Yawn, Top School Scores In The Hills

As the blog of record, we need to report this real yawner:  top API scores were achieved by Montclair and Thornhill Elementary Schools again, and acceptable scores came from Joaquin Miller as well.  The newest Academic Performance Indicators (APIs) were released yesterday by the State of California.

It’s not surprising that our students perform well on these standardized state tests.  Montclair delivered 957, up some 35 percent over last year.  Thornhill registered 944, increasing 20 percent over last year.  Joaquin Miller scored 886, also rising 18 percent over last year.

We decided to check out the top 100 schools across California this time, and the scores do correlate with well-heeled places.  When you look through this list, you can easily imagine involved parents in each location.

To receive an “A” grade from the State of California, each school must achieve an 800 API – and that number isn’t even in the rear-view mirrors of our three schools.  Across Oakland Unified’s results, the elementary schools fell well below this number by yielding a 758 average and 746 median.  The city numbers still inched up four percent versus last year’s scores.

Anyway, the highest API scores are something Montclarions expect and probably don’t worry about very much.  It’s like handing out gold stars to pupils who are used to receiving them.

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Who Were The Montclarions?

Who were the Montclarions?  We all know about the Ohlones, Spanish, Gold Rush era and later settlers.  But there’s more color and dimension to these earlier inhabitants, according to Oakland historian and librarian Kathleen diGiovanni.  She brought her well-researched and clever observations to the Montclair Library today, as part of their 80th year celebratory events.

Without further introduction, here’s a bit more about the people who lived outside, camped, planted flags and established the good life here:

  • Native Americans – Sure enough, the Ohlones populated these parts and lived in small units rather than some centralized settlements.  Decades before the Spanish arrived, these newcomers transmitted their old-world pathogens and sickened many of the natives through trade.  By the mid-1800s, the remaining Ohlones were living as virtual-slaves in the nearby missions.
  • Land Grantees – To pay their military, the Spanish government handed out land grants and Luis Maria Peralta received nearly 44 thousand acres.  His four sons ranched lands from Albany to San Leandro, including Antonio Maria around Oakland.  The Peraltas spent substantial energies proving their ownership to Uncle Sam, yet their holdings were gone by the next generation.
  • Bad Eggs – There were people who leased property from the Peraltas, all above board.  There were other people who were bad eggs, and just squatted all over the place – and even sold land they didn’t own.  Our very own version of the Wild West, right here!
  • City Fathers – Well, Montclair was the place to escape for John Coffee Hays.  He built the first amazing estate in the hills, right around Thornhill Drive.  Hays was a big shot, as a Texas Ranger, before arriving in California.  Once here in Oakland, he helped found the city and wanted that (mostly unused) home outside city limits.
  • Entrepreneurs – Now this is a species we can understand.  Everyone was rather scrappy around here, but John Percy ended up living in the same general area as Hays.  He was involved in real estate and in the water business.  However, Percy was absolutely over-extended and this came to light when his estate burned down.  The guy went broke.
  • Settlers – By the 1920s, there were many workers living here who hailed from Portugal.  There were also farmers, including the Medau family at (now) Montclair Park.  In the next decade-plus, developers built homes for modest and more well-healed buyers who arrived in droves.  Various covenants restricted ownership, and they were blatantly advertised.

From afar, these Montclarions might teach us a lesson or two.  At some level, we know it’s worth preventing infectious diseases.  Please clear deeds on your property.  Don’t do land scams.  Get fire insurance that covers replacement value.  And try living within your means.

Last but not least, everyone should be welcome to live here.  History teaches lessons, and sometimes we listen.

Mellow Strikers At The Schools

This morning, the teachers and their strike supporters began their day-long vigils in front of the local schools.  We stopped by Montclair and Thornhill Elementary schools to ask how things were going.

For all intents and purposes, the hills schools were closed today.  While the strikers couldn’t confirm precise counts, they estimated between 20-40 kids at each school.  We heard similar statistics from Joaquin Miller Elementary as well as Montera Middle School.

Here’s a group of strikers standing in front of Montclair School, around 11am or so.  Perhaps half of the drivers honked as they passed by, on busy and highly-visible Mountain Blvd.

Over at Thornhill School, there were at least a dozen strikers and supporters actively chanting during commuter hours.  By late morning, drivers continued slowing down and shouting to the sign-holders.

As you know, there are very tight relationships among parents, teachers and principals at our local schools.  Quite recently, Montclair and Thornhill were awarded 2010 California Distinguished School Awards.  Given to fewer than ten percent of all California school,  these awards are based on top parental satisfaction and academic performance index (API) scores.

No one is really winning here. Interestingly, no one standing outside the mostly-shuttered schools today was chanting about raises.  When we spoke with the picketers, they brought up issues related to crowded classrooms – plus the associated stresses on kids and teachers.

Here in the hills, everyone is taking the strike day in stride.  Local parents are accommodating the one-day strike, and seem to be out and about with their kids.  We know the discussions will continue with Oakland Unified and there are tough decisions ahead.

Take One Of Jane’s Walks

In honor of Jane Jacobs, there are several walking tours planned around Oakland this Saturday.

You should set aside a couple hours and join one of the neighborhood tours, to appreciate all the human-level interactions in an urban setting – and to understand how Oakland presents a perfect case study of older, transitional centers.

Meet Urbanist Jane Jacobs, RIP

Almost fifty years ago, Jane Jacobs pushed against the old-school urban development parlance of high-rises surrounded by open spaces.  She recommended street-level retail and mixed uses in neighborhoods, and challenged the orthodox zoning concepts which separated uses.  She believed people would properly populate these mixed environments, and make them vibrant and safe.

In her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs explained:

The bedrock attitude of a successful city district is that a person must feel personally safe and secure on the street among all these strangers.  He must not feel automatically menaced by them.  A city district that fails in this respect also does badly in other ways and lays up for itself, and for its city at large, mountain on mountain of trouble.

Tour Oakland On Foot, This Saturday

What kind of Jane’s Walks have been planned this Saturday?  Some trace stairways and hidden pathways, mostly in the hillier areas.  Others examine the remnants of our Key System train routes.  Still others embrace and celebrate Oakland’s original core.

All the walking tours are free to the public, and are well-organized by Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Oakland Urban Paths and the City of Oakland’s Tourist Program.  Here’s the official line-up:

  • Old Oakland – Walk through what was once the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad!   See great, restored commercial buildings. – Runs 10:00 am – 1:00 pm.  Starts at G.B. Ratto, 821 Washington St (map), ends at La Borinquena, 582 Seventh St (map).
  • An Advocate’s Walk – Ever thought a scenic walk was too far away?  Walk from BART through Temescal, Echo Creek, Rose Garden, Whole Foods and Lake Merritt. – Runs 12:30 pm – 2:30 pm.  Starts at 555 40th St (map), ends at 1900 Broadway (map).
  • The Oakmore Stairs – The four sets of stairs in Oakmore were rebuilt as part of the original development.  Hear stories from residents and get a primer of the Key Route System. – Runs 10:30 am – 1:00 pm.  Starts and ends at Leimert and Arden Place (map).
  • Lake Merritt, Roses and Glen Echo Creek – Take several footpaths criss-crossing the city, connecting some of the city’s most stunning settings. – Runs 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.  Starts at Grand Lake Theatre, 3200 Grand Ave (map), ends at Grand Tavern, 3601 Grand Ave (map).
  • Mills College, A Creekside Oakland Gem – Learn about current efforts to restore the creek, then tour around the college campus. – Runs 10:00 am – 12:00 pm.  Starts and ends at Mills College, 5000 MacArthur Blvd (map).
  • Crocker Highland, Grand Lake Stair Walk – Check out four historic neighborhoods, and traverse secret stairs and paths that were cut-throughs to the Key Route. – Runs 10:00 am – 12:00 pm.  Starts and ends at Azirmendi, 3265 Lakeshore Dr (map).

Honor Oakland’s Heritage All Year

Well beyond a single tour day, Oakland offers a terrific series of historical and cultural walks each year.  The Oakland Heritage Alliance organizes fee-based walking tours which are top-notch, attracting historians and experts as local docents.  Last summer there were over 20 weekend events, capped off by a neighborhood open-house in Storybook Fernwood.

In addition, the Mountain View Cemetery leads interesting docent tours twice monthly.  Introductory tours visit Millionaire’s Row and get a lay of the land.  Other tours are surprisingly creative, based on who’s resting there for eternity.  You really must check out this Frederick Law Olmsted creation.

The City of Oakland also organizes twice-weekly, free tours around the city for visitors and residents.  Local historian Annalee Allen oversees these tours with volunteers, but the whole program might get cut at this Thursday’s City Council meeting.  If you’re a tour-lover, then email your council rep now:   Jean Quan at jquan@oaklandnet.com, or Jane Brunner at jbrunner@oaklandnet.com.

Oakland’s still fortunate to have many residents who revel in our local heritage.  These experts make sure our historical, cultural and other local knowledge doesn’t vanish from memory – and you can meet some of them during Jane’s Day!

America Sees Our Eastern Span

Your faithful blogger has been on a quick trip east, talking up Oakland as usual.  No one really cared much about Oakland, until 60 Minutes came to the rescue last night.  They aired a story about the urgent need to earthquake-proof the Bay Bridge, slinging superlatives about the new Eastern Span under construction.  We were so proud!

Of course, the TV segment considered the grandparent and grandchild bridges side-by-side.  Caltrans Spokesman Bart Ney received plenty of airtime and he showed the new bridge in ways we have already seen.  The original bridge was rigid, and a marvel for its time.  The new bridge enables movement, and certain parts can bend and break so the whole remains intact.

In typical 60 Minutes style, the piece played up the current risks of living with the grandparent Eastern Span.  The facts are undeniable, since the Hayward Fault quake and the replacement bridge are both well overdue.  Steve Heminger, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission almost shrugged his shoulders, responding to the concerns in a hopeful yet realistic manner.

This TV program didn’t touch on what Bay Area residents think or do about earthquake preparations.  Oaklanders even ran a major drill in Oakland this past weekend.  Residents are learning, finally, where to turn off their gas and what they should do to be self-sufficient for a couple days.  There’s no point in living with hysterical fear, que sera, sera.

By 2013, the Eastern Span will likely open for business.  In the meantime, all of America glimpsed this gorgeous engineering marvel and acknowledged the Contra Costa and Oakland – at least for a few fleeting minutes.

Who Represents You In City Council

Psst…there’s a dirty little secret about Montclarions.  Even some of the most tuned-in denizens don’t know exactly who represents them in the Oakland City Council.  Admittedly the geographic borders are a bit arbitrary, though here’s your answer:  click here and enter your address.

Current representation: In the Oakland City Council, Jean Quan serves District 4, while Jane Brunner reps District 1.  Typically, the rule of thumb is north and south of the Moraga-Thornhill thoroughfare, yet that’s not technically correct as the border wanders circuitously around Thornhill.

We wanted to shed geographic light due to the 2010 election cycle.  Montclarions living in District 4 can pay attention to the candidates starting to gear up now.  Everyone else in District 1 can view these proceedings from afar, with an understanding that these districts interact pretty closely.  They are both major voting blocks for the city overall.

Maps and borders: We have no idea why some of these border lines were drawn right across neighborhoods.  As an added twist, our assigned police beats aren’t aligned to these council districts.  Beat 13Z falls cleanly within District 4, while Beat 13Y gets torn asunder by Districts 4 and 1.  Should those residents call two reps about their safety matters?

Of course, your home address does belong to one council district and one beat.  Again please click here, enter your address and check your council district.  And click here to see the police beat map, along with current 13Z and 13Y stats.  It’s good to know who’s got your back.

Decorate Within Oakland Borders

Today, we attempted to decorate within Oakland borders and went on a shopping spree with a grade schooler and her mother.  Since the family had recently moved into a new home, we spent the afternoon seeking girl’s bedroom decor – and we accomplished nearly everything in one local store.

While independent stores are quite appealing, the chain store worked wonders this time:  Bed, Bath and Beyond near Jack London Square.  We could park without paying too, which was a nice surprise.

There were sufficient options stocked in that smallish store, and we felt supported by friendly sales clerks.  The prices weren’t dirt cheap but didn’t bankrupt us, either.  The haul included a shagalicious comforter, sheets, decorative pillows and one large rug.

Our mission wasn’t 100 percent complete, since a new desk remains on the list.  We thought about the Cost Plus World Market as well as Entrez! Open House, but neither carried this sort of furniture.  Our merry threesome headed to Ikea, in Emeryville, where desks seemed too white and too flimsy.  Maybe Craigslist next?

Today’s shopping spree made me wonder about retail tipping points.  How many or what types of stores are needed to reduce forays to points east, west and north?  As a matter of civic pride, we’ll keep trying to spend our hard-earned shekels in Oakland.