Recap of Parents Organizing for Equity and Integration in Oakland Schools

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I co-led a workshop on School Choice and Charter Schools, and the impact that has had on segregation in Oakland.

Yesterday was Parents Organizing for Equity and Integration in Oakland Schools, a citywide convening focused on how we can make Oakland schools more equitable and more integrated. It was organized with a group of parents that we are calling the Oakland Equity Allies for now. Attendance was good, (though it is never as much as I would like!) and there were many parents there that do not usually come to board meetings. I am always excited to draw new people into important conversations about our schools.

My main takeaway is that there are things that OUSD can do, and we are looking at our options, many of which revolve around how school opportunity is distributed via the enrollment process. We can also experiment with more magnet schools like Life Academy and Manzanita SEED. Yesterday we heard about an all-girls STEM magnet school in Dallas; that is something I'd like to try in Oakland.

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Marie Christine Fox, left is a parent at NOCCS. Nana Xu, Charles Wilson and Mary Hurley work for OUSD. They were part of a panel about what we can do to improve integration within OUSD.

There are things that individual school communities can do, such as intentional recruitment in their neighborhood or targeted neighborhoods, and some schools like Crocker Highlands are looking at contributing some of their fundraising to a citywide fund for schools with high-needs populations. One of the workshops in the afternoon was focused on strategies for equitable school fundraising, led by Sequoia parent Hilary Bunlert and Brian Stanley from the Oakland Public Education Fund.

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The convening was held at Fremont High School, in their beautiful auditorium. This photo is from the workshop on Equitable School Fundraising.

Parent Claude Crudup has also emphasized that there is a role for the City of Oakland in helping to address the crime and traffic issues that contribute to whether parents feel that their students will be safe at a given school.

But what it comes down to is that we need more parents to be willing to think about the experience of all Oakland students, rather than just their own. This is easier said than done, because it is hard enough to stay on top of your own child's needs, but if we are serious about more equitable and integrated schools, parents are going to have to be willing to consider what is is best for all Oakland students, rather than just their own. The folks in the room yesterday seemed to be committed to that.

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Lamont Snaer, center, is on the design team of Oakland SOL, and was one of the leaders of the workshop yesterday about Community-Led School Integration.

Several parents signed action cards yesterday saying they want to be involved in the Oakland Equity Allies, and when we meet next, on May 15, I hope we will have an even larger group of people involved. There are additional ways that folks can get involved, such as leading a conversation in their school or neighborhood about how to show up for equity and integration for all Oakland students, or talking with other parents about how to support the needs of all Oakland students.

Finally, what was sobering for me to realize is the larger forces at work, and how hard those are to change.  The segregation in OUSD that is even more dramatic than race is by income level. The inequality that we see in Oakland is reflected in the composition of our schools, which is in turn a reflection of where families can afford to live. This is something that I am not clear on what role, if any, OUSD can play in addressing, and that feels demoralizing to me. At the same time, I am heartened that there are people who want us to take on this hard work, and want to build political will among other parents to take action to ensure that school opportunity is being more equitably distributed in Oakland.

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Another workshop was about the pluses and minuses of having more neighborhood families commit to attending their neighborhood school. Moyra Contreras, right, shared about the demographic change at Melrose Leadership Academy, where she is Principal, and the advantages and challenges it is creating for the school.

I am really grateful to all the parents, OUSD staff and other organizations that were involved in the planning for the convening, and my intent is for this conversation to be the first of many about how to better distribute school opportunity in Oakland. Stay tuned for more.

The board will soon be considering some potential changes to our enrollment policy and parents will hopefully be holding more school and neighborhood conversations soon. I'll share those dates when I have them on the events calendar.

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School Reconfiguration Must be Done Thoughtfully

The OUSD School Board recently gave direction to the staff about how to address an anticipated budget shortfall for next school year. It was a difficult decision, but we directed the Superintendent to identify cuts from the central office that will result in the elimination of several positions for next year.

As part of that same resolution, we also directed the Superintendent to begin to plan for school reconfiguration decisions to come to the board next year. Because school reconfiguration, portfolio consolidation, school closures - whatever language you use - is controversial, emotional and destabilizing for families and staff, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my perspective on how I believe this work should be done.

Many Oaklanders are aware that OUSD has more schools per capita than most other school districts in California. This is a result of a few different factors. The first is that Oakland has more charter schools per capita than any other district in California. The most aggressive growth in charter schools happened when OUSD was in state receivership and the elected board had no power, but it is also true that numerous additional charter schools have been approved since the district came back under local control in 2009.

Secondly, we had a small schools movement in Oakland soon after the millennium, with money from the Gates Foundation to create smaller school options for our students. During that time, the number of schools in Oakland grew significantly as schools were divided up and new schools were opened.

While some of the less successful of these schools (both charter schools and OUSD schools) have subsequently been closed, we have never returned to the smaller number of schools we previously had. Small schools are very popular with families because students are better known by school staff and it's easier to create safe environments with a smaller number of students, however the research on student outcomes is mixed. Some of Oakland's small schools provide great opportunities for students, and others, not so much.

It is important to note that not all small schools are small by design; partly as a result of the large number of schools, both charter and district-operated, we have many under-enrolled schools that were never designed to be so small.

Currently, compared to comparably sized districts like Fremont Unified, we have about twice as many schools for the same number of students.

However, I'd say that our large number of schools is also a reflection of the numerous challenges that we strive to address as a district. For example, Oakland International High School is focused on serving immigrant and refugee students in a smaller setting that allows them more personal attention as they adapt to life in the US.

We have a number of small, alternative high school options that afford students very small class sizes and intensive case management that helps them to address behavioral and mental health issues while they earn credits toward graduation. And we have many bilingual families that want their students to continue their education in both Spanish and English, with a number of schools that serve those families in dual immersion language programs.

I personally value the diversity of school programs that OUSD offers, and would like to see us continue to branch out to meet the demands of our families.

At the same time, there are very real drawbacks to operating so many schools. We spend a lot more on school-site based administrators (principals and assistant principals), facilities (it is inefficient to operate under-enrolled campuses) and providing duplicative services. As an example, schools that are located on the same site may have different providers for after school programs (more vendors usually means higher costs for the district), and usually have different administrators, clerical staff and duplicative office expenses and equipment (copy machines, etc). 

All these duplicated individuals and services represent money that schools could use to decrease class sizes, offer transportation for students, increase staffing at school sites, provide better extracurricular activities, art and music teachers and librarians, decrease caseloads for special education teachers or counselors, or improve pay for teachers.

These are difficult decisions because reconfiguring or shuttering a school is extremely disruptive for the families and staff in that school; it breaks up trusting relationships within schools that often take years to build. Community members lose precious space for neighborhood civic engagement. 

Additionally, in the past, school closures have not always gone as intended. In the aftermath of the last major round of school closures, several schools opted to become charter schools, and thus, remain intact in spite of district actions intended to reduce costs. This actually made the district worse off financially, because those students are no longer part of OUSD, and while we lost the funding that those students brought into the district, most of the overhead costs (paying our Superintendent, renting office space at 1000 Broadway, the people who support our Principals) of the district have not gone away.

I think there is a conversation to be had about whether we need to fundamentally reexamine our staffing structure for central administration given that we now have 36,000 students, compared to 50,000+ 15 years ago, but that is not the focus of this blog post, (and that is not only my decision). I do believe the board as a whole has to become willing to downsize central administration if we are going to live within our means as a district.

However, the focus of this blog post is that it is critical that any decision made to reconfigure our schools be done thoughtfully.

There are people on the board who believe that school closures will lead to big cost savings for the district. This is inaccurate for many reasons, but the primary reason is that it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen if a school is closed, or reconfigured. Cost savings projections are made under the assumption that students and families will stay in OUSD following a reconfiguration or school, when in reality, we cannot assume this.

Any disruption to a school community has long-term ramifications that are not always clear immediately. If a reconfiguration leads to a change in the teacher workforce or a school's principal, that will impact enrollment for the following year and likely, several years to follow. If we move a school to another location, that school is likely to lose a large portion of its students, as happened this year when Lafayette was moved to the WOMS campus. We lost 100 students to the KIPP charter school that took over the Lafayette campus.

Making these changes in the school choice context we have in Oakland is difficult because families have lots of choices (even if they aren't always pleased with their choices). When we disrupt schools, we give families reasons to go shopping.

Secondly, if a school reconfiguration makes more space or frees up space at a campus, charter schools have a legal right under Prop 39 to pursue that space for their students. If more charter schools open or expand as a result of school reconfiguration, then we lose students (and funding).

Finally, if we alienate our principals and our teachers through the process of school reconfiguration, we lose students and families. People choose schools because they trust the leadership and the culture that good leaders create, and so losing good educators means losing families.

I have my doubts about whether we will save any money at all through school reconfiguration due to these factors, and it's important to note that we are in our current financial situation DESPITE having already closed 27 schools as a school district.

If it were as simple as just closing schools, we would not be in our current situation, but I also know that we could do a lot more with what we have if we could figure this out. So in short, it's complicated.

It may be worth the strife it will cause IF, and only if, we:

1) End up with more students having access to the programs that our families really want, AND if, and only if,

2) School communities themselves help us make decisions about their futures.

This will not work if we don't give families more of what they want, and if schools do not feel bought into the decisions that the board ultimately makes.

There are three schools in my district (District 6) that consistently receive many more applications than they have open slots. This indicates that there is excess demand for these schools. 

I am suggesting that we focus on expanding access to these specific programs, and make that the focus of school reconfiguration. This will address the bottom line (by increasing enrollment in OUSD) while actually addressing our real problem, which is that we don't have enough space in the strong schools that we do have. 

If we can fix that problem, and fix it in collaboration with our teachers, parents, principals and student, I believe that we will ultimately find ourselves with the resources we need to then make improvements that will strengthen all of our schools.

It is important to state here that being able to make these decisions in collaboration with school leaders takes capacity that I do not believe the district currently possesses. In order for us to do this work well, we will need to invest in community engagement, communications and project managers, and provide funds to the sites to facilitate these processes. These resources and positions do not exist right now.

Finally, while I am clear that I will not vote to approve any school reconfiguration that does not prioritize the two factors that I have outlined above, our district has committed to taking this on within our system. Charter schools need to do the same.

It is not only OUSD schools that are being weakened and undermined by the growth in charter schools; it is also hurting the charter sector, and I believe that they also need to do some reflecting about how to manage the charter school portfolio as we are taking on hard conversations about the size and number of OUSD schools. 

The year ahead will be hard. No one wants to see their school moved, consolidated, or otherwise disturbed, but my role as a School Board member is to ensure that students are getting a great education AND that the district is financially solvent. If we are really committed to doing both things, we have to have this conversation, but it has to be done in collaboration with our school communities, with a focus on expanding access to the programs our families desire.

What we know from the past is that hasty school closure decisions may end up making the district and our students worse off than they already are.

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2017 African American Read-In Was Fun!

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Theresa Clark teaches 4th grade at Community United Elementary School.

Sometimes it's the little things that make serving on the School Board worth it. The big stuff is hard and can feel hopeless and overwhelming. 

Yesterday I got to read to Mrs. Clark's 4th grade class at CUES, for the second time. I read The Book Itch by Vaunda Michaux Nelson, which is about a boy whose family owns a black liberation-themed bookstore in Harlem, and all the amazing black leaders he gets to meet as a result. The book is about how liberation comes through education, and is also beautifully illustrated.

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CUES is one of the most diverse schools in District 6.

CUES is very diverse, with Middle Eastern, Black and Latino students, and a growing dual immersion Spanish-English program.

The kids had lots to share with their School Board member, about the food at the school, the state of the bathrooms, their desire for more field trips, and the cool field trips they have been on. 

I love seeing our beautiful, intelligent and spirited students. Spending time with students and parents is always the best reminder for me about why I serve on the board, what it's all for. 

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Oakland SOL Coming to District 6 in Fall 2017

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Future students of Oakland SOL, who are also part of the design team for the school.

I'm very excited about a new OUSD school that will be opening this fall in District 6, Oakland SOL (School of Language). It has been three years in the making, and was approved by the board in December.

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Simone DeLucchi (center) is the Community Schools Manager for Oakland SOL, and will be working on recruitment in the neighborhood to make sure they are able to fill the first cohort of 60 students in the fall.

The school is comprised so far mainly of families from CUES (Community United Elementary School) and Manzanita SEED. OCO (Oakland Community Organizations) has helped support the work of the design team through their relationships in the school district and the community.

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Families looking at the garden from a classroom and discussing how to use it.

Oakland SOL will be located on 70th Avenue on the campus of what used to be Rudsdale Continuation School. Their focus will be on creating a multilingual school that embraces the vast diversity of East Oakland, and I am personally very excited to expand our multilingual options to middle school. We currently have a large number of Spanish dual immersion elementary schools, with nowhere for the students to move onto for middle school, because Melrose Leadership Academy can only take a few of them.

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Pablo Villavicencio (leftmost) and Joe Dominguez (second from left) came to meet with families on the design team about the next steps on the project.

Oakland SOL will allow us to keep more families within OUSD, but not just that, I know this program is going to be welcoming, affirming and inclusive for our students and families, and I'm proud of the hard work the families have done to bring their dream to fruition.

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East Oakland has a growing population of Yemeni families, many of whom will be part of Oakland SOL next year.

Oakland SOL's design team met this morning at their new campus to talk with OUSD staff about their plans and the next steps and support that is needed from the district. There is a long road ahead; launching a new school is never easy, but I am hopeful that this school is an important step in the hard work ahead for OUSD to build the right mix of schools that will help to stabilize enrollment and build more quality programs inside the district.

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The Rudsdale campus does not have a field or even any play structures yet, so one of the first things they are going to need to figure out is where the kids will be able to play. The half-court basketball court is not going to work when 60, and later 120, kids need outdoor space to play. Many of the questions from kids were about the amenities of the school.

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Working with our super committed families and staff is the best part of my job on the School Board.

 

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Reflections on Budget Cuts for 17-18 School Year

One of the first things I learned about OUSD as a candidate was how top-heavy the administration was. Through the listening tour that I did as part of my campaign, I heard it over and over again, and then I observed it for myself once I joined the School Board.

We will be a lot less top heavy next year, because of the budget cuts to the central administration that we are making in order to balance our budget for next year. While many positions being eliminated are vacant, still I recognize that soon layoff notices will be going out that are going to severely disrupt the lives of many existing OUSD employees, and I feel responsible for that. That is one thing no one tells you about when you decide to run for office; being responsible for decisions that can devastate the lives of employees.

My main focus has been on keeping the cuts away from school sites, which we managed to do, with the exception of some vacant SSO (School Security Officer) positions and of course the mid-year budget freeze. 

Since there is still a lot of confusion about why we are in the position of having to make cuts, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain it in detail.  

The biggest drivers are (in this order): declining enrollment, increasing pension contribution costs, Special Education costs, staff salary increases related to the minimum wage increase in Oakland, the large number of schools we operate, and also the increased spending on cabinet positions. There is also a great deal of uncertainty about the future of Title 1 funds that districts like Oakland depend on heavily. I'll talk about each of them in turn.

Declining enrollment has been an issue in OUSD for years. This year we have 450 fewer students than we did last year, and 900 fewer than was projected. The reason that declining enrollment was not noticeable for the last few years is that we were receiving massive influxes of resources from the state under a new funding formula (LCFF, Local Control Funding Formula).

The new resources masked the impact of the enrollment decline that is attributable to growth in the number of charter schools and families leaving Oakland due to the high cost of housing. The kinds of adjustments that need to be made are never as quick as the loss in revenue (for example, consolidating schools, collecting rental income for leases at underenrolled or vacant sites, etc). Now the new state money has slowed to a trickle.

What is more, where we are experiencing growth in enrollment (in Special Education and especially newcomer/refugee students), the students are more expensive to serve because of their particular needs. There is a need for Oakland charter schools to start pulling their weight more when it comes to Special Education students, and some of them are starting to, but no Oakland charter schools serve the same percentage of special education students that OUSD does, and none of them serve the severely disabled students that OUSD does. Most of the charter schools are not serving the newcomer population to the extent that OUSD does either. These issues are being discussed as part of the Equity Pledge, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any movement on the part of charter schools to address the fairness issues regarding which students are being served in each system.

All school districts across California are going to have to address increasing pension costs in the coming years. The wonky can read this article to learn more about this, but the bottom line is that CalPERS and CalSTRS are not getting the rate of return that they need to be able to fund pension obligations to retirees, and are still recovering from investment losses during the recession. This means that school districts and other public employers are going to have to pay more. This is only going to go up, so we have to be prepared to make difficult choices for many years to come in order to meet our obligations to our retirees.

For those who do not know, special education funding is highly inadequate because the amount that is provided from federal and state sources does not cover the full cost of special education services, but many districts have budgeted for a long time as though those funds alone should be sufficient. On average it costs twice as much to meet the needs of special education students, and Oakland, like many other school districts, has increased the Special Education budget to meet the growing need for many years now. What is more, the amount of federal and state funding is not related to the specific disabilities that students have. So in districts like Oakland, where we have a large number of severely disabled students, we are not getting more per student than districts that do not (for example, the all-charter SELPA El Dorado County). This is something that has to be changed so that we remove the perverse incentive for schools to avoid serving students with disabilities.

In the meantime, the district is working on building an in-house program for many of the students that are currently placed in expensive non-public schools because of severe disabilities, and is undertaking other efforts to provide better services for special education students, like expanding access to inclusion programs. Realistically, I don't think we should expect these efforts to reduce costs any time soon. The focus from my perspective should be on building better special education services, and that will reduce demand for private placements and make it possible to place more students in least restrictive environment settings. What will make a huge difference in special education is stable leadership, and I am hopeful that we will figure that out soon.  It's hard to move major change initiatives without stable leadership.

The part of the budget shortfall that has been particularly frustrating for me has been related to staff salary increases. When the minimum wage in Oakland was increased by voters in 2014, the impact on the district was large, because it affected many of our staff in Nutrition Services, Early Childhood Education and Special Education. Many of these staff are funded through other sources than LCFF, which meant that we agreed to salary increases without any additional revenue to pay them, and we made assumptions about enrollment in ECE and cost reductions in Special Education that turned out to be unrealistic. I believe we should have made more conservative projections given the history of the Special Education budget, and it was foreseeable that we would run into trouble raising salaries without receiving any additional revenue to fund them.  

These are some of our lowest-paid employees, and the raises were long-overdue; we just need to be more careful going forward to ensure that the pay increases we give are sustainable. The reality is that when you agree to raise pay, you are also agreeing to increased pension contributions as well, and I will be more watchful about this going forward.

This year we are going into bargaining with our teachers and staff. I do not know how negotiations are going to go, since we are in such a different financial position than we were the last time we were in bargaining. I am interested to hear ideas from our unions about where we could find additional cost savings, but I am also aware that we are in a much different financial condition now than we were last time.

Oakland has a large number of schools relative to the number of students we have.  This is a legacy of both declining enrollment, the small schools movement that was responsible for the creation of some of our best schools today, and the growth of charter schools. We cannot control how many charter school petitions we get as a district (we can control how many we approve, though we can be overturned by the County Office of Education board), but I believe that there are too many district schools and too many charter schools. In the coming year, there will be planning for OUSD school reconfiguration that will take place in the 18-19 school year. I am not interested in reconfiguring for the sole purpose of saving money. Any reconfiguration needs to expand access to our strongest programs, otherwise what's the point?

We have to be very deliberate about how we do this, because if we alienate families or school communities in the process, we will lose students and end up worse off financially than we are now. I also do not want to see us leave any school sites vacant. I am going to be very interested in this work, and will be focused on how the school communities that are part of those conversations are treated.

This post is getting very long, so I'll just wrap by saying that the cabinet has grown, as well as the salaries of the people who comprise the cabinet. There is a lot of pressure on board members to stay out of hiring decisions, and so I kept quiet when I had real reservations, seeing the number and size of salaries grow, mostly for people who are not critical to the mission of the district. Going forward, if I see that happening again, I will vote against those contracts and will be more vocal about it. I do believe it is part of the reason we are in this situation.

Finally, there is a lot of concern that the new national administration will use Title 1 funds (funds for low-income students) differently, turning them into block grants for vouchers or some other scheme. OUSD relies heavily on this funding, particularly in flatland schools (it's about $16M annually). Part of the reason that we are looking at ways to increase our reserve fund is so that we can absorb some of the blow if we lose Title 1 funding.

Part of what I am looking for in our next Superintendent is strong leadership on the financial front, and a willingness to not only lead the board through making hard decisions, but also someone who will make the necessary decisions in a spirit of partnership with our schools and our community.

Everyone wants the best for students, but it is hard to believe district leaders when there is not full transparency about why we are in the situation we are in.

There needs to be greater transparency going forward about how we got here, the numbers we need to hit, and greater honesty about the trade-offs that can be made, and much more inclusivity in decision-making.  Principals, teachers, staff, unions and parent groups all need to be given the opportunity to weigh in on these decisions. 

If you have thoughts on the Superintendent search, I'd love to hear them. The full board will be doing a town hall on February 11 at 10 am at McClymonds High School, 2607 Myrtle St, in West Oakland. 

If you got this far, thanks for reading!

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Safe Schools Walk-In a Success

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Hanging out with Munck teachers and Denise Burroughs (right), Munck's Principal

Today was a National Day of Action called by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a day to declare our schools safe spaces for all students and families, regardless of the Trump agenda for education, immigration, or any other threat his agenda may pose for Oaklanders.

The Oakland Education Association invited board members to visit schools and hang out with teachers and parents for a "walk in," rather than a walk-out.

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Munck parents, including Nikki Hai (right, above), were very appreciative of the message that our schools will continue to be welcoming and safe places for Oakland families. The board recently passed a resolution declaring our district a sanctuary district, and I was proud to provide leadership, along with Director Torres of District 5, and with a lot of help from Parents United for Public Schools to come up with the language and rally the community organizations to be involved.

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Carl Munck has some of the longest-serving teachers in OUSD. 

Tomorrow during inauguration, we expect many of our students to "walk out," rather than walking in, but I'm proud of the commitment to social justice in our city and our school district, and proud that our district is committed to safe schools for all Oakland families, whatever may be coming our way from Washington.

It is a scary time for immigrant families and many others. It is scary not knowing whether Title 1 funds that districts like Oakland rely on will continue to exist, but I have faith that our community will come together to weather the storm for our students, and I'm honored to be serving our city and our students at such a difficult time.

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Parents, Students, Teachers Weigh in on Superintendent Search

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Pictured, left to right, Che' Phinessee, parent organizer and a Reach Academy parent, Margaret Cooksey, a Junior at Oakland High School, Joya Brandon, a teacher at ROOTS, and Sharon Rose, a former Adult Education teacher in OUSD and education activist.

We had great turnout yesterday for the community forum on the superintendent search. We started with some basic information on what the superintendent is responsible for, and Director Torres and I shared our thoughts on the priorities.

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Then we had a great panel featuring Joya Brandon of ROOTS Middle School, Margaret Cooksey, a Junior at O High, and Che' Phinessee, a parent at Reach, and a Parent Leader with PLAN. One issue that came up for all three of them was class size, and how difficult it is for students to feel safe, and for teachers to give them the attention they need. Joya Brandon has 36 students per class, and shared her frustration about not being able to teach to the standard she would like to, which is impossible with so many students.

There was universal support for our restorative justice work, and a strong desire for us to bolster that work (ROOTS has one RJ Coordinator, but there is need for a second one); the work they do to support teachers with RJ practices is critical. Che' Phinessee wished that we started RJ work in elementary school rather than middle school; then kids would come to middle school with those practices as habits.

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Language access was a major issue raised by Che' Phinessee, who said that it inhibits parent participation when they cannot communicate with school staff. We need more interpreters and more translators to support greater participation. Joya Brandon shared that there is also need for more supports for Special Education students and Newcomers at ROOTS.

There was also demand for a transparent search process with opportunities for the community to be involved, and in particular, a search committee that community members can serve on.

Joya Brandon called for a moratorium on new charter schools and better oversight of the existing ones and for a reduction in the district's spending on police services.

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Calvin Williams works for the Movement Strategy Center. His group was very supportive of the district's work around equity, and wanted to see it continue.

After the panel, small groups met to share their must-haves and must-not-haves for our next Superintendent.

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Overall, my main takeaways from the program are that:

1. The community wants to be involved in a committee that screens candidates for the permanent Superintendent job.

2. There is strong consensus that folks want someone from Oakland or who knows our district well.

3. There is strong consensus that folks want a Superintendent who will concentrate resources in schools rather than in central.

4. There were many groups that expressed concern about the growth of charter schools/privatization/contracting out for district services.

5. There is a strong desire for a Superintendent who is capable when it comes to managing the budget and the district's finances.

6. Overall, there is a desire for a Superintendent who is accessible, approachable and listens to the community in a warm and welcoming way (a word that came up a lot was 'human.').

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Finally, several people remarked that they really liked having the opportunity to talk with Director Torres and I one to one and as equals (rather than with us on the dais and them down below), and said that it made us seem like ordinary people (which, for the record, we are). I was glad to hear that.

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My Priorities for the Superintendent Search

Since many constituents have reached out to me regarding their thoughts on the Superintendent search, I wanted to share with the community in a transparent way what I will be looking for in OUSD's permanent Superintendent. Of course, I am one member of a seven-member board, but I wanted to be open with folks about what my priorities are.

I look forward to hopefully hearing from some of you about your priorities at the January 14 forum at Frick and at other upcoming board engagements regarding the Superintendent search.

Top Criteria

As we move forward with the search for a permanent Superintendent for OUSD, I am looking for someone who:

  • Knows Oakland Unified extremely well, and has respect for the work and people in OUSD's school communities,
  • Will attend closely to the climate and culture of the district, and focus on reducing staff turnover,
  • Has a strong track record of improving student outcomes in OUSD,
  • Will concentrate district resources in schools rather than in high salaries for cabinet positions,
  • Will stay for five (and hopefully) ten years, providing needed stability to the district,
  • Is committed to democratic schools and will work against expansion of schools that are not under democratic community control, and
  • Can provide strong leadership on the budget and financial position of the district, and in particular, who has a plan for stabilizing enrollment in OUSD.

I realize this is a tall order, but I also believe that we can find someone who meets these criteria and who will serve with knowledge about (and respect for) our culture and history as a community and school district, and a commitment to staying in Oakland for the long haul.

School change is slow, and that is one of the most frustrating things about serving on the School Board. But we need a leader who knows that the work takes time, and is committed to seeing the work through and being a partner with others over the long haul, while also leading with a deep sense of urgency.

I look forward to hearing feedback from many of you on these criteria in the weeks and months to come.

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"Our Schools are Not for Sale," say Oakland Parents

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Oakland parents held a press conference this week to denounce the flood of cash from out of state billionaires in Oakland School Board races.

Parents United for Public Schools and Oakland Working Families held a press conference this week to express concern about the flood of billionaire money in OUSD School Board races, and what it means for their opportunities to shape the agenda for our school district and schools.

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Liz Suk (right) is a mom at Melrose Leadership Academy. She said that Oakland parents know what our students need, and they should be setting the agenda for our district, not billionaires from out of state.

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Clarissa Doutherd, right, has a son at Laurel Elementary. She said that her special needs son is not the priority for the right-wing billionaire donors currently trying to buy Oakland School Board seats, and that we need a School Board focused on the needs of students like her son, not the agenda of out of state billionaires.

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Tony Daquipa, right, is a dad at Sequoia Elementary. He objected to the large number of white billionaires trying to control the destiny of students and a district that is majority students and families of color.

Kim Davis, a founding parent from Parents United for Public Schools (PUPS), concluded by saying that Oakland parents have a vision for our schools, and that vision is the one that needs to be the focus for the Oakland School Board. She and other PUPS supporters are concerned that the flood of cash into School Board races distracts the School Board from the agenda that Oakland parents have for the district, to the priorities of those who fund their campaigns.

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What I Learned at Parker Community Forum

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Aida Olvera is the President of Parker's School Site Committee.

Tonight there was a community forum at Parker K-8 in District 6, the first in a series I will be doing to visit every school in District 6 and learn about their recent accomplishments, their challenges and their plans to address their challenges.

I really liked how this first forum went; the SSC President gave part of the presentation, along with the Assistant Principal Sarah Mehrizi and the Principal Koy Hill (Koy and Sarah are pictured below, left and right).

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Parker's Principal Koy Hill, Network Superintendent Laresha Martin, and Assistant Principal Sarah Mehrizi.

It was well-attended and two students won brand new laptops through a partnership that Parker has with the Oakland Housing Authority.  The students had a lot of questions about middle school electives, and specifically wanting more of them.

I told them about Measure G1, which will be on the ballot in a couple of weeks and will provide more funding for middle school electives, if it is passed, but I also said that schools make choices about how best to focus their resources.  Parker is strong in part because they have chosen to focus closely on academics, and that is part of why they are one of the best schools in the city.

Even before last year, Parker was one of the best schools in all of Oakland. Then last year, they were one of only three schools in the district to make double digit improvement in math on the statewide SBAC tests, which was due in part to the heavy investments Parker has made in technology programs like Eureka Math, which may now be adopted district-wide now that we have seen such impressive results at Parker.  This school year they are focusing on making even more improvements in reading, attendance and social-emotional learning.

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Parker students expressed a desire for more middle school electives at their school.

Parker has also invested heavily in social emotional learning tools for students, in particular one program called toolbox, and this is something that SSC President Aida Olvera shared in her presentation. Toolbox teaches kids strategies to manage their feelings and actions and to handle conflict.

I am excited for the future community forums at the other District 6 schools, and grateful to Koy Hill and his school community for holding the first one at Parker.  I'm really proud of their work and want everyone to know about it.

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Shawna, right, came to Parker in 3rd grade after attending an Aspire school. Her mom said Parker has been much more challenging for Shawna.

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Deborah Temple is a frequent volunteer at Parker. I'm so grateful for volunteers like her who are dedicated to our students!
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