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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?

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Youth Organizing in Seattle

3 Aug

One area we try to take seriously in organizing is working with youth.  So it’s always great to see examples of youth stepping up, like this example from Seattle in protests around the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer.   Read the full article here: http://creativitynotcontrol.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/high-school-students-self-organize/.

Some of the organizing we do is reading and studying with youth, helping them write a youth newsletter, and going to actions together and collectively analyzing them and the different participants.  We would love to do more–this is work we’ve started relatively recently–and hope to get involved in more campaign work soon.  In the meantime, though, we’re trying to strategize around how to do sustainable and radical youth organizing.  What ideas do yall have?  The article we link to highlights the potentials of youth self-organizing ending with the question of “Teachers: how can we teach in ways that support this kind of student self-organization, instead of thwarting or coopting it?”  What do yall think is the healthy amount of hands-on and hands-off work in organizing with youth?  And what kind of work does that even look like?

Update and Next Steps to Rebuild Adult Ed

6 Jun

Dear supporters of Classroom Struggle and Public Education in Oakland,

We won $1 million dollars for Adult Ed! This is definitely a partial victory, and we should celebrate this, since it was direct action and leadership on the part of parents and teachers which won it. But we also need to be clear about the limitations of every victory.

Thank you all for coming out on Wednesday, 5/22. We have included a detailed overview of what happened on at the school board meeting, what our victories have been, the limitations of the vote taken on Wednesday, as well as some directions for next steps.

Adult Ed

A few key points:

  • At the May 22nd board meeting parents, teachers and students were united in fighting for a fair contract and against cuts (mainly to adult ed).
  • The board voted to maintain current funding for adult ed (due in large part to mobilizations by adult ed students and teachers as well as the outcome of the May Revise).
  • The vote guarantees 1 million in funding of adult education but does not guarantee how that funding will be spent.
  • It is still possible that cuts may happen because of “restructuring” by administrators or because school site budgets may not be able to pay the contribution that is currently required of them.
  • Going forward, adult ed students and teachers are continuing to fight to make sure the program continues as it is and expands to restore the 90% of this program that was cut 3 years ago. There is still work to be done THIS SCHOOL YEAR.

We want to learn from and build out of the May 22nd board meeting so please take the time to read the rest of this email to understand the details of this struggle and contact us with any thoughts/suggestions/questions.

What Happened?

The meeting started with a picket line and rally of hundreds of parents, teachers and students chanting “Save Adult Ed,” “Fair Contract Now” and “Not One Cut!” After 15 minutes of picketing outside, the contingent marched inside and held a spirited general assembly with speeches from parents, Adult Ed students, and teachers. Oakland’s educational community was out in strong force and electrifying what is otherwise an incredibly dull “business meeting” (to use School Board Member Jumoke Hodge’s own words.)

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Garbage Science: Teacher Evaluation by Test Scores and Some Ideas for Stopping Them in Oakland

1 Apr

Some of you might have already seen the shocking results in the New York Times today.  Apparently, all the teacher evaluations programs pushed on school districts by Obama’s Race To The Top and the corporate de-formers have found a shocking conclusion: most teachers are, in fact, “highly effective” at their jobs.

Diane Ravitch does a great job of poking holes in this “realization” and cites some of their statistics:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”

In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

This is serious news for Oakland.  As many of you hopefully know by now, GO Public Schools & Co. (including Youth Together, Youth Uprising, SEIU 1021, OCO, and Education Trust-West), is making a serious push to evaluate Oakland teachers by student test score data.  They are not alone.  Superintendent Smith is heading the same direction in conjunction with 8 other California school districts (in the group called California Office to Reform Education (CORE)).

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International Labor Action for Rank and File Teachers: In the Fight for Free Public Education — Beware the Union “Leadership”: A.S. Read

1 Feb

This is a recent article from our newest newsletter analyzing the OEA contract struggle.  We post it here so you can access the citations and hyperlinks.  Here, A.S. Read brings the international perspective by taking us to Sri Lanka and Namibia where, recently, some very militant teacher strikes have taken place.  Each points out the potential power of teachers when united but also the dangers of being sold out by bureaucratized union leadership.

Sri Lankan teachers on strike demanding an increase of GDP spending on education to 6%.

Sri Lankan teachers on strike demanding an increase of spending on education to 6% of GDP.

International Labor Action for Rank and File Teachers: In the Fight for Free Public Education — Beware the Union “Leadership”

By A.S. Read

In the United States and countries all over the world there still remains an institution that links people towards a common goal. This goal, literacy,  is entirely necessary for all working people to navigate the complex and increasingly oppressive nature of “civilized” society (aka Capitalist Society). There are many definitions of what literacy entails (most rates are based on the ability to read and write at a specified age), overall it is estimated that the worldwide literacy rate is around 80%. 1  I would argue the institution responsible, for what is arguably an impressive percentage, is free public education. Yet, assaults on this institution are taking place in countries all over the world. As these attacks get more and more aggressive, rank and file teachers continue to fight back and prevent further losses to collective bargaining rights, despite the tendency of capitulation and self-interest from union bureaucrats.

This article will highlight two recent labor struggles where teachers courageously went on strike in response to the continuing global assault on public education manifesting in their regional schools. University teachers in Sri Lanka went on a three month strike 2 and K-12 teachers in Namibia went out on a wildcat strike that lasted two weeks 3. Both actions were bittersweet considering in each country it was the agency of the teachers that drove the strikes; however, it was the treachery of the union bureaucrats (ie. collaboration with the state) “representing” the teachers that ended the actions with minimal or no concrete gains.  This article also provides context for this labor union sabotage and ideas for teachers to push the struggle forward.

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Why Teachers Should Care About the Contract: Aram Mendoza

1 Feb

This is a recent article from our newest newsletter analyzing the OEA contract struggle.  We post it here so you can access the citations and hyperlinks.  Here, Aram Mendoza analyzes the current contract negotiations of OEA and its importance for Oakland teachers and, more widely, the needs of Oakland students.  Aram also raises some very concrete tactics and next steps for individual teachers and teachers as a whole.

CTU FairContractNow

A Chicago teacher on strike last fall.

Why Teachers Should Care About the Contract

By Aram Mendoza

Oakland teachers, do we care about having a union?
Do we care about having a good contract?
What is an imposition and what should teachers do about it?

These are not rhetorical questions.

The reality is that we have been under an imposed “contract” since 2010.  What does this mean?  Simply put: Tony Smith and the OUSD school board have unilaterally, dictatorially, and undemocratically imposed terms of work upon education workers.  It means that the “last, best, and final” offer was put on the table by the OUSD district bargaining team and was NOT agreed to by the OEA bargaining team. Though this imposition was carried out in April of 2010 (which was why OEA’s last strike was in that same month), it was not the last time that Smith and the Board have imposed on education workers: last year’s “Accelerated TSA” campaign was imposed on Fremont, McClymonds, and Castlemont teachers without any public, democratic process.  More on this later.

Back to our current contract situation – we must ask: does our contract really matter?  As I’ve talked to co-workers and friends who are teachers in Oakland’s public schools I’ve come to see the total lack of information that we have in relation to our own contractual agreement with the district.

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If you think Paulo Freire is interesting…

8 Jan

What school of pedagogy has left the most significant imprint on Brazil’s largest social movement, the Landless Worker’s Movement (the MST)?  Forgive yourself if you said Paulo Freire.  While he did influence MST’s community schools, try out the pedagogy developed in Soviet Russia from 1918-1931.  In those years, according to the MST, vast and important experiments took place to develop an egalitarian and successful education system.  Don’t miss this fascinating recording of an Against the Grain interview with UC Berkeley School of Education doctoral student, Rebecca Tarlau.

Click here to access the recording from KPFA’s Against the Grain: http://www.againstthegrain.org/program/575/id/272230/tues-7-03-12-pedagogy-radical-change.

Chicago Teacher's Union? Nope. This is a rally of the largest social movement in Latin America, the Landless Workers' Movement.

Chicago Teacher’s Union rally? Nope. This is a rally of the largest social movement in Latin America, the Landless Workers’ Movement.

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