Welcome Back To School, Reality Checks

The new school year should be a joyful time, filled with renewal and hopefulness.  There’s something about seeing teachers, parents and students buzzing around again…which reminds us of other realities.

The Teachers

We are so lucky to have great teachers!  Here’s a quick shot of Jennifer Formoso, a first-grade teacher at Thornhill School, taking a breather during her final classroom preparations last Friday.

Reality Check #1 – Since we live in Oakland, the teachers aren’t exactly overpaid.  Yet they take responsibility for making sure students are supplied properly, and spend their own money to do so.  Pencil boxes anyone?

Thornhill School Teacher

The Schools

Our elementary schools do offer solid educational experiences, as evidenced in the annual academic test scores for hills kids.  Everyone truly cares, and that combination of parents and teachers works well.

Reality Check #2 – The school facilities and grounds are part of sound education, and have seen better days.  Just look at the Montclair School, in this picture snapped Monday.  Does this look like a first-rate environment?

Montclair School Yard

The Access

In the calculus of Montclair living, residents want their progeny to attend good, convenient schools.  They note the nearest elementary school and likely figure it’s within walking or bike-riding distance, so all is well.

Reality Check #3 – Yesterday the traffic was at a standstill around Joaquin Miller School (and Montera School), raising the blood pressure of parents and other drivers.  Why aren’t there safe, walkable paths to school?

Joaquin Miller School Access

Welcome back to the Oakland Hills schools, for the 2009-2010 year.  We’re proud of the education for our kids and the cooperation among principals, teachers and parents.  We accept that fundraising is important so programs like the arts – “free” in our era – are still offered to hills kids.  Though it sure would be nice if Oakland budgeted and paid for the basics.

Summertime Means A New School Yard

The kids, parents and teachers are nowhere in sight, but things are hopping this summer at Thornhill School.  Over the past month or so, the paved school yard was completely dug up to reveal the dirt underneath.  We wondered what would happen next.

Thornhill School - Getting Ready

Today a full battalion of earth movers, pavers, pumpers and all kinds of other equipment arrived on site.  As lay-people, we were left gawking at these heavy duty machines but couldn’t make heads or tails of the proceedings.  What the heck is a soil stabilization unit?

Thornhill School - Trucks Ready

Fortunately, I ran into a well-informed construction worker outside the school yard fences who was supervising things a bit.  He seemed pretty enthusiastic, and shared a few details about re-surfacing the whole yard.

They won’t pour regular wet concrete over Mother Earth, which was standard procedure years ago.  Instead, dirt and dry concrete will be mixed together and delivered to the ground.  Then this mix gets transformed into real concrete.

We’re sure things will start shaping up in the next day or two, if you or your kids want to see the work underway.  It’s surprising, but this new school yard should be completed well before everyone returns next month.

Happy 50th Birthday, Thornhill School

Thornhill Elementary School celebrates the big Five-Oh this year!  Originally it was built to serve the boomers, and has prospered since then.  Everyone connected with the school, past and present, is invited to a re-dedication ceremony on Wednesday evening, at 6:30 pm.

During the mid-1950s, the architects envisioned a very modern looking school situated beautifully in a natural landscape.  There was a large and open plaza for students to congregate as well.  Click here to see a full-sized version of the original architects’ drawing.

Thornhill School Vision

When construction began in 1957, the original site looked pretty barren and almost rural.  Here’s a snapshot of the framing underway and it doesn’t look too impressive at this stage.  Eventually the school was opened with great fanfare, by Fall 1958.

Thornhill School Construction

Not surprisingly, the school was an iconoclast right from the start and The Montclarion reported that “custard hit the fan” back in 1958.  Within weeks of opening, what should have been a perfunctory meeting of the new PTA (Parent Teacher Association) became a unified rebellion – and the unique PFC (Parent Faculty Club) was born.

Why did this happen?  Local parents objected to sending money to some far-away organization, preferring that all their resources stay with the new Thornhill School.  Additionally, mothers and fathers wanted to participate equally in the organization and hold meetings in the evenings.

Thornhill has been lovingly and consistently embraced by parents.  These days, they organize regular fundraisers to pay for a librarian and various arts/music offerings for kids, even when the Oakland Schools can’t afford them.  There are all kinds of special after-school enrichment classes too.

Today Thornhill has outgrown its original space, but the school continues to thrive.  Northern Montclarion kids are getting a good education and performing well, in what feels like a public/private partnership.  Congrats on reaching the half-century milestone, Thornhill.