Our New North Star
that Guides our Teacher Retention Work:
All families across Oakland’s 78 square miles
know their children will realize their full brilliance and potential
at every public school in any neighborhood.
Our community continually takes collective responsibility
to reimagine, create, and improve a public education system
where success is not predicted by race and class.
It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, a perfect time to celebrate our community’s amazing educators. Superintendent Johnson-Trammell wrote this week that teachers are the backbone of our school communities, and we couldn’t agree more. The recent teacher strikes drove home this reality even more clearly – to realize our North Star requires us to retain our teachers better, which means not only greater compensation, but also additional supports for teachers and students.
For the last several years, I’ve led the teacher retention work for Educate78, which started by convening an Advisory Group of district and charter teachers back in 2016. These Oakland public school teachers conceived of our retention grant program, where individual teachers or teams could apply for one-year grants to try different strategies that would improve retention at their sites. It was closely coordinated with our citywide teacher survey, which sought to identify root causes and spark conversations, both at schools and district-wide, about how we can retain more teachers.
We are now celebrating the third year of our Teacher Retention Grant Program. Last year’s grantees, some of which have returned for a second or third year of participation, collectively retained an additional 22 teachers into this school year. That means between 500 and 600 students got to deepen their relationship with the adult that outside of their parents may have the biggest influence on their life. Instead of having to scramble to hire even more tough-to-fill teaching positions, leaders and the district were able to spend more of their limited time and resources on improving outcomes for kids in the classroom.
Our grantees have done the work to identify, test, and adapt strategies to improve professional supports in their schools for their teaching and their students’ learning. These strategies are part of strengthening professional conditions that these Oakland schools are creating and constantly refining, laying the foundation for stronger retention year-over-year. Below are some recipients of the Teacher Retention Grant Program that we’d like to lift up for their achievements:
Greenleaf (K-8): Over two years, this East Oakland grantee school increased its teacher retention rate by 32% and is now keeping three-fourths of its teachers every year up from barely half. They also adopted a standards-aligned curriculum and increased the rigor of instruction, while simultaneously and intentionally supporting teacher wellness and sustainability through a partnership with The Teaching Well. I’m excited for the children and families of this quality school, which has also received some positive recognition for its academic progress recently – three years of improvement in language and math!
Life Academy (High School): With the help of two years of retention grants, this Fruitvale-area high school has been able to further improve its strong retention rate, lifting it from 88% to 93%. In that time, they expanded a partnership with Mills Teacher Scholars to deepen teacher collective inquiry across the Humanities and Science departments to improve both teacher practice and student learning. The school’s math team also went to the UnboundEd Standards Institute (another of our teacher-focused initiatives!) in an effort to deepen their standards-aligned instruction. This high-demand school has also received recognition for three years of sustained improvements for students in English Language Arts (ELA).
Hoover Elementary (K-5): After only a year of grant implementation, this West Oakland elementary school’s teacher retention rate increased from 75% to 92%. The school provided materials supply budgets to teachers to reduce out-of-pocket expenses, purchased standards-aligned instructional materials, offered tailored support for new teachers, and provided paid summer professional development time focused on standards-aligned instruction. While their principal left last year, the retention grant was able to help mitigate that by helping them keep more teaching staff.
Arise (High School): This small charter high school based at the Fruitvale Transit Village improved its retention rate by 34% (to 74%) after two years of grant implementation with a focus on teacher sustainability and support by building in time for team retreats and teacher wellness into their professional development plans. Most importantly, they set teacher retention as one of the school’s top priorities and assessed and aligned their supports and culture to retain strong teachers every year. This school has also been recognized for improving outcomes for low-income Latino children.
Here is a complete list our current year grantees (2018-2019) and a map of all of our grantees over the last three years:
- Greenleaf: Teacher sustainability in support of rigorous academics
- Life Academy: Teacher professional learning with Mills Teacher Scholars and UnboundEd Standards Institute
- Hoover Elementary: Standards-aligned instructional materials, new teacher supports, and summer professional learning in standards-aligned instruction
- Oakland International High School: Department collaborative professional learning to deepen vertical and horizontal alignment
- Unity Middle School: Social and emotional services so students are prepared to learn
- Reach Academy: Teacher sustainability in support of rigorous academics
- Skyline High School: Instructional Leadership Team development to lead high-quality professional learning for their peers
- Castlemont High School: New teacher supports and department collaborative professional learning in support of rigorous academics
- Oakland Technical High School: STEM teacher development and pipeline
- Edna Brewer Middle School: STEM teacher development and pipeline
- Learning Without Limits: High-quality social and emotional materials and teacher training
Deepening Our Focus Going Forward
After three years of retention grants totaling over $435,000 across 26 Oakland public schools, our grantees have learned a lot about creating the professional conditions to support teacher retention. In the coming year, we will partner with them and other Oakland educators to deepen our focus on teacher retention and development in the following ways:
- Capture and share lessons learned and successes from Oakland schools’ retention strategies, with tools applicable for other Oakland schools focused on creating strong professional conditions;
- Advocate for increased funding to Oakland public schools from state and local measures, such as the opportunity to reform Prop 13. As a community, we must continue to rally for more competitive compensation for our teachers (and supports for our students!);
- Continue to support Oakland educators in getting access to strong professional learning and conditions, for example, through sponsoring participation in the UnboundEd Standards Institutes and local instruction bootcamps led by Instruction Partners.
To focus in these areas and others that we hope will get more students access to quality public education faster, we are pausing on new grants for 2019-20. We welcome your feedback and input during the next school year around how we can move the needle to ensure Oakland teachers are moving towards competitive compensation and the professional supports they and our students desperately need.
If you have questions or suggestions, please email me. And from all of us at Educate78, thank you, teachers. For keeping our students at the center of everything you do, and for advocating for the professional supports you need to do right by them. We are committed to continuing to work with you and doing everything we can to back you in educating this and future generations of Oakland’s kids.