Not by accident, but on purpose, our schools were set up to decide who was worthy of a real education, and who wasn’t.
This system damaged our neighborhoods, which were intentionally segregated by income and race. Generations of Oakland families of color were kept in poverty and instability by the forces of residential and educational division. And in recent decades, Oakland Unified has struggled with financial mismanagement and chronically under-funded programs.
Now, leaders in Oakland schools are proposing a plan, the Community of Schools plan (OUSD presentation here), to counter those forces. This plan builds on previous work and aims to deliver on the commitment that every single child in our city deserves a quality education regardless of where they live.
Superintendent Johnson-Trammell shares the Citywide Plan for Oakland Schools
(Begins at 1:44)
We were concerned from early school board presentations that OUSD was not on track to develop a plan that addresses our city’s various and significant challenges. But today we’re hopeful because this plan values partnership over competition, proactive innovation over passive response to crisis, continuous improvement over punitive consequences and, long term fiscal sustainability and stability over short-term fixes.
It sets a bold vision for what we want students to learn and specific strategies to address staffing, finances, buildings, and supports. It’s comprehensive and thoughtful and rooted in our local context.
And it arrives at a difficult and necessary time, as our district navigates ongoing financial challenges and looks for ways to give teachers fair pay. It does not engage in a blame game, but it does call on all of us to participate.
Why Oaklanders should support the Community of Schools plan
The details within the plan include priorities that Oaklanders have asked for:
- Determining a single measure of quality for all of our public schools,
- Ensuring every family has access to quality elementary, middle, and high schools in their neighborhood,
- Strengthening the district’s oversight and accountability of charter schools (and closing low-performing ones when they don’t meet quality standards),
- Partnering with high-quality charter schools to ensure they serve the high-needs population in our city,
- Shrinking and redesigning the central office.
- Developing collaborative opportunities for educators to share best practices, and
- Identifying how OUSD can support innovation and increase the number of high-quality school options within the district.
As district leaders have previously shared, the plan also calls for school mergers, closures, and expansions of our most sought-after programs. Growing our strongest programs is needed. And, as we’ve said before, closures should only be pursued when absolutely necessary, and must be done with extraordinary care for impacted students, families, teachers, and other employees, and with attention to lessons learned from our community’s previous efforts at redesigning, transitioning, and closing schools. Our (insufficient) resources are not distributed and concentrated enough to best meet the needs of our students. To address this, the plan includes developing a city-wide map to project our student population through 2023 and determine ideal school locations for students according to need. This is the part of the plan that will be the most difficult and painful to implement because every school and program has families and staff who care deeply about it.
This plan requires us to do things differently and requires a shift in how we think. It’s a shift Superintendent Johnson-Trammell touches on in her introduction:
“I am tired of having the same conversations and controversies, year after year, for decades,” she writes. “If we are going to finally address these issues, we must lean in and fundamentally change how Oakland does business. And I am committed to doing it.”
As we move forward, we ask that everyone accept shared responsibility for quality, equity, and sustainability within our community of public schools, and embrace our interdependency in our effort to serve all students and families.
We are also tired of the same conversations, and this plan is a welcome act of leadership. It is going to take all of us. It will take the board to make the courageous decisions, OUSD staff to adjust as they learn and move forward, and it will take open ears and hearts, commitment, and trust from all of us in the community.