Oakland School for the Arts Undergoes Administrative Overhaul

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday February 23, 2007

Facing dropping student test scores and continued teacher turnover, Jerry Brown’s heavily-subsidized Oakland School For the Arts charter school has undergone an administrative overhaul in recent months. 

Gone is the longtime OSA Director Loni Berry, as well as the assistant director, Taura Musgrove. 

In their place in the position of “Head of School,” the OSA Board last November hired Boston native and Brandeis theater arts graduate Saul Drevitch.  

A press release on the OSA website says that Drevitch served as director of communications at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., and spent nine years as the director of the Exploration Intermediate Program, which it says is the country’s premier summer academic enrichment program for middle school students, but does not give a date for that employment. A Saul Drevitch was listed as the head of school of Berkeley’s private Arrowsmith Academy which closed its doors last June, but it is unclear whether it is the same person as the new OSA head of school. 

The president of OSA’s board of directors, Dr. Bruce Lawrence, could not be reached for comment as to why the administrative change was made, and the OSA administration did not return a phone call in regard to this story. 

The Oakland School for the Arts, which began as a high school but expanded to include middle school students in 2005, currently holds classes in portables behind the Fox Oakland Theater in downtown Oakland. The school is slated to move into the refurbished Fox in 2008. 

Administration of the school has come under frequent criticism from parents attending OSA. In the parent comment section of the Great Schools network last fall, in the period just before Drevitch was hired, two parents praised OSA, but five others blasted the school’s administration. "This school isn't managed very well," one parent wrote, while another said, "This school is a total mess. It is organized poorly and the administration is at times unapproachable. The kids suffer." Another said that “there is no communication between anyone and the administration is ridiculous.” 

But another parent, writing last September, had nothing but praise, writing that “we will be eternally grateful for the opportunities she was given, the education she received and the care she got from the administration and staff. No high school is perfect, and a new one has a straight uphill challenge to establish itself. This school was exceptional for our family.” 

But alongside the administration, teacher turnover at OSA has been the most frequent target of parent criticism. 

Earlier this year, the Great Schools network reported that OSA rated poorly in teacher turnover when compared with other schools in the state. 32 percent of the OSA faculty were first-year teachers in the 2005-06 school year, as opposed to only 7 percent in the rest of the state. 

A review of the OSA list of faculty on its website confirms those statistics. 

Of the 26 faculty members listed on the OSA faculty in July 2005, only five now remain at the school. The turnover was most severe in the Science, Social Science, and Theater departments, where no faculty member is currently listed who was listed two years ago. 

And after several years of high academic achievement, OSA test scores dropped off dramatically last year in certain areas. Last summer, the Planet reported that OSA student scores dropped 17 percentage points in the California Standards Test (CST) in ninth-grade English Language Arts between 2005 and 2006, and 8 percentage points in ninth-grade Geometry. Overall, the Planet reported, OSA students tested weaker than the statewide average in math and science and stronger in English Language Arts in 2006.