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Antwan Wilson wants 5 schools to turn around, and around, and around . . .

6 Jan

Starting this week, the first week of the new year, Fremont, McClymonds, Castlemont, Frick and Brookfield are all having “community meetings” to discuss “improving” the schools.  The reality is that the management of the schools is being put up on the market for people to compete over who can best run them.  Charter school management companies will compete against the existing school staff to put out the antwanwilsonousd (1)most compelling “plan” for the schools.  And all of the staff of each school will have to work on their school plans in a rushed way, in the middle of the school year when the focus should be on students.  

Almost 100% of the people we’ve spoken to who work at the schools are incredibly upset about the process.  People are angry at the top-down way in which these meetings are being railroaded through in such a fast paced manner.  We’ve seen the same process happen with the attempt to privatize the land that Dewey Academy and the old OUSD admin building rest on; the mobilization of students, parents, community members, and school workers during the summer of 2014 slowed down the process, and we should take notes from that example.  

What follows is a quick sketch about Antwan Wilson and Allen Smith’s history of “school turnarounds”  written by Jack Gerson, a retired OUSD teacher.  We’re posting it here because it provides some very useful links and controversial analysis about the process that the people from Denver (Wilson, Smith and others) are unleashing here in Oakland.  Please post your thoughts in the comments section.  We welcome disagreement, questions, and other thoughts.  

We will be posting more on this process of privatization, as well as its connections to gentrification in Oakland, as it unfolds. 


Antwan Wilson, Allen Smith et al are bringing their Denver turnaround schemes to Oakland. Let’s ask Wilson and the OUSD board to come clean with the facts: Wilson did not turn around Montebello High during his 2004 – 2007 stint as principal. Why did the OUSD board cite that as a — if not the — major factor in his hiring. Even superficially, couldn’t they see that only three years later, the school was being “turned around” again. These aren’t turnaround schools: they’re turnaround and around and around schools. Or maybe merrygoround schools. And we’ve seen this all in Oakland, where Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds were broken up a decade ago, put back together amidst great fanfare three years ago, and now are being reorganized again. Turn around and around and around and …

On January 4, 2006, NPR featured a story about a committed young man who just over a year earlier had moved his family from Kansas to Denver to “take the helm of Denver’s troubled Montebello high school.” (See:  ).  Yes, the corporate kingmakers had already identified Wilson as a rising star, and had passed the word on to the media they fund and influence to make it so.  [This was the hour of the “get tough” administrators — at the time, we in OUSD were blessed with one Randolph Ward.]

Indeed, Wilson only spent three years at Montebello High, promoted to Denver central administration in 2007 based on his (alleged) success in “turning around” Montebello. Said “success” is still the foundation of Wilson’s reputation. Thus, last April, when the OUSD board was ready to name Wilson superintendent, their friends at reported:

“OUSD said that Wilson gained acclaim for his work as principal of Denver’s formerly troubled Montebello High School, where he turned around achievement such that the percentage of students accepted into two and four-year colleges soared from 35 percent in 2005 to 95 percent in 2008.”

There’s at least one minor problem here. Wilson did not “turn around” Montebello High. He may have increased college admissions, but we’ve seen similar dramatic increases right here in OUSD which weren’t terribly meaningful; among other things, students were admitted into remedial college programs and college dropout rates remained sky-high. And it appears that something similar went on — and continues to go on — in Denver.

So on the Denver Public Schools website, there’s a report titled “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” ( It’s a 12-page case study whose purpose seemed to have been to promote the turnaround proposals for a group of schools in Northeast Denver, centered on — you guessed it — Montebello High. By 2012 Antawn Wilson was assistant superintendent of Denver Public Schools, and was overall in charge of the turnaround strategy. The executive director of the eleven northeast Denver turnaround schools was Allen Smith — that’s right, the same Allen Smith that Antwan Wilson brought to OUSD and installed as “Chief of Schools”. On page 7 of the report, the situation at Montebello is discussed:

“Sitting in a high-poverty, high-minority area, Montbello High School has a history of inconsistent leadership having experienced 27 principals in the last thirty years. Its image is one of toughness, perceived as a last stop before prison for many students, noted DSSN Director, Allen Smith. Despite three years of hard work between 2004 and 2007 by former principal Antwan Wilson, attempts to change expectations and improve performance could not overcome the entrenched negativity.”

OOPS!! It appears that Antwan Wilson didn’t really turn Montebello around after all. Indeed, this “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” notes (also on page 7) that “only 9% of the students in the Montebello Region scored proficient in math before the 2011 – 2012 school year”. Some miracle!!

Of course, the report goes on to claim that things picked up in 2011 – 2012, thanks to the latest “turnaround” magic dust sprinkled by Allen Smith and Antwan Wilson. If anyone thinks that such “achievement” will prove any less illusory than Wilson’s 2004 – 2007 turnaround job when he was principal of Montebello, I have a selection of bridges I’d like to offer at a remarkable discount.

I suggest that folks read “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” carefully, and with a critical eye.  Also, take a look at “Background — Turning Around Low Achieving Schools in Colorado”, which at least raises a few caution flags:

What’s needed is not this kind of flimflam. What’s needed are the real reforms that can make a difference: cut class size to 15 and reduce caseload; pay teachers and all other school employees adequately; provide ample resources and wraparound services, including counselors, nurses, libraries, vocational programs, etc.  Involve students, parents, and the community in the school decision-making process. That’s a start.

Dewey Academy in Danger of Displacement: Gentrification and the Oakland Unified School District

21 Jun

Dewey Academy in Danger of Displacement:

Gentrification and the Oakland Unified School District

By Aram Mendoza and N. Finch in collaboration with Dewey teachers


Displacement of long-time, low-income residents due to gentrification has been an all too common story in the Bay Area recently.  Now the same insidious process is targeting some of the most “at-risk” students in Oakland.  Over the past two weeks, in the end of school rush, the Oakland Unified School District’s administration revealed they have been in close discussions with gentrifying developers that puts Dewey Academy, one of the public continuation high schools in the OUSD, in the cross-hairs of real estate agents and developers.  The developers are already planning a 24 story luxury condo building overshadowing Dewey and now want to add Dewey and the old OUSD headquarters to the project.  What follows is an overview of the situation, why it’s problematic, how it’s situated in the context of gentrification in the Bay Area, and what those of us opposed to the displacement of Dewey and the gentrification of Oakland can do about it.


Dewey gone.  In it's place condos.

Dewey gone. In it’s place condos.


“Surplus Property” and “Surplus Populations”


On Monday, June 10th, an OUSD-initiated group named the “7-11 Committee” (the name stems from the requirement that the committee have at least 7, and not more than 11, people on it) met for the second time.  The Committee was composed of various real estate attorneys, members of charter school boards of directors, and a couple community members.  Not a single active OUSD teacher or student was on the committee – the only current educator on the committee was the current principal of Dewey Academy.  They were charged with “advising” the school board as to the status of the OUSD property located on 2nd Avenue, east of the lake between E. 10th and E. 12th streets.  This property currently houses the former OUSD administration building, which was mysteriously flooded last year, as well as Dewey Academy.  The question set before the Committee was to determine whether or not the parcel of land housing both the former OUSD admin building and Dewey Academy was “surplus property.”

Surplus property is defined as property that is retained by the school district but is not currently being used.  How can anyone imagine that an actual school – Dewey Academy – that has just graduated about 130 students in the past weeks, and that houses a GED program for community members could ever be considered “surplus”?  During the first 7-11 committee, one of the OUSD’s attorneys referred to the “surplussing” of Dewey – that is, using the word “surplus” as a verb – and described the way that the OUSD and developers could actively convert Dewey into “surplus property” in order to make it open for development. (1)

The surplus property category is being used as a means to displace Dewey students and treat them as a surplus population.  It has nothing to do with Dewey actually being property that’s considered “surplus.”  This mirrors the treatment of Oakland’s youth in the broader society.  Seen as an expendable, incarcerable, and unemployable “surplus population,” Oakland’s youth are those who should be pushed to the margins in order to make way for more desirable occupants of land – those that can afford the lakeside view from the window of their 10th floor condominium.  This is the opposite of how they are treated at Dewey Academy where educators and community members work hard to support students who are missing credits needed to graduate, impacted by gangs and who might otherwise slip through the cracks of other OUSD schools.


Dewey Academy students and staff. Surplus property?


Against the Displacement of Dewey Academy


“The safest place for Dewey to be [for the students] is right where it is . . . “ - Dewey High School alum


There are at least three central reasons that highlight how problematic and oppressive the move to displace Dewey and the OUSD Administration building are.

First of all, Dewey’s current location is next to the Youth Heart Health Center, a student centered free health clinic that Dewey students helped design, in collaboration with OUSD employees and MetWest High School students.  What sense does it make to take our highest risk, highest need students away from a health center that they helped design?  While the OUSD has committed in rhetoric to prioritizing the social/emotional needs of Oakland youth, this move by the administration directly goes against the social/emotional needs of Dewey students and, by extension, all youth who access the health center. These students helped shape the YHHC with the understanding that they would be able to access the medical services there.  Since its opening, Dewey students have made up the highest percentage of youth who have accessed the clinic.  Without these young people being in close proximity to the YHHC, the center’s numbers may decline and put them at risk of budget cuts and layoffs, causing further harm to all students who access the center – including those from MetWest and La Escuelita.

Additionally, many students at Dewey are gang-impacted, and the location of Dewey in an accessible and relatively neutral territory by the lake means that students can come to school and be in a safer space than they would be if they had to attend another school in another neighborhood. The informally discussed alternative locations of Fremont High School in East Oakland, Santa Fe elementary in North Oakland and Lakeview campus north of the lake are all either unsafe for gang impacted students or inappropriately far, especially for youth who are already struggling with truancy.  This proposed displacement will only further the alienation and marginalization that these young people face by destabilizing what is perhaps one of the most stable institutions in their lives.  If Dewey did not exist and function as it is, and where it is, many of these students would not have the opportunity to recover credits in a safer space and eventually graduate with a high school diploma.

Lastly, the decision making process behind Dewey’s forced displacement has been incredibly undemocratic and marginalizing of youth, educator and community voices.  The committee that is advising the school board on whether or not Dewey is “surplus property” includes real estate lawyers that represent condominium developers and charter school board members.  This is unacceptable and disrespectful – nobody should decide the fate of a school but the students, educators and staff who make the school run on a daily basis.  The fact that this committee was appointed by the superintendent without any meaningful engagement with the school community is a slap in the face to a community of students and educators who have worked hard to make Dewey one of the safest campuses for struggling students in Oakland.

All of these problematics surrounding the seemingly forced displacement of Dewey lead us to the question: why is this displacement being pushed forward in such a rushed way?

Continue reading

All Out for Trayvon–Monday 6P @ 14th/Broadway

14 Jul

We all have already heard the verdict. Now is the time to respond. We must respond in at least 2 ways. First, it is crucial that we come out now, immediately after the verdict, to show and build our power in the streets. Teachers, parents, and students should all show up at the rally Monday and show solidarity. It is being endorsed by many organizations of the left and groups struggling against racism.  If you are part of an organization, you too should move to endorse it.

Second, we must build further and deeper. We should look to school walkouts of students and work actions by teachers.  Both have precedents in Oakland. Soon after Trayvon was murdered, a few 100 Fremont High students walked. We should follow that example. In terms of work actions, during the Oscar Grant struggles, ILWU Local 10 shutdown the port on Oct. 23, 2010, which many Oakland teachers supported. Teachers should amplify these steps.

For now, since we’re on vacations, we should show our solidarity and march in the streets bringing friends. But whenever we have the opportunity to show our power where we are most powerful–in the schools that we operate and use–we must be ready to act.

No to racist violence of the state and system!
Yes to teacher, student, and parent power to shutdown this system and shutdown the racism!

Show our power at this rally on Monday, 7/15, 6P at Oscar Grant Plaza (14th/Broadway)!



Click the image above to download it as a flyer.

All Out for Oakland Schools! Tomorrow, Wedn., 5:30 @ Board Meeting!

21 May

Join Oakland parents, teachers, and students in Adult Ed and K-12 tomorrow to demand:

Save and rebuild adult education!

Grant teachers a fair contract!

Reduce Special Ed Case Loads!

Rally at 5:30 at the School Board (La Escuelita Elementary: 1050 2nd Avenue, btwn 10th & 12th St).

Click the flyer below to download.

Save and rebuild adult educationSave and rebuild adult education2

Tony Smith leaves Oakland . . . in shambles

8 Apr

We’re offerring a piece by our retired teacher comrade Jack Gerson on the “legacy” of Tony Smith, the now resigned superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.  We will be posting more on this soon.  Please send comments and suggestions.  

Tony Smith: What He Did to Oakland, What Hell Try in Chicago

By Jack Gerson        April 6, 2013

On April 4, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Superintendent Tony Smith gave notice that he was resigning effective June 30 and relocating his family to Chicago to be near his ailing father-in-law. There is little doubt that Smith will soon be a visible presence in Chicago education – quite possibly the next CEO of Chicago Public Schools. It is important for Chicago teachers and community to know just who they are likely to be dealing with – and to those fighting back against the corporate education agenda elsewhere too,

Tony Smith, laying the law down on Oakland’s students, teachers, and community . . . and then cutting out! Deuces!

given the importance of the struggle in Chicago.

My guess is that Tony Smith’s job in Chicago will be to break or weaken the powerful alliance between teachers, students, parents and community so evident during and after last September’s teacher strike.  There are few who can match him when it comes to talking about the importance of neighborhood schools providing wraparound services to combat the effects of poverty; to recruiting, rewarding, and retaining good teachers; to stimulate authentic learning based on concepts and creativity rather than skill-based rote learning; to provide all the resources that teachers need to teach and students need to learn; to acknowledge and work to overcome racism and its effects; to forge real authentic collaboration between faculty, staff, community, students, parents, and administration; to crack down on mismanagement, excess administrative overhead, and needless outsourcing; etc.  For that is exactly what he did when he was appointed superintendent in Oakland four years ago. He talked so well, in fact, that even some skeptics were willing to suspend disbelief and give him a shot.

But in Oakland, it was just talk. Continue reading

DEMAND NOT ONE CUT! Rally at School Board Wed & March 18 forum

26 Feb
Spread the word!
Save the Date…
March 18 Image
How we see it…

We know that the district has gotten infusions of money, some of which we’ve fought for like Prop 30 and Measure J.  We know there is money in the reserve budget. We know consultants get paid out millions every year. But yet, the district is still claiming empty pockets.  They’re trying to hide political moves – to close schools, eliminate adult education, shift funding to charters and private contractors, de-prioritize Special Ed students – through moving numbers around.

In just two years, the administration has mismanaged millions of our dollars.  First, they lost $7 million of QEIA grants because they failed to keep class sizes low enough.  Then, they said an accounting error in Special Ed forced them to make cuts of $8 million.  Now, they have a new accounting error of $7.6 million.  This is unacceptable! Whatever their excuse, the effects are the same: cuts to our kids.

For years they have continued to cut from classrooms, students, parents and community but at no point have cut their own salaries. We say enough is enough. Our kids deserve better. We demand better!

How can we win…

Special Ed was able to successfully reverse some of the cuts to their program.  Before the meeting they had organized large support at various school sites.  That was a mobilization based in our power at school sites and proved to the Board that they would not go without a fight.  The Board was forced to hear their power.

Steps to win:

1.   Unite all parents, students and teachers. Cutting Adult Ed is part of budget cuts to all OUSD schools.   Everyone will be affected so we must unite to win.

2.   We should hold meetings at our schools inviting all parents, students and teacher to get involved in helping to fight these cuts.

3.   Connect with other schools that are organizing and show up to school board meetings and other actions we can plan together.

4.     Come to the Forum on March 18th to learn more about the OUSD budget and building a movement to force the district to FULLY FUND OUR SCHOOLS! NOT ONE CUT!

March with us on May 1st!

30 Apr

Join the Occupy Oakland Education Committee Parent, Student and Teacher contingent! We’ll be meeting at San Antonio Park at 4pm.  More info below.

This May Day Stand with Oakland community and working people around the world to defend our schools

Tuesday May 1st, 4pm @ San Antonio Park

We will rally at 4pm and then be joined by the March for Dignity and Resistance. May 1st is International Workers Day. Parents are working people and schools belong to working communities. On this May Day we demand quality public education for all children in our communities. Every child needs and deserves a neighborhood school. No school closures! Keep Santa Fe, Lazear, Maxwell Park, Marshall and Lakeview Open.


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