Last night I was pleased to be invited by Oakland Community Organizations to their Community Action for High School Transformation forum with members of OUSD and the School Board.
The discussion was focused on the low graduation rates at Oakland high schools, especially for black and Latino students. Fremont High School in particular has a 54% graduation rate -- far lower than the district average of 62%.
Patricia Segura, pictured above, shared her frustrations as a Fremont High School teacher about the high number of inexperienced teachers, due to successive rounds of budget cuts, which has led to many teachers leaving. She also made a strong case for the need for additional counselors.
There is just one counselor for 700 students at Fremont, which is problematic because so many students at Fremont are the first in their families to go to college, and need extra support in understanding how to prepare for college. Many students also are attending school soon after arriving in the country, or dealing with issues of community violence. Segura advocated for creating a full-time Parent Liaison position at Fremont in order to help families navigate these issues.
Students also raised the issues of safety, along with the lack of resources, the lack of college prep and AP classes, the poor facilities for STEM classes, such as labs, and the lack of counselors for the students.
The district introduced the staff working on improvement of Oakland high schools: Maria Santos, David Montes and Kevin Taylor, and the School Board President David Kakishiba said that fixing the city's high schools is the number one priority of the board. He also invited the community to attend upcoming budget study sessions on the Local Control Accountability Plan on April 21, 30 and May 21.
The forum was very well-attended, though there weren't many Fremont parents in the room, which was disheartening for School Board Member Rosie Torres, who pointed out that parents have a critical role to play in ensuring the academic success of their students.
I am glad there are organizations like OCO that bring the community together to learn about the issues facing the low-performing schools, but I am concerned about the lack of regular opportunities for families to engage with the district. Yes, anyone can show up at the School Board meetings and give a very brief comment, but there is no interchange and no time to really explore issues together.
It seems to me that there should be regular opportunities for families to interact with the district for information and idea exchange, not just delivering information to the public (or in this case, to the board and district).
Simply delivering information is not how consensus around common priorities and a shared agenda are developed.
Inclusion in decision-making and sustained interaction are the building blocks of trust.
We don't currently have a culture in the Oakland schools that builds trust and leads to a shared vision or a common agenda that people agree on and are willing to work on together.
But that is what we need in Oakland - a shared understanding of the priorities and a willingness to work on that agenda together.
This is why I am running for School Board; I want to be part of changing our practices so that we can build trust and forge a common agenda.