OAKLAND -- Oakland schools reopened Monday after the summer holiday -- and some students found a different-looking campus than what they left in June.
New buildings awaited students at Oakland High, Chabot Elementary in Rockridge and Urban Promise Academy in Fruitvale. Reach Academy, an elementary school on the old Cox campus in East Oakland, was rebuilt from scratch, according to Tim White, the assistant superintendent for facilities.
"It is so, so beautiful," White said. "To put something like that in the heart of East Oakland is very exciting to me."
Felicia Starks and her 6-year-old son, Carnell Winn, were excited to see Reach Academy, she said. They were also worried, at first, they wouldn't be able to find their way around. What they did find were classrooms filled with natural light, stairwells decorated with sustainably harvested wood and an eco-friendly rooftop garden.
"It made me feel good just walking in there," Starks said.
Oakland Unified, like many other large school districts, used to be notorious for opening schools with vacant teaching positions. This year there were none, although at least two schools with larger-than-expected enrollment may need to hire an additional teacher, said Jeffrey Dillon, the district's recruitment manager.
Dillon said the district hired about 175 teachers this year, compared with 200 last year. Oakland's teacher turnover rate has hovered around 14 percent.
At Elmhurst Community Prep and United For Success Academy, students returned to a school day that was three hours longer. Those East Oakland middle schools received $4 million each in grants from the federal government to make improvements, such as extending the length of the day and the school year.
Despite the difficult economic times, White said he felt a sense of new energy in the district this year, a change he attributed in part to Superintendent Tony Smith and his plan for "full-service community schools."
"Oakland is really making a major push to look and feel different," White said. The district, he added, "is losing its inferiority complex, I think."
Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.ibabuzz.com/education.