Inaugurating 2017: Challenges, Hope, and Determination

On Monday we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Tomorrow marks Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, following eight years of our first Black president. This pivotal moment inspires our first message of the new year, with our thoughts on the biggest challenges facing Oakland public education and the solutions we are fostering, framed by some imagined tweets by Dr. King because, well, you know why.

(Full disclosure – needed in these times: These are NOT real tweets, they are FAKE. But imagine if instead of the ones currently dominating our news cycle…)

The ultimate measure of those of us in public education (including all of us women) is how we will confront some of the biggest and most challenging problems impacting  our ability to ensure a world class public education for every child in Oakland’s 78 square miles:
INADEQUATE FUNDING vs. ABUNDANT NEED: Over the past few years, California has steadily increased funding to public schools, pushing us up to 42nd in the country in per pupil funding – an embarrassment for the world’s 6th largest economy. Now funding’s plateauing, right as we are barely rebuilding the education our children and communities deserve. Thanks to the generosity of Oakland voters in November, we have some new local money coming into schools with Measure G1; but OUSD has outdated internal systems, state loan repayments, under-enrolled schools, increasing costs, and an expensive, albeit vital, community schools model. Making the best use of our limited dollars will require thoughtful prioritization and tough budget decisions centered around community input, students, and transparency.
POLARIZATION & FEAR: Many in Oakland – all of us at Educate78 included – have deep concerns about an administration that vocalizes anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-POC sentiments. Oakland Educators are witnessing increased bullying, distress from students about deportation (themselves or family members), and anxiety from families about loss of healthcare coverage. They are apprehensive about loss of federal funding for public schools. We live in a city and state that can try to address some of these concerns through local policies, but recognize that we will inevitably be affected by federal decisions and the national climate.

… all of us at Educate78 included – have deep concerns about an administration that vocalizes anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-POC sentiments.

LOCAL INSTABILITY: Amidst all of this, OUSD’s Superintendent Wilson is leaving at the end of this month. Dr. Devin Dillon will step in as interim Superintendent while the Board conducts a search for a new Superintendent. We need strong and dependable leadership that facilitates positive changes happening in OUSD – work that will take continuity and persistence. We hope that the Board emphasizes the need for stability in their selection process; seeks out, listens to, and respects what our diverse community say they want in their next leader; and that our city bands together to work with, hold accountable, and support whoever is selected, so as to enable longevity and real, sustainable progress.
AN AFFORDABILITY CRISIS: In contrast to the revenue trajectory, housing costs are sky-rocketing. The cost of living in Oakland and the Bay Area is the highest in the country. Our families, teachers, and other school employees continue to face crushing economic realities. Oakland voters recently supported affordability measures (which our Teacher Advisory Group also backed), but we need additional changes for many of our public school families and staff to afford to live and work here. We stand ready to work to tackle this immense challenge that impacts the entire region.
Despite these challenges, we hold firmly onto our vision of a world class public education for every child in each of Oakland’s 78 square miles. We know that this work “takes a village,” and we are heartened by the passion, determination, creativity, and hard work of many individuals and organizations across our city who share a similar vision and our values of inclusivity, compassion, equity, and collaboration. We are doubling down on Oakland and will continue to do our part in 2017 by:

LIVING THE EQUITY PLEDGE: Oakland is fortunate to have many local education leaders who resolutely believe in a public education system that serves all students and families. They recognize that fragmented and isolated efforts won’t accomplish this, nor will conflict for conflict’s sake. Instead, it  will take tough conversations and compromise. We must rise above past differences and collaborate in service of families, with equity as our guiding light. That is why we plan to continue living the Oakland Public School Equity Pledge.

We must rise above past differences and collaborate in service of families, with equity as our guiding light.

SUPPORTING TEACHERS: We are grateful for the expertise and energy that our Teacher Advisory Group members have brought to our efforts to retain Oakland teachers. We know there are some big long-term issues (affordability!) but we believe it is within our power to meaningfully increase support for our teachers. To that end, we’re launching a second city-wide teacher engagement survey, awarding additional grants to teachers to implement their ideas for retaining educators, and continuing to strengthen the sense of community for educators across the city. We are also excited to collaborate with schools citywide on a proposed teacher recruitment portal. Join us for a celebration of teachers and the #Teach510 work on February 7 here at Impact Hub Oakland.

FOSTERING NEW COMMUNITY-DESIGNED SCHOOLS: Our School Design Lab supports efforts across Oakland to grow innovative and proven educational models and cultivate transformative leaders for our community schools. At the end of 2016, OUSD approved Oakland School of Language to open in Fall 2017 to nurture multi-lingual and multi-cultural children. Other teams are prototyping, piloting, and will seek approvals in 2017. We’re excited to continue to support these inspiring and committed educators and families this year. Follow School Design Lab on social media via #OakSDL.

CHAMPIONING BETTER PUBLIC POLICY: We are proud to have helped improve Oakland’s public school enrollment process, one of the first public policy efforts related to the Equity Pledge. The steps implemented this year – School Finder, new online systems for OUSD and charter schools, and a single application for nearly all Oakland charters – are not perfect, but they are a good start. We hope to see more improvements that will further increase access and better serve and support families in the enrollment process. We are applying our equity lens and advocacy to the immediate challenges of the budget and superintendent transition, as well as to the long-term funding and affordability ones.

We are far from our vision of a world class public education for every child in Oakland’s 78 square miles. It’s not easy to undo centuries of underinvestment and systematic oppressions. But, with Oakland’s talent and doggedness, we can find new solutions to these old problems- together.

Let’s not allow our disagreements to divide and fragment us locally. This only serves to keep us from achieving the broader vision, as well as keeps us from the resources and policy changes needed at the the local, state, and federal levels to help us get there. Instead, we need to harness our disagreements, work through them guided jointly by equity, and, together we will keep bending that arc.

With Respect, Hope, and Determination,

Team Educate78

Gloria, Anne, Sara, Carolyn, Rachel, Carrie