Hella-awesome Educators

Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students

I believe I have an obligation to provide access to education for the students of Oakland.

Carmelita Reyes

Co-Principal, Oakland International High School

Did you grow up in Oakland?

If not, what brought you to Oakland?

I came to Oakland because of the small school movement in 2001. I wanted to participate in creating new schools that would better serve urban students in Oakland Unified School District.

What is your connection to Oakland Education? How would you describe your role in the community?

I’ve worked in Oakland for 15 years. In 2007, I opened Oakland International High School which serves 400 newly arrived immigrants and refugees who are learning English. Our goal was to create a school that supported both the academic and social emotional needs of this vulnerable community. More recently, I’ve served on a lot of committees and forums in an effort to improve systems and conditions for students, teachers, and principals districtwide.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? 

My favorite aspect of my job is seeing transformation in kids. The most satisfying student to see graduate each year is inevitably the one who gave me the most grief in 9th and 10th grades. It is usually a boy who used to be pissy with teachers, opt out of doing his work, get into fights, and on occasion call me a four letter word. However, overtime the school pushes, prods, supports, and encourages him. At some point when no one is looking he comes to school one day acting like a civilized human being — participating, helping, and lecturing the younger kids on how to pull themselves together. I love that kid.

Share a highlight from your career.

I’ve been extremely fortunate working in OUSD. I’ve had the unique opportunity to help open two schools, Life Academy as a teacher and Oakland International High School as a principal.

 What from your background do you believe led you to do what you do now?

My father is 87 years old. When he was growing up in Texas, schools were segregated and Mexican schools were far inferior to those of Anglos. Most Latinos never graduated from high school. However, my father and his 13 siblings all graduated from high school and college. My six aunts became teachers. Education and access to college were transformative for my family. I benefitted from their struggles, and I believe I have an obligation to provide access to education for the students of Oakland.

What is your best advice to young people?

Learn to read well and broadly. Recognize and apologize for your mistakes. Marry the right person. Be good to your family.

What motivates you?

I like hard, interesting work.

What do you like to do in your free time?

What free time? I’m a principal with a kindergartner and a 3-year-old.

What do you love most about Oakland?

I was born in Texas, and think y’all is a terrifically useful word that the rest of the country should adopt. When I arrived in Oakland 15 years ago, my y’all, y’all’s, and all y’all’s greatly humored my students. Reciprocity being important…. They taught me a terrific Oakland word, hella. It can be used as an adjective, adverb and exclamation … it is a hella useful word.

If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland, what would that vision look like?

There are a lot of things that I wish we could fix for kids. If I could only pick two things to focus on, they would be reading and conflict mediation. If students can read, they are forever empowered. If they can regulate their emotions and mediate conflicts, they will have successful relationships with community members, employers, friends, and family.

60 Seconds with Carmelita Reyes

Know any Oakland HEROES?

If you know of any HEROES in your school community to feature, let us know!