By the Oakland Justice Coalition
The mid-year resignation of OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson brings an opportunity for the Board of Education and the community to create a different and better vision for Oakland’s schools and then hire a new superintendent to work with stakeholders to implement that vision. Agreement on how to improve Oakland’s schools has been sorely missing since the state-imposed trusteeship in 2003.The development of a successful strategy requires the board to candidly acknowledge the problems facing Oakland’s schools. In the 2016 state tests, only 30 percent of Oakland’s students met or exceeded state standards for proficiency in English, and only 25 percent met the standards in mathematics.
The statewide averages were 49 percent in English and 37 percent in Mathematics and are rising more rapidly than Oakland’s scores.
High school graduation rates are increasing throughout California. Among California students who began high school in 2011-12, 82.3 percent graduated with their class in 2015.
For Hispanic/Latino students, the figure was 78.5 percent; for African Americans it was 70.8 percent. Unfortunately, the corresponding percentages for Oakland students are much lower: 63.4 percent overall; 55.9 percent for Hispanics/Latinos; and 60.7 for African Americans.
The reasons for Oakland’s failures are complex, and test scores are not the only measure of school quality. Any plan to raise student achievement should begin by implementing proven strategies for creating successful schools:
(1) Appoint principals who are educational leaders, “head teachers” who focus on teacher performance as mentors and models – not as disciplinarians, fund-raisers or cheerleaders. A principal needs at least two or three years to have a constructive impact on school performance.
(2) Develop strong faculties of teachers who remain at school sites for multiple years, work together at and across grade levels, and create site specific plans for staff development. District resources must be focused on improving teacher compensation, reducing class sizes, and providing incentives for teachers to remain in high needs schools.
(3) Welcome and involve parents and students as leaders of their school communities.
(4) Provide a diverse and challenging curriculum that develops critical thinking skills, is culturally compatible with the student body, and includes arts programming and classroom offerings beyond just the basics.
(5) Implement site-specific programs that address students’ life circumstances and social needs, including violence prevention, economic literacy, nutrition programs, mentoring, and counseling.
(6) Site-based decision making on how to meet student growth targets, including creating school specialties – science and technology, African American studies, or performing arts, for example – and faculty and staff training.
(7) Quality pre-school programs for all three and four-year-olds.
(8) Collaboration with City and County government to increase resources and support for children and families.
(9) A lean central office budget focused on providing support to school sites, including a Human Resources department that facilitates and expedites teacher hiring.
(10) Strong oversight of charter schools.
We call upon the board to establish an advisory committee representing all stakeholders – parents, teachers and other school employees, students, and community members – to assist it in choosing a new superintendent.
The advisory committee should evaluate the current status of the district’s improvement efforts, suggest criteria for the new superintendent, and participate in interviews of the finalists for the position.
Our new superintendent must promise to serve for his or her entire contract and accept financial disincentives for failing to do so.
It is the board’s responsibility to hire a new superintendent with the personal qualities necessary for success in Oakland, including humility, a commitment to social justice and a determination to see every child succeed, a focus on diversity at all levels of the district, particularly at schools sites, and a commitment to collaborating with all education stake holders.