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Manzanita SEED Community Says Teacher Consolidations Harm Students

Sasaki, Davis and Hutchinson all pointed to not having enough teachers as a root cause of the issue causing consolidations. Sasaki and Davis pointed to plans already in place by the district to improve recruitment.

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As Oakland Unified School District’s Manzanita SEED Elementary school lost a teacher on Monday to a consolidation process that placed her at another site, the school’s community is reeling from her absence, and parents and teachers are hoping the process can work differently in the future.

“Kids were crying because their original teacher is leaving,” said Anne Perrone, a third-grade teacher who has worked for OUSD for over 20 years. “They’re nervous because the two months of experience they had with her and the protocols she’d set up are now up in the air.”

OUSD forced a fourth-grade teacher to leave Manzanita SEED as enrollment numbers were far lower than what the district had projected for that site, while other sites, most notably Sojourner Truth Independent Study, had far more students than the district had planned for.

“Given that some of our schools and classes still don’t have permanent teachers, we have to take teachers at the schools with too few students and put them in classes at other schools that don’t have enough teachers,” wrote John Sasaki, OUSD’s director of communications, in an email to The Oakland Post.

The steps in the process of consolidation are guided by the teacher’s contract that OUSD and the teacher’s union, OEA, have agreed to. According to the contract, when a consolidation process requires a teacher to relocate to a different school, the teacher with least seniority at an under-enrolled site is chosen to leave unless another teacher at the site volunteers to leave instead.

In this instance, the process required that a fourth-grade native Spanish speaker leave Manzanita SEED, a school that offers instruction to all students in both English and Spanish. While that fourth-grade teacher asked not to be named in this article, she confirmed she was relocated to Sojourner Truth Independent Study, a OUSD school that is currently offering online learning and does not offer dual language instruction. The site has higher enrollment numbers than anticipated due to COVID.

“The consolidation process that exists didn’t factor in the pandemic, and that our enrollment numbers are going to be impacted by that in ways we have never seen,” said Jill Karjian, a parent to a third-grade student at Manzanita SEED.

The consolidation process is organized around an attendance count taken 20 days into the school year, but Karjian feels the attendance could soon grow at her school if students start opting for in-person learning when vaccines become available for 5- 11-year-olds. The Los Angeles Times reported such vaccines could begin to become available as early as November.

The departure of the fourth-grade teacher also affected the school’s third grade classes. Another Manzanita SEED teacher, who had been teaching third grade, replaced the fourth grade teacher. Three third-grade classes were then merged into two classes, causing class sizes to go from 18 to 27 students. Anne Perrone reports about half her third-grade students have been testing two grades or more behind their grade level for both math and reading due to the pandemic making learning more difficult last year. The lower than usual class sizes had been helpful for getting her students caught up. Now that class sizes have suddenly risen, she’s worried.

“I’m not Wonder Woman,” she said. “I’m not going to be able to reach all the students in the way I want and need to.”

On September 21, four days after the Manzanita SEED community heard official word that their school would be consolidated, Karijian sent out an email, co-signed by 35 other parents, that asked to meet with Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Tramell, Chief Academic Advisor Sondra Aguilera, and Chief Talent Officer Tara Gard, to discuss the situation and propose alternative solutions.

The parents never heard a response. Perrone said teachers and parents had ideas such as bringing in school administrators who have teaching credentials to fill in vacancies, partnering with local teaching programs at universities to offer student teachers the vacancies, and offering increased pay to entice new teachers to fill in vacancies using COVID relief money.

In more than an hour of public comments at a School Board meeting on September 22, teachers, parents and students urged the board to stop the district’s normal practice of consolidations. But there were no resolutions related to the issue proposed and the Board did not take up the issue on their agenda. By October 5, Manzanita SEED had lost their teacher.

“Teacher consolidations can be very painful because they disrupt the relationships that students have made at the beginning of the year, so everyone wants to avoid them as much as possible,” wrote District 1 School Board Director Sam Davis in an e-mail to The Oakland Post.

When asked why the issue was not taken up at a Board meeting, Davis wrote “…for me personally, since no teachers were being laid off, it was not an issue of budgeting but a lack of sufficient staffing for all of our classrooms.” He also pointed out that since “the process of consolidation is part of the contract with OEA,” the board does not have the power to unilaterally change that process. Instead, it needs to be negotiated through OEA.

In an interview with The Oakland Post, District 5 School Board Director Mike Hutchinson said that the issue was brought to his attention at the last minute, when the first schools were being notified of their consolidations, at which point it was too late for him to bring the issue to the Board.

“There literally was nothing I could do substantially besides pressuring behind the scenes at that point,”  Hutchinson said. “This is the first time most people have heard of consolidations. I’m hoping with this awareness, we can improve upon this going forward.”

Hutchinson said, in previous years, consolidations had resulted in 20-30 teachers being affected. Sasaki wrote that in the past, the consolidation process has resulted in some teachers being laid off. This year, eight teachers were moved, and none were laid off. Davis wrote that he posed a lot of questions to Johnson-Tramell and her team about consolidations and that teachers being moved was ultimately limited as much as possible.

Hutchinson called the fact that much fewer consolidations happened this year than other years “a victory behind the scenes” but also acknowledged that some schools still felt a devastating impact through the consolidation process.

“This was something that was frustrating this year,” Hutchinson said, “because we can’t address it while it’s already happening. But we can definitely all address it for next year so we don’t have this happen again.”

According to Hutchinson, through contract negotiations with the district, OEA could have more flexibility with the consolidation process. Consolidations do not have to be attached to 20-day attendance counts, class sizes could be lowered, and OEA could propose different methods in its next contract.

“I would really recommend the union start preparing for next year,” said Hutchinson. “If teachers don’t like the way this consolidation process works, they should work to change the language in their contract.”

Sasaki, Davis and Hutchinson all pointed to not having enough teachers as a root cause of the issue causing consolidations. Sasaki and Davis pointed to plans already in place by the district to improve recruitment.

Hutchinson suggested changing the teacher contract to give new teachers who would otherwise be laid off an extra probationary year where the district could work to help improve their performance, so more teachers could get the aid they need to remain in Oakland public schools.

Perrone is frustrated to be stuck dealing with the instability of losing a teacher through consolidation and hopes OUSD can improve the situation in the near future. She calls consolidations a “Band-Aid approach” that does not work to fix anything.

“I think this is a turning point, we can either fix some of these long-term educational problems or we can create more entrenched inequalities that will go on for generations,” Perrone said.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Attorney General Bonta, CARB Seek to Defend Rule Limiting Warehouse Pollution in Disadvantaged Los Angeles and Inland Empire Communities

In recent years, the proliferation of e-commerce and rising consumer expectations of rapid shipping have contributed to a boom in warehouse development, particularly in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. 

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California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) filed a motion  on Wednesday to intervene in support of South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (Air District) rule requiring warehouses to reduce emissions from heavy sources of on-road pollution that visit those warehouses.

The Air District’s rule regulates these “indirect sources” by requiring owners and operators of some of the largest warehouses in the state to take direct action to mitigate their emissions.   This will reduce air pollution in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, help California meet state and federal air quality standards, improve the health of our communities, and promote environmental justice.

Last month, the California Trucking Association filed a lawsuit challenging the rule as outside the scope of the Air District’s authority, pre-empted by federal law, and an unlawful tax. In defending the rule, Attorney General Bonta and CARB expect to argue that these claims are meritless and that state and federal law supports the Air District’s authority to adopt the Indirect Source Rule.

“California has long been a pioneer in the fight against climate change – and the Air District’s rule limiting warehouse pollution is no exception,” said Bonta. “The fact is: environmental justice and economic development are not mutually exclusive. There is no binary choice here. The Air District’s Indirect Source Rule will have tremendous benefits for those communities hardest hit by pollution, at a relatively low cost to industry.”

“This is an environmental justice and public health issue,” said CARB Chair Liane M. Randolph. “The communities around these huge warehouse facilities have suffered for years from the effects of businesses and freight haulers who have all but ignored the community impacts of their enterprises. This Indirect Source Rule simply requires them to be much better neighbors. The rule is also part and parcel of local clean air plans developed under Assembly Bill 617 with CARB and South Coast staff, local residents, local businesses and other stakeholders to clean the air in and around these high-traffic routes and locations.”

In recent years, the proliferation of e-commerce and rising consumer expectations of rapid shipping have contributed to a boom in warehouse development, particularly in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend, as consumers have shifted away from in-person retail shopping. Unfortunately, the distribution of warehouse facilities — and resulting pollution — has occurred primarily in low-income communities and communities of color.

Once a new warehouse is built, the facilities and their associated activities, such as truck traffic, can cause a variety of negative impacts affecting public health. For example, diesel trucks visiting warehouses are substantial sources of nitrogen oxide — a primary precursor to smog formation that has been linked to respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, and lung irritation — and diesel particulate matter — a contributor to cancer, heart disease, respiratory illnesses, and premature death.

The Air District’s Indirect Source Rule requires existing and new warehouse facilities larger than 100,000 square feet to select from a menu of emissions-reducing activities, such as purchasing zero-emission vehicles, installing air filtration systems in nearby residences, and constructing rooftop solar panels.

A copy of the motion is available here.

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Community

Oakland Native Serves in Navy’s ‘Silent Service’ of Submarine Technology

A major component of that maritime security is homeported at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., where Zeigler is stationed.

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Justin Ziegler

An Oakland native is serving aboard USS Florida, one of the world’s most advanced nuclear-powered submarines.

Fireman Justin Zeigler, a 2008 Life Academy High School graduate and 2017 University of California, Los Angeles graduate, joined the Navy one year ago.

“I joined the Navy to be a part of something new and completely outside of what I had been exposed to,” said Zeigler. “I really wanted to challenge myself. and I feel the core values of the Navy represent what I strive for.”

Today, Zeigler serves as a machinist’s mate whose responsibilities include working on nuclear propulsion machinery.
According to Zeigler, the values required to succeed in the military are similar to those found in Oakland.

“I learned resilience from my hometown,” said Zeigler. “I think that’s been a part of my life and childhood. It’s what’s keeping me going while serving in the Navy.”

Known as America’s “Silent Service,” the Navy’s submarine force operates a large fleet of technically advanced vessels. These submarines are capable of conducting rapid defensive and offensive operations around the world, in furtherance of U.S. national security.

There are three basic types of submarines: fast-attack submarines (SSN), ballistic-missile submarines (SSBN) and guided-missile submarines (SSGN).

As a member of the submarine force, Zeigler is part of a rich 121-year history of the U.S. Navy’s most versatile weapons platform, capable of taking the fight to the enemy in the defense of America and its allies.
Serving in the Navy means Zeigler is part of a team that is taking on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.

“The submarine force is always out there ready to strike,” said Zeigler.

With more than 90% of all trade traveling by sea, and 95% of the world’s international phone and internet traffic carried through underwater fiber optic, Navy officials continue to emphasize that the prosperity and security of the United States is directly linked to a strong and ready Navy.

A major component of that maritime security is homeported at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., where Zeigler is stationed.

As Zeigler and other sailors continue to train and perform the missions they are tasked with, they take pride in serving their country in the United States Navy.

“Serving in the Navy means being a part of something more than myself,” added Zeigler. “I’m committing to my team, always striving to be better and bringing more to the table.”

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Advice

Commentary: Tips for Staying Safe (Emotionally) as Pandemic Drags On

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant have fundamentally changed many of our lives, the way we live and the manner in which we interact with each other, and how we live, work and play together.   

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Many of us are tired, stressed and impatient having to live our lives under this seemingly never-ending pandemic. 

In early spring, many of us were hopeful that COVID-19 was coming to an end.  We began making plans for the summer, from visiting family and friends to attending concerts, plays, planning for vacations and special milestones, and basically “just returning to normal life activities.”  

However, as life would have it, the Delta variant appeared. We were again confronted with the inability to control most aspects of our lives.  In fact, most recently, scientists have purported that we may expect additional variants for years to come.

According to the California Department of Public Health, in February 2021, only 2% of Black Californians were vaccinated. However, as of October 5, 4.2 % of all Black Californians have received at least one dose of vaccine. Representing about 6 % of California’s overall population, we as a community remain behind on our vaccination rate.   

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant have fundamentally changed many of our lives, the way we live and the manner in which we interact with each other, and how we live, work and play together.   

This pandemic has reinforced that there are so many aspects of our lives that we cannot control. And anytime we cannot control our lives and/or our environment, we tend to feel helpless which leads to anxiety and possibly depression.  

So, what can a person do, when life does not go as you planned and are impatient for this pandemic to end?  Here are some tips that have been recommended by the experts:

  1. I know this might sound cliché, but recognizing and understanding your feelings, whether you are sad, angry, stressed, or frightened. Accept, do not negate, how you feel.  
  2. The ability to bounce back and adapt to difficult situations is crucial to wellness.  You have to believe in yourself, your ability to be strong and to try your best – relying on various proven self-care methods — to stay positive.
  3. Try having an attitude of gratitude.  Think about just a few little things or events that are going well in your life daily and in the life of your family and friends.
  4. When you feel overwhelmed…. just breathe…Yes, literally, just breathe in through your nose, hold it and exhale through your mouth a few times or meditate by remembering a verse, phrase, poem, or visualizing a tranquil place for just a few seconds. Still yourself.   
  5. Look back on the good times that you have had and treasure those memories.
  6. Plan a reasonably safe event you can look forward to in the near future that will bring you joy or fulfillment. 
  7. Stop thinking negative.  It’s difficult when life feels as if it’s spiraling out of control but find ways to prove that your negative thoughts are either wrong or that the sky will not fall.  Remind yourself that life and circumstances can and do change.  Turn those negative thoughts into positive affirmations.  Have faith and confidence. 
  8. With so many things going on that are out of our control and often make us feel helpless, focus on what you CAN control in your life.  
  1. Take care of yourself. Exercise, even walking 20 minutes a day, eating healthy, sleep on a regular schedule, turn off electronic devises at least one hour before bed, avoid alcohol and substance use, especially before bedtime, connect with community or faith-based organizations, and/or reach out to your local mental health provider, employee assistance program.

Lenore A. Tate, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Sacramento, California. She specializes in neuropsychology, behavioral health and geriatrics.

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