There Goes the Neighborhood

According to someone who works in Oakland Unified’s district office, parents in the Redwood Heights neighborhood are worried that property values will drop now that a standardized test cheating incident at the local elementary school has invalidated the school’s test scores for 2009-2010.

Now, there’s no question that test scores influence home prices. People pay a premium to live within Hillcrest’s boundaries and are peeved when they learn that the address doesn’t guarantee a spot in the spectacularly successful K-8 school. But is it possible that one year of no API could translate into a loss of home values in the neighborhood? We asked real estate maven Vanessa Bergmark with Red Oak Realty.

The short answer is no. However, the cheating episode at Redwood Heights School was a topic of discussion at Bergmark’s office. Would agents have to disclose the incident to buyers, an agent wondered. Bergmark’s gut told her that cheating in one classroom in one year didn’t make the cut. Although, ultimately it will be the lawyers who decide. With a school like Redwood Heights, which has great test scores, combined with the support of a committed and diverse community, the only danger is that anxious residents would convey the message that something was amiss and “create their own destiny,” said Bergmark.

Deidre Joyner, a real estate agent with Red Oak whose children are third-generation graduates of Redwood Heights School, said she hasn’t heard any of her neighbors worry about the lack of an API score for 2009-2010 influencing home prices, which she says range from $560,000 to around $750,000.

As Bergmark said, it’s all about perception. She offered the example of listings in North Oakland that fall within the borders of the city’s gang injunction. Is it a selling point if a home is in the “North Oakland Safety Zone?” It depends on how you look at it.

Boost An Oakland School Library

Can you imagine going to schools without libraries or attentive school librarians?  The libraries throughout Oakland Unified Public Schools have seen far better days, and many school kids can’t take their libraries for granted anymore.

Various elementary and middle school libraries are re-stocking and, in some cases, re-opening their doors again.  There’s no question that volunteers are welcomed with open arms, to help organize and supply these bastions.

Progress is measured one school at a time. Your neighbors are now supporting Reach Academy, an East Oakland elementary school serving 310 students with an inadequate library.  On Sunday, April 18th, Montclair Local School Action Group volunteers have organized a Book Share event to collect hardcover books as well as financial donations.

It’s easy to help the school.  Next Sunday, please drop your donations at the Women’s Cultural Arts Center on Mountain Blvd (map), from 12-2 pm.  If you’re unable to make it to the Women’s Center, then donations may also be given to volunteers at the Montclair Farmers Market that morning.

What are acceptable donations? Bring along hardcovers that are in gently used condition.  Fiction picture books work well for younger kids, while chapter books are best for the fourth and fifth graders.  Non-fiction should be up-to-date, and please leave all encyclopedias at home.

As the saying goes, let’s help stock the library in one fell swoop.  Besides donations from your personal collection, A Great Good Place for Books will graciously offer 10 percent discounts when you buy brand-new books for this school.  Alternatively, you may donate money and help supply all kinds of library materials to Reach Academy.

Your donations are in very good hands! Ann Mayo Gallagher serves as the head librarian for Oakland’s public schools, and she’s devoted to improving the school experiences and to encouraging all library volunteers as well.  We first met her during the Volunteer Faire For Oakland last fall, where school volunteer programs of all stripes were assembled at the Oakland Public Library.

We’re happy to see that Montclarions are now focused on assisting Librarian Gallagher with Reach Academy.  If you want to find out more about helping this or other school libraries, please reach Gallagher and ask to join her email list:

School Budget Horse In Lead

If we were calling a horse race between the Oakland’s School Board and City Council, then the school horse would be in the lead right now.  Both horses are making their way around the race track and keeping pace, yet the school steed is already thinking ahead to next year.  We do know they are both woefully underfed and would enjoy stopping for some apples or sugar cubes.

Comparing These Horses

From a budget process perspective, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is ahead; their board and administrators are already working on how to save a whopping $39 million next year.  Meanwhile, the Oakland City Council still needs to wrap up the current year’s $9 million gap, and then will address their $25 million shortfall next year.

Oakland Schools have asked citizens to take this survey about budget priorities, and reported 500 responses a full week ago.  The City Council didn’t conduct a survey, but Make Oakland Better Now! volunteers took that mantle and 140 responses were received last week.

When it comes to meetings, the school and city council horses are neck and neck.  There are many school outreach meetings, with a few about next year’s budget.  The council members communicated about shortfalls during earlier rounds, but didn’t hold meetings about closing this fiscal year.

Caring About Oakland Schools

Anyway, we would like to focus on the schools here and now.  As you may know, there are serious financially-related questions and no good answers:  What are the ideal class sizes?  How do we balance the empty and full schools?  What personnel cuts could be made?  And what’s happening with teacher pay?

Montclarions manage around the problems at their well-performing elementary and middle schools.  Parents are quite involved locally, starting with tight teacher-principal communications.  They try to make noise about the poorly-maintained schools and grounds.  To improve or offer programs, parents are active fundraisers.  All in all, the kids learn, grow and prosper.

Then many parents speak loudly through their actions:  moving their children into private middle and high schools.  If these students stayed in the public system, then they would likely go to Oakland Tech or Skyline High.  (Skyline keeps churning principals annually, apply now.)  If we’re not there, then interest naturally wanes.

Getting On The Soapbox

Yet we all should be considering the greater good of public education.  Regardless of dysfunction, our school budget horse needs enough sustenance to keep trotting along – and that means “weighing in” on what we value in free schooling.

Oakland’s schools are infamous (!) for their budget travails before the recession.  We had the special situation of state-controlled schools due to our problems.  It’s good to be in control locally once again, and installing our new superintendent was a critical step forward.  However Tony Smith has to rely on a functioning school board and energized citizens.

On the board, Montclarions are represented by Director Gary Yee.  He was also elected vice president of the board, back in May.  As a quick introduction, Yee’s a long-time educator and administrator who most recently served as vice chancellor of Peralta Community Colleges.  (Read Yee’s biographies on LinkedIn and OUSD site.)

City-wide school administration just isn’t top-of-mind for most Montclarions.  It’s easier to tune into the schools which are located nearby.  But some locals must be concerned about Oakland’s school budget, and maybe we’re trotting (sorry) with the wrong herd.  What are your priorities related to the schools?

More info:  Please read The Education Report by Tribune reporter Katy Murphy, which covers the beat regularly.  Comments following Murphy’s posts are often insightful.  Link to Great Oakland Public Schools, to keep up with the school board and more.  Also check out the Oakland Unified School District, including their recent survey.  For the latest school news, visit the OUSD’s twitter account.

Beta On Oakland School Volunteering

You know that sharing time and energy with local Oakland school kids is a mitzvah, a good deed.

Yet you probably have experienced a few internal hurdles like:  I don’t have enough time.  I don’t remember geometry.  I don’t know what to do. Some Montclarions decided to help everyone leap over these hurdles and organized a Volunteer Faire tomorrow – where it’s possible to get all the beta on Oakland school volunteering.

As a preview, we want to share the breadth of volunteer possibilities here and now.  There seems to be something for all would-be volunteers, even after work or on weekends.  Scan all the opportunities below, and get jumping!

Tutor An Oakland Student

Elementary School Opportunities

For younger students, there are many ways to help them improve their literacy.  While you can make an obvious impact on learning, we think the Saturday field trips also sound like fun.

  • Experience Corps OaklandIf you’re 55+ years, then mentor kids one-on-one or in small groups with reading and homework – 2 hours/week – Reach David Moren,
  • Lafayette School Mentoring ProjectGet trained in language arts or math tutoring, then tutor or assist teachers in classrooms. – 1.5 hours/week, includes evening sessions – Reach Jessica Bilsky,
  • Oakland Parents Literacy ProjectHelp promote parental involvement and literacy, through Family Reading Nights – 2-3 hours/Wed evening events – Reach Denise Geer,
  • Reading PartnersReceive training, and then tutor one student who’s struggling with reading – 1 hour/week with semester commitment – Reach Salleha Chaudhry,
  • Super Stars LiteracyHelp disadvantaged K-2 students with their reading; Also accompany them on weekend field trips – 3 days/week for three weeks, and/or 4-5 hours/Sat – Reach Erin Drake or Jessica Berry,,

Elementary-Middle School Opportunities

Some organizations reach out to middle schoolers, and there’s a bit more variety for volunteers.  You can help an organization grow, be hands-on with kids, or assist in the school libraries.

  • Brothers On The RiseHelp set up and develop this organization; Also males requested for Speakers Series, to address Fruitvale boys aged 8-14 years old – Reach Jon Gilgoff,
  • Faith Network of the East BayGet training and help kids as a reading tutor or library assistant; Also consider becoming a math tutor or classroom assistant – 1-2 hours/week – Reach Randy Roth or Rebecca Buckley, or

Middle-High School Opportunities

For older students, the volunteer activities are focused on college prep and even entrepreneurship opportunities.  We are partial to them!

  • AVIDGet middle/high schoolers thinking and preparing for college, based on this socratic curriculum – 1-2  hours/week – Reach Robert Wack,
  • BUILDTogether with another mentor, lead a small group of high schoolers in developing and starting their own business – 1.5 hours/week, at 5:30pm – Reach Hillary Fernandes,
  • Be A MentorAttend a training class, and then mentor kids socially and academically – 1 hour/week – Reach Ryan Gray,

After all these options, are you still baffled?  Then reach the Oakland Schools’ Family & Community Office and ask for guidance.  Coordinator Risha Riley may be reached at: or 510-434-7765.

Or else stop by the Volunteer Faire tomorrow, anytime between 11am – 2pm.  All these school-related organizations will be represented there – and you can really find out what fits you best by chatting with volunteer leaders.

More info:  Volunteer Faire for Oakland operates like a volunteer “trade show,” and takes place at Oakland Main Library’s West Auditorium,  125 14th Street, Oakland, CA.  In addition, Oakland School Superintendent  Tony Smith will speak briefly at 11am, while Council Rep Jean Quan will present a City Council proclamation to the Volunteer Faire Coalition at noon.