiet, the past two months have been all about transition:  handing the keys to Alex Gronke and his team at The Oakbook.  It’s been a privilege to align with this well-known and respected Oakland publication.  We’re excited about what they have begun doing with the site, especially covering more news along with features.

The Oakbook has a thoughtful and reasoned take on what makes Oakland special.  The writers love Oakland, yet aren’t afraid to report good, bad and ugly aspects about the city.  Reporting about the hills was already attractive to Oakbook’s publisher, who coincidentally had written for The Montclarion more than a decade ago.

So why did your faithful blogger bow out?  While I am missing Oakland terribly now, I left California to accept a VP position at a higher-education marketing company.  My role is to lead marketing and product management, and focus on helping schools and students find each other.  While there’s no appropriate way to say good-bye, our transition is complete — and you are in even better hands now.


Debby Richman

P.S.  Please reach Alex anytime.  He’s on this network, and reachable at as well.