Taking Stock of 2012

I haven’t blogged much in the past year, and what I did write was not totally focused on Oakland. But I do want to get back to blogging about Oakland as the year wraps.

I love Oakland. From where we live we can look out our windows and see Lakeside Park and Children’s Fairyland, the Port of Oakland, the Oakland hills, San Francisco Bay, and our immediate neighborhood, Adams Point. From our vantage point, sunsets over uptown are beautiful, casting a glow on the city that masks the gut-wrenching reality that visits so many of Oakland’s neighborhoods. Anna and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary a couple days ago, on a day that Oakland experienced it’s 128th, 129th, and 130th homicides of the year.

Oakland is praised by the New York Times for our emerging foodie culture while Bloomberg reports on Oakland’s high crime, loss of police, and bad financial dealings with the Oakland Raiders. We have a mayor who was elected by getting the most second or third choice votes. Our school district is struggling with shrinking enrollment. Port directors are accused of partying with hookers on the city’s dime. And yet, when people ask me where I live, I’m proud to report I live in Oakland.

So many good things have happened here in the last year. A twitter friend, Rebecca Saltzman, @RebeccaForBART, won election to the BART board, and I’m hopeful she’ll help make the system more accessible and economically sustainable. My good friends at Great Oakland Public Schools have been working to influence Oakland’s school leadership in a positive way. The restoration of the Lake Merritt walking path and the restoration of the lake’s connection to the estuary continues. The A’s pulled ahead of the Rangers on the last day of the season to win the pennant. Producers Associates theatre staged its 46th season of musical theatre in a jewell of FDR’s WPA, the Woodminster Amphitheater, dedicated to California writers. The redwood forests continue to stand in majestic beauty.

As the year ends and our country continues to grapple with the plague of gun violence, I feel compelled to share a few things I learned from my students earlier this month. For some children in Oakland, gunshots are a percussive punctuation to the rhythm of life in their neighborhoods. Some of my students laugh when they talk about how quickly they hit the floor or start to run when they hear shots around them, but I know the laughter is put on to mask their real fear. When I was sitting with one of them the other day, he asked me if I had ever seen or been around a shooting. I admitted that I had not. He looked at me seriously and quietly for a moment before saying that it was something that made him deeply afraid and he hoped he survived long enough to escape his community.

After the shootings of first graders in Newtown, Connecticut, several students in my classes shared their feelings of frustration over what they perceived as a disproportionate reaction to those killings. “Everyone is sad because those were rich young white kids,” said one. “Why don’t we have a moment of silence for the people who died here in Oakland,” asked another. It’s true that the terror of a mass shooting catches the national attention in a way that the killing of people on the streets of Oakland doesn’t. Five times as many people were murdered in Oakland in 2012 as died in Newtown on that day. Oakland is a place where breathtaking beauty meets heartbreaking reality. As we begin a new year, I hope our community can find ways to break the cycle of violence.

On a bittersweet personal note, 2012 is the year I say goodbye to my colleagues at Edna Brewer. While I loved being in the classroom and building relationships with the students who I served at Brewer, I found the bureaucracies of the school district, the teacher’s union, and especially the special education department increasingly frustrating. My plans for a new approach to serving special education students at Brewer were scuttled at the last minute when PEC (OUSD’s special education department) re-assigned me to two sites just days before the first day of school. That reassignment was rescinded, but only after it was too late to follow through with my plans. Frustrated by this and other idiosyncrasies of working for a department that seems out of touch with its primary mission, I chose to accept an offer to return to my work in software design and development. This new position combines my previous experience with my newly gained interest and experience in education. I’ll be working on staff for Teach For America, developing tools for teachers to track and foster student achievement. Fortunately I’ll be able to remain in Oakland, and able to stay in touch with the students who deeply impacted my life.

Saturday December 29, 2012 — Mark —