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no classrooms for new school

Front page in today's Oakland Tribune

Notice that Shannon Carey, a founding member of CalCARE, is one of the
teachers in this new school. She is quoted near the end of the story.

I strongly recommend that the folks at this school join this case to the
"opportunity to learn" lawsuit currently in progress against the state of
California. If you take a larger perspective on why this outrage
against poor children has happened, you will realize that it's not a case
of school district ineptitude (although that certainly exists), but more a
case of many years of neglect and abuse caused by by state underfunding of
public schools. For years poor, overcrowded districts like Oakland have
had to practice deferred maintenance, encroachment of green space, packing
kids into 1950s vintage schools with multi-track year round schedules, and
just plain "looking the other way" when faced with decrepit facilities,
because the state has not provided adequate funds for modernization.

In fact, as far as I know, the new small schools like this one are
supported by Annenberg and Bill Gates grants and a local Oakland parcel
tax, not by state funding.

Pete Farruggio


City is classroom for school after portables go astray

By Paul T. Rosynsky

OAKLAND -- Organizers of the Melrose Leadership
Academy never imagined the unique learning
experience that came with being a small autonomous
school would result in almost two weeks of field trips
for its 62 students.

But when school opened Tuesday, city streets,
museums and government buildings became the only
classrooms available after construction delays
thwarted the delivery of two portable trailers where classes
were to be held.

A day after district leaders paraded parents,
teachers and community leaders in front of television cameras
to tout the opening of five new small schools,
organizers of one school chastised the school district for failing
to ensure portable classrooms were delivered to
their site.

"We are a new school, we opened on time but we don't
have any classrooms yet," said Allison Krasnow, a
Melrose teacher. "Yeah, it's pretty frustrating.
We've been planning the school since last February but we
didn't learn about this until last week."

The delay, revealed to teachers a week before school
began Tuesday, resulted in a unique teaching
experience for both teachers and students forced to
hit the streets of Oakland.

As their counterparts sat behind desks and read from
chalkboards, academy students wondered why
buildings on International Boulevard were vacant and
learned how to create change at City Hall.

The academy's mission is to prepare students for
leadership roles, and teachers developed a last-minute
curriculum to introduce students to their future
community with walking field trips in the neighborhood and
visits to City Hall.

The school of 62 students was split into three
classes of about 20 pupils each. The small groups will take
turns during the next week participating in various
field trips. The school also rented space at the Rainbow
Recreation Center to offer a base while students
await portables.

Although pleased with the support they received from
the district in developing their school and with the
outcome of the emergency plan, many were still
distraught Wednesday they had no place to call home.

"I think it is really sad," said Alejandra Ramirez,
10, as she ate lunch on the lawn in front of Melrose
Elementary School. "We couldn't even study at desks."

The Melrose Leadership Academy is one of five small
schools Superintendent Dennis Chaconas and the
grass-roots group Oakland Community Organizations
rushed to open this school year.

The schools are part of a three-year program
intended to "change the face" of Oakland education by
mandating smaller class sizes, giving teachers and
parents freedom to develop a school structure and building
relationships between the community and public

The district's original plan was to open three new
schools a year for the next three years. But eager to make
drastic changes, Chaconas pushed for five, a move he
said Wednesday "was a stress of the system."

Melrose Leadership Academy was supposed to open on
the blacktop playground of Melrose Elementary
School. But before state officials agreed to deliver
the two portables, the playground had to be repaved and
grass around the school replanted, Chaconas said.

Both chores took more time than the district
planned, Chaconas said.

"They had multiple priorities, they wanted to have
the playground redone, they wanted the lawn laid and they
wanted the new portables," he said. "We gave them
some money for them to be able to do some

Chaconas said the experiences students will receive
through the city field trips will help later in the year when
they begin a more traditional approach to learning.

Teachers praised their emergency plan as a way to
ensure students continue to receive an education despite
not having classrooms.

"Our idea in founding the school was to develop in
students a sense of leadership in the community,"
Krasnow said. "This fits in, in the sense of
beginning to learn who our community is."

Added school Principal Moyra Contreras, "The quality
of instruction is not suffering at all."

But teachers were angered by the district's tardy
announcement that portable classrooms would not be
supplied and the omission of the school's dilemma
during a press conference Tuesday.

Teacher Shannon Carey said she was shocked a
priority wasn't placed on giving students a classroom,
especially with the importance district officials
have placed on the new small autonomous schools program.

"I was appalled because this was supposed to be some
unique bragging right of the district," she said. "They
have known that we planned to open since December."

Chaconas said the portables are scheduled to be
delivered this week and students will have a traditional
classroom by next week.

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