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By Fatimah Abdulla
One of Victoria Smith’s dreams was to sing at her own graduation as part of the Skyline Choir.
“Choir is part of my heart,” said the senior. “I’ve been doing it all my life.”
Unfortunately for Smith, mid-year budget cuts at Skyline killed her wish when the school decided not to hire a new choir/piano teacher and disperse students in those classes to other elective classes.
“Choir has been a rich tradition for Skyline; when I had a bad day I went to the choir class and listened to something beautiful. It always made me feel better,” said Mr. Johnson, a social studies teacher.
Choir is not the only program harmed by the current cuts, and a budget crisis in Oakland schools means that more may be cut next year.
Some three-quarters of a million dollars was cut from Skyline’s budget after the school year had already started, in two separate cuts. First, about $300,000 in savings had to be trimmed as a result of under-enrollment in the previous year. Then, at the holidays, the Oakland School Board approved big emergency budget cuts officials said were needed to prevent OUSD from running out of money in future years; Skyline’s share of these cuts was the biggest in the district, at nearly $450,000.
Although no teachers were laid off as a result of these cuts, Skyline’s Business Manager Yesenia Alamillo said that several positions — including the choir/piano teacher, a counselor, an assistant principal, and a school security officer — were left unfilled in order to balance the accounting books.
Additionally, $204,426 in federal Title 1 funding that is intended to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds was reallocated by the School Site Council (SSC) at the request of the school administration, to help pay a fifth of the salary of 17 teachers in the school’s Atlas freshmen houses who do some academic intervention for struggling students.
According to the SSC’s Jan. 25 meeting notes, administrators told the SSC that if their proposal was rejected, three teachers, as well as the textbook manager and a member of the clerical staff, would be laid off mid-year. However, it passed unanimously.
Despite these cuts, however, Assistant Principal Garrett-Walker claimed that a “common misconception is that Skyline is poor, or Skyline does not have a lot of money, which is definitely not true.”
Skyline embraces the pathway model to partially organize how money is spent, she said. The pathways, through which students have the opportunity for personalized learning and can focus on their career goals, have separate budgets based on income from the state, local Oakland taxes, business donations, and fundraising. However, while we do have pathways specific to students’ passions, many students have been upset year after year that these pathways do not get an equal amount of funding and resources.
For example, while three of the school’s pathways are California Partnership Academies (CPA) eligible for additional funding, the Visual and Performing Arts Academy (VPA) is not, and has to scramble to fund performances, travel to competitions like the Reno Jazz Festival, and art supplies.
The Visual and Performing Arts Academy are struggling with affording supplies.
“Because we are the newest academy, and we don’t have a lot of the materials already, …. also our art’s materials need to be replaced every year,” said Mr. Treacy Visual Arts Department Chair and Art Teacher.
“Performing arts is as important as any other academy,” said Victoria Smith. Since VPA is not a CPA, it does not have access to as much extra funding. Computer academy students also complain about not having enough field trips.
The district-wide cuts could have been even worse: Officials originally proposed to slash $15 million, but, under pressure from outraged community members, ultimately brought the amount down.
Some teachers and parents are accusing former OUSD superintendent Antwan Wilson, who left the district suddenly last year when he was offered a new job in Washington D.C., of being the reason why so many problems are arising following the budget cuts. Critics say he hired many of his own friends and spent money on consultants and on unnecessary programs.
The district is no stranger to financial problems. In May 2003, the State of California authorized an emergency loan of $100 million to OUSD while also appointing a State Administrator to take over the powers and responsibilities of the school board. Eventually, control of the district was returned to the people of Oakland, but we are still in the progress of paying back the loan.
In addition to OUSD’s long history of financial mismanagement, declining enrollment, rising pensions, excessive spending, and systemic challenges such as large numbers of charter schools are just a few of the reasons offered to explain the current budget crisis.
By Devon Nutting
For several years, debate has been ongoing among Skyline’s administration, faculty and students about whether to change the school’s schedule to some form of “block” schedule, with longer periods and fewer classes per day.
Now, with the announcement that the 2018-19 school year would have a hybrid schedule with two days of block each week, the school’s leadership has finally taken the leap.
However, since the administration has said this schedule is “transitional,” it leaves the big question of what schedule will be implemented in later years.
“For the 2018-19 school year, this is a transitional schedule and a positive way for all of us to learn what works well for students while also allowing us to adjust our instructional practices in a block,” wrote the administration team in an letter to the school’s staff on March 13.
“The 7-period hybrid block schedule will also allow us to gather essential data next year on block days vs non-block days that will be used to determine a final schedule for Skyline.”
The major advocate for the move to block has been the district and school administrators, who have argued that that extended periods in each class and fewer transitions between classes will lead to more academic success.
Both representatives of the teachers union and the administration also released at the same time several surveys of teachers and students which showed widespread support for the hybrid schedule over an innovative but controversial alternative plan championed by OUSD officials and known as “four by four” (4×4).
The approved schedule will see two out of the five school days (either Tues./Wed. Or Wed./Thurs.) swapped with an “A/B” block format. On one of these days, students will follow the “A” schedule which may involve for example periods 1, 3, 5, and 7. On the second block day of the week, students will follow the “B” schedule that include periods 2, 4 and 6. On block days, each class will be approximately 90 minutes long.
The other three days of the week will remain unchanged from what they are now. Each course will remain at the current two-semester length, unlike the 4×4.
In a 4×4 schedule, students would have taken a full year’s course in a single semester, four at a time for a total of eight per year. (Some yearlong classes could be fit in a 4×4 if you allow a block to be cut in half.)
In the Oakland Educators Association online survey, teachers were asked to rank the hybrid, the 4×4, and the current, traditional 7-period day. Of the 58 responses, half chose the hybrid, nearly 40 percent wanted to stick with the current schedule, and only one out of eight supported the 4×4. [See graphic, above]
The administration’s own survey, which 62 staff members filled out did not give the current schedule as a choice, but the results were otherwise similar, with only 4 out of 5 choosing the hybrid over the 4×4. A survey of 41 students split almost identically.
At the end of the previous school year, according to Mr. Scheer, Principal Bloom had told teachers at the year’s final staff meeting that the school was definitely going to a block schedule by 2018-19 and that teachers who didn’t want to teach in such a schedule should look for jobs at different schools.
There are numerous methods of organizing a school’s schedule, and the two presented as finalists by the administration offered a contrast. The schedule chosen, in fact, was less dramatic a change than an earlier finalist which would have had four block days each week and two minimum days. However, a cost analysis by AC Transit claimed adapting to extra short day would lead to between $1.3 and 2 million dollars in extra charges, so it was replaced with they hybrid, which would keep all start and end times the same as the current schedule.
Along with the longer periods, lunch and passing periods will likely be longer on block days, although no exact version has been released.
As the dust cleared, students and teachers interviewed generally were breathing a sigh of relief as the potential problems of the 4×4 block were being avoided altogether. When asked to compare the two finalists, several students concluded block was the better way to go — but also dismissed the situation as “not a big deal.”
English teacher Ms. Vu is excited for the new opportunities the change may bring. She is hopeful the change will provide more time in class to experiment with activities such as seminars and community circles in order to provide a more intimate and detailed experience for students.
The teachers union is pursuing a grievance based on claims that the school staff was not adequetely consulted about the change. If the grievance is affirmed, it could roll it back.
As the general consensus of the schedule change are mixed, Assistant Principal Camarena is one of the Titans that takes a more hopeful view of the situation.
“Block schedule can be effective if the students and staff are behind it,” he said.
After winning several races as a junior, top Skyline mountain biker Noah Hayes has absolutely dominated the Varsity Division of the Southern Conference of the NorCal High School Cycling League, which stretches from Salinas up to Marin.
And, by dominating, we mean he has won all three races so far this season, with blisteringly fast times over 25 miles of dusty or muddy single-track.
Noah is interested in pursuing a pro career in the sport, and he seems well on his way.
The team captain and goalie, Jayden Kael has been leading the Skyline women’s soccer team since her freshman year when she started on varsity, says Coach Durkin.
“Throughout the years Jayden has lead the team by example on and off the field,” he said. “Jayden creates a fun environment during practice and then turns on her competitiveness during the games.”
Jayden lead the team to the finals 4 years in a row.
“One game, she had 28 saves!” said Durkin.
By Leroy Yau
Skyline finally has a men’s volleyball team at last. Long an organized sport for girls, the Oakland Athletic League (OAL) had a push to start up a league for the boys. There was enough interest, and the girls coach, PE teacher Ms. Hansen agreed to coach the team, so the Titans will be part of the founding season.
“During the summer, I went to open gym in Chinatown and over time I enjoyed volleyball,” said co-captain Eric Ly, who was excited to find out that Skyline would have its first team in recent memory. For Ofa Paua, he had played the sport before and was glad to join a team “since all my sisters play volleyball.”
So far, in the preseason, wins have been hard to come by but they are getting some good experience and learning the rules of league volleyball.
The team goal for this season, Ly said is, “I hope the team will have some basic skills with everything in volleyball.”
Paua was more ambitious: “We are trying to win all our games.”