OSA Will Now Include Middle School By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday July 29, 2005

Without any public fanfare, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown’s Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) has quietly moved from a charter high school to a charter middle and high school. 

State-appointed Oakland School Administrator Randolph Ward approved OSA’s charter revision early last month, adding grades six through eight of 50 students apiece to the school’s existing 9-12 grade charter. 

OSA has been operating under an Oakland Unified School District charter since September 2002. Mayor Brown is the chairperson of the board of directors of the non-profit organization that runs the school. The school currently operates out of portable buildings behind the Fox Oakland building in downtown Oakland, and is expected to move into the Fox Oakland itself when that building is renovated. 

The new grades are expected to begin operation in September, with a total student population of 550. The school has already begun sending out postcards announcing the expansion, and late last month held auditions for entering students from sixth to tenth grades. 

In their proposal, OSA officials said that its faculty will increase from 27 (20 full-time and 7 part-time) to 30 to accommodate the grade expansion. 

Because Oakland’s schools are currently being run by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, school board members have no voice in charter approval and function only as an advisory board to the school administrator. 

OSA administrators were out of town this week and unavailable for comment, but OUSD advisory board director Alice Spearman said in a telephone interview that school officials said they asked for the grade extension “because they thought it would be better to start out with younger students at the school. It was their feeling that many of the children entering their school in the ninth grade simply didn’t have the necessary arts training, because that training is lacking in many public schools.” 

In the 2004 Academic Performance Index (API), the basis on which the State of California ranks schools, the Oakland School for the Arts was ranked 9 among all California high schools (on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest), and 10 among California high schools of a similar size and student population. 

The charter revision, which also extends OSA’s charter through June 2010, received mixed reviews from representatives associated with the school district. 

Board director Spearman said that the grade extension was “probably a good thing” for OSA. “The arts school has an academic piece that is far superior to most of our high schools in Oakland,” he said. 

Spearman also praised OSA’s arts curriculum, stating that “we don’t have the expertise in the other schools to bring artists up like they do. Even though we have a school of the arts run by Oakland Unified [at Skyline High School], our school doesn’t measure up [to OSA]. They are probably the only charter I would give passing grades to. I’m impressed with them.” 

But Oakland Education Association President Ben Visnick, who represents most of Oakland Unified’s teachers, opposed the charter extension when it came to the state administrator and the board in May, saying that the district was contributing to the further decline of average daily attendance money from the state if the grade extension was approved. 

Visnick said in a telephone interview that he also opposed the extension because “over half of the students at the arts school are from Oakland,” and “a lot of money is going over to the arts school that could be better spent helping Oakland schools survive.” 

In its charter amendment application, OSA said that 63 percent of the school’s student body reside in Oakland, but does not specify if any of those current Oakland residents were living in other cities before enrolling at OSA. The OSA application says that 48 percent of the student body is African-American, 22 percent white, 9 percent Latino, 8 percent Asian, and the remaining 13 percent either multi-ethnic or of unidentified ethnic background. 

In their budget plan, the school says that $700,000 of OSA’s projected $5 million in revenue in 2005-06 will come from the City of Oakland, with another $100,000 coming from a Port of Oakland/Oakland Airport contract.