Monday, September 21, 2015

Welcome to Doug Oakley's Writing Portfolio

Thank you for visiting my archive of published pieces written for Mills College, the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News. 
At Mills College, I wrote news stories, press releases, speeches, op-ed pieces, and donor funding proposals. I am also a professional photographer and photo editor. During my time as an East Bay reporter and photographer, I covered a variety of beats.
Above you will find selected samples of my work broken into several different categories.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Controversial Oakland Charter School Gets Chilly Response in Quest for Classroom Space

By Doug Oakley
June 2015
OAKLAND -- A controversial charter school struggling to rid itself of a dubious management history is requesting classroom space from Oakland Unified School District, but it is facing resistance from parents, teachers and administrators.

A sign-waving group of teachers and students roared their approval Wednesday as the school board tabled a proposal to house 185 high school students from American Indian Model Schools in eight classrooms at Westlake Middle School on Harrison Street near Lake Merritt. 

And in late May, the school district rescinded an offer it made to the charter school for classrooms at Bella Vista Elementary School on East 28th Street after teachers and parents formed a group to oppose mingling the two groups of students. Teachers are still bitter over the fact that some of their best students were recruited away from the school to American Indian while the struggling students were rejected. 

The school district cited safety concerns related to a nearby park and the need to remove portable classrooms there in withdrawing the offer. 

"We received a written offer from them for Bella Vista, then at the last minute, they rescinded it," said American Indian school board President Steven Leung. "They offered us Westlake, but that's no good if people are protesting. It's another mess." 

Oakland school district spokesman Troy Flint said school groups oppose American Indian's request at Westlake because of the late-in-the-year decision for next school year, "opposition to charter schools on an ideological basis" and objections to sharing space. 

"We're legally obligated to find a place for them," Flint said. "They are public school students and they deserve a home that is suitable and conducive to a high-quality education." 

School board President James Harris said Wednesday night that "staff needs to do more due diligence on the relocation of American Indian Model Schools." 

Although Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who started a year ago, is an unequivocal supporter of charter schools, there is still bad blood between the two institutions. 

The school district in 2013 revoked American Indian's charter after a state audit found former director Ben Chavis siphoned off about $3.6 million from the school in contracts to companies he owned. Chavis left in early 2013. The school fought the charter removal in court and won reinstatement in 2014. 

But with a new superintendent who came from the Oakland Unified School District and new school board members, the school is trying to get out from under Chavis' influence. The school has been paying Chavis $46,000 a month to rent classroom space in three buildings on 35th Avenue but has given notice it will move out at the end of the month. 

The school also paid Chavis $7.5 million in 2014 to buy a separate building on 12th Street in downtown Oakland that it had been renting from him for years. 

Flint didn't rule out a final decision to house American Indian students at Westlake because the school can hold about 800 students and there are only about 400 there now. 

"They have some space in a section of the building that would be separate, and there are some portables in the back lot," Flint said. "There is plenty of room, and it won't be intrusive. And American Indian students are in high school, so there won't be a competition for students." 

At Wednesday night's school board meeting, middle school students and parents at Westlake talked of being "disappointed and disrespected" by the district's proposal, and they complained about possible overcrowding and "having our community ripped apart" by the move. 

"I'm not anti-charter; I'm just pro Westlake," said teacher Mary Prime-Lawrence. "These kids deserve our full attention." 

Teacher Randy Porter complained that the two groups "would be on top of each other" and that the school district wouldn't have floated the proposal if its staff "walked through and actually saw how we use this building." 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Death Threats for Teacher Who Questioned Stephen Curry's Value as Role Model

By Doug Oakley
HAYWARD -- As local media falls over itself in a worship frenzy for Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, a high school English teacher here has received death threats for questioning Curry's legitimacy as a youth role model.
Mount Eden High School English teacher Matt Amaral on Wednesday was installing a home security system after receiving death threats on his Facebook instant messenger account for an essay he posted on his Teach4Real blog titled "Dear Steph Curry, Now That You Are MVP, Please Don't Come Visit My High School." 

You can view it at

Hayward police confirmed Amaral reported the threats and that they are investigating. 

Amaral posted the provocative essay in mid May as part of a 10th-grade English lesson to show how to write an argument and grab attention online. Despite the threats, he said it's been well worth it. 

"I'm a teacher, and this is probably my greatest lesson," Amaral said. "My kids have witnessed this thing go to the front page of Yahoo! They've had television cameras in their class and heard me on the radio. It definitely started a dialogue about the role of sports in schools and about having a backup plan in terms of being a student. We know that 99 percent of the people interested in being a professional athlete are not going to realize that dream." 

In the piece, he says it's unfair to tell kids they can be the next Stephen Curry because most of what makes him a star, aside from hard-won talent, was already decided at birth. Curry's height, the luck of having a former NBA star for a dad who could coach him from day one, and money are all things beyond their control, he said. A visit to the school would only reinforce unrealistic expectations. 

"They already are very good at dreaming about being rich and famous, what we need them to do is get a little more realistic about what is in their control," Amaral wrote. "We need less of an emphasis on sports and celebrity in high school, because it is hurting these kids too much as it is." 

An NBA spokesman declined to comment on the essay, and Curry's agent did not immediately return an email seeking comment. An email to the Golden State Warriors also went unanswered. 

Since he posted his essay on May 14, Amaral and his school have been overrun with media seeking an explanation from the man who dared to question the legitimacy of their anointed hero. 

Amaral said in his essay that a visit by Curry to his school would be a huge hit with the kids, but it wouldn't be good for them. 

"What you won't see is most of these kids don't have a backup plan for their dream of being you," he wrote. "If you ask the boys on my campus what they are going to be when they get older, the answer will involve a sport. They will claim they are going to play in the NBA or NFL, and seeing you there will make them think they can actually do it." 

"You see Steph, once you leave my school, the boys here are not going to run home and finish that essay, which is one thing they could do about their future that is in their control," Amaral continued. 

Contacted at home on Wednesday as he was waiting for a technician to install his new home alarm system, Amaral said every kid on campus has read and debated his essay. 

"They're stoked, they think it's awesome and they're 100 percent behind me," Amaral said. 

But not everyone agrees including people like Jim Coplan, athletic director at Oakland Technical High School, where Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Josh Johnson went to school. Coplan said the two come to campus occasionally, and he is happy to have them as role models. 

"If Steph wants to come to our school, he's welcome," Coplan said. "I think it would be inspiring for a kid to see someone with the level of success Stephen Curry has and then say to himself 'I need to buckle down and study in order to be a success.'" 

He also said athletes as role models are the same as any other successful person who could inspire kids. 

"We had Jesse Jackson at Tech a week or so ago, and he's a role model kids could point to and say this is what I aspire to," Coplan said. "We don't turn down bank presidents to come and speak to a class because not every kid gets to be a bank president." 

Amaral said being an educator involves getting kids to think critically, consider unpopular views or go against the grain of popular sentiment. That's what he was trying to do with his essay. 

"It would be easy to craft a letter to Steph Curry and say 'come to my high school,' but can you craft a letter saying he shouldn't come?" Amaral said. "Evidently I'm the only one doing that." 

As Amaral was having his photo taken outside the school Thursday, the mother of one of his students stopped and gave him unsolicited props. 

"I support this teacher," said parent Gabriela Delhoyo. "He's very good. The students say they want to go to the NBA, but they won't get there. A lot of students don't have a Plan B, but you have to have a Plan B. Everybody needs it."