Oakland School for the Arts

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Coordinates: 37°48′27.97″N 122°16′15.28″W / 37.8077694°N 122.2709111°W / 37.8077694; -122.2709111

Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) is a performing arts charter school in Oakland, California. OSA is located on the Fox Oakland Theatre at 530 18th Street across from Telegraph. On April 1, 2009 OSA was selected to be a California Distinguished School.

Founding and history[edit]

Oakland School for the Arts is a college preparatory, arts middle and high school. It was founded in 2000 via charter from the Oakland Unified School District. It received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in October 2001. In September 2002 OSA opened its doors to its first freshman class, the class of 2006. The school was the dreamchild of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and its first director was Loni Berry.

The school started at the Alice Arts Center building in downtown Oakland. It was moved to portables near the Fox Oakland Theatre during the 2004-05 school year, and moved to the Fox Oakland Theater building in January 2009. Mr. Loni Berry was director of the school for the first four years. Mr. Saul Drevitch replaced him in fall 2006. San Francisco School of the Arts principal Donn Harris replaced Drevitch in December 2007. Drevitch resigned because of "differences" between him and Jerry Brown and the School Board. As of the 2008-9 school year, Donn Harris holds the role of Executive Director on a full-time basis.

The first graduating senior class, the class of 2006, graduated with 100 percent of the class accepted to four year colleges.

In January 2009, OSA moved into the office complex on the upper floors of the historic Fox Theater. The school now serves over 670 students. In 2013, the last year of the API school ratings, OSA received its highest score ever: 837. In April 2014, OSA became the Master Tenant of the historic Sweet's Ballroom at 1933 Broadway. OSA will operate the venue to serve its own performance needs as well as open up the space for community groups and performing companies.

As of 2014, Donn Harris has continued as the Executive and Artistic Director, supported by an organizational chart that includes a school principal, two assistant principals, a Dean and various department chairs. Rebecca Eisen has been the chairman of the Board of Directors since 2010.


Currently, there are ten "schools" at the Oakland School for the Arts: Dance, Digital Media, Figure Skating, Instrumental Music, Literary Arts, Theatre, Vocal Music, Visual Arts, Circus Arts, Figure Skating and Production Design.

For the first three years of OSA's existence, there were eight emphases: Acting, Arts Management, Dance, Literary Arts, Instrumental Music, Theatre Design and Production, Visual Arts and Vocal Music. During the 2005-06 school year, Theatre Design and Production was merged into Visual Arts. OSA was faced with budget cuts during summer 2006 and chose to merge Acting, Arts Management, Literary Arts and Visual Arts and Design into one emphasis called Theatre. This arrangement only lasted a year and in 2007 Donn Harris separated Literary Arts and Visual Art into their own emphases.


OSA was historically plagued by notoriously high faculty and student turnover and other management problems. Upon the hiring of Donn Harris, OSA enjoyed 97% faculty/staff retention in the 2008-9 school year and 2009-10 year, and has retained over 90% of its staff in all the ensuing years.

Some fallout hit the school after Jerry Brown made a novel arrangement to provide it with extra funding. Brown had a large, lighted electronic billboard with rotating ads installed at the busy toll plaza on the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge, with the proceeds benefiting OSA.[1] The billboard became controversial in 2007 because it was so bright that motorists complained it impeded their vision at night, and some residents around the bay objected to its high visibility even from San Francisco and Marin.

In another minor controversy, Brown sent out letters to Oakland families recruiting them to apply to OSA in 2007—after he had become California state Attorney General, and using his title and the state seal.[2] Some questioned the legality of the letters, but the designated official to rule on their legality would be the California state Attorney General. Brown deemed the letters legal.

Middle School[edit]

Oakland School for the Arts first opened with a ninth grade class and added another high school grade each year. For the 2005-06 school year, though, a middle school was added. Administration went through great lengths to keep the "middle school" and "high school" separate, giving the middle schoolers a different entrance/exit and shorter school hours. Some performances, however -- specifically the school musical -- utilize both middle and high school students in collaborative activities, and there has been greater harmony between the two divisions in recent years, particularly in the academic areas.

Laptop use[edit]

Oakland School for the Arts has currently implemented thin client technology for academic and emphasis use. The students and faculty are encouraged to utilize the technology throughout the curriculum. The thin client program is intended to be expanded as funding becomes available.

For much of the school's history, all high school students were issued their own laptop for each school year. This privilege was restricted to juniors and seniors in 2008. Similarly, only juniors and seniors were allowed to go off-campus for lunch until 2009, when sophomores and first-year students were allowed to leave as well because of a lack of space in the new facility.

In 2014 OSA upgraded its technology to bring Chrome Books into the school. The pilot project was successful and has now expanded the deployment to a ratio of 1 Chromebook for every 2 students.


OSA continues to excel on standardized tests. In the 2002-2003 school year, OSA received a score of 8 (out of 10) on the STAR test (the highest in OUSD) and in the 2003-2004 year, it received a 9, again the highest score in the district. While there was a significant drop in test scores during the 2005-06 school year, the school rebounded with improved scores for the 2006-2007 school year. From 2008 through 2014, OSA demonstrated gains each year, topping out at 829 in 2012 and 837 in 2013.

Notable Alumni[edit]

Zendaya - Singer/Actress/Dancer [3]

Ashley Stenberg - Fashion Stylist

Adrian Marcel - R&B Singer

Kehlani Parrish - Singer

Mariah Sommers (Jane Handcock) - Songwriter

Poplyfe - Band

Chastity Hinson - Singer

Vocal Rush -- International A Capella Champions (twice); reached the finals on NBC's 2013 "The Sing Off."


External links[edit]