Teaching While Black: Exposing Institutional Racism at Claremont Middle School

Claremont Middle School is nestled in the affluent and predominantly white neighborhood known as Rockridge, Oakland. It is an open enrollment public institution consisting of a diverse socioeconomic population of students from all over the East Bay. Many parents send their children to Claremont in hopes of a better education, but something is amiss behind its school walls. There are talks of Claremont becoming a neighborhood school-welcome only to students found in the school’s backyard. To achieve this vision, the current administration is actively working to push out black students and teachers. In this year alone, the school has instituted inequitable student tracking, transferred and fired several black teachers, and eliminated a popular  Ethnic Studies program. “The school will be all white in 3-4 years,” states History and former Ethnic Studies teacher Kurt Kaakuahiuu.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that the school administration is feasting off of a culture of exclusion and intimidation to achieve its end goal. Claremont has had a troubled history for many years due to a massive amount of administrative turnover. However this began to change when Reggie and Ronnie Richardson were hired in 2011. The Richardsons were co-principals who were turning the school around; so much so, they received local and nationwide press. However the Richardsons did not return for the 2014-2015 school year, accepting a position instead with a neighboring school district. Once again, Claremont was left in a state of transition. The staff at Claremont prepared to collaborate with new principal Jonathan Mayer and Vice Principal Tonia Coleman. Former Afterschool Site Coordinator Aries Jordan noted, “It was unfortunate when (the Richardsons) left but I stayed because I’m committed to the children… I wanted to support the students through this transition.”

Racially-Based Student Tracking

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 “This is all about race.”

When asked about the leadership style of the current administration, the consensus is it’s an epic failure, and openly hostile to minority staff and students. Eighth grade History teacher Mirishae McDonald asserts that the current curriculum ”negatively impacts learning outcomes for students of color.” When asked to elaborate, she discussed an eighth grade program called the “Leadership Academy,” in which the lowest performing students are pulled out of the general school population and put into a class for the entire school day. The vast majority of these students are black and they are taught by a white teacher. It’s known among many students as “the dumb class.” The Leadership Academy is a controversial and inequitable practice in the field of education. While the black students are in the “Leadership Academy,” the remaining youth (primarily white) are getting a more enriching education. Mirishae McDonald harshly criticizes it, “It’s another way of tracking, and it’s not good for the development of the students.” Student tracking is a way to fuel institutional racism and there seems to be other ways that racism surfaces in the administration’s practices.

Kurt Kaaekuahiuu witnessed this firsthand during  a teacher meeting in which Principal Mayer stated, “This is all about race. We know that the white kids will go to places like Stanford or Berkeley with or without our help. We would be lucky if black students at best graduated from high school and went to a junior college.” Another tracking program-“Math Intensive”- is happening concurrently in 7th grade. It’s a class designed for the more advanced students. Math teacher Alonna Haulcy teaches both Math Intensive as well as the traditional math class and notes, “I do think there are some (black) kids who are capable of being in Math Intensive. I’ve expressed that to the principal. He said he would have the department head look at their test scores and I never heard back from him.”

Demoralizing Teachers of Color

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“They’re not giving me my own voice.”

Another major problem is Principal Mayer’s top-down approach along with an outward hostility towards any staff member who attempts to question his methods. Kaaekuahiuu states, “From the beginning, Claremont was framed from a complete deficit model. They looked at everything that was wrong with the school without prior knowledge or asking teachers.That says a lot about who you are as a manager.” Kurt used to be the Ethnic Studies teacher until he received an email that the school would no longer support the class. A 7th grader at Claremont reflects on the cancelled Ethnic Studies program: “All the students were engaged because he went outside of the book. His whole class was decorated with Ethnic Studies quotes and pictures. They were torn down by the end of the year and I wondered why.” Alonna Haulcy also feels constricted, “They’re not giving me my own voice. She noted that she is the only veteran teacher who is getting five classroom evaluations; something that is only required for new teachers. When she inquired about it Mayor gave no explanation; but she’s the only black teacher on the list.

Aries Jordan also discusses her struggles working with the administration while coordinating the afterschool program which is “99.9 percent black.” Ms. Jordan had a difficult time running the program this year since the cafeteria burned down in February. Instead of the Claremont administration accommodating the program with unused classrooms in the school, they forced students to have their after school program outside despite cold weather conditions. Moreover,  Principal Mayer claimed that he wanted to make technology a priority in the afterschool program however, Jordan’s students weren’t allowed to use the computer lab or the 60 Macbooks and laptops owned by the school. “They recommended this technology program to us and then turned around and denied us access to the abundant resources available.” states Jordan. Finally, the administration conceded by loaning 4 outdated MacBooks to the entire program. Apparently the Claremont administration wants to institute a tuition policy at the after school program next year; yet another barrier to access students will be up against.

Removing Black Teachers1424190578_stretch

“Every person of color is leaving.” 

It started with Ms. Bebe, a staff member who challenged Principal Mayer’s thinking and also questioned his racial biases. Soon after, her position was consolidated and she was transferred. Mirishae McDonald was next. She continued to advocate for her students by questioning the administration’s tactics and was given a notice of non-reelect shortly afterward. A non-reelect is something that is possible for all teachers in OUSD to receive during their first two years of teaching. If a teacher receives a non-reelect, not only are they not allowed to teach in the school for the following year, but they are banned from teaching in OUSD. There is no due process and it’s left completely up to the principal’s discretion. According to Music teacher Vincent Tolliver-a teacher with 23 years of experience in OUSD,“Your evaluations are irrelevant. You can get good evaluations and it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, it’s become a tool that an administrator can use to eliminate someone and not do their job of providing adequate training.”

Tolliver is also a member of the Oakland Educator’s Association who will soon conduct research for a report that investigates the disproportionate number of Oakland’s teachers of color who are non-reelected. He sees OUSD’s stated desire to recruit more teachers of color as lip service. “If you look at their practices, they’re not conducive to recruiting and retaining them.” Afterschool Site Supervisor Aries Jordan, was also fired by the administration through intimidation practices, and now other teachers are choosing to leave because of the hostile environment. Kurt Kaaekuahiuu and Vincent Tolliver will leave after this year, describing the work environment as “severely damaged.” Kurt looks on this experience solemnly. “I loved Claremont but now I feel incapacitated; not from the work but the professional culture of Claremont. People are devalued. Every single person of color is leaving.” Alonna Haulcy’s plans are unclear but she does admit that, “this is the first time I’ve wanted to leave.”

Moving Forward jones-hoguunite-538x378

“Classrooms are a political battlefront; being present everyday is a political act. Nothing is neutral.”

The New York Times recently published an article about racial disparities in the teaching field which showed that “despite the fact that minority students have become the majority in this country, more than 80 percent of teachers are white.” (Rich, 2015) The article cited this trend in major East Coast cities however, it’s something that extends into the city of Oakland. Claremont Middle School is not just an isolated incident of institutional racism fueled by poor leadership, it’s a microcosm highlighting the poor treatment of black teachers in the U.S public school system. It raises many questions regarding institutional racism, and if school systems truly believe in the ability and agency of black educators. When asked about his next steps, Kaaekuahiuu strongly states, “I needed a wake up call. I needed a grave reminder of the gross inequities and the systematic attack on black and brown communities. Classrooms are a political battlefront; me being present everyday is a political act. Nothing is neutral.” Aries Jordan reflects on her traumatic experience and remains hopeful and determined, “My goal is to connect my experience to what’s happening across the U.S. How many other educators of color are being pushed out?” Mirishae McDonald also remains courageously outspoken,  “I will not be bullied into silence. We need to come together and show that we are not afraid.”

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63 thoughts on “Teaching While Black: Exposing Institutional Racism at Claremont Middle School

  1. Who is the author of this article? My child is a student at claremont and i wonder if the single subject teachers who will no longer be at claremont would be able to give the stated reasons why the teachers are being let go. I know there is a grant that has allowed for more teachers and smaller class sizes at Claremont for a few years (I think it was only 4?) I heard about it during the richardsons time at the school so it’s not new info. It was known some positions would have to be eliminated. Also were they teaching the content of their course effectively with student work to prove it? They were being evaluated, so how were their evaluations different from the other teachers in the school? It’s important to note that some information in this article is worded in a misleading way. Please give a complete view of the situation.

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    1. Hello Claremont parent. I am the author of this story. Thanks for reading. I interviewed 6 staff members, read several teacher and parent letters, and also spoke with students and parents. I think this is the content for a very important view of the school. Just because it’s not reflective of your or your child’s experience, doesn’t mean these things aren’t happening. Usually institutional racism thrives on blaming individuals while refusing to even question a system; this leaves the oppressive structure unchanged and thriving. I encourage you to have dialogue with many different types of parents in the coming weeks to see if their experiences mirror yours. I am hopeful that we will see more media sources investigating this story so we can see a wider range of perspectives. I’m particularly interested in the current dynamics of the PTA…maybe you’re a member?

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  2. I agree Black Oakland. What I would also like to know is how it is when the Richardsons were there the school was successful with the diverse student body? It appeared that the teachers were too! WHY did they leave is my question. Is there any information on this? All this article says is that they left to accept a position instead with a neighboring school district. I have a feeling there were some political things that went down that spurred them to move on.

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    1. Hi Renee! The details of why they left I’m really not sure about but from what I know, they had a better opportunity offered to them in San Leandro but I’m sure there were political forces at play.

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  3. I’m hopeful that we will get a wider range of perspectives also. Six teachers? That’s a very very small number.

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      1. You state individuals should not be blamed for institutional racism, yet you seem to be blaming Mayer individually.

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      2. The title of the article has Institutional Racism in it. The article also noted that this is a common trend throughout the U.S. There is nothing individual about the racial tensions at Claremont. This is made evident by the comments this article is receiving.

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      3. I attended Claremont, did not have a good experience there. I am Hispanic and was picked on and beat up. Hopefully the school changes for the better

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  4. Hello Whitney, I did not interview the principal since this article is from the perspective of teachers of color. If another news source would like to interview Principal Mayor, I’m sure many people would be interested in hearing his thoughts about the issues his school is currently facing. Thanks for reading.

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    1. You failed to mention that the Vice Principal, Tonia Coleman, is African American. She is also instrumental in bringing the organization Black Girls Code to Claremont. They just completed a successful FREE 3 week session and will return next year.

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      1. Hello staceyluce! Don’t worry this topic will be addressed an upcoming article. Thanks for reading!

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      2. Ms. Coleman has zero experience and has developed zero respect from the students. Who is she? Passes parents in the hall and does not speak. We don’t just need black faces, we are a highly educated race, admin and teaching staff should reflect such.

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      3. I would challenge you to focus or at least think about the good aspects of Ms. Coleman. Even if Ms. Coleman is not completely welcoming to you I believe it is more important to acknoledge how she interacts with students because we are the ones who have to see her 5 days a week.

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    2. As a former Parent with African American children under this Principle, I have personally spoken with other parents, as well as had my own encounter with his obvious frustrations and disregard for the success of the African American students he’s given authority over. Along with his obvious discomfort and frustrations when having to work in agreement with intelligent and dedicated African American Parents. This is but the tip of the ice burg, this goes much deeper than just the above mentioned. There are African American children who are in high school, that are still dealing with the effects of damage caused by this principle, and teachers that support him. Sadly, the district seems intent to push this agenda, without taking any serious actions, toward protecting the rights of the children that it’s supposed to serve. Children of color need teachers that can relate to their cultural experiences at every grade level. This mentality goes back to segregation, and appears to be aloud within the protected boarders of OUSD.

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  5. I have no idea why there is no class action law suit happening in Oakland right now. These issues are far from new and examples exist throughout OUSD. It took a hell of a lot of guts for our teachers to speak up about what is really happening to our black students on this campus.

    Confidentiality is often cited as the reason administration can not divulge issues which directly affect our african american student body. This has disallowed staff from speaking out against what is really occurring on campus. Academically, my students have lost yet another year. The school fails to educate our students and does not present a safe learning environment for students or staff. TWO lock downs this past week. Why is it still open?

    Unfortunately this too will be swept under the rug as the school continues on a path which has not been clearly communicated to the community it supports. I am speaking of the majority African American community who hear nothing from the school administrators, the schools PTA, budget committee and SSC who are all in positions of deciding spending on the communities behalf. If you do not attend one of these meetings, after hours, many times at someones home not disclosed to the public, your voice will not be heard and these committees make decisions without asking what you think.

    I am so proud of our teachers and so thankful for the relationships they have developed with my Claremont students. They will all be gone next year and will probably be replaced by white, cheaper, unexperienced teaching staff who have little or no experience working with black students. Take a look at Chabot Elementary, where Mr. Mayer came from. This is how parents want Claremont to look and they have the person to do it. Say goodbye to the African American students.

    It was an upsetting blow to our community when our twin principals made the decision to leave OUSD and Claremont. Some of our best teachers made the decision to stick with them and left Claremont as well. While I can not speak for the principals I can say that they understood African American culture, were not afraid of our people, saw the beauty in our children and believed in equality in education. Knowing this about them and knowing Claremont will soon not support black students, I could never imagine them staying. Could you?

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  6. The Principal of Claremont Middle School, Mr. Mayer, was responsible for hiring in several very good black teachers and staff at the beginning of this year. They have been really great for the school, particularly the new vice-principal. It is absolutely not the case that Claremont will no longer have teachers of color next year. One unfortunate development for Claremont, not mentioned in your article, is that Claremont is losing a large piece of its budget next year: the Quality Education and Investment Act (QEIA) funds which were allocated by the state to help maintain smaller class sizes (i.e. more teachers) for schools which serve a high proportion of low-income students. It’s a funding pool which is ending at the state level. It’s got nothing in particular to do with Claremont’s performance, or demographics or anything. We’re just losing a big piece of money, and it means that the school will have to reduce its staff by about five teachers out of 23. It stinks to lose budget. People lose their jobs, get transferred. That’s the harsh, sad reality. Your article, in my opinion, presents an unfair view of the situation.

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  7. This article is poorly reported. I’m a parent at Claremont from a multiracial family and don’t live in Rockridge. The issues are complex, racism exist in Oakland of course, but some ineffective black teachers are perpetuating institutional racism themselves! I sorely wish you could see how this black/white narrative disrespects the kids from Mexican-American, Asian-American, African immigrant (from Africa –if you knew Claremont you’d know there are quite a few and every day they face pressure to ‘be ghetto’ from a few unruly students) and many other backgrounds –and the black students themselves, who are incorrectly judged, by this narrative, to all be underprivileged! I have personal knowledge of the teachers you quoted and they spend far too much time off book discussing race and racism when they could be teaching academics that would give their students far greater advantage in life. A black student asked Mr. K (who I hate to criticize but this is a blind spot of his) why all they ever did in American History class was talk about “Blackness” instead of learn history. An African immigrant parent of a student told me, after breaking up a fight on campus, “African American culture is broken.” Oh and Ms. Coleman is a highly experienced education specialist. I agree there is much inequity throughout our town but Claremont above all other Oakland middle schools has the potential to fix that. Many black families I know have chosen private or church school or sending their kids to Montera, or Alameda or Berkeley schools rather than have their kids exposed to this highly politicized narrative abput black oakland. Why not interview the incoming kids at Oakland Tech and see where they’ve gone to school. All this warrants discussion but this was not a useful way to do it, every one of those quoted have an agenda, and those criticized were not given the opportunity to comment.

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  8. I am very disappointed to read this one-sided blog. I know the teachers involved and I know Mr. Mayer. Painting someone as a racist because they let teachers go, while hiring at least 10 GREAT teachers, predominantly African-American, is not a fair characterization of what is going on at Claremont, where my 7th-grader attends. It’s also disappointing that you didn’t speak to any Black teachers who actually enjoy their jobs and are thrilled to stay. Mr. Mayer is known for finding and grooming talent, no matter what color the person is.

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  9. My grandson, who is now 20, attended this school for one year. It was awful! The teachers and administrators were terrible, including the black ones. His parents moved him out of that school, but the experience was traumatic . This school has been awful for so many years that I can’t blame the current principal for this schools problems .

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    1. This school became “awful” in large part because of the white flight of the late 60’s early 70’s. It makes sense that now the neighborhood wants it back.

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  10. I went to Claremont for my 8th grade year, about 5 years ago. I did not learn a single thing while attending this school. The students have no motivation to learn, are disruptive and hard to work with. The campus was dirty, the food was disgusting, teachers struggled to keep class on topic, kids would constantly be throwing stuff and running around…
    Shows to prove how important an early education is – they have probably been uninspired since elementary school. This goes beyond issues at Claremont. We need funding for our schools in cities where poverty is prevalent so kids can become inspired to pursue knowledge at an early age. We need funding so students have access to teachers who aren’t unhappy and being underpaid for the amount of work they are put through. We need funding so OUSD students can be in a comfortable, clean environment so they will actually enjoy going to school.

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  11. I’m Robert Gammon, a parent at Claremont Middle School, and I can say unequivocally that this blogpost grossly misrepresents the school’s culture and climate, and it’s no wonder that the author has decided to not attach her or his real name to it. In the interest of disclosure, I’m also I’m also the PTA president and the editor of the East Bay Express, a newsweekly based in Oakland, and have been a journalist for 20 years. But I’m speaking only for myself.

    It seems clear that the author of this piece chose not to contact anyone on the Claremont PTA or school Principal Jonathan Mayer before publishing this post.

    If the author had done so, he or she would have learned facts that completely undermine the post’s thesis. Principal Mayer, a former community organizer, has dedicated his career to fighting the racism of low-expectations for students and adults:

    1. Mr. Mayer’s first act as principal last summer was to hire an outstanding African-American vice principal – Tonia Coleman. Ms. Coleman, a longtime educator and resident of Oakland, has already established herself as one of the best vice principals in Claremont’s 100-year history. Prior to her arrival, Claremont was marked by a significant amount of chaos, especially between classes. It was not unusual for many students to arrive late and just wander the hallways, both before and during classes. This year, under the direction of Ms. Coleman, every student is in his or her classroom, seated, and ready for instruction. During classes, the hallways are now empty – as they should be. Ms. Coleman also single-handedly created Claremont’s first-ever Black Lives Matter event earlier this year. It featured Black students performing their own speeches, poetry, dances, and music, and was attended by hundreds of students and family members.
    2. Mr. Mayer’s second act as principal was to hire Ms. Edana Anderson, a Black woman who now manages the school’s front office with Ms. Champion, who is also Black. Ms. Anderson and Ms. Champion keep the school running smoothly, and Claremont is lucky to have them.
    3. Last summer, before the school year started, Mr. Mayer also hired Cedric Jones, a terrific young African-American science teacher who recently won an award for excellence from the Oakland Unified School District.
    4. Mr. Mayer also hired two African-American physical education instructors to run Claremont’s PE program. One of them, Mr. Warren Doubly, had attended Claremont himself as a child, and he and his family are legendary in Oakland’s Parks and Recreation Department. Mr. Doubly has also revived Claremont’s dormant basketball program.
    5. Mr. Mayer, this year, also hired Mr. Kimo Williams, a Black educator, as a part-time instructor. Mr. Williams is so well-liked in the parent community, the Claremont PTA has stepped forward to fund half of his salary this semester.
    6. Mr. Mayer also has hired Mr. Reggie Jones, a well-known Black educator, to head up Claremont’s after-school program next year. Mr. Jones is bringing his expertise from running UC Berkeley’s Cal Adventures’ youth programs, and the Claremont parent community is ecstatic about his arrival.

    In terms of the layoff of teacher Ms. McDonald, this post neglects to mention that she, along with several other educators at Claremont, including white instructors, are having their jobs eliminated because of state budget cuts. During the past several years, Claremont has been the recipient of special funds — known as QEIA — earmarked for schools that serve large numbers of low-income students. However, the QEIA money is running out this year, and so Claremont is losing more than $300,000 in funds next year. That translates to the loss of about five teachers (including benefits).

    As for the Leadership Academy, the above post neglects to note that this program was initiated by teachers at Claremont to help students who were in danger of not graduating the eighth grade. Mr. Mayer responded by rearranging the entire sixth-grade schedule to free up the teacher – Ms. Solomon (one of Claremont’s best ) – to lead it. It’s my understanding that, because of this program, the students in it, will, in fact, graduate and move on to high school.

    Finally, I’m sorry to hear that Mr. Tolliver, the music teacher is leaving, and that the news of his departure is being revealed in an anonymous blogpost. Mr. Tolliver, a terrific instructor and a jaw-dropping musician, will be greatly missed.

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  12. Could you please examine Sankoffa, which includes a middle school, and think about how that school is leading to a resegregation of North Oakland? An African American magnet school that is now a zoned neighborhood school, Sankoffa has the cops there constantly and is underenrolled. I, personally, think neighborhood schools are the way to go and if you look at Claremont’s zone, there are plenty of people of all colors who can attend the school. In the end, these schools are ours and much of the budget is set by the PTGs. If parents are unhappy with their child’s experience, they need to get involved. No one is going to be a better advocate for your child than you.

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  13. This article is really biased. The Richardsons left Claremont after promising to be there for 5-10 years. Where was their commitment to the community??? Jonathan Mayer inherited a mess and is doing his best. Becoming a neighborhood school by definition means becoming more white, because that’s the neighborhood, and the up side of that is that neighborhood families are pumping a lot more money into Claremont than in years past. But most neighborhood families choose private schools so there is PLENTY of room for out of district kids, and that’s not likely to change. The school is still majority African American. The end of QEIA funding is the main reason for teachers being let go; it’s only due to Mr. Mayer’s request that the PTA is funding a teacher position next year in order to keep one that would otherwise have been lost. I’m curious why, since there are MANY remaining minority teachers, none of them were interviewed for this article. And calling out the lockdowns this week is just weak tea – one incident was a group of high school kids coming onto the campus. The administration implementing lockdown was just protocol, there’s nothing nefarious about it. My 6th grader is having a very good experience at Claremont, in stark contrast to my own experience there 30 years ago when my (female) African American homeroom teacher was fired for beating up another (female) teacher and white kids were harassed daily.

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  14. To the author of this post: I think you do this cause a great disservice by presenting such a one-sided polemic. Race and class in Oakland public schools are important, difficult, multifaceted issues that are extremely tough to tackle. Your article puts people in the position of either being defensive about the good things that are happening at Claremont (and making them not want to mention the places that need work) or supporting your rallying cry (and glossing over the school’s successes). I think a more balanced argument would encourage the community to come with constructive ideas and opinions.

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  15. Claremont is not a simple school with simple realities. It has a very extreme student population. A % of students who are way above proficient for grade level and a good % of students who are way below proficient. Extreme socio-economic class levels. It seems it is difficult to have an all-inclusive focus.
    The school is trying to encourage more neighborhood students (my thought was because it seems that is when a number of students leave OUSD for private and charter schools and later return to attend Tech.) But Claremont’s districted zone is much larger than Rockridge.
    We were very excited when the Richardsons came to Claremont and many parents focused efforts to get them hired directly after their interim year instead of having to go through a principal selection process. They brought much needed energy and positivity after a yr of complete chaos. Their words were golden. And they are very good at getting press. Unfortunately, it seemed some was just speak without much action behind the words. But many of us thought that perhaps they were still just getting settled and they would start to show some results to match their words with time. But that wasn’t to be. Although they declared complete dedication to Claremont, the dedication waned when given a highschool offer.
    I’m not sure the exiting at Claremont can be reduced to race. A number of teachers left at the end of last year also and there were tensions regarding style differences with the Richardsons – and prior to that it had been noted that Ms. Crockett (prior Claremont Principal) had a certain administrative style that rubbed some teachers wrong.
    Unfortunately, my children have had both Ms. MacDonald & Ms. Haulcy as teachers. I don’t want to write negative things – because I do admire that these women chose to go into teaching, and perhaps it is that we are not providing adequate training and the skills required to be good middle school teachers – but there is only so often you can tell your student that the teacher is new and trying when they tell you that the teacher is absolutely horrible and they give examples of why they say this. Years and no progress. It is truly an unfortunate situation.
    It did not feel as if anyone was accountable for anything previously, that does seem to be changing. And I do not feel that there is a consensus at the school of it being an epic failure.

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  16. Oakland and its school district have had more than its share of class and equity issues for decades. Sadly, the anonymously written article does little to remedy this, and instead stirs a divisive pot that at minimum is yet another disruption for a school that has had instability for years.

    Let’s be clear, the charismatic Richardsons were a huge let down, who announced their departure hastily last year after assuring parents they would commit to the school for at least 5 years. For many, they ended up being mostly sizzle and no steak – not sticking around long enough to make any lasting change, and seen as easily lured away by a more functional neighboring school district.

    Bringing in principal Mayer from nearby Chabot elementary was prudent, since it is a feeder school for Claremont, and it is clear that the campus safety and learning environment has been dramatically improved because of it. I have found the African American Assistant principal Ms. Coleman a wonderful resource and great role model. Overall, while not perfect, our family has experienced this year as far more organized and classrooms less distracted.

    I have also been proud of the high-quality and caring African American teachers my student has had in a variety of subjects, but there are others who I feel have become comfortable underperforming after many years of slack administrative leadership. Some of the teachers mentioned in the article have had well-known challenges for years, and should justifiably be evaluated.

    As a black parent who is actively engaged with the PTA and in the classroom, it also saddens me to see mostly white parents at these meetings and disproportionately more engaged in important decision making, even though childcare and a hot dinner are provided at these meetings that are announced online, posted at the school, and shared via robo-calls.

    But in spite of who actually attends PTA meetings, I’m proud of the consistently progressive tone of each one, where equity and inclusion remain in the center of discussion, and is the lens through which decisions are made. Clearly, the writer has never attended any of these meetings.

    I personally would like to see more black parents on campus in general helping out wherever they can. We know kids do better in school when parents are involved. At the end of the day, students need US as role models, and quite frankly, I have observed too many of our kids acting a fool, being disrespectful to staff, and causing disruption in the classroom.

    I am disappointed by the lack of due diligence, and care this article has for the students, the stellar black staff and teachers, and for the school overall. This article will accomplish little more than yelling fire in a crowded room, potentially setting back the fragile progress our community has made in the last year.

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  17. This was my old middle school Kurt was my 7th grade teacher and Mr Mayer was my elementary school principal I’m discussed with what’s become of such an awesome school I’m gonna go up there and try to see if I can do something about this

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  18. The issues of race and class throughout OUSD, not just at Claremont, are huge and should rightly be discussed. I think this blog should be taken for what it is, a place for one person to write about a situation as he/she sees it. There are many alternate perspectives and people are weighing in with them. As a former PTA president at Claremont, I was very involved with what was happening with the school and the administration when the Richardsons were there, and frankly, they were ineffectual leaders. They brought a lot of hope and enthusiasm to the school, but by the time they left, the climate and the instructional quality had deteriorated. I believe both have improved under Mr. Mayer. His new hires are majority teachers of color who are doing great work. In my opinion, some of the teachers who are leaving constitute a loss for the educational environment at Claremont, and some are teachers whose replacement can only improve the quality of instruction. And not all of the departing teachers are people of color.
    One factual error I am compelled to correct is that Mr. Mayer did not eliminate the Ethnic Studies class that Mr. K taught – the Richardsons did. They had already reassigned him as an 8th grade history teacher for the 2014-15 school year before they departed. When Mr. Mayer arrived, the school was slated to have three electives — Music, Computer Animation, and Journalism. The Journalism teacher had left for a district position, and rather than hire a new Journalism teacher, Mr. Mayer decided to offer Spanish as the third elective and hired an experienced Spanish teacher. Because of the projected enrollment at Claremont next year and the loss funding for reduced class sizes, the district eliminated teaching positions at Claremont for 2015-16, which led to the lay-offs. The situation at Claremont is challenging and complex, and I hope that we all continue to work together to make it, and every OUSD school, an exceptional educational experience for all kids in Oakland.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. As a student attending Claremont Middle School, I very much enjoy the enviroment of the school and feel that Mr.Mayer statement saying that” This is all about race. We know that the white kids will go to places like Stanford or Berkeley with or without our help. We would be lucky if black students at best graduated from high school and went to a junior college.” is very offensive coming from a student of color. On a daily bases I feel disrespected by him and teacher going to the point when a teacher told us that we would get shot,not go to college, go to jail,etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I got a lot out of reading the comments. My family is multi-racial and I am concerned about my child’s experience at school every day, for many reasons including the ones discussed above. I decided on Claremont for continuity in my kid’s relationships at a challenging time in life and to take a chance on a neighborhood public school in transition. Since I commute & work full time I am not able to be involved at school during the day (my teenager is relieved, though) and I am not able to attend PTA and other meetings I would like to. Do the PTA & other groups publish their meeting notes including discussions? I know there may not be time but I would love to be a fly on the wall. It’s so frustrating for me not to be able to do more, let alone know more. Ithe means a lot to us that so many people- black, white, brown- care so much about our kids’ education and social experience and are working on these, including at Claremont. Indeed, these are complex issues, and vital ones.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is a good question. I know notes are diligently taken at the PTA mtgs, but I if they are not published on the website, perhaps they should be.

      Like

  21. Do you know anything about special programs, particularly Breakthrough Collaborative that has been doing work there at CMS? Has it been an extension of this poor administration? It hires undergrads as teaching fellows over the summer, and I will be one of them. Thank you for the article.

    Like

  22. Racism is alive and well this year at Claremont Middle School. The leadership is biased and pathetic. The Pseudo-Black Ms. Coleman is a puppet for clown principal Mr. Mayer. She is snobbish and non-supportive of the students that look like her. I believe that the best term for her was used during Slavery as those of color who worked inside of the house. Is history repeating itself? Are we going back to segregation? How many students (and Teachers)of color will be at this school in upcoming years if
    Mr. Mayer has his way?

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    1. I am hoping that we will see what Claremont looks like with its current administration in 5 years. That would be amazing!!! Having an intact Claremont administration for 5 straight years. It does not seem that long, but if you think of how many administrators Claremont has had in the last 5 years – you could field a baseball team.

      Like

    2. I am sad to hear your description of Ms. Coleman. Did you know, or have you forgotten that Ms. Coleman organized an incredible event for the community “Black Lives matter” in the wake of the recent shootings. Can you really say this represents a “pseudo black perspective.” I also did not think the blog accurately reflected Claremont’s commitment to our students including our black students. My son who is an eigth grader told me a month ago that he has seen a positive change academically with many of the black students this year. Some of the underperforming students of last year are now actively trying to get good grades. Lets hope we can make the Claremont community stronger and continue to strive to have all of our students excel.

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  23. This article has inspired an awesome exchange of opposing views. It is the perfect example of how easy it is for racism to exist and be supported by a whole parent community. Willingly or unwilling, they can not say they are not aware. What should have been said was said “is that happening on our campus, are teachers really experiencing this, what can we do to change these experiences and this perception of our school”

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I am very interested to read this piece as well as the following posts. I am mostly surprised and confused about why, of any school around Oakland, would anyone want to single out Claremont Middle School as being an institution of racism? I may be wrong, but my observations of life and work in Oakland tell me that if someone truly cared about representing Black students and teachers they would be doing a serious piece of journalism on the many places it is showing itself in MAJOR Oakland institutions. If a person is concerned about racism in the public education system, Claremont is the wrong place and the wrong level of the educational system to point a finger at.
    My mixed race child has been at Claremont for several years now. I’m not at all surprised there are conflicts surrounding these issues of race and class, it can only be expected. With conflict comes change. But this current administration has plenty of experience with students and families of all kinds and they would not have taken jobs at Claremont if they could not work or did not want to work with a diverse staff. Mr. Mayer would be welcome at just about any public school around here…anyone knows that. What would motivate a principal to force out non White students or teachers if they can more easily be employed elsewhere?
    There are all kinds of families at Claremont, yet it is a very small school compared to many of the other middle schools in Oakland. It is an “intimate” community of people because of it. Issues of race and class become combustible, especially as the neighborhood has changed. Claremont Middle School is not an exception and cannot be expected to reflect anything more than what Oakland as a city can do at this sensitive time.

    Like

  25. It is definitely true, that for many there seems to be a “black-o-meter” at Claremont. Live in, or own property in Rockridge – you are not really black. Do not like sports – you are not really black. Feel students should not scream “bitch” down a school hall way – you are not really black. Feel it is ok to excel in school and actually like it – you are not really black. Know who Akira Kurosawa is – you are not really black. Many folks who thought they were black before coming to Oakland and to Claremont, are informed directly/indirectly that they are wrong and they must fall under certain guidelines to actually be considered black.

    Like

    1. I felt the need to respond to this as a mixed race person. I have had the experience of being both too black and not black enough. I’ve also had the experience of being not white enough. I think what folks are really arguing about is privilege vs. non-privilege. THAT my friends is the real issue. I have known many black people who live in the world as “white” people despite the color of their skin. If you deny this reality, then you’re just not paying attention.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It sounds like you’re saying that privileged = white and non-privileged = black, otherwise I’m not sure I understand what you mean about black people living in the world as “white” people. Is there only one way to be black? Or white? Are black people who are privileged just pretending to be white? Does having privilege mean you are no longer “black”?

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    1. Your trolling is
      a) illegal hate speech advocating murder
      b) linked to a website that is not the original Aryan Neo-Nazi group but a facsimile. Interestingly, had you linked to the correct hate group page, you would have learned that even they have rules against posts such as this one. This suggests you are either trying to foment problems by pretending to add racist fuel to the fire, or you are just another dumb racist.
      c) easily traced via IP address and browser fingerprint by the Oakland hacker community, meaning your identity will be exposed. Are you sure you want that?
      I suggest you delete this pronto. Bye!

      Like

    2. It’s best for everyone if we hear the truthful feelings of many white people.
      Maybe then we will stop putting our faith in them.

      Like

  26. Since you’ve named our school, I wish you would have told us your name. If you think you are trying to help the students by representing the concerns of the teachers, it would have been helpful to ask or provide alternatives to the problems you describe. For example, for students who are struggling and may have even more difficulties in high school, regardless of their color, what sort of curriculum could be provided to them? Also, Is it true that you will not allow certain comments to appear?

    Like

  27. First of all, this article is highly biased. I am a seventh grader attending Claremont Middle School for the second year in a row. I have been taught by both Ms. McDonald and Ms. Haulcy, and my friends have had Mr. Kaakuahiuu and Mr. Tolliver.
    While Mr. Kaakuahiuu, or Mr. K, as the students call him, is said to be a great teacher (again, I cannot say, as I have not been taught by him), and Mr. Tolliver is as well, I honestly have to say that Ms. McDonald and Ms. Haulcy are not good teachers.
    Ms. McDonald had no class control. She failed to keep track of many students’ work, including mine, and it was widely known among the students that one barely ever learned anything in her class. She disappeared for multiple days at a time, showing up for a few days now and then, only to disappear again. On one of these days, she did not bother to teach: instead, she decided to tell us all of the details of her non-reelect, saying she was fired because of racism, blaming it all on Mr. Mayer’s racism and telling us that he was afraid of black powerful women (to which I thought, alarmed, What about Ms. Coleman?), and even listing other black teachers that had been “fired”. Although Ms. McDonald said she had been told that she could teach until the end of the year, and that she would be staying until the end of the year, she did not come back to school, and a new history teacher was assigned for the last month or so of the school year.
    If the decisions of which teachers to non-reelect had any sort of strategy or reasoning behind them, I think letting go of Ms. McDonald was a good decision.
    If the quotes from Ms. Haulcy are real, I can refute a few. And veteran teacher or not: Ms. Haulcy has gotten numerous complaints from parents and students alike, and I am not surprised that she is get evaluated. I doubt it has to do with race: I think it is simply because the quality of her teaching is very questionable.
    There were two black students who were in the Math Intensive class, one of whom switched to the other seventh grade math teacher, and it was rumored that it was because they did not like Ms. Haulcy’s teaching. Also, the students in Math Intensive were selected from their scores on a comprehensive 36 question math test. I don’t feel that any of it had to do with race.
    I am saddened to see this senseless slander of Mr. Mayer. I think he is a wonderful principal: maybe slightly too over-enthusiastic in the hallways, but wonderful all the same. He is far from a racist, and his views are fair.
    This article over-romanticizes the work of the Richardsons. They certainly did claim a lot: they spoke of new rules and policies, of stricter enforcement on the rules against bullying. But that’s pretty much all they did: speak. Few of the things they claimed to do with Claremont actually happened.
    They also spoke of a minimum seven school year commitment that they would be making to Claremont Middle School to avoid the sort of instability that had been predominant in previous years.
    And look where that commitment went.
    In conclusion, I think that this article is highly biased. I don’t live in Rockridge: yet I don’t feel any pressure or see any neighborhood exclusiveness. I am black: yet I don’t feel the pressure of racism in school against me. I am outspoken, and argue with the things I disagree with, even against the school authorities: yet I don’t see the intimidation practices that are supposedly in place.
    I think people are too quick to conclude that the reason for anything and everything is racism, and this article is no exception.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. This is a very thorough article that draws out some of the minutia of what folks have known for years to be a reality in Oakland schools. It is not surprising that Black students or teachers are being pushed out of our schools and it seems erroneous at this point to debate that concept. Look around you, Black and Brown people across the city are being pushed out of our neighborhoods and the public service institutions that have the power to serve us, but are systemically racist, are failing us all around. As noted in previous comments, Claremont Middle School shouldn’t be the target for creating the systemic change that’s necessary to create quality schools for ALL of our students, I don’t believe that’s what this article is trying to do. However, it does serve as a powerful example of the reality of institutional racism in a public education system. I knew Ms. McDonald when she was going through the process of getting her credential. I watched how hard she worked to complete her credential program, as well as the required tests, and can personally testify to her commitment to working in a district and school that serves students of color, namely OUSD. To be a Black history teacher is no easy feat. Additionally, to bring forth an authentic version of history that uplifts social struggles (because they are real and have been critical in forming and reforming our societies) and doesn’t perpetuate the racist, white supremacist, dominant narrative clearly puts you front and center on the chopping block. It seems like that’s just what’s happening here. While folks are easy to jump to the defense of Mr. Mayer, it’s clear that the dialogue reflected in many of the comments here, is being dominated by white parents/ community members who believe in the same ideology of white supremacy that is running our public institutions. I know it’s a hard pill to swallow folks. Grab hold of your seats, because if you choose to be a part of the solution, facing your racial bias is step 1. It’s one thing to hold one week acknowledging that Black Lives Matter (sorry but, DUH), but it’s a completely different thing to uplift the teaching of real history and allow your racial bias to be called out and ultimately dealt with. We can spend our entire lives denying that reality, but that hasn’t gotten us anywhere. It’s time to try a new approach. The idea that parents/ students knew the teacher cuts were coming and that this is the result of that, is absolutely absurd. Why would a teacher be issued a non-reelect for a layoff? This has institutional racism written all over it and the last thing we should be doing is blaming young teachers who have demonstrated a commitment to teaching in urban schools, empowering students with truth, and pushing the envelope (because as it was suggested, with conflict that pushes us to think beyond old ideals, comes change).

    Like

  29. As a close personal friend, fellow community organizer/social justice ally, and a concerned white ally to Ms. McDonald, I am writing here in support of her as a teacher, community organizer, social justice advocate, empathetic friend and human being. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. McDonald about five years ago through a mutual friend and was instantly drawn to her passion, knowledge, and generosity in disseminating critical information about institutionalized racism in our community and in society at large. I have had the unique opportunity to attend training sessions with Mirishae as the lead teacher/educator and I can say from personal experience that she is dedicated, passionate, and well versed in a history that many of us never learn about (unless we seek it on our own or in my case, are introduced to it through the ethnic studies program at San Francisco State University). The beauty of Ms. McDonald is that she practices what she preaches, leads by example with integrity, and has a large supportive network in the bay area and beyond. Ms. McDonald does not take teaching lightly or as “just a job”, she has expressed that this has been a dream of hers since she was a young person and I know she has worked diligently to make it become a reality in her life.
    This situation is both personal and political and it seems that many of the above comments are missing the point of the article completely. Institutionalized racism is alive and well in this school as well as many others throughout this country. What is important to recognize is that yes, this article is told from the perspective of the teachers who have been impacted and not from the administration, because it is vital to know the story from those who have been or are actively being oppressed, blamed, and/or bullied into silence. One component that perpetuates institutionalized racism is that the voices of the people being impacted by it are rarely taken seriously or are negatively projected upon by those individuals who do not want to see, acknowledge, or take the time to understand how this systemic oppression works. Instead of becoming defensive, we (especially white people) need to listen to our fellow human beings and believe them when they speak up, especially when they risk their own security, reputation, and become vulnerable to threats and questions of their character and integrity.
    I understand that I am not in the Claremont Middle School environment, however I just finished an internship in another local school district and feel confident in my experience of witnessing and being impacted by the stories of racism and inherent bias impacting my students and the administration. I also understand that Ms. McDonald’s non-reelect was not explained to her in a transparent manner that would have helped her understand if this did have to do with budget cuts. From my understanding, Ms. McDonald has received positive feedback in her reviews and has participated in many extracurricular activities in service of her students. It is also important to remember that she is a relatively new teacher, who is still learning and willing to learn effective classroom strategies from more senior teachers. Teaching is a difficult profession to enter into, even as someone who has a lot of outside teaching experience. I have heard from more senior teachers that it takes a few years to get your routine down and feel more confident in the classroom. However, I believe Mirishae already has the confidence and knowledge and was possibly lacking the proper administrative/classroom support needed for newer teachers entering the field.
    Please consider sitting with your own discomfort that comes up from this article. Why does it immediately lead you to feel defensive? Why does it lead you to attack those who bravely came forward to share their stories? Examine how this article fits into the current events happening all over the country regarding race and oppression. Use this as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about the impact institutionalized racism has on every human being. In a system of white supremacy, there are no winners or victors, everyone is impacted in such devastating ways.

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  30. It has been interesting to read the responses to this blogpost and I have had many interesting conversations with fellow teachers, parents, and concerned Oakland community members. It is sad to say, but I am not amazed that there is very little stated concern about the well being of the teachers in the article and appreciation for the courage and compassion that they have demonstrated for their students, peers, and the administration. Myself, the other educators in the article, transferred and various remaining faculty have attempted to work with the Administration but I and others have come to the conclusion that the belief of singular control is more beneficial to bringing about positive change than authentic total school community collaboration. Much damage has been done and the blogpost is not the creator of the damage but only a beginning discussion, inquiry, and hopefully authentic problem solving community discussions/collaborations that will be sincerely driven to equip and empower disenfranchised students but to enlist and empower those who are through education, life experience (personal example), and demonstrated commitment can be the examples that disenfranchised students of color and really all students need to discover and develop their full potential. One cannot claim to put students first when they do not desire to understand and work with those who are the most connected and committed to them. It pains me to say this but I do not believe that Jonathan Mayer is culturally, spiritually, and educationally equipped to undertake the aforementioned task (few people are), but the worst part is that I do not believe that his superiors even have a sincere desire to help him create an environment that is truly collaborative, thereby creating an empowering and transformative community/village/family/culture for him, his staff, students and their families-the community as a whole. Young people, especially middle school aged students are very intuitive. The adult community of Oakland unfortunately is very experienced in detecting people with self or other-promoting agendi and are more concerned in looking good versus those who strive to be and do good. To finalize this lengthy response, I and the others in the blogpost article have opened themselves to and remain open to authentic acknowledgement of wrongs and reconciliation and for the well being of our city’s children who are watching us. With the courage, that we are learning to exercise, we exhort our supporters, detractors, and the spectators of who suffer silently (fellow educators, parents, etc.) to join us in our struggle to build “the villages that it takes to raise strong children”. We have the opportunity and obligation to surpass “political correctness” and do right by each other as adults and earn the respect and trust of our children.

    Vincent Tolliver, Instrumental Music Teacher
    Claremont Middle School 2014/2015
    Oakland Educators Association Site Rep and Bargaining Team Member
    Oakland, CA

    Liked by 1 person

  31. I’m not publishing this comment because it’s a low-blow. If you have such a long- lasting relationship with Ms. McDonald, this is certainly not the platform to discuss personal business. It’s insidious to say the least. Try having the decency to have this conversation with her personally.

    Like

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