Monday, March 24, 2008

The starvation diet of one school

An extremely high rate of staff turnover at many of Oakland's public schools wipes out most of the institutional memory on a regular basis. School memorabilia, class photos, and old yearbooks can serve as useful sources of information about the "old days," but only if they haven't been thrown out somewhere along the line.

Browsing through
Bret Harte Middle School's old yearbooks, one can see that many facets of the school have changed. Here are just a few.

Eleven years ago when Bret Harte had about 1050 kids,

  • It was staffed with a full-time librarian
  • It had three guidance counselors, one for each grade.
  • It had two assistant principals and a dean.

Three years ago when Bret Harte had about 950 kids,

  • It no longer had a librarian, but did have a part-time library clerk.
  • It had one guidance counselor and two assistant principals.
  • It had two “Teachers on Special Assignment” (TSA’s). One managed the testing process, the school’s budget and taught a reading class. The other managed the school’s extensive English Language Learning program and taught a reading class as well.

This year when Bret Harte has close to 900 kids,

  • It still has a library clerk.
  • It still has one guidance counselor and two assistant principals.
  • One of the assistant principals, with an already full plate of duties, is now also responsible for managing the English Language Learning program.

There are no TSA’s at the school this year. A newly hired “fiscal officer” is managing the school’s budget. This individual has limited school budget experience, works reduced hours, and is employed as consultant. The principal is proud to “save money” for the school because consultants do not receive benefits.

And of course, most everyone at the school is getting worn down by the demands of N.C.L.B. Bret Harte is a “failing” school according to N.C.L.B. and is in Program Improvement - Year 4.

I wonder if the school would have been slightly more successful at helping students achieve grade level literacy if a really good librarian had been kept on staff. Librarians are trained to elevate and fixate on reading and research.

I wonder if things would have gone better for the school if it had continued to have three guidance counselors. Imagine the attention that students would have received if their guidance counselor was watching over 350 kids vs. 900 kids.

I can't help but think that this trend has been a bit like starving the schools to death, and then blaming them for not a doing better job.

1 comment:

caroline said...

So all that Gates/Broad money is going into their boutique experiments but not into OUSD's established schools?