Oakland School for the Arts
Theatre Arts at MLK Middle School vs. OSA?
Our daughter has a passion for acting and is slated to attend MLK Middle School in Berkeley the year after next. We would love to learn more about the Theatre program at MLK. We have also been hearing about The Oakland School for The Arts and are considering that as an alternative. Any thoughts? Curious Mom
Hi there, I saw you got a response re. King's theatre arts program, which sounds really great! My daughter is a middle school vocal music student at OSA so I can't speak to the theatre program, but can say the following re. OSA's arts programs in general: students have an arts lesson every day. In middle school, this means an hour and a half every day; in high school, 3 hours every day. If your kid loves their emphasis, it's like dying and going to heaven. If your child turns out not to be into their art as much as they initially thought, it's probably just like dying! (Just kidding. The kids who eventually decide not to continue in their chosen art still have a good time.) In terms of craft, again I can't speak to the theatre arts department, but in vocal music, skills are laid down in middle school that are needed for long-term growth, e.g., sight-singing musical notation and ear-training. I imagine in theatre the students get similar foundational training, and what OSA offers to all students is the opportunity for daily exploratory practice with talented teachers (most of whom are working artists themselves) and a group of like-minded students.
Middle School Attrition at OSA?
Jan 2015I recently toured OSA, and the tour guides highlighted all of the positives, but I want to hear the other side...the cons of OSA. I asked the school about the number of kids that don't returned to the school and I was told, ALL 112 entering 6th graders return to the school for 7th grade...this is hard to believe. I'd like to here from parents that decided NOT to return to the school and why? I want to know the real deal. I've heard the pros, now I'm ready for the cons. 5th grade mom
We have a middle school student and a high school student at OSA. There does seem to be limited attrition in the middle school. So, the administrations statement that no 6th graders left the school is probably true.
There are a thousand PROS about OSA. Here is my take on the CONS of OSA:
--Can have cliques. Both of my kids were bothered by what they perceived as a tone of superiority among some in the dance school. The teacher actually has this statement on the OSA Website under Dance: ''Students in the School of Dance take pride in being the hardest working students in the school.’’ My kids didn't like the arrogance that the statement represented, and felt offended and disrespected by it. And it’s not at all true! Both of my students (not in dance) work very hard in their emphasis, and my son usually has a lot of work over the weekend for his emphasis as well. To openly proclaim the dance students above all other students in the school should not be allowed. We have complained about this statement on the website for several years, but it is still there.
--No sports. For some kids, playing on a school team is important, and helps to build identity and a sense of belonging. Not a big deal in middle school, but some high school students leave because they want to play a sport on the high school team. Our middle school son may leave for this reason, but he is currently undecided.
--Long day. The kids get used to it, but if you factor in transportation, some students have a 10+ hour day in high school. Add in homework, and it's a very long day. We live in Oakland, so our commute is reasonable. Other students ride the bus or BART, some even coming from San Francisco.
--Weed. I suppose this is a problem in most high schools, but there are some teachers who sort of brush it off, or say things to the class like, ''If you are going to bring weed to school, at least put it in a bag so it doesn't smell'' and some kids return from lunch in high school stoned. My feeling is that this is a charter school, and they can bust these kids if they want to. I would like to see a bigger deal made of drug use at the school.
--Not all emphases are treated the same. My son is in an emphasis that receives a lot of attention and has ample working space; my daughter is in an emphasis that has limited working space, and cramped quarters. This bothers our family, because we see our daughter getting short changed. Some kids, for example, get to use Sweet's Ballroom or the little theater, while other emphases are crammed into left over classrooms, or are in combined classes with too many students and a single teacher. We would like to see ALL emphases get the same sort of treatment and helped to acquire sufficient space and supplies.
That's about it. Of course, there are so many pros, which you state you are already aware of. For most people, the pros outweigh the cons, for sure. We like the academics, we like small classes, and we like some of the teachers immensely.
Good luck to you in your search!
Happy at OSA. despite the cons
Portfolio Requirements for OSA Visual Arts HS
I am wondering about the range and level of the work required for admission into HS in visual arts at OSA - especially if my child didn't attend middle school there. Is it better to focus more on one material/subject or a broad range of work in many media for the HS portfolio? We've been to the shows and it looks like a great deal of graphic emphasis and large scale. What if my kid is more traditional (watercolor painting and drawing vs printmaking and sculpture)? Also, I have heard about the level of difficulty for the entrance audition into middle school, but nothing about the high school.
Any advice will be appreciated!
As the parent of senior at OSA in Visual Arts, I'd encourage your student to focus on their interest. If your student is traditionally oriented - watercolor, pencil drawing - continue along that path. That's where your student will shine! If they have work in other mediums that's a bonus but not a deal breaker if they don't. When my student auditioned in middle school they didn't have anything but a backpack of sketchbooks. Granted things have changed but the point is for your child to show their competence/expertise/interest naturally. I believe it's assumed that if you can draw they can teach you watercolor. If you can oil paint, they can teach you sculpture.
I'm going to guess that the high school entrance auditions aren't as competitive as the middle school. There's quite a bit of attrition between middle and high school.
Good luck! senior parent
Our son auditioned for OSA in Visual Arts as an entering freshman last year. Here is what I can tell you:
1. The students have not done any digital or graphics as an assignment; if you saw this at the art show, it is because that is what the student enjoys. Our son only enters water color or acrylic in the art show.
2. For the audition, they will want to see two things: 1) sketch book(s) and 2) portfolio. Our son had never taken a formal art class and did not have an extensive portfolio, but he DID enjoy drawing, drew a lot for fun (while watching TV or while hanging out in his room...nothing formal). This is more what they are looking for. Does your child like to draw and enjoy it? They do not expect kids to be professionals or amazing artists as freshmen. They just want passionate kids who want to be there (not kids whose parents want them to be there...).
3. My son was honest with the questions they asked in the interview. They asked him, for example, if he were to receive money for his birthday, would he buy art supplies with it. He said no! He said he has enough art supplies and would probably buy sneakers. Encourage your child to just be herself.
The only word of warning about OSA is that you may hear a lot about how inclusive the school is and how welcoming. This is NOT TRUE for all students. Entering freshmen who are NEW to the school have a difficult transition at first, in part because all of the middle school students move up to high school, so there are not a lot of high school spots to go around. Students do end up okay, but the school seems to be in complete denial about how difficult it is to enter as a freshman, when so many rising freshman already know each other. The school holds these ''9th grade get togethers'' before school starts, but all of the old students hang out together, and leave the new students out, so it does not really serve its purpose. In fact, these gatherings actually made it WORSE for my son, who then felt even more out of it and marginalized by all the students who already knew each other.
Don't worry about the portfolio. The art program is solid, and students enjoy learning a lot of different genres and using a lot of different mediums. Good luck to you and your student! Older and Wiser
Oakland School for the Arts vocal
My son is in the 8th grade, so next year he'll be in high school. He's been in a choir since 4th grade. It's not just a choir, but a ''choir plus school'', so he's had musical instruction every day for at least 2 hours per day the last several years. Oakland School for the Arts seems like a natural choice for him for high school, but I wonder if he may find their vocal music department not up to par to the level of his current choir. If you have high schoolers in that department, or if you know about it and can speak about it, please tell me. What do you think? I also wonder if one auditions for one of the departments, and then wants to try out the offerings in others. Is that a possibility? My son LOVES to sing, but he's also very interested in computer programming. If there are classes on computer visual arts, would he be able to take them if he is in the choral program? And lastly, are the academics at OSA as strong, as, say, at the San Francisco School of the arts (SODA)? Or are the arts the top priority, while the academics are an afterthought? Look forward to hearing your thoughts. -mom of a soon to be high school boy
My daughter is in the middle school Vocal Music dept at OSA, so I can't speak to the high school program, but from what I've observed the academic expectations are at a good level and definitely not an afterthought. Donn Harris, the former head of SOTA, has been the director of OSA since 2009 and has steered it into becoming an East Bay alternative to SOTA; in other words, it's a school with strong academic aspirations and culture. If you look at the stats, OSA's graduation and college acceptance rates are high. Math scores are still not up to par, but they are working on it. Come to an Open House and do a tour, talk to the high school Dean and the Principal. Ask Donn Harris himself what he thinks of the academics compared to SOTA.
As for the music department, I think OSA offers a great all round Vocal Music program. The education director of a top youth choir told me prior to our applying that she thought the VM program at OSA is ''excellent.'' Once accepted, students test into one of three levels of music theory specific to voice or they take AP music theory, so most likely your son would find the right level in terms of general music education--unless he's already above AP? Not sure what your expectations are re. ''levels.'' Students also audition into three different levels of choir in high school. One of them [Vocal Rush] is a small ensemble that is not open to incoming freshmen, so in fact there are really two levels for new ninth graders. Students take electives in solo repertoire, songwriting, jazz and rock vocal and so on. I'm guessing your son is at Pacific Boychoir Academy? OSA now does have a male classical singer on faculty in vocal (his name is Philip Harris) in addition to their more established jazz and contemporary teachers but, if your son's passion is classical voice, then SOTA's program is more developed toward either classical voice or musical theater (they have two tracks there). At OSA it seems the high school vocal program is more geared toward training strong contemporary music performers. You might also consider encouraging your son to stay in a strong choral program (like PBA's) and choose a regular high school that suits him academically and is easier to get into, because the auditions are stressful! But then he would miss out on the creative energy and atmosphere that arts schools like OSA and SOTA have in abundance. Good luck with your decision! Mom of a singer
OSA after middle school
Hi Oakland School for the Arts parents, my daughter was just accepted for middle school at OSA and we are very excited! It seems like a really great school, though I understand there are growing pains. I am curious to know how many students who start at OSA in 6th attend all the way through high school. An interview with the school director was just published and he said he knew about 25 students in the current 8th grade class will not be returning for high school--about 1 in 5 students, I estimate. That seems like a little bit of a brain drain, and has me wondering where they go. Do students leave because they don't want to continue to focus so intensively on the arts (I know one kid who left after 8th for this reason) or because they want to attend a bigger high school with more traditional offerings (e.g., more academic choices, sports programs, etc.)? Or is it that the high-school program is not as well regarded as the middle school? I guess I am a little worried in case academics are not up to par, though it's evident that the school produces outstanding artists and places them in a good range of colleges. (I've read that OSA has excellent graduation results compared to other East Bay public high schools). Any insights appreciated, thank you! arts mom
My son started OSA his freshman year in high school as part of the Visual Arts emphasis and so though I can not speak to why students leave between middle and high school, I can say that I have been incredibly impressed with the level of academics at the school. He has had the best teachers he has ever had over the last two years. I had the good luck to go to a very great private school for most of high school. The teachers I had there taught me what it's like to learn and to aspire to work at a high level. I am still in their debt. These teachers very much remind me of the teachers I had back then. They are young. They really seem to like what they do. They are teaching the kids to think critically about the material they teach and they are giving them interesting, pertinent and challenging material. They teach using a variety of resources and modalities, and in my experience they really are available to trouble shoot and work with your child when things aren't working. My son is really feeling successful and I feel like he is enjoying learning in a way he hasn't experienced before . It's been a great academic experience. My son has a math disability so can't speak to that department but for everything else, we have been really happy. OSA mom
My daughter entered OSA as an eighth grader. During her time there a few friends have left for various reasons; some moved, some wanted a more traditional ''big high school'' experience with sports, cheerleaders, and a larger student body; some were no longer sufficiently interested in their arts emphasis to put three hours a day into that pursuit. The arts emphasis requires real dedication, and a true commitment. That eventually does weed out some kids. OSA has been a wonderful place for my daughter, and I recommend the school highly. Students in this year's graduating class have been accepted to some excellent colleges: Stanford, UCLA, UCB, NYU, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Occidental and many others. Her arts classes have been college-level. Her academic teachers have been consistently excellent; she has formed strong relationships with many and has never lacked for support. They are a group of young, enthusiastic teachers who really care. Her classmates have come from all over the east bay- from Oakland and Berkeley, Piedmont and Lamorinda, San Leandro and San Ramon. I think OSA is a gem; a great choice for any student interested in pursuing an arts education. OSA parent
OSA for really bright kid?
I just went on a tour of OSA for my current 5th grader. We really liked what we heard about the arts but not much was said about the academics. My child is very bright and loves learning. She loves her art form very much but also loves science, writing, and talks about wanting to study philosophy some day. Is OSA a good school for a kid who likes to learn about everything? Do they foster creative thinking in the academic subjects? Is it cool to be smart there? Also my older child tells me that OSA has the reputation of being a''druggie school'' . While I think that is more the high school than the middle school I still wonder about the atmosphere and if there are kids coming to school and getting high. Thanks for sharing your experience! artsy mom
We are new to OSA this year (9th grade), so may have somewhat limited experience. I heard the same rumors you did (about kids getting high). So far, here is my take:
--We have not seen any drugs. Kids who violate the open lunch policy are nailed pretty quickly. Being high or using drugs is not seen as ''cool'' by other kids. As with any high school (including the most prestigious private schools in the east bay), there are some kids who use drugs. We have not seen them at OSA, but I am sure they are there, as they are in any urban school.
--I find the 9th grade curriculum to be very advanced. In fact, I think it is a bit too advanced. The cross-discipline focus for these first two months has been Taoism, which crosses sciences, art history, and English. Asking 9th graders to think about the metaphysical world is pretty difficult! If your daughter is into philosophy, she will eat this up.
--The college acceptance rate at OSA is lightyears ahead of other urban public schools. They seem to do a pretty good job at fostering a college-going culture. The standards seem high.
Again, we are new to the school, so we are not sure how all of this will pan out. So far, we feel there are some pretty amazing things about the school and some things that need improving. But is it safe, teachers seem kind, admin is present and available, and the curriculum seems on track. Hope this was helpful
I have a middle-schooler at OSA. I tend to think, based upon the experiences of my kid's peers at a variety of middle schools, that all the middle schools have weaknesses. Some great teachers, some not. Most not responding well to kids' needs for differentiated learning.
At OSA, they created a math lab for kids who need remedial support. I know of one kid who goes to a math class either one or two grades above. I would expect that the advantage of OSA for middle school for your daughter would be that there's some flexibility to address the needs of the kids, if you engage. Meet with the dean and teachers and explore what accommodations could be made. I also find that a lot of the assignments offer the possibility to tailor work to your child's level. Where ever she goes, I think a lot of middle school for you will be encouraging her to do her best work, even if that exceeds the requirements for the assignment. For example, if they're assigned a book, delve deeper into the period and issues it addresses. Read about similar books it's influenced by. Read some literary analysis. I've really liked some of the teachers and I bet they'd work with you to identify some areas to delve into or ways to make assignments more challenging. I don't find the level of homework to be overwhelming, so there's certainly time to explore more broadly. There are also some extracurricular groups. And if she's bored, at least she has her arts focus. My kids' OSA friends would not treat her poorly based on being bright and academically accomplished. Many of these kids are at OSA as an alternative to private school, so they're from families who came from good elementary schools, are setting academic standards, and have the resources to support them.
As to the drugs -- the school is right across the street from Oaksterdam. You can smell pot outside the school sometimes. I see OSA kids wearing clothes or jewelry with pot leaf designs. Some of my kid's social media contacts post about ''I'm bored, I'm going to get stoned.'' It doesn't appear to be in his group of friends (hopefully I'm not ignoring signs). I hear about drugs in all the middle schools. Does the proximity to high schoolers make it more available and normalized? Probably. Thusfar, I'm viewing it as an opportunity to talk about it before my kid's old enough to want to shut me out.
The high school is a different issue. It appears to me that there are significantly more academic opportunities as in a larger school. Good luck! It'll be fine, where ever she goes
My daughter is a freshman at OSA, having gone through the middle school (from 6th grade)and unfortunately, I don't think it would be a good fit for a kid who is strong academically. Because of the relatively small size (70-80 kids per grade level), there is not much ability to really offer classes for different abilities/interests. The academics are bare-bones to cover requirements, but don't offer much for kids on both ends of the spectrum. The teachers vary from great to pretty bad, and again, since there are so few choices, you cannot generally change out of a class which is not working out.
Once in high school, there are some AP classes, but my experience in talking to parents of older kids is that these are not consistent, and somewhat difficult for kids to get into. And from what we've seen, the high school has had a hard time getting kids into really good colleges.
As for the drug culture, I would say that it is probably similar to any group of artsy high schoolers, though my daughter says that some of her peers were smoking a lot last year - in middle school. OSA parent
We're a a year plus post-OSA, but in our experience, OSA was a mixed bag for my really bright kid. They do assessment testing before classes start, and my kid was placed in pre-Algebra as a 6th grader which was a totally appropriate placement. The English teacher who taught 6th grade and some 7th graders was outstanding. She did an incredible job with differentiating instruction based on the abilities/experience of the kids. No complaints on that front. The instructors in the other subjects were a mixed bag. Some very good, some awful. But that's probably true at almost any school.
The biggest issue my kid faced was that many kids at OSA did not take academics seriously, and were disruptive to the learning process. My kid is a self-motivated and serious student and often perceived other students to be disrespectful to the academic teachers or disruptive in class. It was a constant source of frustration to my kid. It was a real issue, for instance, when my kid took pre-Algebra in 6th grade. There were a few 6th graders in the class, but the class was dominated by 8th graders who were not as academically advanced in math and were more interested in getting attention than learning. Things improved when my kid took Algebra in 7th grade because all the kids in that class were at least a year ahead of the norm.
That being said, I do think my kid got what was needed at OSA and continued to do very well on the STAR tests, but it was not necessarily the best environment for serious learners. And I will admit that there were times when I thought the artistic demands made on some of the students were not conducive to optimizing their academic potential. That was less of an issue for the academic high achievers than it was for kids that were struggling, but it was an issue that caused me concern because it made me question the school's priorities.
Socially, I don't think that being bright (or not) really has much effect on social status. I don't think that the kids equate being bright with being ''cool,'' but I don't think that bright kids are considered ''not cool'' either. There are a handful of really bright kids in every class, so your kid will not be alone. One thing that you should be aware of is that there is a bit of a brain drain at the end of 8th grade. Many of the brighter kids move on to other schools (Oakland Tech, Berkeley/Albany/Alameda high schools, private and parochial schools) at the end of 8th grade. Certainly not all of them move on, but enough move on that it's something to keep in mind as you make your decision. We didn't stay into high school (we were part of the brain drain), so I can't comment on what sort of experiences bright kids have in the high school.
Good luck with your decision -- whatever that might be. Former OSA parent
Dear Artsy Mom:
I currently have a really bright daughter in the the eighth grade at OSA. While I've had criticisms of OSA over the years, as we emback on the high school application process I'm seeing things a little differently now. She has not been fully challenged academically, but I now know that Middle School is about so much more that!!! One thing to keep in mind is that this is a public charter school. They don't have the financial resources to do what other non-public schools can do BUT the parent volunteers are amazing!!! And what OSA does do with the little money they have is truly amazing!
The arts are infused into academics across the board and out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged here! They offer project-based learning. OSA has embraced Common Core for Math and are moving toward that in the other subjects. There is not a lot of homework I think primarily because these kids devote so much time to their emphasis (art form) inside and outside of school. OSA has true diversity across learning styles and abilities, race, socio-economic strata, culture, ethnicity, etc, which is extremely challenging for ANY educational environment. With that said, the teachers and the administration are really really stretched. Parent volunteers take up some of the load.
This is an amzing school with an amazing mission! The arts are OFF THE HOOK!!! While my daughter may not have been academically challenged in the way I had hoped, her exposure and indoctrination into a creative learning environment could not have happened at many other places. She is coming away from her Middle School years as a confident creative individual who is a independent thinker and THAT is worth the price of admission, so to speak!!!
Regarding drugs at OSA or it having a ''druggie School'' reputation, THAT is news to me! I have not seen nor heard of any such activities from my daughter or from others. Yet at my daughter's friend's private middle school there have been issues of drugs and alcohol at dances and on campus.
I know this is not an easy decision, I going through it again for High School. One piece of advice that I can offer is that no school is perfect. There are trade offs everywhere. You just need to figure out with your daughter what is most important and then go with your gut.
Good Luck! Been THere and now are There Again!
Son admitted to OSA for Visual Arts
My son will start OSA in the fall, as a 9th grader, in Visual Arts. The audition/portfolio/interview seemed competitive and rigorous, and I assumed that students accepted to the school are serious and driven. He has recently met some OSA students who are telling him that the Visual Arts students are ''loners'' and implied that they are not as solid as the other students.
My question is: Do each of the areas of emphasis have their own characteristics in terms of student profiles or student stereotypes? My son is rather bothered at the idea of being identified with a group of students that other students at the school do not respect or consider to be losers or stoners or whatever.
If you are an OSA parent, what has your child's high school experience been in terms of acceptance of the students, student groups and cliches, and so on? Do the different groups mix? Are they friends with students outside of their emphasis? He is nervous enough already to make this leap to high school at OSA, and these types of comments are making him even more nervous!
Your insight and experiences is greatly appreciated! New to OSA
I can't speak to the school culture as a whole, but my son is in the vocal department at OSA (going into 10th grade)and his particular group of friends includes kids from visual arts, literary arts and instrumental music, so yes, kids from different disciplines do socialize together. They spend a lot of time within their discipline, but the academic classes mix them together, and they frequently work on projects together outside of class. I never got any sense that any particular emphasis was looked down on, and the kids I've met from visual arts are great, both talented and social. My son is very happy at OSA. Tell yours he doesn't need to worry. Another OSA Mom
I'm a mom of an incoming freshman as well. My daughter has been at OSA since 6th grade, she is a classical instrumentalist. She has many friends in visual arts, some of whom are extremely talented. Loners and losers is not how I would describe these kids. A few them were in algebra 2 in 8th grade, clearly they are not spending their day smoking pot! The reason my kid and her friends love OSA is the accepting, welcoming environment. By high school you have kids who are really dedicated to their art and the creative process. There is not really a popular group or cliques. Critical thinking and differences are encouraged and celebrated.
For my quirky creative girl, OSA has been a God send. I think she would have really struggled in a traditional middle school where conformity is the norm.
As to the visual art department, it is well respected and has fantastic teachers. Compared to the Theater and Vocal students, who tend to be more gregarious and extroverts, the instrumentalists and visual art kids tend to be more subdued. That said my daughter has friends in all the departments and thrives on the cross discipline experience.
Your son must be very talented to have been accepted. It has become a very competitive process as there are so many kids and such few spots. OSA is a special place , nurturing and demanding at the same time. If your boy loves creativity, is open minded, and is looking for a place where he can be himself then OSA is for him. Sherna
Please try not to worry; the kids who told your son this are just trying to mess with him! My daughter's experience at OSA has been stellar! She has been there for 4 years, and has thrived socially. She has friends in many emphases, many in visual arts. (She is in another emphasis) I have never heard any talk among her friends that ''put down'' another emphasis. In fact, she and several kids in different emphases have collaborated on projects..often outside of school. I have observed OSA to be quite inclusive and harmonious. I think what your son overheard speaks more to the character of the kids who told him that Visual Arts kids are not cool (or whatever) than to any actual hierarchy, actual or perceived.
Your son is fortunate to have been admitted to OSA; try not to let negative talk dampen his enthusiasm. It's a wonderful environment for arty kids, and we are lucky to have the school as a public option.
My daughter's experience there has been very positive, and her literary arts classes have truly been college level. Her academic teachers have been inspiring and supportive; they understand how to teach these kids! At OSA she has gained much confidence and has blossomed as a student and a writer. Happy OSA parent
OSA for middle school violinist?
What are your thoughts about Oakland School for the Arts? Our daughter, who'll start middle school next year, has been accepted into the instrumental music department. She plays violin, enthusiastically! She's one of those kids who is arty in many departments--singing, theater, fashion, drawing, building, designing--and loves them all. Traditional academics, not so much, depends on presentation. We toured the school and were moved by the classes in the arts emphasis. But what do you think? How are the other classes, the academic ones? How's the school culture? How's the instrumental music department? We think it might be a great fit socially for her, but we just don't know a whole lot about the school. Thank you for any any insights you may offer! Wondering about OSA
OSA can be brilliant and frustrating in equal parts. In our experience, the quality of the teaching ranged from inspired to completely uninspired -- although to their credit, some of those issues have been addressed. They are very good with math placement. 6th graders are placed in three different levels of math based on a placement test administered before school starts. The quality of middle school math instruction is generally good, but we did have some issues when my child (who is a very advanced math student) ended up in a pre-algebra class that included the most advanced 6th graders and some considerably less advanced 8th graders. It wasn't a particularly productive mix for the advanced 6th graders. Ms. Blackburn (who teaches middle school English and Social Studies) is a superb teacher who does a fantastic job of meeting the needs of all the kids no matter what their academic abilities are. That being said, OSA can be a frustrating place if your kid is at either end of the bell curve academically. They just don't have the resources to deal with kids who stray far from the middle. And I was disturbed by a few instances where kids who were clearly struggling academically had artistic demands put on them that did not help with those struggles.
The arts programs are generally excellent. But for kids who have more than one artistic talent or interest, there is very little opportunity for students to explore artistic fields outside their own emphasis. This issue played a very significant role in our decision to leave OSA. My child wanted an opportunity to explore other artistic interests, and he couldn't do it at OSA.
My child was not in the instrumental music department, but I would encourage you to contact current IM parents. There was some clear turmoil in the department which I'm not sure has been resolved.
One other frustration I had with the school is that OSA can be incredibly demanding on parents. Endless fundraising and time demands both for the school and for your kid's emphasis. And while there are many, many parents who contribute generously both in terms of money and time for the benefit of the whole school, there is a segment of the population that is (to my mind) far too focused on doing things only if it is to the advantage of their kid. There are also quite a few parents who just opt out completely, which raises its own issues. But for parents who want to get involved and do good things for the school as a whole, it can be a very difficult (and thankless) task at times.
All that being said, the kids do some amazing things artistically, and many, many kids who struggle to find their place in elementary school seem happy there. And your kid will get a solid education. Former OSA Parent
Our daughter is finishing up her first year (6th grade) at OSA, in the visual arts dept. She and we could not be happier! She loves being around so many creative and interesting kids. In her experience there is not the typical middle school pecking order, everyone is there because they want to be, and because everyone is kinda special, no one group dominates. She has many new friends from all over the east bay, all of whom are wholesome and arty kids, and all of them are really glad to be there.
Academics are somewhat mixed, but overall rigorous. My bright daughter feels she has many academic peers, and parents I know whose kids are not as academically inclined seem really happy there as well. The school just instituted the common core math standards, which, again, seems somewhat of a mixed bag, and there is no foreign language in the middle school grades, but over all we have been happy with the academics.
The feel of the school is arty, high energy and urban. My daughter has had some general complaints about the school being disorganized (and there does seem to be a good natured acceptance of a certain amount of chaos that might not be accepted at other schools). Also,if you are not from Oakland (we are)and your child is coming from a more sheltered elementary school, OSA might feel intimidating at first--being right there in downtown Oakland, with all varieties of the Oakland experience (eg, running by the homeless, mentally ill, weed smokers etc in PE class). If you are the kind of family who loves Oakland, then you will probably love OSA. If not, it might not be the best fit.
I don't know anything about the instrumental music dept, but I am very impressed with the art instruction and the level of art my daughter is producing, and have been very impressed by the performances I have seen in the other departments.
I really wanted my daughter to have a middle school experience where she could thrive and not get crushed by adolescence as happens with so many girls when they hit middle school. We turned down a place (and a good financial aid package!)at a sought-after private girls' middle school, which nearly killed me at the time. But now I am glad we turned it down and chose OSA. It is truly a unique experience that has been nothing but wonderful for our daughter. happy OSA mom
Re: AA family new to Bay Area -- looking for schools
Oakland School for the Arts might be a great fit for your children. You can learn more about the school on its website, and in BPN reviews. Kids audition for admission.
The school offers a wonderful arts based education for grades 6-12. It's a public charter school, so Oakland residency is not required; approximately 2/3 of the students live in Oakland, many others are from nearby areas. My daughter has friends from Orinda, Piedmont, Berkeley and Alameda, as well as Oaklnad.
I have been very happy with the academics, the art instruction,the wonderful teachers, and the social environment. my daughter is receiving an amazing education and genuinely loves her teachers. OSA is in Uptown, a vibrant area in downtown Oakland well served by BART and bus transit, in the beautiful Fox Theater. It's a true gem, and I feel lucky to have found it. Happy and grateful OSA parent
OSA Dept of Dance
Hi, I have a daughter in 7th grade who is interested in the dance department at OSA. I have concerns about this being a good fit for her because she does not thrive under pressure. She is already a perfectionist and lots of external pressure stresses her out. I have also heard their ballet department described as ''crazy '' by the director at her current ballet school. She also said kids are getting injured and even needing surgeries as a result of dancing at OSA. I feel very confused by this and would love to hear from parents who actually know what's going on. Also would auditioning as an 8th grader benefit her chances of acceptance versus applying for 9 th grade? Your insight will be very much appreciated! Prospective OSA parent
Dear Prospective OSA Parent,
If your daughter truly doesn't thrive under pressure, then, yes, perhaps the OSA School of Dance would not be a good match. As a parent of an OSA dance student, I sincerely do not believe that the ballet department is ''crazy,'' and although there are students who have been injured, and I know of one student who has had surgery, I am not aware of injuries or surgery that I would fault the dance department for. In fact, OSA students get an incredible amount of instruction on injury prevention. My daughter has to work very hard in their department, but she has also learned a tremendous amount while at OSA so she is appreciative of the instruction she is receiving from Mr. Savage and the other dance teachers. Yes, there can be a lot of pressure, but for those students who are interested in becoming a professional dancer, this is a great opportunity to get a glimpse of life as a professional dancer.
Auditioning as a 7th grader for 8th grade certainly has its advantages. We recommend signing up for a tour and a ''shadow.'' OSA Parent
The social environment and pressure of a dance department cannot be avoided if your child is serious about pursuing this. Ballet is especially notorious in the dance world for draconian instructors, adults having hissy fits, and obsessive people who give themselves eating disorders. (When my daughter's ballet instructor sees her on the street, she starts ordering her to stand up straighter. Does this give you an idea of what you're volunteering for ?). The SF Ballet school is no less of a pressure cooker, nor is SF School of the Arts. You and your daughter ought to think this through very carefully before application (I suggest 9th rather than 8th grade based on greater physical development and maturity), because you can't eat less than the whole enchilada. Good luck from Arts Mom
Admission to Oakland School for the Arts
My up-coming 5th grade daughter is currently enrolled at an independent school that we are mostly happy with, but says that she wants to change schools for middle school. She is very interested in OSA. She would be applying for the fine arts program. She definitely sees herself as an artist, and is especially interested in fashion design. She has pretty good, mostly self-taught sewing skills and spends lots of time sketching designs. I hear that admission is highly competitive, especially in the fine arts program. I would love to know if anyone has had experience going through this process and could offer any insight/advice? I know that you can audition more than once. Is it common to get turned down before finally being admitted? If you are turned down do they offer constructive criticism for preparing for the next audition? Any info would be greatly appreciated! Anon
Our child got admitted for the 2012-2013 6th grade class in visual arts. Most of what I tell you here OSA will tell you on the school tour, but I know it helps to hear from one who has been there!
1. Show your daughter's interests: the fact that she loves fashion and fashion drawing is great. I would definitely bring or take photos of any of the clothes she has designed and bring a strong sampling of her fashion drawings.
2. That being said, OSA wants to see a variety of work. Thse kids will be spending 2-3 hours on art each day, and it won't always be the same stuff, or stuff your kid is even interested in(ie, not all fashion drawing). So make sure her portfolio reflects a broad variety of work. (THAT being said, in looking through my daughter's portfolio, I see she rareley used color, but she still got in!)
3. They don't want to see what your kid was doing in 1st or 2nd grade. THAT being said, we did include in her portfolio a few older drawing (3rd grade) that were particularly good and tied in to her more recent drawings(a series of self-portraits and portrails of family members).
4. Spend some time going through your daughter's works to organize and arrange. OSA likes to see sketchbooks, as well as finished works. We brought one portfolio of ''finished'' works, and then a folder of sketches, or less finished drawings. Mind you, for a 10 year old, (or at least my 10 year old) the line between ''finished'' works and ''sketches'' is pretty fine. My daughter and I worked together going through her gazillion drawings and organizing them in the portfolio/folder to show them to their best advantage. For example, she had gone through a manga phase, and had literally hundreds of manga characters, of various types and sizes. Rather than bring all 100+, we chose 10 or 12 of the most interesting (eg, different facial expressions, gestures etc), cut them down to size, and arranged the 10 or 12 of various sizes on facing pages of the portfolio. Seeing 12 of her manga characters all together made a much bigger impact visually than flipping through 12 pages of manga. We similiarly arranged other related drawings, often placing 2 or 3 small but related drawings on one page of the portfolio.
When we went through this editing and arranging process, it also became more clear what was ''finished'' and what was a ''sketch.'' Then we put the best of remains in the sketch folder (we made sketch folder, rather than bring a sketchbook, because she had so many sketchbooks, most of which were only half drawn in). OSA says more is better, but actually my daughter's art looked even better once we judiciously edited and arranged it. At the audition many kids had giant expensive portfolios, but we just used a 9X12 portfolio you can get anywhere. soon to be OSA mama
I can't answer all your questions but by chance I had just emailed the School for the Arts and they wrote back today with this info that you might find helpful. The first audition for entering the Fall 2013 semester is in January, the next one is in March. / If a child is not accepted, are they allowed to re-apply? Yes, they can apply as many times as they want. /What % of applicants do you accept? about 30%
Hope that's helpful although obviously we haven't been through the process yet so I don't know about constructive criticism etc. I plan to attend an upcoming information day. The dates are posted on their website.
My daughter just finished 6th grade in Visual Arts Emphasis(VA). One thing others did not mention that I want to add is this...The school gets a lot of applicants and the competition is more difficult than a lot of the private schools. My daughter had to go through two auditions before she was accepted. After the first one when she wasn't accepted, she was quite deflated yet she is really an excellent artist! So, to her credit, she took the feedback she received in the first audition and applied it for her second one. After the second audition, she came out beaming. The panel remembered her and acknowledged that she had taken their feedback seriously. Needless to say she got in. The best advice I can give is NOT to give up if your child does not get in on the first audition. At the time, I questioned if this school was the right school for my daughter because the process seemed brutal for a 10 year old, not to mention a sensitve artistic type. But in the end it made my daughter want to get in even more and appreciate her achievement once she was accepted. A very small percentage of kids get in who apply but it is a remarkable school! At first you don't succeed, try try again... Parent of VA student
Math and Science at Oakland School for the Arts
I'm interested in finding out from current OSA parents what they think of the middle and high school math and science programs. Obviously the level of learning in the arts is high, but do you feel that your kids are getting a good grounding in mathematics and the sciences? Another, more specific question about the approach to math in the lower grades. The AP precalculus summer assignment posted on the website seems fairly creative. ''Over the summer, you are to read one of the following four books. You are to write a short report (approximately 1000 words) due on the 3rd day of class in Precalculus. The report will include a short summary of the book (250 words max for this part), how it relates math and the real world, your opinions on the book (also a maximum of 250 words), and how you might see it used in a math class. Moneyball - Michael Lewis; The Math Behind The Music - Leon Harkleroad; Bringing Down the House - Ben Mezrich; The Calculus Wars - Jason Socrates Bardi''
How much of this kind of approach to math do you see in the lower grades at OSA, especially in middle school? Thanks for your responses! Considering OSA
It's funny - we came to the middle school because of the arts and have been even happier about the math and science than with their chosen emphasis. The school is very good about assessing the need for placement in math and placing appropriately - and even moving students up (and I'm sure down) when the placement isn't quite right. When there have been challenges, and my child wasn't quite getting it with their teacher, they sought out help from one of the other middle school math teachers, whose style just seemed to fit a little better, and who was very giving of their time. There is also an after school homework and tutoring program, and they work very hard to support students in math (along with other subjects)....no matter what level. The math and science teachers tailor projects to the arts - giving them some creative license around how to present a math or science concept. They can shoot a film about it, create a skit or write (and perform) a song, do artwork, or some other creative way to explain the concept. But there's also straight-up math, math, math and yes, homework. So, yes, I can confirm that I'm happy with the approach we've seen to math and science in middle school. OSA MS Parent
Considering OSA for 12-year-old
My 12 year old is considering OSA for high school in a year or two, specifically in the Circus emphasis. Anyone have current experience with the school (with this emphasis a bonus)? I'm concerned about the academics. How are they? How is the school in general? Are the kids happy? Getting prepared for college? Friendly? Any feedback appreciated.
Twice each week I have the joy of walking into Oakland School for the Arts toward the end of the school day ! The hallways are often crowded with students singing, practicing an instrument, practicing lines for a play they are about to audition for, practicing together, talking with faculty about assignments, whatever ! There is a positive, happy air in the hustle-and-bustle ! One day, at the top of the stairs, a group of youngsters walked up to me, and began to sing. No reason; they did not know me; they just wanted to sing and they hoped someone would listen. Many parents are involved, but not in a social-climbing way, just providing support. -Recommending Oakland School for the Arts
My child is in their 2nd [and our last] year at OSA. We have been very unhappy (mildly stated) with the Instrumental Music Department. In class, when asking routine questions, my child has been mocked and humiliated, and has witnessed the same happen to classmates. My child has had grades lowered at the end of the semester, without explanation. When asking about this, my child was actually told the school had a waiting list of kids who are probably better musicians and that my child could easily be replaced. My child was also present when this has been said to other students. For my child this has made the music classes, which should be the best part of the day, a very harsh, non-learning environment.
There was a petition, signed by Instrumental Music families, which addressed these same concerns and experiences. I participated in Instrumental Music Department meetings for families where these concerns and experiences were discussed. My child reports some improvement and less humiliation, but no longer has trust in the teachers. From my perspective as a parent, no school polices have been enacted to ensure that a respectful, encouraging learning environment will be created and maintained. Parents' only true recourse is to remove their children from the school, which we are doing, and as over 20% of Instrumental Music families did last year. The shame is the school has some outstanding academic teachers who go above and beyond to help the kids. Anon
I had to respond to the previous post regarding OSA's instrumental music department. My daughter started at 6th grade OSA this year in the classical musical department. She could not be happier. All of her music teachers have been amazing and she has improved %100. We have had no problems with teacher bullying or anything of that nature. I know that there have been some problems with the jazz band. However, the classical program has not experienced any this type of issues. We have been in various good elementary schools in Oakland. My daughter has always felt a little out of the loop, Not so at OSA. She finally feels she has found her place.
I know that some parents in the jazz program have brought their concerns to mr. Harris who has responded quickly and appropriately. We are thrilled to be at OSA and I could not recommend it more highly. However, there are high expectations, kids have to be committed to their instruments and be willing to work hard! S.
My son is an instrumental student at the Oakland School for the Arts Middle School. He loves the school and has flourished musically under the instruction of his instrumental conductor in the classical music division. I have read the recent review by the parent whose daughter is leaving the school because of her unhappiness, and I am aware that other parents have lodged similar complaints about certain other instructors. However, it is important for prospective students to know that not all instrumental students and their families hold that same point of view and many of the OSA music students, just as my child, are happy and flourishing. An OSA Parent
OSA for theater geek daughter?
My theatre-geek daughter is interested in Oakland School of the Arts for high-school and we attended a recent Open House and were impressed by the Executive Director. We have several questions better addressed to current/ graduated students and their families and would be grateful for responses to any of these: 1. How strong were the academics and support? 2. Do you have a sense of what level an entering HS student needs to be to have a good chance of acceptance to the theater program. My daughter has been involved in good local youth theater and is middle- of-the-pack in terms of poise and getting into character. She is always complimented on her enthusiasm, sparkle and transmitting emotion, and tends to get comedic or ''pretty'' roles instead of the lead, but my sense is that craft over sparkle is what she needs for this program. 3. Any feedback on the Digital Media program? She is interested in film and very good with tech. 4. Were you impressed by the general level of arts achievement by the average kids- not the stars. 5. Do the new HS kids meld well with the rising middle-schoolers? 6. How many new HS kids in theater at the 9th grade level. 7. Final question: daughter started as a singer but moved to musical theater. Still loves to sing (and probably her real strength) butknowledge of theory is rudimentary and cannot sight-read. We can cram some theory, but she wouldn't be able to sing from a page by the time of auditions. Would it be worthwhile to audition for Voice at the HS level? Not sure where new highschoolers would have picked this up, I only know one youth choir that teaches it (Pacific Boychoir!). Mom of a Gleek
I can't answer all your questions regarding OSA, but I can tell you that we have been very happy with my daughter's experience there. She is currently in 9th grade, and started OSA last year. Her emphasis is theater, and the program director, Mr. Berry, is excellent; he has reorganized the department and it offers great training in acting and classes such as History of Theater. Performances are impressive!
She has friends in most emphasis areas, and the parents I meet seem happy with the school.
My daughter's academic classes are all smaller than we expected- there are under 20 students in all but one of her academic classes, and teachers are supportive, approachable, and experienced. As a high school student, she is expected to ask for help when needed, and she has always received the help she needs.
I think OSA is a gem! I would encourage anyone to apply. If a student is not accepted after the first round of auditions, I would suggest continuing to go to OSA auditions; enthusiasm, focus and determination count for a lot. Happy OSA parent
editor note: also recomended: Innerspark/California State Summer School for the Arts
My daughter and her friend are interested in attending the Oakland School for the Arts. We will be going to an open house next month, and I've found a bit of information on the web (including here on the parent's digest, but it's not that up to date), but I'm hoping to hear from someone whose teen is currently enrolled. Do you and your son/daughter like it there? Thank you for any insight Suzanne
My son is in 6th grade in the instrumental emphasis. He loves O.S.A. I do too. Mr. Don Harris, of San Francisco School of the Arts, is an excellent director here in Oakland. Relieved Mother to a Middle Schooler
Can anyone with recent experience at Oakland School for the Arts say how they and their kids are liking it this year? I have two smart, quirky, somewhat reserved kids who are unhappy at their large public middle school. We are looking seriously into making a change. One will be in ninth grade next year and is applying to Literary Arts; the other is entering 7th and applying under music performance. For that matter, if you know of another charter school that might be great, feel free to pass on the tip. We have investigated a few, and are also applying at North Oakland Community Charter School for the seventh grader. Checking it Out
My child is in her first year at OSA in the seventh grade, Visual Arts program. She loves it. School is stronger on the arts specialties than the academics, but academics seem adequate and a large percentage are expected to attend 4 year college. Atmosphere seems fairly accepting, and small group specialty classes 2 periods a day seem to help break down barriers. Still, my child is extremely social, so not sure how more shy kids would like it. Generally, kids seem happy. OSA Parent
My daughter started as OSA this year in the sixth grade. So far, we really like the school. There is a lot of positive, excited energy there from the kids toward their arts. The academics are good , my daughter has 1.5 hrs of vocal instruction every day and also learns a lot by going to classes with a very diverse group of kids. Also there is a rigorous PE class every day, though this may be just for middle school. Two of these days are ice skating. I like all of the physical fitness instruction.
I wonder from reading your posting whether you are interested in applying to get out of the school you are currently in or whether your kids are passionate about the art they would pursue at OSA. If your kids are really interested in and committed to their ''art'' I think it would be a good choice. osa mom
We have one daughter in middle school at OSA. This is her second year at the school and overall we have been very happy. Like your kids, she is smart but didn't really fit into a large public middle school. We have found that the beauty of OSA is that the student body is composed of many "quirky kids who have found a refuge from the cliquishness that is so pervasive at this age. No matter who the kids are, they are able to find a group where they belong, and most importantly, there are no real hierarchies at the school - it's a very 'live and let live' environment.
We have been quite satisfied with the academics at OSA, and found that as long we stick with the honors or advance classes that our daughter is being adequately challenged. Some teachers are truly exceptional and clearly have a great positive impact on the kids, while a very few (just as in any school) really don't belong in teaching. I have to say, though, that our daughter has only had one such teacher (in 6th grade), and otherwise has really enjoyed her teachers.
Our only big problem is that our daughter has always been interested in musical theater, but the teacher in charge of the yearly school musical has chosen to develop the program to support the African American kids almost exclusively. They did The Wiz this year (with all African American leads), and are planning on the Color Purple next year. So the non-AA kids are out of luck with musicals, except for the occasional very small part. (Less than half the kids at OSA are African American.) This tends to be the schools signature event of the year, which makes it even more disappointing. We are hoping another theater teacher will step forward in the near future to produce a more inclusive musical for the kids. OSA Parent
In response to the OSA parent who was frustrated with the non- inclusive musicals: I just wanted to give some advice from experience. My child was one of the "obligatory white kids" in the ensemble of The Wiz to make it look like an integrated production. Trust me, the experience was nothing that can't be gotten elsewhere. First, it turned out to be a very mediocre high school production. Yes, there were one or two kids who where quite good, but there were also leads who couldn't stay on key, and others whose acting left a lot to be desired.
If you want a good high school for musical productions, look at Bishop O'Dowd or Alameda HS - they always do top notch shows. Also, OSA required the kids (even those with tiny parts) to stay after school everyday, as well as come in on weekends and holidays. Since the high school doesn't get out until 4:15, this means the kids don't get home until 7:30 everyday. In community theater, which turns out shows with much higher production values, those in small parts are usually only asked to be at rehearsals 1-2 times a week until the very end. Even the local kids theater companies do a better job at producing high quality shows that what I saw at OSA in December. Bottom line, don't worry about the discrimination of the OSA in this area, just find other and better outlets for you musical theater loving teen. Another OSA parent
As an Oakland parent who has agonized over which schools to send my daughters, I was glad to read that current Oakland School for the Arts parents are overall very happy with the curriculum and teachers, and that it's become a really good option for a lot of students. This was not the case when we considered OSA several years ago. That said, no school is perfect. Our daughters have had great, caring teachers in public schools, and some downright mean and unqualified teachers in the private ones. To the parent who feels her daughter isn't getting every possible opportunity, i.e. musical theater, why not enroll her in Youth Musical Theater or the Young Actors Workshop? Even privately-run theater programs do not guarantee anyone starring roles, so why expect that your 7th grader would get a lead part at OSA's annual play for students in grades 6-12? It seems a bit much, as does criticizing OSA's theater teacher for selecting plays that feature non-white people in the leading roles.
Many high schools present a very traditional stock of plays, e.g. Shakespeare, Man of La Mancha, Annie, and other productions that don't exactly represent ''the Black experience''. As as a white parent, I think it's great they're presenting The Wiz and The Color Purple. OSA stands for the Oakland School for the Arts, not Orinda, and our schools should should reflect our city's diverse population. - Patience in Oakland
My daughter, who's in 5th grade at an Oakland hills public elementary, is very interested in attending the Oakland School for the Arts Charter for middle school. I'd love to hear from parents whose children are at OSA now, or who have recent experience there.
I've read the previous BPN postings on OSA as well as the reviews on GreatSchools.net, and we have attended an open house and a school tour, as well as shadowing a 6th grader there for the morning.
My questions: I understand that OSA has been through a lot of administrative turmoil in recent years -- is that all in the past, or are there still issues? What do you think of the school's new director? Is OSA academically challenging/engaging enough for a child who, in addition to her ''arty'' side, is also very bright? What do you think of the Visual Arts program? What's the atmosphere and general student behavior there like? (Things seemed a bit rowdy/unfocused during our last campus visit, but it WAS the morning after the election, and the kids were very excited about Obama's win. I do plan to go back to visit on a more ''typical'' day, but won't be able to do that until after OSA moves into its new home in the Fox Theatre over the winter break.)
I have my fingers crossed that OSA is truly a viable option for my smart, creative daughter, but do have a few lingering concerns. I'd very much appreciate feedback from any experienced OSA families out there. Thanks so much! Hopeful OSA Parent
We are a new family to OSA this year, and have nothing but great things to say about our experience so far. Both of our girls (6th and 8th grade) absolutly love their new school, have made many friends, and feel that they are in a place where they truly belong. The new director has been totally responsive, and has set a very positive tone for the school. The teachers really seem to take a personal interest in the students, and we often receive calls or emails about our kids' progress. Both of our girls are straight A students, and have found their classes to be both fun and challenging. We, like you, had some initial reservations about the school after hearing of the somewhat rocky start, but we are more than happy with the decision to send our kids to OSA. Happy OSA parent lf
Re: Choosing a high school for gay son
I don't know how arts-oriented your son is, but have two daughters at Oakland School for the Arts, and we have found that there are many openly gay kids at this school. These kids (mostly boys that we know of) seem very well liked, and well accepted. In fact, the school does a great job in making kids from various backgrounds, interests, and family structures feel included and part of the school community.
OSA is moving into the newly-refurbished Fox Theatre next year, and has a great college-prep curriculum. Students can choose acting, music (instrumental or vocal), dance, visual arts or theater tech as their area of emphasis. There is an audition required for admission. OSA parent
Are there any BPN parents whose child is at the middle school at Oakland School for the Arts? The latest posting on the website if for 2005 and I am interested in getting more updated information about the quality of the academic program, the quality of the instrumental arts program and the teacher retention rate. Thanks for your help! Anon
My son attended the middle school program at Oakland School for the Arts for the past two years. His experience was a positive one. For the most part, he has had young, gifted teachers, many of whom have remained at OSA despite the growing pains the school has undergone. The middle school director is strong and in terms of academic program, her approach is intellectual and engaging. The first year my son attended OSA, the reading lists were ambitious and challenging, particularly in English and History. My son's Math and Science teacher last year was exceptional. Each of these gifted teachers continue to keep an eye out for my son now that he is in the 9th grade, as they can in this small school environment.
OSA is scheduled to move into the historic Fox Theater in the Fall and the school has a new director, Donn Harris, formerly the director of the thriving San Francisco School for the Arts. Mr. Harris brings tremendous experience and vision to OSA, with the intention that Oakland have a strong arts school in a program-driven facility designed specifically with the arts and the needs of the students in mind. -- OSA parent
Are there any other OSA parents out there who are as worried/dismayed/disgusted with the way things are going as I am? My daughter is a new 10th grader with a Vocal Music emphasis. She has been placed in the wrong classes, had her favorite teacher quit the second week of school, has no regular science teacher, did not get into the Choir we were promised she would be in, the list goes on. As far as I can tell, many of the teachers this year are new to the school, new to teaching, and don't have credentials. They seem to be struggling to manage their classes and teach the material. Why can't the school find and keep good experienced teachers? Neither my daughter nor I are willing to sacrifice her academic education for the sake of her ''art'' -- she needs to be prepared for college. The Directo! r of Admissions who was our main contact before is also gone. Many of the students my daughter met last year did not come back this year, and quite a few who started the year are leaving. I'm beginning to thing this was a big mistake. I would love to hear from anyone else who has or had a kid at OSA. Should I be looking for another school? Melinda
In response to the frustration with The Oakland School For the Arts:
My daughter was in the first year and my husband and I worked veryhard for almost two years to help the school be what it promised to be. There were wonderful teachers, most left, there was a fabulous dean, he was fired, there were amazing students who my daughter still stays in contact with, and there were dedicated parents. The issues in my opinion, (that I didn't want to see for the first year or so) is that the Director and Assistant Director do not know how to run a school, and do not treat teens, parents, and staff with respect and dignity. There were many times that we attempted to work with the Administration to find solutions to the problems that any new school faces, but they were not open to ideas and they had so little experience with students this age. It takes an edu! cator to run a school, not an actor/director ... an educator with experience in high school issues and an educator who respects the entire community and expects problems to exist -- problems that are normal for teenagers. Many teachers I have spoken with put their time and energy to make OSA a good school, but they did not get the support they needed. The school has great potential, and the students are wonderful.....but in my opinion it needs a new administration. I also found the board to be difficult to work with when we had a problem -- they seemed too dedicated to the administration to really hear the issues and respond. They seemed to have little interest in communicating with parents.
My daughter is in her senior year at BHS (she entered as a Junior) and she is having a very creative and dynamic experience. She has been in plays, dance production, made a film, and will direct a play this year. Her academic work is more challenging, and the CAS program offers her some of what she liked about OSA and more. (Small school, diverse students, interested teachers, creative thinking).
At one point parents at OSA began to meet, to see if we could do anything about changing the direction of the administration... I am sorry that I didn't continue along that path. I admit now that I was fooled by some of the promises of the administration, and I regret not working more with other parents who were also disappointed and frustrated. From what I can tell, most of the outspoken parents (who were not happy with thier child's education and school policies) are no longer there. It was too frustrating for them and their students. Also, my daughter was not being challenged academically and had a lot of ''wasted time'' during the all too long school day. When this was brought up with the Ad. I was told that the school couldn't do everything and that they couldn't live up to the promise of a strong academic program at this time. (this was over a year ago...so I don't know if things changed). My daughter had to go to summerschool to catch up with her science classes. She loved singing at OSA... but we see now that she should have left after her first year. Her favorite teacher left early in the 2nd year after he had serious differences with the Ad. related to his art. There was also unfair treatment of students when discipline problems happened -- some were treated very badly (and punished very harshly) ... and others had their problems kept secret....with fewer consequences. So much had to do with the likes and dislikes of the administration, and once you spoke out about problems, you were more likely to not be responded to in the future.
For some students, OSA is a much better alternative than their local High School -- especially if they have talent in the arts -- and so it can work for some, but not for everyone. Some of the students I know from class #1 have stayed because they didn't have a better public alternative, and they could not afford private school. The issues are very complex, with underlying conflicts based on race, class, discipline, communication and expectations.
I wish the best to you and your child. Rona
I have a 7th grader at EBWaldorf who's interested in OSA. I looked in the BPN archive, but the info was pre-2004. Does anyone have any current experience of the school? How are they doing? What's the student culture like? i.e., is it fiercely competitive? Thanks for any info you have! Laura
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My daughter was accepted into the literary arts program at OSA for the Fall. Can anyone comment on the integrated curriculum, quality of teachers, long days, pros and cons of the school. Thanks
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I recently joined this newsletter so I missed most if not all the discussion about the Oakland School for the Arts. I would like to remind those interested that the application deadline is February 18. The website www.oakarts.org has more information. My daughter did not know anyone at OSA and now has wonderful friends. We have been extremely impressed by the high caliber of teachers-- they all seem to have been educated at topnotch universities and are more than qualified--they all love to teach! There have been a few starting pains in the first year but they have worked out. Mr. Berry, the director, and his staff are all very accessible, hard-working, friendly and eager to solve problems. The hours are indeed long but the kids seem to have adjusted and they have learned so much. We have been very pleased by the quality of the education and it is just getting better and better. We are looking forward to the remaining enriching experience this year and next year. I highly recommend OSA to any family with a child who has artistic ability as well as an interest in a high quality academic education. Erica
I would love to hear from a family with a student that is currently enrolled at Oakland School for the Arts. I've been very impressed with what I've seen (I currently have a 7th grader so will be looking next year) but would love to hear from somebody who is experiencing it.
* how are the academics?
* how does your child deal with the long day?
* lack of PE/physical activity/sports?
* physical building?
* anything else!
Does anyone have information about or experience with the new Oakland School for the Arts? My son is interested in it, but is concerned about the long day, the absence of sports, being inside all day. Any info would be very appreciated. Thanks. scran
I am a parent at Oakland School for the Arts. The academics are mixed. The main problem seems to be math where even the advanced group are slowed down by kids who are simply slow at math. I don't know how that will be resolved. My daughter is not bored. She attended Holy Names High School last year and was bored to the point of numbness. The academics are very interactive and integrated across the subjects. This intersession she is working with a group of kids from all the arts on a presentation on the topic of women during world war II. The drama teacher is working with them on this. The field trips have been mostly incredible. The (new) Oakland Ballet is amazing. The academic teachers are rather inexperienced but very interesting and some are excellent. For instance, the English/Creative Writing teacher is a spoken word performance artist. The kids attended a performance he was in for a field trip. The school day has been changed to 8- 5:15/3:30 on Wednesdays. This helps a lot. Also, there has been a policy of no homework. They have some time during most classes to do some practice type work. The culture of the school is a bit awkward. The kids seem to have good connections with one another for the most part. Conversations on race and gender seem to be happening with teacher guidance. The uniform policy seems really strange for an arts school, then what they came up with seems really not worth the effort - rugby shirts and jeans. Most of the kids don't seem to care one way or the other. My daughter is a violin student. She has a 1 1/2 hour private lesson each week as well as chamber group. This intersession she is in a jazz group. Her next solo piece will be accompanied by a piano student. I think this is great and I'm sticking with it with enthusiasm. There are also a lot of wonderful families I have met at the school. I really love it and my daughter is happy. Check it out! Don't let the director put you off. Janet
Someone sent a list of questions:
* how are the academics? There have been a lot of problems with the development of the curriculum. Remedial? College-bound? Using arts to sweeten a conventional curriculum? Training students for professions in the arts? Teacher-generated? Director- mandated? These basic issues have not been decided.
* how does your child deal with the long day? In principle everyone is required to stay till 6 and later (11 pm?) for field trips. But some kids with longtime after- school activities have been excused from this, so there is tension around this issue. Very inconsistent. The long schedule may be hard for families that spend a lot of time together or whose children relax in the afternoons.
* lack of PE/physical activity/sports? In principle everyone is moving around in dance class. But no sports, recreation or fresh air breaks are, of course, difficult (unhealthy?)at this age, physically and socially.
* physical building? Most classrooms are underground, so there is no fresh air or natural light. There is no exterior area.
* anything else! The school lost three experienced teachers and its managing director in less than three months so all cannot be well. The relationship between the school and the other tenants of the Alice Arts Center is a hostile one. The school's administration has no effective oversight and some highly idiosyncratic policies go unsupervised. The school was the Mayor's project but he is understandably preoccupied. Perhaps someone else can speak in its support. Good Luck.
Hi. I don't have kids in OSA, but I've done some tutoring at the school. This is what I know: First off, the school has changed it's schedule somewhat. The school day is now 8-5 instead of 8-6.
Mondays and Fridays are the art intensive days for all students. That means on those two days, students in theatre work exclusively in theater etc.
Tuesdays, Wed., and Thursdays are academic days. The core curriculum for all high school students is what is covered on these days.
Contrary to popular belief, all the students are involved in some form of physical activity even if that isn't their core art study. I'm pretty sure that this is coordinated by the dance department. You could call the school to make sure.
I can't speak for all of the academic studies at OSA, but I can tell you that what I have observed in the English studies is very impressive. The English instructor I observed is passionate about his work.
The key concept the school is trying to get across to the students and parents is intergrated studies. In other words, what is studied in history class is also intergrated in theatre studies, dance studies, visual arts etc.
I'm a graduate of one of the oldest and most sucessful Magnet Art Schools in the United States. The High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston Texas which is celebrating it's 30th birthday.
It was the beginning of a whole new world for me and a whole new life for me. I had a place I finally belonged to and kids I could relate to.
I started out in poetry and fiction writing. Then I discovered photography and was determined to understand it. I graduated in a class of 106 students. My mother always reminds me I won an award for ''Most Improved Photograpy Student'' when I graduated. This experience lit a passion in photography I didn't even know I had. I went to the best Art School in the United States and got my Bachelor of Fine Arts. None of this would have been possible if I hadn't applied to my magent arts school.
If your child is interested in applying, I suggest you help them out with the process. It was the best thing my parents did for me. beth
Recently I had posted a positive notice to the list about Oakland School of the Arts. I've been spending more time at the school and interacting more with the instructors since my last post. Keeping that in mind, I'd like to revise what I had previously written about OSA.
As an instructor, I've found the Monday/Friday Core Academics, T/W/Th Art Intensive setup the school has to be very difficult for students and teachers alike. The intensity of ''all curriculum/all arts all the time'' for about 8 and half hours (including a lunch break and afternoon break) to be an opressive environment.
Also you should know that the majority of the staff at OSA do not have their teaching credentials as of yet. I used to pay lipservice to the whole notion of having to get your credentials in order to teach. Emphasis on the words used to, until this year when I started working in a school with seasoned teachers who had their credentials and experience under their belts. From what I can tell, the school doesn't have a plan of action to convert their emergency credentialed to credentialed teachers. This not only impacts the level of education the current students are receiving but it also impacts the school's ability to receive state and federal funding in 2003.
Also, the school only has instructors for the 9th grade. Currently there are no instructors for 10th, 11th, or 12th grade. What happens to the current crop of students after they graduate into the 10th grade? This is only one person's opinion, but to me, the school feels very much like a work in progress. I'd encourage parents with creative children to pursue after school classes through more established performing and visual arts organizations until OSA gets it's bearings.
I have a question about a high school for the arts. I know that there is a SOTA in SF, but they are reducing their out of district population to 10% (of 400 kids). I've heard that one may be starting in the east bay; does anyone know anything about this? Any other ideas for a kid who wants good academics but with an arts/theater focus? Thanks--Joanna
I picked up a flyer for "Oakland School for the Arts", which is a new public charter high school planned to open this fall. According to the flyer, they're having auditions for 9th grade in January and March, and the school is located in downtown Oakland. They offer "pre-professional training in creative writing, dance, theatre, music, and visual arts". The phone number is 510-291-2874, and the email address is oakarts [at] pacbell.net. I have no other information about the school. Diane
Yes there is a new arts high school (visual. literary, and performing arts) set to open next fall center in Oakland! It's called OSA (Oakland School for the Arts) and is a charter school (i.e., public, tuition-free) which is currently accepting applications for the first class (9th grade only for the first year as far as I know). They have been holding some community meetings and have already had one round of auditions and interviews, which I feel went really well. I am the parent of a student who had a wonderful experience with the auditions and is very interested in attending the school beginning in the September 2002. For more information, call OSA at (510) 291-2874. You can also email OSA at: info [at] oakarts.org Laurie