Highlights from a Year of Student-Centered Progress
Happy New Year! As we start 2019, we thought it would be valuable to look back at 2018. It was a year of student-centered progress in Oakland public education, and we can build on that work in the daunting year ahead.
The challenges we must face in 2019 are not new. After all, we are seeking to disrupt generations of injustice for our most underserved students. Our approach, therefore, must learn from our history and innovate with new solutions. We must figure out a way to pay teachers more and empower them with more budget, support, and flexibility at school sites. We must address the fact that Oakland has way too many low-quality public schools and figure out a way to build on the better ones so that they can serve more. We must bridge past political divides and forge a new coalition that will take collective responsibility for all our children.
We did some of this in 2018. Others did, as well. Last year, we were proud to work in partnership with leaders and organizations across Oakland, and we look forward to doing so again in 2019 to improve our education system for our most vulnerable children and families:
1. Community of Schools Policy Passed
After extensive advocacy and hundreds of one-to-one and community meetings facilitated by the GO Public Schools 1Oakland team, on June 27, 2018 the OUSD Board approved the Community of Schools Policy. This bold policy aims to increase access to great public school options for Oakland students using quality, equity, utility, sustainability, and community as its guiding principles. Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell stated that the policy “is consistent with our value of putting Students First. We know that we must forge a new path forward to make sure our schools work for all students, in every neighborhood.”
2. Parent-Powered Opportunity Ticket Campaign Launched
The Oakland REACH, a powerful coalition of parents and grandparents fighting for quality education for all kids, worked in partnership with SoBEO (State of Black Education in Oakland) to launch the Opportunity Ticket campaign at the December 12 OUSD Board Meeting, with over 150 parents in attendance to support. This landmark policy would provide low-income students at closing schools priority enrollment preference for any school in Oakland above neighborhood preference.
3. New Student-Voice Policy Proposals Released
In 2018, Oakland student fellows from Energy Convertors produced over 20 written pieces and videos, sharing honest reflections on the issues most profoundly impacting education today. At the culmination of their first academic year they released four policy proposals which, in partnership with the State of Black Education, stand to profoundly reshape the Oakland public education landscape.
4. Improved Teacher Retention & Development Opportunities Flourished
Heading into the third year of our teacher engagement survey and grants through our educator-designed Teacher Retention Grant Program, we’re supporting retention programs at 10 Oakland public schools in 2018-19. Grantees in 2017-18, including Greenleaf Elementary, Life Academy, Madison Park, and Lazear Charter Academy, collectively retained an additional 25+ teachers into 2018-19! Additionally, we are pleased to share that the Alder Graduate School of Education, an innovative and immersive teacher residency program, is on track for accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges this spring. Through partnerships already in place with Lighthouse and Envision, Alder is supporting a vision to grow teachers already committed to and working within school communities.
5. Student-Centered Redesign Initiated
Started by a small group of OUSD principals, a design team of district teachers, community members, and school leaders came together last year to study how to bring more resources and control closer to the classroom. In addition to researching Oakland’s rich history of innovation, they jointly visited two districts in Massachusetts and one in Denver to see the latest version of this sort of in-district flexibility, called “innovation” or “empowerment” zones. In 2019, this work can hopefully become part of implementing the Community of Schools policy.
6. Transformational Schools Progressed
Last year, we created and piloted a robust Transformational Schools Review process in order to help schools identify how best to accelerate student achievement. In Fall 2018, we conducted Transformational Schools Reviews in eight Oakland schools. We gathered and analyzed artifacts and documents, conducted interviews with students, parents and teachers, and spent time in classrooms. Participating schools have used this diagnostic process to set goals and create their school improvement plans.
7. Despite Challenges, Innovative New Schools Persevered
Three innovative schools made strides this school year, all in different phases of innovation: Oakland School of Language (OSOL), entered its second year as a OUSD’s only dual language middle school. Aurum Preparatory Academy kicked off its first year in deep East Oakland as a new charter public middle school with a focus on rigor and character development. Latitude High, a new public charter high school from Education for Change Public Schools, launched its innovative “city as its classroom” model – and their students recently got to visit Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, and were awarded a multi-million dollar grant from the Oakland-based XQ Institute.
8. New Oakland Achieves Report Released
Oakland Achieves released a report showing how all Oakland schools are doing on state Dashboard indicators. It was downloaded hundreds of times and reached tens of thousands more on social media, helping advocates across the city refocus public dialogue on quality for Oakland kids. The state’s new multi-measure system goes beyond academic data to focus additionally on campus culture and climate. This data helped inform the work of The Oakland REACH to push all public schools around better results for low-income African American students.
9. Enrollment Continued Improvement & Partnership
Last year, Enroll Oakland increased applications by 45% to nearly 15,000, reaching more families than ever before through extensive outreach, working with community organizations and connecting with students and their families at schools. Now in its third year, Enroll Oakland continues to deepen its partnership with OUSD and Oakland public charter schools to give parents, especially those historically denied school choice, genuine access to better public school options—and support them every step of the way. And let’s remember the open enrollment deadline for the 2019-20 school year is this coming February 8 for all district and charter schools!
We know that 2019 will bring continued challenges for our most vulnerable students, stress for our educators, budget pressure on schools, and many difficult decisions and tradeoffs for our systemwide leaders. Yes. And. On a daily basis, we are blessed to witness the power of collaboration and community, and we see what is possible when teams of dedicated teachers, families and leaders work together in service of children. Thank you to all of our partners in 2018. Let’s make even more progress for Oakland students in 2019!
– Gloria, Carolyn, Rachel, Sara, David, Maribel, Carrie, Michael, Bela and Isaac
Here at Educate78, we seek to ensure that every child across Oakland’s 78 square miles has genuine access to a world class public education. In pursuit of this vision, we fund school improvement for district and charter public schools, support teacher and school leader training and retention, and promote parent empowerment and engagement. As a 501c3 not-profit organization focused on grant-making and programs, we don’t usually wade into elections… but sometimes a proposed policy measure is important enough that we feel the need to speak up.
That’s why we support YES on Measure A, an important funding measure on the Alameda County ballot this June 5 Primary Election. Measure A will help support children across Alameda County, including Oakland’s 78 square miles, and therefore we strongly urge you to support it in every way you can. The passage of Measure A is key to the on-going success of the Oakland Promise, an initiative led by Mayor Libby Schaff that we have been supporting since its start. Later, this November, there will be another measure at the City ballot level, which will also help, but for now we hope you and your networks can join us in helping pass Measure A. Why?
Alameda County is facing a child care crisis:
- Close the Kindergarten Readiness Gap: According to the annual First Five assessment, only 44% of our children arrive at school Kindergarten Ready. Studies show that children need a specific set of social emotional skills, such as self-regulation, self-expression, and the ability to cooperate in a structured environment, before they are able to grasp academic standards. If they start behind, it’s even harder for our K-12 system to help close the gap.
- Need for More Early Childhood Programs: Over 7,000 children are on waiting lists to get into preschool and early education.
- We Don’t Fund Early Education Enough: Public preschool reimbursement rates are insufficient to meet the true cost of education. California’s 2016-2017 reimbursement rate is $7,817 per child, but the cost of high quality preschool is $17,069. We know this is a problem that continues throughout the K12 years, so we need to chip away at it every chance we get.
- Affordability Crisis Impacts Providers: Insufficient funding leads to inadequate pay. In Alameda County, preschool teachers earn an average of $12.40 per hour, while in-home child care providers earn just $5-8 per hour. It’s no wonder that, according to UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, 75% of child care providers and early educators worry about paying monthly bills and many of them have second or third jobs to survive.
However, this crisis can be combatted with Alameda County’s Measure A:
- More scholarships for low-income children: Measure A will provide thousands of preschool and child care scholarships for middle income, low income, and homeless families.
- Better programs: Enhance program quality through instructional coaching and grants for education materials.
- Increase pay for better retention and recruitment: Raise provider salaries to at least $15 per hour.
- Expand pipeline and services: Develop the pipeline of early educators and expand the number of high-quality child care and preschool centers.
The policy was crafted by over 1,200 parents, child care providers, educators, and child development experts at over 95 listening sessions throughout Alameda County. As the San Francisco Chronicle endorsement of Measure A reads: “This is a crisis with social and economic consequences that merits a vigorous public-policy response. Alameda County has found a way to do it right”
Let’s help all of Alameda County’s children thrive today. Vote YES on Measure A on June 5.
P.S. Measure A also still needs volunteers! Can you help Get Out The Vote (GOTV) anytime June 2-5? Sign up here or contact the Measure A Campaign Manager Casey Farmer at 510-393-0388 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the second installment in a series of interviews with Educate78 School Design Lab leaders and partners. In our first installment of #OakSDL interviews, we heard from Oakland’s longest serving principal. Now here from a leader she influenced, Anita Comelo, Principal of OUSD’s Bridges at Melrose.
The new mega blockbuster Black Panther supposedly depicts Oakland in 1992, the same year you started nearly three decades ago with OUSD (though actually not Oakland in the movie, by the way). How did you begin your career in OUSD? What was it like back then?
My connections to OUSD began as a student actually. My family immigrated from Bombay, India in 1983. I attended O High, graduating in 1985.
As immigrants, it was not easy. Some of our family came with us, some stayed back. I felt and saw other immigrants dealing with the challenges of coming into a new school system, and this, in part, was what inspired me to eventually join OUSD professionally. Also, my mom actually was a Classified Employee there for 25 years, so she definitely played a role as well.
Before starting work though, I lived abroad a bit, spending a year and a half in Venezuela. I returned and went to SF State to study teaching, and they assumed I wanted to pursue a bilingual credential since I was returning from a Spanish-speaking country. Around the same time, my mom encouraged me to become a sub.
“Sure, why not?” I thought, just for now, and began day-to-day subbing in 1991. And so I was subbing and putting my language skills to use here at Bridges at Melrose.
As it turns out, Moyra was the first-grade teacher, pregnant with her first son Jacinto; so I subbed for her. Delia Ruiz was principal. Later Moyra became a TSA and hired me and became my coach. I learned a lot from Moyra, then I became a TSA when Moyra became principal.
Tell me about your journey to where are you today?
When Moyra left to found MLA, Clara Tharango became principal. I had done my teacher training in her classroom! Clara was our principal for 10 years.
During that time, I left for a bit in 2005 after 13 years teaching. I took a break to focus on personal interests. I never fully stopped teaching, actually; I took up teaching ESL and citizenship classes. I did parent education for Yemeni families at Fruitvale Elementary.
Eventually I wanted to come back, but the only position available here was in kindergarten. I did not want to teach kinder. So I joined Central as an ELA specialist for 2 years, then PAR for 3 years, then MLA as a TSA.
When Clara was leaving here as our Bridges principal in 2015, she and others invited me to apply. I’m now in my third year as principal.
You’ve seen a lot over the years. You were a student when the district first started hitting financial challenges in the late 80s, a teacher leading into State Administration in the late 90s/early 2000s, and now you’ve bene principal through a chaotic period of unexpected budget crises and more leadership turnover. What’s kept you here?
Community kept me here. Two of my siblings went through OUSD, starting in middle school when we moved here. And then I’ve had these amazing, strong Latina mentors and leaders: Delia, Clara, Moyra.
I went through the very hard but transformational five-week teacher strike in 1996. It’s always been teacher educators and peers who have kept me. Super smart and dedicated people working in really hard conditions.
Also, the families and the kids. A lot of my students are now sending their kids to school here. It’s intergenerational.
I hope to continue this legacy of community and mentorship.
Beautiful. We hope you do too! So let’s look at today: is the District moving in the right direction?
Over time it’s actually moving better. There was chaos at times. We had kids leaving 5th grade without learning to read. And we still have a lot of work to do. But there’s definitely been improvement.
And I have a lot of hope in our leaders in the district right now. Sara Stone, LaResha Martin, Monica Thomas, Sondra, Kyla…they come from within our system and understand it.
We need to change. Lots of things are still not working for our students and schools. There are departments that could definitely be in greater service of students. There are good people in these offices I know, but maybe it’s the structure, systems, management – I’m not sure.
Can you speak to specifics? As you note, these are things that need to be fixed to better serve our children.
There are central offices that could better serve our schools. HR and PEC are ones that come to mind right now.
We have had a teacher out on medical leave for almost the whole year and we have had a classroom of first graders with many different subs. The children have lost a year already of their education. HR’s response has been weak. PEC is getting better, but still has some ways to go in supporting children with disabilities and responding to site issues.
Good people are leaving because of situations that have not been aligned to OUSD’s value of Students First. Also, we really have to get better about differentiating for school sites. We need to look at each site to figure out how to support and lift up certain communities that are really struggling.
What’s your proudest accomplishment so far with Bridges?
Building a good strong team. We had stability for 10 years. No teacher left. We were an anomaly for an East Oakland school. But the year before I came five teachers left and the principal retired; then the following year 4 teachers retired.
Now it’s like Bridges 2.0. We’re laying the foundation, hopefully for another period of stability and improvement. We’re working on lots of shift in school climate, for example, away from a more punitive practices to PBIS and RJ and SEL. We’re rethinking our bilingual program (TK-5; early exit Spanish program; 3rd grade transition to English). We’re implementing Balanced Literacy.
We have an ELD 3-year plan. We’re in our first year of it, working closely with the ELLMA office – shout out to ELLMA – they’re awesome and one of the many central teams doing great work.
We’re also trying to strengthen systems and structures. We now have a Coordination of Services Team, Attendance Team, Instructional Leadership Team (ILT), K2College Team, PBIS School Climate team, Redesign Team, and Faculty Council, in addition to the parent involvement bodies and grade level teacher teams.
What are the aspirational student and school community outcomes for Bridges over the next five years?
I hope to see real academic growth along different measures: Our own standards-based aligned assessments; student work; writing samples; math assessment; diagnostic assessment – ELD assessment; ELPAC and SBAC for state and SRI for district. It’s a lot, but that’s the work. We’re trying to develop more teacher-created assessments aligned to standards.
I also hope we create a place that elevates the strengths and responds to the needs of the community. Where families want to send their kids because they’ll get a real good education. Where kids’ families and culture are honored. Where families new to the country are supported as part of our full-service community school approach, with necessities like food, clothing, etc. And families and learning and growing as well – ESL, technology, reading and literacy. I would like to see us teach and create systems that honors and supports our students’ intellect and have high expectations for them.
How can OUSD and others help you get there?
The funding we have right now is not enough to do what we need to do. We need new grants and political advocacy for more funding.
Also, we need greater differentiation and communication to school sites responding to the unique needs of the school.
How is Educate78 helping?
Being part of the SDL has been helpful and supportive. With our single plan for student achievement, we are just looking year-to-year. With Educate78, we are being led through a process of rethinking everything for our school so we can be better years down the line.
The coaching’s been really good. Bela’s awesome. I love working with her.
And the processes we’ve been led through have been great. We did very authentic community engagement to come up with our school vision. When I got here, no parent or staff member could tell me what our vision or mission was. We developed that together.
We now have a graduate profile. We’re looking at all different aspects of school – curriculum, adult learning, etc. – all it in a very systematic way.
And the funds for a sub-principal are a huge help. It’s impossible to run a school day-to-day and redesign.
What about the city as a whole – district and charter schools – how might they need to work together or work in different ways to ensure that all kids (and especially our most vulnerable kids and communities) in Oakland have access to a great public education?
I have my personal views on charters but that does not matter here. What makes sense for our reality now is that there to be a thoughtful entity or group of people that are looking at all the schools in Oakland and all of Oakland. Right now the atmosphere is of people fighting – tension, suspicion, mistrust. I understand why, but I think moving forward to do right by our students, we need to figure out how to come together.
I don’t know what the answer is, but we need leadership in this area. We need leadership from OUSD and the charters and/or maybe city elders to come together and consider how to best serve the city’s children. Everyone may need to compromise so that there is thoughtfulness on how schools are created, closed, merged, etc.
We also need to really do an analysis of what’s working. Someone – I don’t recall who, GO Principal group and/or Principal Advisory Committee maybe? – put out a survey to principals. We need to look at those results and take real strong action.
It’s never going to be easy because there will be jobs lost and transitioned, but we don’t exist to create jobs, but to serve students. But if we don’t make those tough decisions we will all suffer.
What’s your hope for Kyla and the current leadership team?
She has a super tough job. I’m glad she’s in that role. I think she understands us, the systems all the way through from student to teacher to principal. She’s a good listener. She must continue to listen. Do the work with integrity and fairness, and the results will come through.
This will go out to the public education leadership of Oakland and others across the region, state and nation. Anything you’d like to add or I missed?
We cannot, schools cannot – we’re going to fail given existing resources. We need political advocacy to change funding at the state level, at the national level. Teachers need to get paid more or we are not going to succeed. We can’t have a revolving door of teachers, can’t attract and keep the best teachers. We also have to make the principal job more manageable or will continue to have turnover there.
Also I want to highlight our Crocker Highlands-Bridges partnership. Crocker Highlands is helping us with fundraising; they judged the science fair; volunteered to distribute food from the food bank; did some neighborhood clean-up and many donated to a family going through a crisis. It started this year. I have to thank Pamela Erickson who heads the Equity Committee at Crocker and principal Jocelyn Kelleher.
The Masons give us a grant for books for kids – Raising a Reader. The East Bay Chapter of the California Masons.
RTI – a science company based in Berkeley – they gave boxes of supplies and gift cards to staff around the holidays. They’re a friendly local corporation. It all helps!
What’s your favorite spot on campus so we can take a picture there?
Let’s go to the library.
If you are interested in supporting Bridges, you can donate here through the Oakland Public Education Fund or click on the OUSD Facebook post screenshot above (or here) to support the three Bridges students who recently tragically lost their mother.
Thank you for reading! Next up we’ll be interviewing the principals of a West Oakland elementary school working through its school redesign and then the principal of one of the Fruitvale’s strongest middle school programs. Stay tuned!
An interview with OUSD’s longest-serving principal, Moyra Contreras, the founding principal of Melrose Leadership Academy (MLA) and a Educate78 School Design Lab Fellow.
Moyra in front of her favorite mural on campus, featuring what she described as the cycle of life of a woman. She thinks it may be the only mural around featuring a nursing mother. (Painted by Pancho Peskador and MLA students.)
How did MLA begin?
In 2001, I was Principal at Melrose Elementary. We were doing significant work to redesign the school. The nearby middle schools were really not high quality academically; but worse, they were just not safe. Kids were dropping out after elementary school. And parents were coming to me begging for us to keep their kids. It was really hard to let them go, knowing where they were going.
The Small Autonomous Schools movement was happening. We had been working with BayCES. I was on a retreat, at a reception, and someone asked me, if you could have anything right now, what would it be. I said, “I’d keep my kids.”
But we had 520 kids at the time, located at the Melrose site at 53rd and International. We didn’t actually qualify as a small school – their definition was 350 or less. So in 2001 we opened a standalone middle school with 6th grade. We had two schools for a while, and I was principal of both.
How was starting a new school in OUSD at the time?
There was a lot of change. Melrose was a pilot school for the new results-based budgeting that the State Administrator brought in. While the Melrose Leadership Academy middle school was budgeted through the Small Autonomous Schools process.
We had no building for the first two weeks of school! Central office assumed we were going to be on the Melrose campus, but we had no space. We became good friends with the Rainbow Recreation Center at International and Seminary – that became our home base. And the kids learned about the city, traveling around to different locations on public transportation for “class” while waiting for the two portables.
Eventually they build us a new two-story structure on that campus, but that only worked for a couple of years. There was not enough space.
So where did you go?
Sherman, on Brand Street, was closed under State Administration, so MLA Middle School moved there. That’s when we really started to work with parents and teachers to design the school we’d envisioned: a diverse-by-design, integrated K-8 dual immersion school.
We were on the Sherman campus for five years while Melrose Elementary went through a No Child Let Behind-inspired transition and became Bridges at Melrose. But again, as we grew, we needed more space.
Under Supt. Tony Smith, Maxwell Park was closed. That’s how we ended up here today. That was six years ago. Our first kinder class is now in 8th grade.
Where did the vision for MLA come from for you?
It’s really tied to how I came to Oakland and my experiences before that. I was teaching in Seattle. It was the early 80s. It was the first year of busing in Seattle. I was the only teacher of color at an all-white school that was receiving primarily African American and new immigrant children…only to be resegregated once at school. I had a bilingual credential but there were no bilingual schools in Seattle. We had two daughters and wanted to raise them in a diverse community.
A friend called who was living in Oakland. I interviewed by phone with OUSD and they offered me a job on the call. Next thing I flew in to take the CBEST test in July, then went back home to pack the family up in a U-Haul, and that fall began teaching at Stonehurst. I was there for one year.
I moved to Jefferson, where we lived in the neighborhood and were super committed to the community. But then our Mexican AP who I was close to became principal of Melrose. Without the support of administration, we could not keep the change going that we had been working on. I was the only bilingual mentor in the district at the time. My AP recruited me to Melrose, but I cried when I left.
On the surface, the Jefferson and Melrose communities looked racially similar. But socioeconomically, there was way more trauma in the Melrose community. It was predominantly new immigrant communities surrounded by factories and pollution.
Every school you’ve mentioned so far has either closed or been reconfigured. School closures are hot on people’s minds right now. What thoughts do you have on the subject?
When we came here to Maxwell Park, it was hard. Change is painful for a community. But we are a public school. We have many more families from the community coming here. We’re offering a program within the public school system meeting the needs of this community. The previous program ended, but the school didn’t close; we’re serving the community. School closures are really complicated by class and race. They impact black and brown kids disproportionately.
But we have too many buildings for the number of kids we have. If we’re going to stabilize this district and provide quality facilities, we’re going to have to make tough decisions about how many schools we can maintain. This school was built in 1929, it has a boiler from 1929. The classrooms upstairs get to 110 degrees, but we can’t put air conditioning in because the electrical system won’t support it.
A related topic is the Blueprint – what do you think about it?
I am hopeful for the Blueprint process. It’s so important. It will be a 2-3 year process, and I’m hopeful we’ll be in the first cohort. Ultimately it may involve us splitting into two campuses to expand. Maybe one K-3 and one 4-8. We have 80 families on our kindergarten waitlist and more in other grades.
You’re the longest serving OUSD principal in the district right now, and your tenure as an educator began even before that. How has OUSD changed over the years?
I’ve seen about 20 superintendents in the last 34 years. That’s the biggest problem. New people bring new ideas, and we never build on what’s already here. Some of the things being “discovered” now as new things; we tried them 20 years ago, but they did not stick.
The vision must be held by the community, and then we need someone to come join and support the vision of the community. I’m happy for Kyla in that way. She’s been here in multiple positions. I hope she’ll stay and stick it out so we can really build something sustainable.
In the absence of that, I’ve tried to build here; given the constraints.
How could OUSD support more?
When we opened, we had autonomies – budget, for example – we helped pilot RBB. We had calendar autonomy: we started a week early and gave families a longer winter break to visit families – we have families that drive to other countries for the break and they need more time. We started with a “Discovery Week” where kids could choose a week-long elective while classroom teachers got the whole week for planning. We had camping, cooking classes in conjunction with the Catholic Worker at 54th and International. We had an extended day – all of our kids stayed until five and we gave kids extra time to eat breakfast in the morning. We even had our own report card – a more narrative one, that was standards based but had character development in addition to academics. But we lost them after a few years, and I wish I had them all back. It’s also hard to know what OUSD could do more or differently, because that’s all I’ve known.
And OUSD people seem to love your school – a lot of them have their kids here, right?
Many. I’ve always believed you should send your kids where you’re asking others to attend. My daughter and son were at Melrose when I was there, and long before we became MLA. My oldest daughter attended Jefferson while I was there.
What do you think of charter schools?
I recognize how hard it is in OUSD. And I recognize how many schools have not met the needs of the community. But I feel that charters have been destabilizing.
If we’d continued in the vein of the new Small Schools Movement, that could have created the pressure to transform the school district sooner. Charters may have released some of that pressure by taking those kids and families out of the system.
I love and respect many of the people doing the charter work as individuals. But I wish we could be creating opportunities within OUSD to innovate. How do we invite them back into OUSD? What would that look like?
What’s your proudest or happiest moment over the years?
One day I was standing at the corner of 53rd and International. Armed robberies had happened on three of the four corners. I thought, “What if we could get these kids just a little bit out of this neighborhood?” Just a reprieve – close enough that they could come, but not where they were still immersed directly in such violence and poverty. And what if we could mix with other, more affluent families. There are no liquor stores in this neighborhood. And here, people who are not the same are able to come together and understand each other deeply. I feel like we have achieved that, and are still trying to advance that dream, care for it, and make sure we don’t lose it.
What’s your leadership style?
My job is to provide everybody opportunities to lead – engage intellectually and professionally. Everybody wins that way. I can’t know what’s happening with the noon supervisor, but if they’re thinking about it and feel empowered, they can ask, “Wouldn’t it be better if we did it this way?” You can improve everything if everyone’s participating in that way.
My transition from Seattle to deep East Oakland was an incredible shock; Seattle was trying to integrate schools; Oakland wasn’t even talking about it. Stonehurst was like 1,000 kids with 90% free and reduced lunch. But what was most striking was how teachers were treated. In Seattle there was a supply room open to everybody. The principal gave me the keys to the school so I could go in early as a new teacher to. When I got here, the principal was asking me for weekly lesson plans, assuming I was incompetent, and treating me like I was going to steal.
The first thing I did when I became principal in Oakland was unlock the supply room. I told the teachers, this is how much we have; this is what our budget is. We’re all in this together. Before that teachers would hoard!
What motivates you most to keep keeping on?
In 34 years; it’s always been challenging, but there’s always been an opportunity, if you look for it really hard – to innovate. I’ve found them or helped make them. And learn. I did a two-year training when I started in Oakland to learn about coaching teachers. I did a program with the Bay Area Writing Project and became a BAWP consultant. We were a BASRC school, then a demonstration school in partnership with Cal State Hayward to train new teachers of color funded by Pacific Telesis. We were redesigning Melrose Elementary before creating MLA.
Sounds like that’s maybe part of why you joined the School Design Lab?
Exactly. We’d been trying to redesign – the middle school was not dual language when we opened it; we had been focused on expeditionary learning, but not appropriate. We are designing and redesigning every year, and thought it would be great to have additional resources, because it’s hard to do school full time and redesign.
What have you most liked about the School Design Lab?
I really appreciate the resources – to have a sub-principal once a week. It allows me to work with the AP with fewer distractions.
Also, the work around personalized learning is valuable for us. And rethinking how we’re organizing the school. It gives me time to think.
What feedback do you have for Educate78 about how to better move forward the cause of increasing access to quality school seats across Oakland’s 78 square miles?
Support schools like ours that can expand and improve, which I guess you are doing. If we were on two campuses, we could probably expand to 800. Also, I’d love to see more differentiated support. Each school in the lab is so different. Also, it would be good to figure out how to define quality schools more broadly. SBAC scores feel too prominent. I strongly believe in academic achievement and standards – but that does not define quality. There are schools with good test scores but not places I’d like to send my kids. What’s the quality of instruction in some of the hills schools? Or are the kids just doing well because they come to school with tons of privilege. We noted that many OUSD and other educators send their kids here. What do people see – it’s not the SBAC scores? They’re not great and they’ll never be great – we don’t teach English until 4th grade. Students learn to read and write in Spanish and the SBAC is in English and we have newcomers in all grades. How could we define what we have here?
And your hope for Kyla?
When I first became principal, I went through a hell that I thought would never be possible.
There’s so much dysfunction; you have to stand in it long enough and stand for something, to come out the other side with something better
I could not have imagined what some people were going to put me through; maybe if it were horrible enough I would leave. It was spearheaded by two teachers who did not want to change their practices.
But I’m a really stubborn person. You’re not going to try to push me out that way. I’m going to leave when I’m good and ready.
If you could have anything today? What would it be?
We’ve grown out of this space. I’d like to have a guaranteed solution for facilities for how we can continue to grow and thrive
What else do you want to share?
I love the murals here. Art is so essential. Here you have kids doing capoeira, art, dance. It’s organic – people take responsibility for what they’re passionate about.
Oakland teachers: what would make you want to stay in your school another 3, 5, or 10 years?
We’re kicking off the 2018-19 Teacher Retention Grant Program — a unique program that was designed by Oakland teachers for Oakland teachers. These grants empower teachers to change the conditions at their school that are preventing teachers like themselves from staying. To date, Educate78 has awarded over $300,000 to district-run and charter-run schools through the grant program.
Want to learn more? Check out this page for information on key dates, how to receive grant proposal support, eligibility, sample ideas, advice and answers to frequently asked questions.
Want to hear straight from Oakland teachers who have received grants? Check out blog entries from current grant recipients at Madison Park Academy, Greenleaf Elementary, Life Academy and Lazear Charter Academy. The grantees share how they identified the need at their school site, what they’re using the funding for, and what’s been working.