Why I Support Measure G1

Oakland voters will have many decisions to make this fall about the large number of measures that will be on the ballot (17 statewide and 9 locally).  I wanted to take this opportunity to share a little about one of them, Measure G1, which is a $120 parcel tax that would fund staff salary increases and middle school improvement in Oakland.

The board is trying to address two critical challenges facing our district with this parcel tax.  The first is the teacher shortage facing California and the country.  Fewer and fewer people are going into teaching, at the same time that a large wave of teacher retirement is going on.  At the same time, we in Oakland have a harder time recruiting teachers because we cannot pay as much as many of the surrounding school districts. 

While state funding for education was increasing for the last few years as a result of Prop 30 and the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), we were able to pass along much of those additional resources to staff in the form of long-overdue salary increases.  Now that the economy is slowing down and LCFF has been close to fully funded, we can no longer expect those additional resources each year.

Using the additional LCFF dollars for salary increases has allowed us to move from the bottom quartile of teacher salaries countywide to the middle of the pack.  That is a great accomplishment, but we really need to be closer to the top of the list in order to be competitive and attract the quality of teachers that our students need. This parcel tax would provide the resources that we need to become more competitive with nearby school districts when it comes to salaries.

Another big issue that we need to address as a district is the loss of students that we regularly experience between 5th and 6th grade.  This is a complex problem with many causes, but we know that our middle schools need more resources in order to become schools that will be attractive and enticing to Oakland students and families as they move on to middle school.  The additional revenues would allow us to restore some of the electives that have gradually been reduced, such as art, music and languages, and equally important from my perspective, our middle schools would be able to create offerings that allow them to address the unique needs of their students.

What is exciting to me about how the parcel tax will work is that it will facilitate the building of school capacity.  Middle school teams (called "school governance teams") will need to write a plan in order to receive their parcel tax funds.  Their plans will need need to identify the major challenges facing the school, and the strategies they have chosen to address those challenges.

This type of planning process builds the understanding of school communities and parents of the challenges facing their students, as well as their muscles to consistently reflect on and work to improve the experience and outcomes for students.  So while the additional resources for middle schools are critical, even more important for my purposes is the process by which schools will receive their resources, which will continue to build school capacity to improve their school over time.

This process is similar to the process that schools go through to plan and apply for Measure N funds to resource their schools' Linked Learning programs, and our school communities have already learned a great deal from the process. 

Charter schools are included in Measure G1, just as they were in Measure N. Many people know that I do not believe that charter schools are the answer to how we provide a quality education to every student in every Oakland neighborhood.  Recent reports from the ACLU of Southern California and the Alameda County Grand Jury have expressed a concern I share about charter school practices that exclude many of our most vulnerable students - special education students, African American students and English Language Learners.

So while I share these concerns about charter schools and recognize that more resources for charter schools means less resources for OUSD schools, there are two reasons that I support this parcel tax anyway.

The first is that charter school parents are homeowners and pay parcel taxes too, and to exclude people who pay the tax from benefitting from it does not sit quite right with me.  

There is also simple practicality.  Charter school students are now over 25% of the students in Oakland, and they have a powerful ally in the California Charter School Association (CCSA).  In California, as a result of Prop 13, it takes a 2/3 vote to get parcel taxes and bond measures passed.  It would be much harder to get this measure passed if excluded a large percentage of students with a well-organized and resourced ally such as CCSA. 

The charter school issue is an important one, but it is even more important that our schools have the resources they need to attract and retain teachers and to make their middle school offerings stronger.  If we focus on those things, it will help us to reduce the demand for charter school alternatives.

I hope that those of you reading this will consider supporting Measure G1. I will be sharing opportunities to learn more about Measure G1 on the events calendar over the coming months, and if you want to talk with me about it, you can come to office hours on September 16 at 4:30 pm at the MLK Jr. Library (6833 International Blvd).

 

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California-Inspired Mosaic for Melrose Leadership Academy

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Me with MLA parents, MLA's Principal Moyra Contreras (in white) and the artist Juan Lopez, in the blue shirt.

Yesterday was the unveiling of a new tile mosaic at Melrose Leadership Academy (MLA), a K-8 school in Maxwell Park.  MLA already has lots of great art in the form of murals, all over the school. Now they also have a beautiful tile mosaic that features native California plants.

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 According to the artist, Juan Lopez, he chose butterflies as the focus of the mural because of the MLA community's focus on serving immigrant and Spanish-speaking families.  Butterflies migrate, and so have many of the families in the MLA community.

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The artist, Juan Lopez, has done other tile mosaics all over Oakland.  He shared that the migration that monarch butterflies do from Mexico to North America takes five generations for a family to complete, and how that is like human families as well, the sacrifice and struggle of each generation to make life better for the next.

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Left to right: Me, Principal Moyra Contreras, and the artist, Juan Lopez

The mural is at the corner of Monticello and Fleming in Maxwell Park.  Maxwell Park is becoming an art mecca between MLA and Maxwell Park's existing tile mosaics.  Come check it out!

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What I Learned from Questioning Common Enrollment in Oakland Schools

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From left to right: Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Dr. Frank Adamson and Dr. Janelle Scott, speakers at the forum

Last night a standing room only crowd turned out for a forum on common enrollment in Oakland called Questioning Common Enrollment in Oakland Schools.  I was on a panel with scholars from across Northern California to discuss the idea of common enrollment and specifically, whether it has delivered on the promise of equity as has been indicated by the OUSD administration.

I am still digesting all that I heard and learned, but I have shared some of my biggest takeaways below.  I have also shared the slide decks that were shown, as well as video footage from the event, and you can access them by clicking on the links below.

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I was pleased that so many of my board colleagues were able to attend.  Directors Torres (pictured above, at left), Hinton Hodge and Senn were also there.

It was hot, we ran out of chairs and so many people had to stand or sit on the floor, and people still stayed an hour later than intended, because people were excited to have the discussion.  There was clear demand for more information about the community-based alternatives to the top-down, privatizing reforms, and so I am working with Dr. Vasquez Heilig to hold a second forum soon that will take a deeper dive into those.  Stay tuned for details on that.

Main Takeaways

1.For every top-down privatizing prescription that the ed reformers have, there is a community based reform that can be done in a more democratic way.  You can check out Dr. Vasquez Heilig's slides below to learn more about those.  That is what we need to work toward in Oakland, moving toward community-based democratic reforms and away from top-down, privatizing reforms.

2. We need to reclaim equity as a community concern.  It is not only about the rights of individual parents to have more choices in a 'market' of schools; it is about what our community demands for all Oakland students, not just some students.  Check out Dr. Scott's presentation slides below to learn more about how the right wing redefined equity to advance their privatization agenda.

3. School "choice" in many cases means that schools are picking their students, not that families choose schools.  Students are selected based on neighborhood, test scores, attendance at previous schools, sibling attendance, IEP designation, and history of discipline reports.  The impact of common enrollment in New Orleans has been very racialized, and bad for African American students in particular, who have experienced large-scale exclusion from the better options in the city.

I will be reading the report below that Dr. Scott referenced about how Oakland has been seen as a test case for many of these different top-down privatizing strategies, and may share some reflections on that in a future blog post. 

Access the Presentations

Dr. Janelle Scott's presentation

Dr. Frank Adamson's presentation

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig's presentation

2007 report from the Center for Education Reform on Oakland as a national model for education reformers (referenced by Dr. Scott)

Video of the presentations given at the forum, courtesy of Steve Zeltzer from KPFA

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Amazed by Our Students at Community Ready Graduation Ceremony

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OUSD's Class of 2016 Community Ready Graduates

Last week was OUSD's Community Ready Graduation Ceremony.  It was my first time going, and I was super impressed with students' senior projects and delighted to be part of celebrating their success. 

The students who participate in this graduation ceremony are nominated by their teachers.  They present on their senior projects, which cover a wide range of topics.  I noticed a big focus on race, gentrification and mental health among the social problems that students chose to examine this year.  And one of them also received a scholarship from All City Council, the body of elected student government representatives from across the city.

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Kiah Killens presented on her work at MetWest High School

Kiah Killens' project was born of her desire for more leadership among the female students at her school.  She built her own curriculum for a class that she created and taught for other young women at her school.  It covered relationship violence, sexual health and many other topics.

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Director Aimee Eng and I with the All City Council Scholarship Winner Zaria Monay Jackson Woods, from Fremont High School.

The winner of the All City Council Scholarship was Zaria Monay Jackson Woods, from Fremont High School.  Her project was about student voice - what allows for students to have a voice in their school, what student voice can be used to do to improve schools, and she specifically looked at organizing among Fremont High School students out of concern that Fremont High would be converted into a charter school.  It was really clear that Fremont is educating the next generation of community organizers, and I'm proud to see the social justice orientation and leadership of the students there.

I'm so pleased that OUSD recognizes that our job is not just to ensure that students can read, write and find jobs.  We are also responsible for helping to create citizens who will not just be active in their communities, but tackle the biggest problems facing their communities, and provide leadership to address them.  I can't wait to meet next year's community-ready graduates!

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Thank You, OUSD Volunteers

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With parents Ema Mares, Irma Pascual and Luz Alcaraz from Community United Elementary School

 

Yesterday was OUSD's Annual Volunteer Recognition Ceremony.  It was great to meet so many of the parents and community members who volunteer in our schools.  Above is a photo of me with several of the moms who volunteer at CUES, Community United Elementary School.  They are room parents, which means that they liasion with the school leadership and advocate for the needs of the students in the classes they volunteer in. 

I really value the work of these parents, and the hundreds of other parents and community members who were there.  Our schools don't work without them, and our students do better when parents are informed about how to support their children.

If you would like to know more about volunteering for OUSD, click here.

And if you'd like to see the long list of volunteers who were honored this year, click here.

Thank you so much, dedicated OUSD volunteers.  We appreciate you!

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Equity and Common Enrollment?

The concept of equity has been used by the Superintendent and his staff to frame the conversation about bringing a common enrollment system to Oakland, so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on how equity is and is not being considered as part of the work around our enrollment system.


To begin, a definition:  I believe that equitable schools are schools that serve all students.  We have district schools and charter schools that do this well and poorly, so I want to say up front that I recognize that there is room for improvement across the board.

However it is factual to say that OUSD schools are significantly more likely to be the ones serving special education students, African American students, and English Language Learners, some of our students with greater needs.

So here are some questions related to the concept of equity as it concerns the proposed common enrollment system.

1. Is it equitable that we are only planning to make improvements to our enrollment system if charter school students are included?

I have spoken with hundreds of parents about common enrollment at OUSD Parents United house parties, and while they agree that there is room for improvement in our enrollment system, they do not agree with the idea of a common enrollment system.

Some of the ideas that parents like include:

  • Regional enrollment centers
  • Greater outreach at the outset to all families (training, options fair)
  • Online and mobile tools
  • Greater language access
  • Elimination of waitlists and the "first come, first served" appeals process
  • Greater transparency about how children are assigned to schools
  • Following up with families over summer to pin down attendance


These are the things we should focus on, rather than including competing schools in our enrollment system. 

We don't have equity when parents who have opted out of our system are privileged over the group that has helped to build our school communities.


2. Is it equitable that the way that schools are rated for quality does not factor in the kinds of students they are serving?

We know that it is more difficult to get people to work in high poverty schools.  It is harder because the students have more needs, because the teachers tend to be less experienced, and there tends to be more demands on staff in these schools from the central administration.  These schools tend to have more English language learners and more special education students as well.

The way that schools are evaluated does not account for the additional challenges they face as a result of who they are serving.   Many charter schools have recently agreed to adopt school quality measures that will allow us to better compare Oakland schools and evaluate quality.  The adoption of a broader set of common criteria to evaluate quality is a positive step.

But these common measures do not go far enough, because they do not take into account the needs of the students the school is serving.  The result is to penalize the schools that serve all children.  There are charter schools in Oakland that are more inclusive, and also experience this, so it's not just an OUSD problem.

We don't have equity if we pretend as though poverty, language ability and learning differences do not impact student achievement when we create measures of school quality.

This matters because parents rely on these quality measures heavily, because most do not have time to visit lots of different schools, ask experts for their opinions, etc.

Excluding these factor creates the appearance that schools that serve all students are poor choices when compared to the schools that don't serve all students.  This is true for both district and charter schools.  Parents that do not understand this will be more likely to choose a school that looks good on paper, but may not serve their child well.


3. Is it equitable that we are pretending that there are only upsides to a common enrollment system?

The reality is that competing schools will be joining our system, and that some of them are already struggling to fill their seats (hence the roster instability problem that many Oakland schools are facing).  Two new schools have already been approved by the School Board this year, and there are seven more whose applications we are expecting.  With the people on the school board right now, it is likely that all or most of them will be approved.

We already have excess capacity in many Oakland schools, partly as a result of competition with charter schools for students.  With nine new charter schools and everyone in the same system, it is probable that the declining enrollment that is affecting many of our schools currently will accelerate and lead to school closures.

In Newark, NJ, district schools lost 10% of their students in the first year of common enrollment, which led to school closures, student displacement and teacher layoffs.

School closures negatively affect the likelihood that students will graduate and they are disruptive to families and school communities, as well as staff.

It is dishonest to have a policy discussion and neglect to discuss all the possible consequences, and it is financially irresponsible as well to proceed without discussing the financial implications of losing students and closing schools. 

It is likely to be our lowest-income families that will be affected by school closures and they have not been included meaningfully in this discussion, which is also not equitable.

Creating a system that uses OUSD funds to facilitate movement of OUSD students into competing schools will undermine the stability our system, which is the system that serves all students.

It is not equitable to destabilize the system that serves all students.


4. Is it equitable that there has been no plan from OUSD about efforts to increase participation in the options process?

The majority of families in our district (District 6) do not even submit applications by the deadline, meaning that they are assigned to a neighborhood school that may not be a high quality option.  There has also been no plan to address the transportation barriers that prevent families from availing themselves of their options, even if they are aware of them.

We don't have equity if the people who most need a better option are unaware of or unable to meet the deadlines and processes.

This is the reason that I don't believe that creating common enrollment would create a more equitable system.  We will spend money that should have been directed to the schools that serve everyone to destabilize the district and in the long run decrease our ability to continue to serve the students that many charter schools avoid serving.


5. Is it equitable that OUSD parents and staff have largely been excluded from the planning process for a common enrollment system?

We are a public agency, we work with public funds, and make public policy.  It is not equitable that planning meetings for common enrollment have taken place by invitation only, and largely excluded the OUSD families who are the largest segment of families in the city, and have not been open to public participation.

That is not equity.


The Superintendent has said that having a common enrollment system will address the roster instability problem facing OUSD and charter schools.  I actually believe that roster instability will get worse, not better, under common enrollment, because we will soon have even more schools, and with them all using the same enrollment process, it will actually exacerbate the enrollment instability.

If this plan is really intended to accelerate the closing or consolidation of OUSD schools, it would be more appropriate for us have an open, transparent and planful approach to doing that.


I want to be clear about where I stand: it is not the case that I see no merit in a common enrollment system.  The Superintendent believes that having all students in the same system would allow us to get more timely information and a better handle on practices such as discriminatory enrollment practices and mid-year student push-out.

I share his interest in addressing these problems, but have not seen any evidence that creating a common enrollment system is going to address these problems.  The common enrollment blueprint does not require any change in admissions criteria or speak to the student push-out issue, and there has been no evidence presented about how common enrollment would stop these practices.


What it really comes down to at the end of the day is that I am on the board of the system that serves all students, and I want to see OUSD direct every dollar and every minute of staff time to supporting OUSD schools.  I don't support the creation of a system that I believe will ultimately undermine the schools that serve all students.

We should make improvements to our enrollment system; I am in favor of that, but if we care about the health of the system that serves all students, then I believe common enrollment is too risky an idea.

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Photos from Munck Oratorical Competition

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Regina Bryels was my fellow judge.  She runs the food distribution program at Brookins AME Church.

Today I had the pleasure of judging the Oratorical Competition at Carl Munck Elementary School.  The event qualifies students to advance to the citywide Martin Luther King Jr Oratorical Competition, which is a 37-year tradition in OUSD. 

Historically, District 6 schools have done very well in the competition, and Burckhalter students took home the prize last year.

It was fun to see how much talent our students have, and also passion about their heritage.

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A kindergarten class at Munck.

Some of the things I do as a School Board member are not so fun, so this was a special treat, even if judging super young kids who can't sit still and follow directions well is really hard to do!

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Denise Burroughs (left) is the Principal at Munck Elementary.  She is one of the longest-serving principals in District 6.
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Parents Organize Against Common Enrollment Issue

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Parents talk during a house party in Oakland's Melrose District.

 

This Tuesday evening the 12th of January is the fourth of what is turning out to be numerous parent-led house parties organized by OUSD Parents United, where other parents can learn about the idea of a common enrollment system in Oakland.  Common enrollment systems do not exist anywhere in California, but Superintendent Wilson has proposed that OUSD adopt the first one in the state. 

The proposed common enrollment system would be administered by OUSD staff, but would include charter school students along with OUSD students.  OUSD Parents United believes that we need enrollment reform, but not common enrollment.

In other places where common enrollment systems have been adopted, like Newark NJ, it has led to the closure of many public schools, displacing families and staff.  Though the Superintendent's staff and some of my fellow board members have acknowledged that this could be a consequence of adopting a common enrollment system, there has been no information provided to the board or the public regarding projections about how such a system could affect our schools and families, nor any plan for addressing the possible consequences of adopting a common enrollment system.

Parents object to OUSD's scarce funds being used to administer a system that will assign students to competing schools, thereby undermining the stability of our own schools, and they point out that there is no articulated plan to ensure that the families that most need better schools for their students are the ones who will be targeted for outreach under a new system.

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This house party took place in Maxwell Park in my district.

One of the compelling arguments for a common enrollment system from my perspective is the idea that we could use such a system to prevent the illegal and unfair exclusion of special education students, English Language learner students, and students who are more challenging to serve as a result of discipline issues.  These students are often discriminated against in admissions procedures and are often also targeted for school push-out (for an especially notorious case, check out this New York Times artlcle on Success Academy in New York's "Got to Go" list).

I believe strongly that all schools in Oakland need to play by the same rules (and that's the law), but there is no agreement in place between OUSD and charter schools that would actually address these exclusionary practices.  The Superintendent has expressed interest in a district/charter "compact" that would do this, but it does not exist yet.

I am very pleased to see parents organizing around this issue, because parents have historically been an extremely positive force for improving Oakland schools, and because I believe that parent involvement is ultimately going to help us get a more fair enrollment system.

You can see the list of upcoming house parties on the calendar page on my web site, and please RSVP if you would like to attend one of them.

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 Parents from Sequoia and Melrose Leadership Academy talking about common enrollment.
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Latino Read-In Was So. Much. Fun.

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Rebecca Edwards is the Librarian at CUES, and we also serve together as Friends of the Martin Luther King Jr Branch of the Oakland Public Library.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Latino Read-In, an annual event (there are also African-American and Asian Read-ins, and I'm already scheduled for the African American one in February) focused on having guest readers visit OUSD classrooms to read to kids, usually a book that is culturally or historically relevant.

I read to a 5th grade class at Community United Elementary School (5th grade is my favorite age) a book called Separate is Never Equal, about an important civil rights case for the Latino community, concerning discriminatory student assignment practices in Southern California.  It's by Duncan Tonatiuh.  

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As you can see, the kids were totally engaged and had lots of questions - deep questions!  About racism, history, whether I liked serving on the School Board, and more.  It was so much fun, and I'm looking forward to reading again in February.

When the student asked if I like my job on the School Board, I said that if I got to read aloud to students every day, it would be a lot more fun.  

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If you have not participated in one the read-ins, I encourage you to volunteer.  The next one will be the first week of February, and you can sign up with the Oakland Public Education Fund.

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What Oakland's Newcomers Need

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Last week was the Addressing the Needs of our Growing Newcomer Population forum at Urban Promise Academy.  Our goals were for funders and district leaders to hear about what is working for our newcomer students, and what gaps still exist.  Newcomers are students who have been in the US for less than one year.

I learned a lot from listening to our students and teachers, and I have shared some of my learnings below.  The main takeaway for me was that, despite increased staffing for newcomers as a result of this year's budget, we are still severely understaffed where newcomer programs are concerned. The new position created, Newcomer Coordinator, is helping to coordinate services and provide overall guidance to our schools with newcomers, but there are several pressing needs that are still not being met.  

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Listening to Fremont High School teacher Michelle de Jesus Guzman.  Fremont High School has one of the largest newcomer programs in OUSD.

1. We need more staff who speak the languages of the families represented in the school.  Many schools have two dozen or more home languages represented in the school, and the ability to communicate with families and students in their language is critical to the success of our students.  It also helps to build trust with populations that often do not trust authority figures, and can help us to better understand the obstacles families experience, which helps to better support students.

2. We need lower student to teacher ratios for newcomers in order to ensure that we can deal with additional needs that newcomers students often have, especially those that have experienced trauma in their countries of origin.

3. There are particular challenges in developing teachers who are trained to work with newcomers, who can speak the students' language AND are trained as Special Education teachers.  This is an area that we need to do better in. 

4. Our elementary schools have not been the focus for our newcomer programs, and as a result, many of the elementary school teachers who attended the forum reported feeling that they have not received any specific training or support as teachers of newcomer students.  We have to provide better support to elementary school teachers with newcomer students.

5. We need to work with the Student Assignment Office to be more intentional about how and where in Oakland newcomer students are placed.

6. We need to improve our projections for staffing for newcomers.  The projections were way off for some schools, which means that we did not have sufficient people in place to prepare for and support our students.

7. We need more wraparound supports for newcomers, including bus passes to make it easier for students to get to school, housing assistance for unaccompanied minor students who are kicked out of relatives' homes, and greater access to mental health services.  Also, students need to be assessed much sooner after they arrive in the school community.  Sometimes it takes several months for students to be assessed, which leads to delays in students getting their needs met.

8. Teachers need more support and training in order to work with newcomers, especially in the areas of curriculum development and language training.  One teacher suggested that we incentivize teachers to learn the home languages of our students, by offering tuition reimbursement or paid time for teachers to take language classes.  Another teacher said that there is a great need to adapt standard curriculum to meet the needs of newcomers, which is very time-consuming, especially with the large number of newcomer students with histories of interrupted formal education. 

9. I learned that not all students are eligible to be tested in their home languages, especially after a student's first year in the US.  That was disturbing for me, because schools are often evaluated on the basis of standardized test scores.  We have numerous schools in Oakland that have large numbers of newcomer students who are still learning English, however the students are being tested in English.  Those results tell only a small part of the story about how schools are serving students, and are often inaccurate representations of how students are doing.

10. The last thing that I heard loud and clear is that there are not yet common standards and practices between newcomer programs in Oakland, and there is a need for more consistency among programs, and for each site to have a Newcomer Coordinator.

This is clearly a long list of needs, and we probably cannot address them all in the coming year.  This year we managed to get classrooms opened for newcomers based on our projections of the students that would be coming, which was a big win.  We also started a partnership with Mills College to provide professional development to newcomer teachers, and are working with the Teaching Channel to share strong newcomer teaching practices more widely.

I hope that we can get some of the items I listed above resourced in the coming year.

One opportunity I am particularly excited about is hiring more interpreters, because I believe that can help us make progress on many fronts.  It will help us reach out to more families about attendance and school discipline issues in their language, we can better support student achievement when teachers can communicate more easily with families, and it will also strengthen school governance teams, and make it possible for a wider variety of the school community to participate.

It is clear that adequate staffing is critical to the success of newcomer students, and we need to allocate more resources to strengthen our newcomer programs.  

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