This is a guest post from Dr. César A. Cruz, a School Design Lab fellow with Educate78. Dr. Cruz is co-designing the HomiesEmpowerment School based out of East Oakland. The school’s mission is simply to “welcome home resilient youth, with revolutionary love, holistic resources, nurturing the scholar, warrior, healer and hustler within, in the process of emancipation.” Learn more at www.homiesempowerment.co.
As part of our Homies Empowerment school design journey, I sat in jail today. I sat inside of San Bruno jail near San Francisco, and heard from 12 brothers — 12 men, all adults —speak what they know is true. They spoke through tears about their schooling experiences. We were there as invited guests of 5 Keys School and here’s part of what was birthed: this poem. After the poem, I humbly urge you to read the 10 pieces of advice they gave us all.
The words below in bold are titles to their pieces. The words in quotes come directly from their soul. All I did was try to listen, really hear, begin to understand, and tranSCRIBE.
(Photos courtesy of Dr. César A. Cruz)
What We Know Is True
Do you hear the screams and the anger?
We’ve been held back and left behind.
In the public eye,
they say I’m a product of my environment,
but there’s a corrupt bond where war, is somehow the answer.
What I’ve seen, has created an early loss of innocence,
where I’ve been “looking for answers,
without even knowing (some of) the questions.”
As early as age 10, I knew that black and white don’t make gray,
but still got cuffed, beaten and locked up,
with a police officer’s boot on my neck telling me, to somehow “stop resisting.”
But we can’t stop, resisting!
I now see, it’s been us, versus them, all along.
Have we been set up to fail (to jail)?
“When you see us (men in orange suits),
do you see criminal or human being?”
Can you hear the “PTSD” that can no longer remain muffled in silence?
And yet, even in a cage, isolated from the outs(ide),
our spirit and point of view, will still be free.
Sharing our dreams 2 (our) reality are “what (we) know is true.”
You might lock us up, “and first place might already be decided,”
but, can you ever fully enslave us?
“No, (and if you must know) that means NEVER.”
Typed by Dr. César A. Cruz, but really written by Fotu P, Kelvin J, Marcus W, Johnnie R, Eric J, Valentino V, Jordan A, Christopher S, Travis J, Dale T and Lafayette R.
These brothers then shared this;
- Encourage kids, stop (de)grading them!
- Have a recording studio, because self expression is key, but they don’t always want to do it your way through English class.
- Be more interactive, field trips can be anywhere, so help us get out, literally and otherwise.
- Understand where we are coming from, and why we might bring a gun to school, not to hurt anyone, but because we have to walk home afterwards. Can you actually understand that reality or do you just judge it?
- Teach things that can be productive for us in society.
- Have role models there that look like us, but not just look like us, but have some of our lived experiences.
- It takes the hood to save the hood, so have the hood at your school.
- Don’t scold (it stays with us forever).
- Have incentive programs based on what we like to do.
- Stay away from blanket statements and labels. I am not a minority or free and reduced lunch. Don’t write that about us, ever.
Bless you all,
Dr. César A. Cruz, on behalf of Homies Empowerment
Note from Dr. Cruz: I am deeply thankful to teacher Ellen Dahlke, from 5 Keys, for allowing us an opportunity to come inside, and learn from the wisdom of men, who are currently caged, but whose wisdom is for free(dom).
Part 1 of an interview with Carolyn Gramstorff, Founder & Director of the Educate78 School Design Lab. Carolyn is a former teacher and Oakland public school principal.
In 2015, Educate78 launched its School Design Lab (SDL) to address an unmet need to help school leadership teams reimagining Oakland public schools. Carolyn and her team have since supported 25 Leadership Fellows, working with schools like Roosevelt Middle School, Oakland School of Language, Roses in Concrete, Unity Middle School, and Thrival Academies. This school year, the School Design Lab has grown to add inspiring new Fellows and amazing new team members, and is looking forward to another year of accelerating school transformation for students across Oakland. You can follow, share, and engage with the work on social media via #OakSDL on Twitter and Facebook. In this first part, we ask one “simple” question:
What are your top three lessons learned from leading the School Design Lab?
Our first 18 months of SDL have reinforced my commitment to equity-centered design thinking. This process surfaces creative solutions and is based on the expertise of the community. It begins with engaging people who are affected, and using empathy and understanding to craft the school design.
Equity-centered design thinking creates a bias for action, through one-day hacks, two-day pop-ups, and eventually, longer pilots. This “start small” prototyping allows for deep learning and innovation – and ideally, elegantly simple solutions. Sometimes, we don’t need an elaborate plan. A lot of times we just need simple tweaks, better execution, and improved buy-in. Thinking smaller helps us focus on reflecting, learning, and iterating until we are seeing the outcomes we hoped for…and, maybe, some great byproducts that we never anticipated
We want this process to become a habit. Communities are never static, and transformational schools must be able to respond to the shifting needs of a community with grace, flexibility, and fluency.
Love the idea of equity-centered design thinking. How is it different from the typical approach?
The classic planning steps are: 1. Hold focus groups; 2. Lock yourself and colleagues into a room for days; 3. Cook up a 54-point strategic plan; 4. Develop spiffy slide deck; 5. Explain your magic solution and how it will work.
There are obvious problems with this approach. First, folks are exhausted before they even start implementing; and, second, they often encounter resistance from the people closest to the problem (understandably so!). So things stop moving, which creates a cycle where folks say “we tried that before and it didn’t work…”
What are some examples of equity-centered design thinking in SDL?
OUSD’s Hoover Elementary in West Oakland is a great example. Principal Ashley Martin and her team are starting small, learning hard, and working tirelessly to creatively solve the problems that impact their kids. They engaged their families in the redesign process and visited lots of schools. They tried tweaks like modifying team teaching configurations, using flexible seating, and tinkering with how to best implement learning stations. With each pilot, they learned, made adjustments, and sometimes threw out ideas that didn’t work. When an approach resulted in gains, they went deeper. The result? An improving Kindergarten program with a personalized approach. Hoover took the time – and frankly the risk – with smaller hacks and are now launching an exciting prototype of their education model from which they will continue to learn.
Awesome! We’ll keep our eye on Hoover in West Oakland. How about your other top two learnings?
Another important lesson from our pilot came from our SDL Fellows. They told us they needed more than technical support; they needed to develop as equity-centered leaders to manage the complexity of the work. So now we work on leadership development too. We like leadership guru Margaret Wheatley’s Six Circle Model, which includes both technical work (operations, structures, and strategies) and adaptive leadership skills like building relationships and practicing effective communication. We believe that both the technical and adaptive leadership skills are critical and learnable.
And your 3rd learning?
School transformation demands systemic change. Schools exist within specific contexts – districts or charter organizations, in communities, and within a regulatory structure. Change cannot happen exclusively at the site; other parts of the system must also adapt.
OUSD’s Roosevelt Middle School is an example. Roosevelt is a school that has been incredibly innovative within the walls of what used to be a typical “factory model” school. With the help of a grant from Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC), Roosevelt implemented a promising, personalized approach to mathematics instruction called Teach to One. It’s now seeing strong gains versus peer OUSD middle schools on the Scholastic Math Inventory (SMI) test. But the District central office still shipped the school boxes of math curriculum, even though they were not using it! A waste of money – something in very short supply in OUSD these days.
Could OUSD move from a factory-model approach to one that is more user-centered? Instead of ordering the same thing for all schools, could funds be given to leaders and their site councils – those closest to the students and community – to determine the best use? I’m sure this is more easily said than done. Nevertheless, we hope that our SDL fellows can help system-level iteration and improvement.
Future installments of our extended interview with Carolyn will tackle the tough question of how one advocates for more schools in a system with arguably too many already, how to improve existing schools while also supporting new programs, and what all this means for the future of the School Design Lab as it iterates and evolves with the changing landscape of Oakland. Remember to follow along via #OakSDL on Twitter and Facebook.