by Romanalyn Inocencio
Iakiriyya Karimusha,17, slouches from the weight of her backpack draped on her right shoulder while dragging behind her a gym bag with her basketball gear.
A senior, Karimusha is taking advantage of the AP classes recently offered at McClymonds. She’s taking AP English, Chemistry, and American Government while taking UC Berkeley’s Calculus class online. Despite playing on the school’s varsity basketball team as a guard, she has managed to retain a 4.18 GPA.
“Nothing at McClymonds has been challenging to me,” says Karimusha. “But this year, I feel prepared for college, and competitive with the smart kids at Bishop O’Dowd and Berkeley High. I’m in the race now.”
Welcome to the new Mack. McClymonds is trying to change its focus, its approach to discipline and its curriculum. This year, the school has pushed to increase the student body, from 235 to 289, and has recruited 10 new staffers (including three teachers with Teach For America), added six new AP courses and reduced the number of suspensions from 32 last year to 5, relying on restorative justice.
“The biggest change is the focus on the culture, making material relevant, increasing rigor through STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) and literature, and focusing on relationships,” says Dinora Castro, the school’s new assistant principal, who is implementing restorative justice at McClymonds.
Even school security officer Donald Mann sees the positive changes at Mack. Teachers are staying late and helping students. “The new teachers are very enthused and hard workers,” he says.
Take Ronald Delaney, one of the three new teachers from Teach For America who joined the Mack staff at the beginning of the school year to teach AP American Government, one of six new advanced placement classes offered at McClymonds after years of offering only AP English taught by Dr. LuPaulette Taylor.
Delaney spends extra hours helping to tutor students and wants to “convince them that learning is fun.”
Delaney, born and raised in Long Beach attended community college and transfered to UCLA to obtain his degree in anthropology.
“I’m going to put more responsibility on students,” Delaney said about the challenge of teaching an AP class which had never been offered at the school.
Teaching a new class is not the only problem faced by Delaney. He has to assimilate to the culture established at McClymonds.
“I have something I have to offer and I care about them,” Delaney said.
Delaney based his class “rules” on the school’s new core beliefs: respect, rigor, resilience, and relationships to tackle the “school to prison” pipeline at the Oakland School Unified District.
Last year, 20 percent of Oakland’s African American male students were suspended. African Americans are three and a half times more likely to be suspended, followed by Latinos. African Americans make up 39 percent of the student population in Oakland schools, yet represent 63 percent of the suspensions, The Los Angeles Times reported.
“Half a million dollars were lost because of suspensions,” Castro said.