OP-ED: “America Needs Oakland to Succeed”

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I am deeply honored to serve as the Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, and want to invite you to join me in reflecting on the first nine months I’ve been in this position and on the work that must continue to bring educational excellence to all of our children.

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Oakland called me because of where I come from – raised by a single mother who is the sole reason I survived; 20 years of working as a principal, teacher, and administrator in urban districts; and a track record of successfully transforming schools.

 

I answered the call because America needs Oakland to succeed. The only way we will is together. That’s why since before I officially started on July 1 of last year, I began talking with people.

There’s nothing like listening to someone face-to-face, looking them in the eye, and appreciating their history and perspective. This on-going dialogue is what guided the formation of our strategic plan, which focuses on three things: our people, our organization, and our schools.

 

When I say we’re starting with our people, I mean it. We are offering a 13.5 percent increase in teacher pay phased-in over 18 months, the largest increase in more than a decade and larger than any other district in Alameda County, all while continuing to offer the best benefits of any district in the Bay Area. We’ve proposed raising the beginning salary for all new teachers and accelerating seniority-based pay increases for teachers at some of our toughest schools. In addition to reducing class sizes five years ahead of state requirements, all of this is to help us attract and retain the best teachers for our kids.

 

In addition to great teachers, we need the best people at every level of our organization. We’re going to put every dime we can into paying all of our employees more – from our custodians to our school security officers to our principals. I’m also building a team of leaders who are the best in their fields from Oakland and around the country. We’re focusing on people first because through great people we build a great district.

 

California’s low funding – still 46th in the nation! – combined with fiscal mismanagement in Oakland has put OUSD at the bottom of the barrel in paying our people well. I aim to have us be the premier education employer in the Bay Area, but that’s not going to happen overnight.

 

We’re paying for these pay increases by finding efficiencies in our operations and rooting out waste. I’ve cut central office expenditures by 20 percent in my first nine months, and will get us to 33 percent by next year. I’m advocating for more partnership with the City on public safety; more funding from Sacramento; and more grants from Washington, DC. We need to be advocating for all of these things together.

 

We are also busy at work focusing resources on our schools with the greatest need. We already spend 20 percent more per pupil at our elementary schools in the toughest areas, 30 percent more per pupil at our middle schools, and 40 percent more per pupil at our high schools. But still these schools have fewer resources because of enrollment and the ability of their communities to raise and contribute additional funds. We need to increase funding further and direct it more strategically.

 

For example, right now we are concentrating energy on five schools in particular: McClymonds, Castlemont, Fremont, Frick, and Brookfield. We have taken the best lessons from the past from Oakland and around the country, and are putting them into practice in transforming these schools. This work takes time and energy, and is never easy. The communities have risen to the challenge and are charging ahead together with us in a way that will lead to sustainable quality for all of them.

 

While it has only been nine months, we have begun to make the change that is so needed. You can learn more about all of this work by visiting our website, signing up for our newsletters, and connecting with us on social media. Since I believe deeply in communication and engagement, I will also make myself or my team available to come speak to you in your homes, churches, businesses, and neighborhood organizations.

I respectfully ask that you join us, and look forward to hearing from you.

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