Peralta Parent-Teacher Group History
As with any history, there are many points of view and different perceptions of past events. I have tried to be as accurate as possible, and I also take responsibility for the views expressed.
I would like to extend my thanks to the people who have encouraged me to complete this project and who helped me gather the information and present it clearly: Diane Bush, Nancy Carlisle, Rosette Costello, Sonia Kreit, Yvonne Myers, Jane Perry, and Chris Vernon.
Updated July 2009 (Laura Counts)
Why this history?
We have created a magical place at Peralta – where adults and children care for each other, children take pride in their heritage and excel academically. By knowing our history, we hope to maintain and deepen our success, as each year new families arrive and others move on.
When was Peralta founded?
Peralta was founded as an elementary school in 1880. In the early 1900′s, there was a “Mothers’ Club” that raised funds for the school and held regular meetings (notes from these meetings are in the Peralta archives).
If Peralta is so old, why does our building look like a bunch of portables?
Until the 1960′s, Peralta School was a two-story brick building, with beautiful wood paneling inside. In the 1970′s, the building was declared to be unsafe in earthquakes and it was torn down. At that time, the school district was prepared to close the school due to low enrollment. However, the parents organized to keep the school open and persuaded the superintendent at the time, Marcus Foster, to build a new school. The new school was designed in pods, reflecting the notion of “open classrooms” popular at that time. This reflected a desire to break with the more rigid school architecture and teaching methodologies of the past.
When was Peralta a year-round school and why?
In 1971, the school district threatened to close Peralta due to low enrollment. Parent activists organized and devised a plan to attract more families; they persuaded the district to let them institute multi-grade classrooms and a multi-track year-round schedule. Their goal was to decrease learning losses over the summer break [link to outside research page ], increase attendance and better utilize the school facilities, as well as develop innovative programs.
In 1974, Peralta became the first year-round school in Oakland. There were four tracks and at any given time, one track was on vacation and three tracks were in school. Each track was in session for nine weeks of school and then had a three-week vacation, so students had four vacation periods during the year. All classrooms included three grade levels (K-1-2, 2-3-4, or 4-5-6).
The school then began attracting students from outside North Oakland, and at its peak, the enrollment was about 400 students, with about 300 in school at any given time. Results of both student achievement scores and surveys of parent and teacher satisfaction showed that the new design was successful. In March 1, 1978 article, from the “Press” — – a local newspaper, Walter Miles, president of the parent group, described the fight to save Peralta. He said, “You can’t bypass bureaucracy. You have to look right down its throat.”
By the late 1980′s, multi-grade classes were mostly phased out. In 1999, then-Superintendent Dennis Chaconas required all schools to end their year at the same time, so it was no longer feasible to operate year-round. In addition, funds for intercession were hard to get, and many parents felt it was time to return to a traditional calendar.
Who has attended Peralta?
Many families in the neighborhood as well as families from all over Oakland have attended Peralta. Some families have attended Peralta for two or three generations, and some have traveled from as far away as Sacramento and Livermore to continue attending Peralta. Since the 1980′s, the majority of students have come from neighborhoods throughout North Oakland.
Parents of Peralta students have become staff and faculty members, and family members of Peralta faculty and staff have attended Peralta, lending a family flavor to the school. Several parents who live in the Peralta neighborhood began their political careers as parent leaders at Peralta. These include Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan, Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner, and former Oakland School Boardmember Ken Rice.
What has been Peralta’s role in the community?
Peralta has a history as a model site for public education. Well-known as a school promoting diversity and respect for all, Peralta was one of the training schools for many UC student teachers. In the early 1980′s, a future Peralta parent used Peralta to study prosocial behavior (be nice to each other) amongst students. Other doctoral students have used Peralta as their laboratory as well. Peralta’s student-designed street banners and other artwork adorn Telegraph Avenue, and Peralta student-made quilts and murals hang in many community institutions, including Temescal Library, Children’s Hospital, Highland Hospital, and even the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Who are the long-term staff at Peralta?
Many staff members have been at Peralta more than a decade, and a few have been here for 20 years. Helen Keels, director of the after school program, initially worked for the YMCA after-school program at Peralta, and then joined the staff in 1996; Yvonne Myers started working in the Kindergarten class in 1995; Paul Andrews, our custodian, started at Peralta in 1989; Sonia Kreit, our librarian and support teacher, started as a parent in 1985 and has worked on the staff since 1989; teachers Anne Larsen and Elizabeth Bandy started at Peralta in 1989 and Marie Stewart started in 1994; Rosette Costello, our principal, also started as a teacher at Peralta in 1994.
Since the late 1990′s, Peralta has been lucky to have artists in the classrooms, funded by state and city grants as well as school fundraising. Jamie Morgan, Peralta Muralist, started as a parent and then in 1996 began working with students to create the beautiful school murals. Ellen Oppenheimer also started as a parent and has been our Artist-in-Residence since 1998. Ellen’s work with students adorns the community and reaches as far as the quilt hanging in the US Embassy in Moscow!
When did Rosette Costello become principal?
Ms. Costello became principal in 1997. Under Rosette Costello’s leadership, the arts program has expanded with artists-in-residence each year, the academic achievement has steadily improved, and the gap between students from different backgrounds has narrowed. Ms. Costello has also recruited teachers who are committed to a literacy-rich and arts-enhanced curriculum.
What famous people have visited Peralta?
First Lady Nancy Reagan visited Peralta in 1984, during President Reagan’s administration. Peralta students were the ones who proposed “Just Say No” clubs as part of a national anti-drug campaign.
Mrs. Myers has brought local celebrities to Peralta every year during Black History Month to read to students. These have included Oakland Symphony conductor Michael Morgan, elected officials including school board members Greg Hodges, County Supervisor Keith Carson, Tribune columnist Brenda Payton, and many others.
When was the Peralta Parent Teacher Group (PPTG) formed?
The PPTG was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in 1982. Parents at that time decided to become an independent nonprofit, rather than participate in the formal PTA organization, to maintain their independence and avoid fees and requirements of the PTA.
How does the PPTG work?
All Peralta parents, guardians, family members, teachers and staff are welcome to participate in the PPTG (currently there are no dues for membership, although this has varied over the years). Decisions are usually made by consensus, or by a vote when necessary. Sometimes the PPTG polls Peralta families to get input on schoolwide priorities (e.g. fundraising, garden design ideas, after-school care needs, etc.) Recently, a new leadership structure was formed to distribute the workload. A leadership committee meets regularly to discuss major issues and set meeting agendas. The leadership committee chair, who serves for a two-year term, serves as the top point person, while co-chairs have various areas of responsibility.
The role of the PPTG is to support and enrich the education of our children, through fund raising and recruiting and coordinating volunteers. The PPTG currently contributes funds for the Sports4Kids program that provides sports instruction, playground supervision, leadership training, and an after-school program, as well as funds for a librarian, art and music instruction, and enhancing the garden and school grounds. The PPTG organizes annual school festivals and celebrations, and parents volunteer in classrooms, in the garden, and in the after-school program.
What are some of the PPTG traditions?
Since the 1970′s, the PPTG has organized an annual Walkathon, where students collect pledges from families, neighbors, co-workers and friends, and then gather on a weekend in the fall to walk up to 30 laps around the school. An annual Auction was held for about ten years up until the early 1990′s and was revived again in 2000. The Auction now includes both live and silent bidding. The Diversity Dinner has been held since the 1990′s, and includes student performances and a potluck to share the huge variety of heritages represented at Peralta. The Peralta In Bloom Spring Festival is an expansion of the spring picnic that was held for many years to celebrate the school community. The Festival attracts families from the wider neighborhood and includes student performances, information tables from community groups, barbecue, carnival games, and other activities for kids.
What is the history of the playground and gardens?
In the 1970′s, parents organized money and labor to build an enclosure for a new play structure, with tiles and children’s handprints. Another playground committee formed in the early 1990′s, and architects from LEAP (Learning through Education in the Arts) got input from upper grade students on new playground designs. After several years of obtaining grant funds and fundraising, the old play structure was torn down and a new one was installed. Calvert Hand joined the staff as a first grade teacher in 1998, and began creating the beautiful gardens we enjoy today. He donates countless hours to water, plant, and care for the school grounds after school and on the weekends.
Inspired by these improvements, parents worked on proposals to create a garden near Dana Street, and in 2001, the Potrero Nuevo Fund gave their first grant to fund construction. Lauren Elder worked on the design with student input, and has continued to donate time as designer for the Alcatraz garden. The Building Trades Council of Alameda County donated large amounts of labor and equipment, with the support of Councilmember Jane Brunner’s office, to complete the garden, amphitheater, and walkway off Dana Street. The Potrero Nuevo Fund have continued their support for several years, generously donating funds to enhance the gardens that they helped to create.
The gardens have continued to evolve and expand. Following the April 2007 arson fire, the community rallied to raise money for rebuilding the school, attracting a $100,000 donation from the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians. Some of the funds were used to rebuild the beloved courtyard, following a design by parent Penn Phillips, a landscape architect. Next, grant funding fueled the creation of the North Street garden in 2008. With the school population growing, a group of parents worked for several years to plan and fundraise for the Kindergarten Discovery Play Area, designed by landscape architect Lisa Howard. The new area is now open for action thanks to grants from the East Bay Community Foundation’s Naches fun Gabyn Fund as well as the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation.
Peralta’s gardens are now seen as a model for the community, and were featured in the StopWaste.org spring 2009 Bay Friendly Garden Tour
When was the after school program started?
There have been numerous after school programs at Peralta over the years. The YMCA operated a program for several years and the PPTG organized “Emerald City”, a fee-based program with a sliding scale that operated for a few years. In 1996, the Child Development Center (CDC) opened, operated by the school district independently of the school, which offers free year-round care for families who qualify.
In 2003, the PPTG found Leo and Lottie Lynch who agreed to establish a fee-based program that would work together with the CDC, to ensure all students would be integrated into one program. The Lynches’ program is called “Rainbow City”, but students are incorporated into one “Peralta After School Program” under the direction of the CDC site supervisor. Peralta is proud of its efforts to offer a blended after school program, still unusual in the district, that matches the children’s school experience of togetherness across income levels. MORE on Peralta’s after-school programs.
What are the challenges of the PPTG ?
Peralta has been fortunate to attract families who are very committed to the best education for their children, and the level of parent participation is higher than average for similar schools. Nevertheless, participation tends to be greater among families from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Ms. Costello has continued the tradition of strong principals at Peralta who have worked hard to build a unified community of parents, teachers and students. She has worked with parent leaders to organize community-building events and encourages all families to be more involved.
The PPTG tries to balance the need for fundraising with the need for community-building, so all school events are welcoming for all Peralta families. The co-chairs continually look for ways to broaden participation in PPTG meetings and do their best to make the meetings as productive as possible. The group tries to maintain traditions, such as annual fundraising or community events, while also encouraging new ideas.
What makes the PPTG successful?
We’ve learned that almost all families want to participate, so the challenge for activist parents is to organize events and structure the organization so that there are lots of ways for people to obtain information and become involved. For example, some people respond to a phone call while others read e-mail regularly. Some people don’t have access to e-mail or rarely read their mail, so we can’t assume that an electronic message will reach everyone. Some people appreciate information in a parent newsletter while others prefer getting information from someone they know. Some people like to be involved in planning an event or attending meetings while others prefer to have a task to do at home or on the day of an event.
A key to having a strong community is that we assume that everyone tries to help as much as they can and does their best at their job. While our own children are always our first priority, we try to consider how our actions will impact others and the school as a whole.