OUSD Staff Member Invests Years of His Spare Time to Beautify Skyline High School, Culminating in Major Tree Planting Effort
Oakland, CA – Skyline High School in the hills above most of Oakland, is well-known for its location on the edge of the wilderness, and the woodsy feel of its campus. Now, an Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) staff member is working to ensure it feels that way well into the future. Tom O’Neill is a District gardener who planted about forty cedar and blue spruce trees across the campus on Friday, January 24.
“Skyline is losing 10-12 trees a year, and we need to refurbish the trees up here. This is what holds the soil, and this is what makes the beauty of Skyline,” said O’Neill, who adds the school is losing its trees because of the bark beetle, drought and stormy weather.
O’Neill’s effort began long before he set foot on the Skyline campus on Friday. “I grew these. (The seeds) drop on the bottom of the (trees). Sometimes you get lucky. They’ll have tons of them underneath a tree. And I went under it and just started digging them out. It was at a customer’s house of mine, I asked if I could have them, and he said you can go ahead and take as many as you want.”
Starting with the seeds he found, each of the trees he planted was a foot and a half to nearly three feet tall. “That took about three or four years.” Yes, Tom O’Neill has spent three to four years growing dozens of trees at his home, so he could plant them at Skyline High and other Oakland School District schools. “Now, it’s going to grow a lot quicker… I wanted them to be a good size before I brought them here. The roots are good sized, they’re just going to take right off.”
Planting trees during your work day is one thing, but spending the time, money and effort for several years to grow the trees at home is entirely different. So, why does O’Neill do this? “I just love nature. I love gardening, I love to see things grow. I don’t like where there’s nothing. I like to see something there,” and he says, he does it for the students, having planted some trees in the student parking lot. “
For one thing, I would appreciate it if I had my car shaded every summer. You know what I mean? Because when kids come down here, they’re going to fight for the shade. You know it!”
Skyline Co-Principal Nicole Pierce is thrilled to see O’Neill spearheading this effort. “It’s always sad when we lose a tree, and we have lost quite a few in the time that I have been here. We know that once these new trees take off, they will be valuable additions that beautify our campus. I want to thank Mr. O’Neill for having a very positive impact on our campus.”
O’Neill says he is considering planting trees at Carl Munck Elementary, as well. “Mr. O’Neill is a wonderful example of the greatness of our staff across the District,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “He has a passion for his work and for supporting our students. And that doesn’t go away when the workday is over. Anyone who would invest their spare time for years on a project for one of our schools is someone I will thank every chance I get.”
Based on a story by the Oakland Unified School District’s Tom Sasaki