The first question most people have asked me when I tell them I am running for a seat on the Oakland School Board is, “Why?” Those familiar with the challenges facing the school district give me a look that could be described as part sympathy, part puzzlement, and maybe a little dollop of admiration. The school district that fostered me as a student, where my mother taught, where my children attended, and the district where I taught, has not fared well over the years. A mix of short-term superintendents, of financial problems that caused the district to fall into state receivership, and a culture of waste and mismanagement are signs of a district in deep distress. That one word, “why,” brings up a lot of issues. Some thoughts…
The 21st Century Education to which Every Student In Oakland is Entitled is not possible without a 21st Century school system.
Oakland’s broken administrative culture is rooted in mismanagement and outdated business practices. In my work in the education technology domain I have worked on teams of 21st Century thinkers to help solve big problems. Those challenges have been solved through a combination of government policy change, powerful product design, and a relentless focus on data. I will bring my perspective, experience, and passion to bear on the problems that face OUSD. Having the opportunity to do this work in the context of a district and community I love is the kind of challenge that gets me jumping out of bed in the morning.
We Are Not Serving the Needs of Every Student in Oakland.
When I was a special education teacher at Edna Brewer middle school I saw first hand the challenges that students in Oakland bring with them to school. School should be a place of learning, of refuge, of safety, and of nourishment. On its best days, Edna Brewer was that to our students. But there are many schools in Oakland that do not have the resources that we had at Edna Brewer. This is primarily due to administrative failure and misallocation of resources. The Alameda County Grand Jury Report lays out some of the key problems in its conclusion:
The culture in OUSD’s administrative offices must change in order to provide its students with the quality of education they deserve. OUSD is wasting millions of dollars well in excess of its projected annual deficits. Drastic action is required to “right the ship” and this must begin at the top. OUSD needs to bring comprehensive and modern best business practices into district offices and leadership. Staff need regular training inculcating these throughout the organization. If staff refuses to buy into these plans, they must be held accountable. OUSD can no longer afford to be philosophical. Restoring financial stability requires sacrifices throughout the organization. Stringent controls, adherence to contracting procedures, updated policies, and school consolidations are immediate priorities.
Yet staff cannot be expected to buy into these changes if the elected Board continues to lead by reaction. Failure to put into place a strategic plan and have the courage to carry it out will ensure that the district continues to sputter with under-enrolled schools and shoestring budgets. Over one thousand school districts in the state operate competently with the state’s current funding structure. Oakland is not one of them even though it receives significantly more funding than the median district in the region. The Board has “kicked every can down the line” and rarely acted with a sense of urgency on many vital issues. The state of the district today is the inevitable result.
This report has detailed repeated examples of mismanagement, favoritism, disregard for authority and poor controls. Policy and procedures are ignored causing one poor decision after another. Moreover, lack of accountability is rampant. Those who have attempted to instill better methods are ignored or quickly pushed aside. Well-intentioned policies such as individual school autonomy or hiring local businesses cannot continue at a premium in the face of dismal finances. OUSD cannot afford them.
The Board and OUSD’s senior management have a monumental task in front of them. Full support from the Board, OUSD’s leadership, management, and employees, as well as recently added support from the Alameda County Board of Education is needed to make progress possible. 2018-2019 Alameda County Grand Jury Report
I recommend reading the entire report. While it is heartbreaking, it’s also illuminating.
OUSD’s Broken Administration is Robbing Students of Needed Resources
According to the Grand Jury Report, OUSD receives more dollars per student than most districts in the county, but ranks last on the share of spending for teacher salaries, and nearly last on spending for other pupil services and for books and supplies. On the other hand, the district is spending six times the state average on supervisors and administrators. Until OUSD corrects this imbalance, insufficient funding for school sites will persist. OUSD needs a bold masterplan to reorganize its central administration to trim excessive bureaucracy, modernize its data systems, and cultivate leadership empowered to create a 21st Century organization that the taxpayers and students of Oakland deserve. More resources directed to school sites and teacher salaries will foster the equity that is missing in the distribution of resources today.
Leadership Requires Discipline, Creativity, and Passion
This sentence in the Grand Jury Report caught my eye: “Yet staff cannot be expected to buy into these changes if the elected Board continues to lead by reaction.” Leading by reaction is the opposite of leadership. Citizens should expect the directors of the Oakland School Board to get out in front of issues and make plans that will change the spiraling trajectory of the district. Sound leadership is rooted in discipline — an ability to stay focused on a goal even in the face of great chaos. We need leaders who have the creativity to see opportunity where others see problems, and leaders with the passion to eagerly confront and solve big, gnarly problems. I am committed to exercising all three of these aspects of leadership, and that is why I am running for a seat on the Oakland School Board.