What I Learned from Passing the Torch II


Today was Passing the Torch II, the second installment in what will be a yearlong series of conversations between design team members from the Intensive Support Schools and the many folks in Oakland who have been part of redesigning schools. 

All of the intensive support schools were represented at today's event, with the exception of Castlemont, and though the group was a little smaller than last time, I thought the intimacy was actually helpful and created more openness than at our last gathering.

Our presenters/storytellers were Robin Glover (far left, above), the Founding Principal of Mandela High School, which was one of the small schools on the Fremont campus, Chaz Garcia (far right, above), a founding teacher at Esperanza (where she still teaches) and Liz Sullivan, a former OCO organizer who was involved in the founding of many of Oakland's small schools.

Other experts who were represented were our Moderator, Steve Jubb, who, through his work for BAYCES, supported the founding of many of Oakland's small schools, Susan Audap, Jean Wing and David Montes de Oca, who worked in New School Development in OUSD for many years, Carmelita Reyes, the founding Principal of Oakland International High School, and Emma Paulino, an OCO organizer.


Tiffany Gibson and Tammie Adams, picture above, are part of the Brookfield Elementary design team.

What I took away from the first session of Passing the Torch was that what happens post-implementation of a school design is just as important as what happens during the design and planning; that intentional succession planning, deep inclusion of families and the community, and continual revisiting of the vision are critical. 

Today there was a lot of discussion about trust and how critical that is in the design and implementation of schools.  There was discussion about how much authority design team members actually have, about whether the vision of the design teams will be respected by district leaders, and about whether adequate resources will be available as time goes on for teams to bring their visions to fruition.

There was also discussion of the way that the small schools movement came about, and how there was more dialogue from top to bottom at that time, because the need to transform schools was driven by grassroots parent and community activism.  The broader inclusion of everyone in the debate and discussion contributed to more trust in the process. 


Roxy Isaguirre, left, is a former student of Robin Glover's, right

There was a lot of discussion about the importance of consistent leadership, and what a challenge that has been at some of the redesigned schools that have not succeeded, as well as the need to figure out how to address the retention of principals and teachers in Oakland.

I also heard a theme throughout the presentations about the need for humility, the need to be honest with others (especially those under you) that you don't know everything and to be open to the ideas of others, because leaders do not always know best.


Chaz Garcia with Steve Jubb


I was really struck by the way that the need for trust came up again and again, and it's something I want to think about more.  It is an essential ingredient in the work of school redesign (actually, pretty much everything good that happens in schools), but also feels elusive and hard to achieve. 

David Montes de Oca shared at the event that there are restorative circles being planned for all of the intensive support schools as a way to rebuild trust and address hurt feelings.  I think that is going to be a very positive step.

I continue to be proud to be associated with these events because I think participants are getting a lot out of them, and I look forward to the next one.


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