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.
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.
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.
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.
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.').
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.