Last Monday, as our sun was being eclipsed by our moon, another sun was born: OUSD opened a brand new dual-language immersion middle school called Oakland School of Language, shortened to Oakland SOL. (“Sol” is Spanish for “sun.”)

Being at OSOL on its first day was inspiring. Unlike our cloud-obscured and fleeting view of the eclipse, OSOL provides a vivid picture of what is possible in public education. Specifically, OSOL’s opening shows the power of alignment – when individuals, organizations, systems, and community come together. I’d love to see the Oakland public education community embrace this lesson from OSOL as we face the challenges ahead this school year.

For the students, community, parents, and educators who were part of the OSOL design team, last Monday was a triumph– the realization of three years of dreaming, hard work, late nights, overcoming setbacks, and belief in what is possible when a community works together. On opening day, two parents – Yessenia Copado and Che Abram – spoke eloquently (one in Spanish, one in English) about why they chose to be part of the school design team and how they felt, now that the school was open. Their words reminded me of my own life-changing experiences opening schools. It also made me want to hug every one of them and tell them that the sacrifices were worth it.

I also wanted to remind them that there is still a lot of work to be done– because getting to opening day is only the beginning. Lots of research reveals that the launch year of a new school is critical in determining its long-term success. The OSOL team has years of continued hard work ahead, designing and redesigning different aspects of the school to create a healthy climate, a robust and well-rounded education program, and operational systems that run smoothly, with student needs front and center.

Fortunately, OSOL has many assets already aligned: a visionary leader, a talented team, a strong and growing base of families, support from local partners like Oakland Community Organizations[1], and district leadership that is aware of the need to embrace innovation (even when it struggles to do so).

New Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and Board president James Harris both visited on the school’s first day. I hope that seeing OSOL inspired more ideas for what can happen when the District listens to parents, empowers a talented school leader, and invests in the future. I also hope that the District can modernize its back-end systems like hiring, budgeting, and enrollment to support this unique school and all district schools going forward.

I know that some are wondering why OUSD would open a new school when the district is in financial distress and already has so many (maybe even too many) schools. It’s a valid concern, heightened with last week’s release of a report on OUSD’s poor fiscal health by the state’s Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). We’ll address this question in an upcoming #OUSDBudget post. But the short answer is simple: Oakland does NOT have enough quality schools. If we seek to increase enrollment to restore financial vitality, then we must provide more families with excellent schools.

OSOL and many of the best schools across our City emerged when families raised their voices to demand quality– and either changed the system or built new schools from the ground up. District leaders must seek out and engage diverse parents, guardians, students, and community as they examine and make decisions about the future mix of schools, which they appear to be doing through their Blueprint for Quality process.

OUSD faces big challenges ahead – not only financial risks but also a teacher shortage, continued toxicity in the public arena, and strong institutional inertia. The solutions cannot rest completely on the shoulders of our District leaders. While I am optimistic that our new Superintendent and her team can provide leadership that our schools need, community-based organizations like ours and community leaders from all over the city have an obligation to both support and continue to push too. We have to send clear and sustained signals to the Board that tough decisions are needed, and we’re ready to make them together.

The sun, moon, and earth aligned for the historic eclipse last Monday. OSOL’s founding team aligned to create a new school. Now families, educators and community must align for the future of Oakland public education. Who’s ready to jump in?

[1] Full disclosure: Educate78 also contributed to the development of the school through our School Design Lab.

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