7 Appreciations for 2017

Like many of you, we spent the Thanksgiving break reflecting on what we appreciate. Here are some of the people we must appreciate in Oakland public education – those who give us hope and inspire us.

 

#1: Inspirational Oakland Students

We appreciate the nearly 50,000 Oakland public school students across this amazingly diverse town. Lately we’ve been especially moved by stories like this one from a young woman who calls for a support system she can trust, this powerful poem from a student about the Oakland he knows, and this one about how a young scholar wants to learn not just memorize. These students are part of an initial cohort of a couple dozen Energy Convertor fellows who are using modern communications tools to voice their truth and keep us all focused on students.

 

 

#2: Powerful Oakland Parents

Parents are essential for the success of our students, schools, and the entire system. Groups like Oakland REACH, which is helping make the powerless parent powerful, hold us all accountable for making decisions that put students first. We celebrate all groups helping develop parent leadership, including long-standing groups like Oakland Community Organizations and yes, even ones we sometimes disagree with like OUSD Parents United, because we believe that healthy debate is critical for our democracy and that multiple perspectives can help us get to better solutions.

 

#3: Dedicated Oakland Teachers

Oakland public school teachers across our city bring their best every day. We appreciate them all for doing one of the most important jobs in the world. We offer a special shout out to those who are actively engaged in making our city a great place to teach – through our Teacher Advisory Group and Citywide teacher retention survey. We need to elevate, celebrate, and appreciate all who TeachOakland. (Thanks to the teachers and administration of OUSD’s Roosevelt Middle School, one of our #OakSDL grantees, for participating in this photo shoot, with photos by Oakland-based Tai Power Seeff.)

 

#4: Transformational Oakland School Leaders

Transformational Oakland school leaders like those who are participating in our Oakland School Design Lab are essential to creating a vibrant future for Oakland public education. We have to disrupt a system based on mid-19th century values and mid-20th century economics. To do so, we must transform our portfolio of schools into ones delivering student-centered education for the future.

 

#5: Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel and her team

Kyla has arrived at an incredibly challenging time, inheriting nearly three decades of broken bureaucracy. She and the leaders around her – including the current school board – have the opportunity to fix things, finally. It won’t be easy – tough decisions have been kicked down the road for too long. Everyone will have to give a little to restore fiscal vitality to Oakland’s public education ecosystem. We especially appreciate her transparency through communications efforts like Connecting with Kyla.

 

#6: The Oakland Community

The Oakland community comes together to create and support so many amazing initiatives. Probably one of the best examples today is the Oakland Promise led by Mayor Libby Schaff to triple graduation rates over 10 years. We can’t let the promise be broken by systemic failure, so in the same way Oakland has come together for the Promise, we must unite to make the systemic improvements needed to deliver on the Promise.

 

#7: Everyone improving public school choice for Oakland families

Two years ago, to apply to Oakland district and charter public school options was a challenging paper-chase that disadvantaged low-income flatlands families the most. There were over 25 different applications and timelines, no online process, and few physical locations to get information. Now there is a one-stop-shop for families to explore and start applying to all Oakland public schools – EnrollOak.org. Explore all Oakland public school options using the Oakland School Finder, apply to 95% of charters with one application, and get connected to the District’s new and improved enrollment process for District schools. And the School Finder now includes the new Oakland Public School Report Card, with data on quality for every public school.

 

Every one of these is at the heart of a thriving Oakland public education ecosystem that serves all children well. What are you most thankful for this year in the world of Oakland public education?

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

An Exciting Time for Enrollment in Oakland Public Schools

Enrollment can be a unsettling time for public school families here in Oakland. Part of the problem – perhaps the biggest part — is lack of quality options. Parents and guardians worry that their child won’t get into a school that would be a great fit for their needs. In the spring, the notifications often raise more questions. The whole process is a time-consuming and costly effort: hours of online research, time off to attend school tours, spreadsheets to keep track of options and deadlines. It can be a virtually impossible task for the many families in our city, especially those without English language proficiency, internet access, flexibility, transportation, and time.

Fortunately, this year will be better for families. Oakland public schools have begun to modernize the enrollment process to make it more accessible, transparent, and equitable. Here are some highlights:

  • OUSD Enrollment Online: OUSD has a significantly improved enrollment website with more information and a way to apply online to district-run schools this year. Check it out: ousd.org/enroll. There are also “Options Fairs” (the two remaining will happen early next year) where families can get a free computer!
  • Enroll Oakland Charters: Oakland’s charter schools have banded together to create a single application process, virtually eliminating the different deadlines and applications which were so confusing. Almost all the charters are part of this single application. Here’s the link: http://enrolloak.org.
  • School Finder Online: This new online tool has lots of useful information about both district and charter public schools so families can more easily find the schools that meet their children’s needs. The online application tools for District and charter schools are both integrated with it. (And I’m very proud to say Educate78 provided funding to help get this tool created.)
  • Oakland School Performance Framework: The “Oakland SPF” is a truly remarkable new source of useful, comprehensive, and comparable data on OUSD schools. It’s helpful for families (and for leaders trying to improve schools). Kudos to the OUSD team – they’ve created one of the best school quality frameworks in the country. Educate78 is working to make sure charters join next year as part of the Equity Pledge work we are supporting.

Families still have time to research and apply: the first deadline is January 20. For a good overview with all of the dates, GO Public Schools has put together this handy graphic. Please help us share out this information to EVERY parent, guardian, and educator in Oakland. Information is power!

Even with these new tools, however, we must remember that what’s really needed is more good schools for families to choose from. We’ve been pleased to see that that schools across Oakland are headed in the right direction with many schools “On the Rise,” some hidden gems, and a couple of high schools winning external recognition for closing the achievement gap. With our School Design Lab work, we are trying to do our part to accelerate the process. We also hope to continue supporting more improvements to Oakland public school enrollment going forward.

Good luck with your research and thanks again for spreading the word about this exciting time for Oakland public school enrollment!

Post-Election Reflections from Inside Oakland Public Education

No matter who is elected President, life in Oakland is not a reality show, especially when it comes to our public schools.

Our reality is that every day our system is failing thousands of children. Our reality is that resources are scarce and the list of needs is long. Our reality is that we have incredibly talented people – across the city – who work together every day on behalf of all students.

It’s times like this when I especially appreciate being part of our vibrant Oakland public education ecosystem, with so many like-minded souls. Since the election, when I’ve asked, “How are you doing, really?” people know exactly what I mean. In the hugs, tears, and conversations that have ensued, I have found inspiration and motivation from the wisdom of our community:

Deep love for our children. Every educator I’ve met has stories of children bursting into tears, worrying about themselves or a loved one being deported, or simply being genuinely confused about what the election says about classroom lessons on compassion and respect. I’ve seen or heard about teachers and school leaders across this city demonstrating incredible thoughtfulness and purpose, finding ways (in and out of the classroom) to show students they are cared for and protected. Our students protested peacefully, our Superintendent shared useful resources to support educators in talking to their students about the election, and teachers have been reaching out to families. The conversations have only begun, and we must foster these fertile discussions.

Empathy and selflessness in community. Around the city, I’ve seen countless individuals set aside their own emotions about the election to attend to the needs of others. Managers have jettisoned time-sensitive agendas to provide space for employees to reflect, and people have nurtured their colleagues and friends with hugs, humor, and food. The day after the election, here at the Impact Hub (the co-working space where Educate78 is based), the founders spontaneously organized a community conversation that culminated in each person talking with someone they didn’t already know to ask, “What do you need and how can I help?” In emails and on social media, I’ve even seen posts from Clinton supporters urging empathy with Trump supporters who voted the way they did because they have felt misunderstood, marginalized, and disenfranchised. It’s a good reminder to those of us working for more opportunity in urban areas: there are people who have been left behind in our society all over the country in places that look very different than here.

Fierce determination and persistence. Many of my conversations with our elders, especially people of color who were active through the Civil Rights era, have been grounding. They have reminded me of our country’s history: progress followed by set-backs, forward movement followed by backlash (or “Whitelash” as Van Jones so eloquently put it), decisions to increase equity followed by injustice. They reinforced that over the long run, our country has grown into a better place for all racial, religious, and ethnic groups. They also reminded me of what it takes to ensure continued progress: all of us need to advocate for our principles, for greater justice and equity for all.  A friend reported that none other than Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can take a moment for tears, but then go get some rest and get back up in the morning and keep fighting for the children.” I heard versions of this from other elders in our community, and am inspired by their steely determination, continued commitment, and willingness to walk the talk their entire lives.

Optimism about local progress. Here in Oakland, we are also fortunate to have plenty of state and local wins to be grateful for: voters approved money for schools (CA Prop 51 and Prop 55, Oakland Measure G1) and reversed the ban on bilingual education. We elected a new state senator for our region, Nancy Skinner, a proven progressive with whom I look forward to working. The three Oakland housing affordability measures our Teacher Advisory Group members wrote about last week all passed with over 70% of the vote! We taxed sugary beverages; our kids’ teeth and overall health will benefit. And we re-elected the school board leaders that have been working towards a shared vision of quality education across Oakland’s 78 square miles.

Many of these local races were heated, I know, and it’s healthy that we don’t agree on everything here in Oakland; but overall this election was a reminder that we have much more in common than not: a shared commitment to move towards a more just community where all persons – regardless of zip code, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or disability – are treated with dignity and respect.

Whatever happens nationally, we are determined to continue to act locally: to support our educators, embrace our families, engage in respectful debate, and work together to ensure that every child in Oakland has access to a great public education. Our future depends on it.

Clearing up the Distractions

There is a lot of confusion about the process behind the effort to improve school enrollment in Oakland’s public schools.  And unfortunately, those misunderstandings threaten to distract from the real issue at stake: families need a better way to find and enroll in public schools – one that is equitable, transparent and accessible for all Oakland families.

So here is some clarification to help move past the distractions.

Educate78 is providing financial support to improve public school enrollment in Oakland – specifically, to help facilitate community engagement and access the technical and experiential expertise needed for this type of improvement.

We deeply believe this effort will only be successful if it is guided by the views and needs of the Oakland community.

We deeply believe this effort will only be successful if it is guided by the views and needs of the Oakland community. That is why we worked closely with Oakland Unified School District and other community partners to bring together more than 200 parents, teachers and school leaders, in 12 public forums, at locations all over the city.  These forums – which are still ongoing – were widely publicized, open to all and attended by both supporters and skeptics of the initiative to improve public school enrollment.  We also helped OUSD promote a public survey they created to get even more input, in which 77% of 450 respondents from across the city shared their belief that the way Oakland does public school enrollment should be updated or replaced.

We also think Oakland can learn a lot from other cities about planning and designing enrollment improvements.  We asked enrollment experts to share successes and challenges, in the hopes that Oakland can use what works, improve upon what does not, and create an enrollment approach that meets the needs of our unique city and the diverse families our public schools serve.

Educate78 provided financial support for this project because there was a need.  As we all know, OUSD faces tight budget constraints, which limit the district’s ability to conduct the community engagement and learning required to make this effort a winning solution for all Oakland families.  Educate78 is proud to help fill that gap in resources and we are disappointed that our support has contributed to the controversy of a project intended to improve the lives of Oakland families.  While many of our own donors are supportive of public charter schools, some are more excited about our work to support district school redesign efforts and community engagement.  Educate78 – like many Oakland families – is much less concerned with what types of public schools are serving our communities than we are with the results they are getting.

Educate78 – like many Oakland families – is much less concerned with what types of public schools are serving our communities than we are with the results they are getting.

The initiative to improve school enrollment is being driven by families’ needs – especially families who historically have not had any opportunity to share their enrollment experiences with the District.  It is not being driven by public charter schools – both public charters and district-run schools still have outstanding questions about how the new process will work. This initiative is not about moving more students to public charter schools.  Indeed, the highest performing public charter schools in Oakland already have full enrollment and waitlists.  This is about improving equity, transparency and access to public schools for all Oakland families.  Let’s keep that the focus.

Some people may continue to oppose OUSD’s plans to make public school enrollment better for political or ideological reasons, and that’s ok.  We are glad that our democracy allows civic discourse about the best path forward for our city.  We hope the ongoing community engagement sessions will fully air the diverse points of view on this topic, and we will continue to support the District to expand its outreach, so that any enrollment improvements are fully informed by the needs of Oakland’s diverse families.

Top 10 Reasons to be Optimistic about Oakland Public Education

“With such amazing educators and leaders working together on behalf of Oakland’s children, what could stop us from having the best urban public education system in the country?”

‘Tis the season.  Back to School season, that is.  It’s a time of fresh beginnings, energy and optimism.  Students are excited to meet their teachers and catch up with classmates.  Teachers are trying out new ideas.  School leaders are setting a positive tone for the year.  (And parents are relieved!)

Those of us who work in and around schools in Oakland are buzzing with the possibility that this year we will take big steps toward the goal of ensuring every student in Oakland has access to a world-class public education.

Here are the top 10 reasons I am hopeful:

1. Leaders, plural!

Superintendent Antwan Wilson is a man on a mission, and has spent more time in schools, classrooms and community forums than any other Superintendent in recent memory. Mayor Libby Schaaf has declared education a priority.  County Superintendent Karen Monroe is bringing fresh thinking to ACOE.  OUSD’s School Board, led by President James Harris, is using new approaches to hear community input and enable more civil discourse.  And thanks to Governor (and die-hard Oakland cheerleader) Jerry Brown, our public schools actually have more money to work with.  And the list doesn’t stop there.  Given the amount of work that needs to be done, I’m glad to see a strong, aligned cabinet at OUSD, including both district veterans and new executives.  Our Mayor hired a Policy Director on Youth & Education for the first time.  And our principals and teachers have incredible experience as community and instructional leaders, with the potential to do even more.

2. Strong community-based organizations. 

Oakland has a long history of being an incubator – and crucible – for social justice entrepreneurs.  So it’s no surprise that some of the most impactful and nationally well-regarded not-for-profit organizations are headquartered here: National Equity Project, Beyond12, GreatSchools, Seneca Family of Agencies, Aspire Public Schools…to name just a few.  These groups are an incredible resource for Oakland education, nimble enough to identify and fill new gaps as they arise.  And more are being created: I am inspired by working at the Impact Hub, where I am surrounded by social entrepreneurs of every kind.

3. We have a teacher contract! 

[Another round of applause]  This was the first year in many that OUSD teachers started the school year with a contract.  And it’s a ground-breaking one, with well-deserved raises, smaller class sizes, lower counselor to student ratios and the flexibility to give principals, teachers and parents a stronger voice in hiring.  But it’s only the beginning.  There is more work ahead to make Oakland a place where the best teachers want to work and live, and teachers need to be part of crafting those ideas.  We are excited to support a city-wide survey to hear from our teachers how we’re doing and what else we need to do as a city to keep and support our teachers.

4. Restorative justice work… works.

Over the past several years, OUSD has been hard at work instituting new practices for student behavior management and school discipline. With more national attention to the school-to-prison pipeline, Oakland can be a national model.

5. Coming soon: a better way to enroll in schools.

Enrolling students in schools that are good matches for their needs is a basic function of the public school system.  Unfortunately, any parent who has gone through the enrollment process knows that Oakland’s current approach is outdated, unnecessarily complicated and inequitable.  Those parents will be glad to hear that an improved process is in the works, thanks to a diverse group of leaders and families.  (If you’re interested in helping to make this happen, please let us know!)

6. More rigorous and relevant learning.  

Last year’s voter approval of Measure N, combined with implementation of Common Core State Standards, means our high school students are starting to get what they need: mastery of content and skills to be successful in college and career, and the opportunity to use what they know in ways that matter. It’s also a great opportunity for local businesses to be more connected to our schools – a hallmark of a united community.

7. Innovation. 

With our proximity to Silicon Valley, it’s natural for our teachers and schools to try new ideas.  Nearly every school has teachers who are using technology in new ways (kudos to the IT team at OUSD for making that possible by getting all the schools wired!).  Many schools, both charter and district-operated are attempting even more dramatic innovation – using models in which students have personalized learning experiences, rather than just being part of a “grade level batch.” 

8. New and newly revitalized schools.

Some of Oakland’s most successful public schools were started or redesigned within the last fifteen years.  We know that unleashing the creative and collaborative energy of our best school leaders, teachers and families can dramatically transform previously under-performing schools.  This tactic from the Oakland playbook is our best shot at turning around our most challenged schools, and as a city, we need to do everything we can to support efforts at Castlemont, Fremont, McClymonds, Frick, Brookfield, and other schools that are not serving our students as well as they deserve.  To provide more support for those working on re-imagining their schools, expanding successful schools and creating new high quality schools, we are developing a resource center to provide best practices and collaboration opportunities. 

9. Community organizing to amplify voices of diverse families.

Our citizens have for decades joined hands for the cause of equity and justice.

Oakland also has a deep history of community organizing.  From Black Panthers to #BlackLivesMatter, our citizens have for decades joined hands for the cause of equity and justice.  So the ground here is fertile for us to raise up more parent voices.  Our diverse families have a lot to say about the kind of public education they want for their children, and they are understandably a little too busy to come to school board meetings regularly.  We are proud to be working with Oakland Community Organization and others to help parents and guardians exercise their voice to get what their students need.

10. Many people committed to equity.

At every school, I meet hard-working brilliant individuals who are passionate about providing a great education to every child. Many of them have a huge fan base among their students, in their school, or among their colleagues – but are unknown by the rest of us.  I loved the Key & Peele ESPN spoof imagining what it would be like if teachers got the media coverage of sports stars.  In my ideal world, it wouldn’t be a spoof – it would be reality.  It’s the reason I’ll showcase some of these individuals on this blog: the HEROES series will launch soon.   With such amazing educators and leaders working together on behalf of Oakland’s children, what could stop us from having the best urban public education system in the country?