Jody London v. Brian Rogers v. Tennessee Reed: LWV District 1 School Board Candidate Forum Recap

To be honest, I feel a little bit out of my league here. I wish there was someone else out there putting this kind of time into abetterousd.com, because I’m far from an expert on the schools. I’m not a parent, although I hope to be someday, and would love to think that by then, Oakland might have a public school system that I feel comfortable sending my children to. If I had kids right now, I’d probably move. Anyway, I’m writing about the school board because of the volume of requests to cover the race I received from readers, and I spent a lot of time doing background research and I will do my absolute best to answer any questions people have. I’m doing the other school board races next week.

Opening Remarks

Jody London said that she’s running because she has two children in Oakland elementary schools. She said that she co-chaired the Measure B campaign in 2006, serves as vice-chair of the Measure B citizens oversight committee, worked on the Measure G campaign, and that she’s an energy analyst and adopted OUSD as a client pro-bono, and that if they implemented the energy plan she made for them, they would save like a million dollars a year. She said that she led the campaign at her children’s school to replace the portable buildings with a real building, which will begin construction in June.

Brian Rogers said that he brings a unique blend of characteristics to the race, and has run a business, worked as an English teacher in Oakland, and an ESL teacher at Berkeley High, and that he runs a non-profit focusing on education and youth development. He said that we need strong leadership that will be bold and innovative, accountability throughout the district, and a 21st century curriculum that will prepare kids for the jobs of tomorrow.

Tennessee Reed said that she knows all about the Oakland Public Schools since she attended them starting in kindergarten, and talked about her book that’s coming out soon. She said she supports energy saving, local control, budget auditing, and that she wants to advocate for learning and physically disabled students and end inequality between schools in the flats versus the hills.

Winner: Jody London. She was the most impressive sounding by far and the most involved in the schools.

Q: In today’s news we learned that the school board is appointing a new superintendent to begin in July. However, the State Administrator will remain and control significant parts of the administration. What problems do you forsee with this dual leadership? How can the the school board help deal with these problems?

A: Brian Rogers said that he’s excited the District has taken a step towards local control, and that he’s been working with the District for a return to local control, and that both the State Administrator and the interim administrator are highly qualified, and we can move the District forward through collaboration. Tennessee Reed said that she saw in the newspaper that the meeting was behind closed doors, and doesn’t think people in Sacramento know what’s going on in Oakland. She added that she looked at the budget online and thinks we have a long way to go, and that’s why she supports budget auditing. Jody London said that she’s encouraged that the interim administrator has a history of working with FCMAT, and likes that the current state administrator is much more hands-on than his predecessor was. She said she’s optimistic that we will have a lot of collaboration, and that she has ample experience brings people together, including her time serving as chairperson of Save the Bay.

V: Winner: Tie between Brian Rogers and Jody London, who both basically said the same thing. Tennessee Reed is kind of a non-starter.

Q: How do you assess truancy in the school district? What changes would you advocate?

A: Jody London said that truancy means schools aren’t engaging students, and that schools need to be an attractive place to be. She talked about a school in East Oakland that had a historically high suspension rate, but now has a community organizer who brings the parents into the school, where they take computer and ESL classes. (I assume the point was that suspensions are down at this school, although she didn’t actually say that.) Brian Rogers said that the truancy problem loses us millions of dollars every year, and that we need a curriculum that engages students, including art and music classes, and that we need more parent resource centers at the school sites, like the one at Think College Now, where parents come in to do classwork with their children. He added that the West Oakland truancy center is not working, and we need a better solution that provides a more supportive setting. Tennessee Reed said that she would bring diverse literature and history into the classroom, as well as more science, geography, music, and dance. She said she would include conflict management and yoga in the curriculum, and encourage more interaction between teachers and parents by putting a phone in every classroom so teachers can call the parents at work.

V: Winner: Brian Rogers. He and Jody London said similar things about creating engagement, but I was pleased he also pointed out the terrible financial drain truancy is on OUSD, and the problems with the West Oakland truancy center, although I wish he would have talked about what he wants instead. I’m downgrading Tennessee Reed from non-starter to weird.

Q: How would you support the recruitment and retention of qualified and experienced teachers in the Oakland public schools?

A: Tennessee Reed said that in addition to the CBEST test, teachers should be tested on geography, history, and science to ensure they know every subject they might encounter, and that they should be trained on how to work with all different types of students. Jody London said that she knows good teachers are leaving the District, because some people who have taught her children are now ready to retire, and that we need to look at salaries, since ours are slightly below the state average, and that it’s really expensive to buy a house in Oakland, so we need to work with the City Council to make living in Oakland more affordable for teachers. Brian Rogers said that research shows the number one reason teachers leave is because they feel they aren’t supported and have poor workplace conditions. He said that we need to improve workplace conditions and build safe and supportive schools, and that we should allow principals to work as instructional leaders instead of being bogged down by compliance issues. He said we need to work with Holy Names, Mills, and other local schools to build a pipeline of quality local teachers.

V: Winner: Brian Rogers. I don’t oppose increases in teacher salary if the school district had the money, but creating a more supportive professional environment will do much more to attract quality teachers than small raises.

Q: What role do you think charter schools play in the Oakland Unified School District?

A: Jody London said that she has no position on charter schools, but that we’ve seen many open up recently, and so now we need to step back, stop authorizing charters for a set period of time, and figure out what works and what doesn’t work. She said that charter schools hurt Oakland’s average daily attendance funding and she’d rather she that money invested in neighborhood schools. Brian Rogers says he sits on the board of the Lighthouse Community Charter School, so he knows how a quality charter school can change lives. He said that charter schools play an important role in Oakland’s portfolio of schools, and we should not have a moratorium. Tennessee Reed said that public schools don’t work for every child, and that charter schools are good for some students.

V: Winner: Brian Rogers. I am a strong supporter of charter schools, and I think a moratorium is entirely inappropriate. The argument that they take money away from public schools really frustrates me – why should deprive our children of an opportunity for a decent education in order to more deeply subsidize a system that has just completely failed them for decades? No way. Certainly charter schools need close oversight, and probably closer oversight that we’re providing now, but that’s not something that we’ll accomplish by electing someone who opposes them.

Q: What sort of internal restructuring needs to happen at the Oakland Unified School District so that it runs more efficiently?

A: Brian Rogers said we need to question every dollar that gets spent and find ways to get more funding into the classrooms. He said that we need to create financial systems that work and that are easy for principals to use. Tennessee Reed said that she looked at the budget, and in 2002-2003 we were $59 million in the red, but last year it was a little less, even though will still owe the state eight hundred and seventy million dollars, and that’s why she supports budget auditing – so things like this won’t happen again. Jody London said that the Board has established an internal auditor and has created an audit committee, and that she knows from experience that audits usually pay for themselves once you implement their recommendations. She said that as a member of the Measure B citizens oversight committee, she’s found it very challenging to get information about the budget.

V: Winner: Brian Rogers. I have no idea what Tennessee Reed was trying to say. I didn’t think any of these answers were that stellar.

Q: What specifically can and should be done about the disparity of academic achievement scores among the various ethnic groups? What can and will you do to address this disparity?

A: Tennessee Reed said that 68% of Oakland’s students are economically disadvantaged, and many are ESL students or attend alternative schools, so we need to fix the inequality between flatland and hills schools. Brian Rogers said that there is a huge disparity in equity and the achievement gap, and that he’s on the board of the Oakland Small Schools Foundation which works with 40 of Oakland’s small schools to get them the resources they need to properly serve the socioeconomically disadvantaged students that attend those schools. He said he’d worked to train principals to find extra resources from business and philanthropic interests in the community, and that they’ll need those resources even more desperately now that the State is cutting funding again. Jody London said that closing the achievement gap is the most important issue facing OUSD, and that we should explore programs that focus on the students most in need, like Saturday school, where students in need of additional assistance come in with their parents to school for 12 Saturdays in a row.

V: Winner: Brian Rogers. He just had more to say, and he has experience working on this issue.

Q: Student leaders surveyed students in four Oakland high schools. Data show that students want to go to college, but a lot don’t feel they know enough about college and how to get there. One solution is to have a stronger connection between Oakland high schools and local colleges and universities. What will you do to strengthen the connections between local colleges and universities to our high schools?

A: Jody London said that it’s important to show children what their options are after high school, and that doing so will reduce truancy. She said that we need to pursue greater partnership with the Peralta Community Colleges, and that we need to develop a green collar training program. Tennessee Reed said that although she needs to research the subject more, she agrees with what Jody said, and that she thinks there should be a college fair on campus. Brian Rogers said we need to strengthen relationships with colleges both locally and nationwide, and let our students know that there are colleges everywhere in the country willing to take them. He said he works with two programs, College Track and College Works, that provide funding for kids to visit distant colleges. He also said that graduating students should be required to take the A-G requirements required for the CSU system.

V: Winner: Hmm…Brian Rogers, but he and Jody London were close. I like that he wants Oakland students to consider options beyond Oakland – I’ve never really understood why people in this town seem so obsessed with keeping everyone here forever. I went to college 2500 miles away from my parents. It was good for me. I do not, however, think that CSU’s high school subject requirements should be required for all students. I know some people don’t like to hear this, but college isn’t for everyone. And for some people, it is for them, but not when they’re 18. I’m a strong supporter of vocational education, and I believe the goal of secondary education should be to put students on track for a successful life, which does not necessarily involve college, or at least involve college immediately. On second thought, the more I think about it, the more the idea that all students should be forced to meet the A-G requirements really annoys me. I’m going to give this one to Jody London.

In Texas, they have (or had when I was in school) three different types of diplomas you could get – one that was fancy with a big pretty seal that had tons of required classes, one for the “college-prepared” track that has pretty similar requirements to A-G, and one for vocational students that has a huge honking stamp on it saying you’re not prepared for any further study and that you met the bare minimum graduation requirements. That’s the one I have. All because I never took art!

Q: What resources would you employ to support the educational needs of our increasing population of English learning students?

A: Tennessee Reed said she supports bilingual education, and that students should learn each others languages so they can get along with one another, and that when people join the workforce they’ll have to work with people from other countries, and that since a lot of corporate jobs involve business with Japan, students should learn Japanese. Brian Rogers said that services for English learners need to start at the beginning, and that we need to provide resources for the parents of English learners as well. He said that we need to help parents understand the importance of literacy early on, and talked about his work with the Small Schools Foundation and praised the community building work done by David Silver at Think College Now. Jody London agreed that community-building is important, and said that we’re lucky when young children come to us speaking another language, and that some schools teach kids the same concepts in their native language as English speaking students are learning at the same grade level, which makes it easier for them to adapt as they acquire English skills.

V: Winner: Brian Rogers. Support for limited English proficiency parents is key to providing quality education for English learners. Jody London rambled, and Tennessee Reed is out of it. Business people in Japan do their business with you in English. So I studied seven languages, achieved a pretty high degree of proficiency in almost all of them (although that’s mostly gone now due to lack of practice), and have found almost none of them useful whatsoever. Here’s my advice to kids today. Learn Spanish! Mandarin is also acceptable.

Q: How do you stand supporting the Expect Success program to reorganize the district?

A: Jody London said that Expect Success has not been well marketed to the parents, and she only knows a little about it from doing her own research, and that her understanding is that the idea is to use the budget more efficiently, but that we need to step back and look at whether it diverts resources to the Central office rather than classrooms. Tennessee Reed said that she needs to do more research on it, but that it doesn’t appear to have done much for test scores. Brian Rogers said he worked closely with the District to develop Expect Success, and that it has improved accountability and evaluation systems and that first the first time we have actual learning goals. He said it is a long-term strategy and will take years to see if it’s paying off, and that we need leadership that’s committed to pushing forward on it.

V: Winner: Brian Rogers. Honestly, I’m having a lot of trouble understanding why people oppose Expect Success. I spent hours researching this on Saturday, and still couldn’t understand what the problem with it is. All I can find are elaborate conspiracy theories that I have a hard time believing more than a handful of people actually subscribe to. I even got desperate enough to (gasp!) call a number of people to ask about it, which I hate doing because, you know, people just lie to you. But still no explanation.

Q: Students who struggled against the worst school conditions are denied a high school diploma because of the California State Exit exam. Studies repeatedly show that students of color, low income students, and immigrant students recieve lower quality education. Is a diploma penalty unfair to students who have not received the basic of a quality education. What are your thoughts or your positions on the California High School state exit exam?

A: Brian Rogers said that we need standards for students, and that the exam tests students at a 10th grade level, and that students should demonstrate a certain amount of knowledge to graduate high school. He said that standards should be high, and would like to consider requiring A through G as a requirement for graduation as well. Jody London said that since there’s a statewide trend of certain students not doing well in the exit exam, we need to work with State legislators to see if it’s imposing a penalty on minorities. Tennessee Reed said that she did very poorly on the SATs, but graduated from UC Berkeley, and that students shouldn’t be punished for not being taught well.

V: Winner: OMG, Brian Rogers. A high school diploma is not an attendance certificate, people!

Q: Student leaders believe that there should be a counselor to student ratio of no more than one counselor for every 250 students. Currently the ratio in larger schools like Oakland High and Oakland Tech is closer to one to 500. How do you think this is affecting students and what solutions can you offer?

A: Tennessee Reed said that Oakland Tech is enormous and they need more counselors, because not having them puts students at a huge disadvantage. Brian Rogers said the student to counselor ratio is atrocious and we need more counselors. He said that when resources get cut, counselors and librarians are often the first things to be cut, and we need to find ways to provide additional support and explore other resources to help students. Jody London said that we do need more resources, and that we need to reach out to the business community for more money. She said she went to a public high school with a poor counselor ratio and that she had to argue for the classes she needed, and that we need to look at what’s really going on and work with parents.

V: Winner: Draw. Everyone agrees we need more counselors and resources. Yawn. I think so too. Should I run for school board?

Closing

Tennessee Reed said to vote for her, and that she will bring more diversity to Oakland’s schools and ensure that everyone gets an equitable education.

Brian Rogers said that his first focus is student academics, and that gets forgotten with the board a lot of the time. He said that over the last 4 or 5 years, he’s worked with the school board and understands how things get done, and what it takes to get things done.

Jody London said that she brings a combination of leadership skills and decision making, and that she’s worked with local governments enough that she knows how to navigate bureaucracy and understands how large organizations work. She said she has a track record of rolling up her sleeves and working, which is the kind of leadership we need.

V: I don’t live in the District, but if I did, I’d be voting for Brian Rogers in this race, no question. Unlike the City Council races, in which almost all the candidates have similar priorities and the question is really just one of who can get the job done, there’s a really clear issue-based divide here. Rogers is strongly pro-charter school, and that just seals it for me. Charter schools provide an opportunity for educational innovation that is almost completely lacking in OUSD, and they offer an alternative to students who want to opt-out of our failing school system but who can’t afford private school.

When I was young, I went to public school in Louisiana, where the schools were, well, let’s just say not good. We had like, no money, but when my parents discovered in third grade that I had never so much as heard of multiplication, they flipped out and scrimped and saved and barely managed to come up with a way to send me to a small Catholic school an hour outside of town. The story has a happy ending – we moved to Texas a few years later to a town with a good school district, and I attended public school from then on. Anyway, the point of my long boring story that I have an incredible amount of empathy for parents and children who desperately want, but can’t afford, to escape the public school system just so they can get something resembling a decent education, and it is absolutely our moral responsibility to offer them those options. I don’t understand how anyone could be disturbed by the shocking degree of educational inequity in this town and oppose charter schools. I don’t get it at all. And no, I don’t care that Brian Rogers is a Republican.

Oh, and I highly recommend watching the TagamiVision interview with Brian Rogers. I was really, really impressed.

10 thoughts on “Jody London v. Brian Rogers v. Tennessee Reed: LWV District 1 School Board Candidate Forum Recap

  1. dto510

    Wow, that Jody London is a politician in the making. It takes quite a bit of skill to squeeze green-collar jobs, energy efficiency, and Save The Bay into a School Board debate.

    And she’s got the dissembling down too: she has no position on charter schools, but wants a moratorium?

    It really does seem that Brian Rogers is the most reform-minded of the contenders. And if they all agree that businesses should be providing more resources to schools, then the guy who has led corporate philanthropy to the OUSD seems like a choice on that front as well.

  2. Steve B.

    What is problematic with Rogers is that he is part of a politically well-connected family tied to Mr. Shady Politician himself (Perata). The question is, since he is the candidate best described as an insider to a cadre that has under-served Oakland’s most disadvantaged constituents, is he not the mostly likely to be indentured to Perata’s cronies, rather than our community’s future?

    That Rogers is running for the school board as a Republican is less relevant given the local, insular nature of education policy & politics in a solidly Democratic county in a solidly Democratic state (I’m an Independent, myself). However, considering the fact that Oakland is a VERY diverse city with, for example, approximately 28-30% African-American constituents–isn’t it odd that the Republican Party nationally has exactly 0 (ZERO) African-American representatives out of 269 Republicans among the House, Senate, and state governorships. What that simple fact reveals is that there is both minimal Republican emphasis on issues that are of concern to African-Americans as well as minimal efforts to reach out to minority groups for future leadership. This paints the picture that Rogers, at least based on his political leanings, is more qualified and more appropriate to be a member of the Danville school board, not Oakland’s.

    Separate from Rogers–since our hard-working if misguided author supports the candidate who is “strongly pro-charter” and is a charter school fan herself, permit me to present two critical points of an alternative view on the subject, copied from: http://www.pasasf.org/charters/charters.html

    “The charter movement promotes itself by attacking and disparaging public education, constantly citing charter schools’ supposed superiority to traditional public schools (though academic studies show that charters perform no better than traditional public schools). This erodes support for public schools.”

    and…

    “It sounds great to blast the ‘burdensome bureaucratic regulations’ from which charter schools are joyously liberated. But actually, most of those ‘burdensome’ regulations are there for a reason – to set educational and teaching standards, to combat patronage and favoritism, to ensure access for disabled students, to keep students safe, to gain fair wages and working conditions for teachers. If needless regulations exist, they should be lifted for all schools, not just charters.”

    I, like VSmoothe, once benefited from a non-public school education despite my parents’ lower middle-class background (& no college education)–over an hour from my home. And I believe charter schools could provide healthy competition to under-performing public schools. However, I think the school situation in Oakland is so bad right now (especially given the attraction here of drug-related/criminal vocations, among many many other factors) that this “healthy competition” is too healthy for public schools to make any kind of satisfactory progress in real-time. And what is this–our third or fourth district-wide administrator in the last several years? Charter schools should be a well-planned complementary part of the education strategy, not the primary solution.

  3. josh abrams

    “this ‘healthy competition’ is too healthy for public schools”…

    do you even read what you write? This is like arguing that only a few cars should be let onto the road so as to not become over-competitive with carriage manufacturers…

    I went to public schools here in Oakland (pretty recently too) and they stank. Why anyone would want to prop up that system is beyond me.

  4. Sue

    V Smoothe—

    You mention that you are a supporter of vocational training. A lot of people would think that Oakland High Schools were providing some sort of vocational training to the many students who might not be bound for college. At last night’s Rockridge NCPC meeting the principal of Claremont Middle School and a representative of Oakland Tech said there is no vocational training going on at the Schools. Money is given as the reason. It seems to be now the Junior Colleges job to do the training. Also no woodshop at the Junior High. But our students are given computers to do Pixar like work. Any way I haven’t heard those running for school board address the problem of preparing our high school graduates for the work force (mechanics, woodworking etc) and not shift the burden to the community college.

  5. dto510

    How is Rogers connected to Perata when Jody London is endorsed by Kerry Hammill, Perata’s former Chief of Staff when she won the D1 School Board seat she currently holds, and whose recently-revealed fundraising prowess for City Council is probably a result of Perata’s aid?

  6. Fruitvale Res

    V –

    I love the blog and have been lurking for months – but I must affirm what you have discerned about Brian. I have been in small district and charter schools in Oakland for the last eight years. During that time, Brian has had a single minded focus upon improving outcomes for students. That agenda is driven by one factor – his desire for a better Oakland. Any lazy analysis of his associations without the actually knowing the man and his work is misleading. Brian is the type of school board member this city needs – one who demands a better education for all students as opposed to pet projects in his district. Without an educational revolution – Oakland will be mired in violence and mediocrity because simple data analysis reveals that only about 10% of OUSD students graduate with a college degree. Forget the two Americas – welcome to the two Oaklands.

  7. len raphael

    I never met Judy London before meeting her at temescal farmers mkt several weeks ago; and and i have never met or even heard of Rogers before seeing his signs all over.

    I asked Judy if she knew how much money the State gave Oakland for each student enrolled in OUSD and she said she didn’t know but could find out. She guesstimated that it was about 1,200/student. Since Rogers wasn’t there I couldn’t ask him the same question.

    (Another resident had asked me the same question earlier that day and I didn’t know the answer, told me that it was 8k, but I’m not running for a seat on the board of ed, and I’m not claiming that the new board is going to be a whole bunch more financially intelligent than the old board that allowed Superintendent Chaconas to bankrupt the district when he gave teachers money that the district didn’t have.)

    (I just searched online, and the number appears to be approx 8k/student, but not obvious to me if that’s average the spent in the state or average the state gives per pupil)

    Then I asked Jody how if teacher compensation packages couldn’t be more than say 125k/teacher, and average class size was on the low side 25 students, where does the remaining 75k per class go? buildings are paid for, sure they’re aging, utils, book and computers s are not cheap. But there must be a huge number of administrators or custodians or both? She said she’d have to research that.

    Yesterday, I asked the same thing the other day of a former Oakland school teach who once sat on the salary negotiating team during the Chaconas era. He laughed and said that after the teachers presented their wage demands one of the then school board members had asked in all seriousness why they hadn’t asked for more.

    I have to agree w my neighbor, an ex Carter middle school counselor, who says that the failing Oakland public schools will eventually pull down all of our best efforts to improve public security and economic development. It doesn’t seem that Jody has the command of the numbers to reverse that.

    -len raphael, t emescal
    (speaking only for himself)

  8. len raphael

    on vocational training:

    have any of the school board candidates stated support for bringing back high school vocational training with strict monitoring to prevent tracking? The only mention I’ve seen of it was something in Nancy Skinner’s brochure.

    Vocational training is politically radioactive in Oakland but it’s time has come. When something like 30% (or is it less?) of ninth graders go on to graduate a relatively good school like Oakland Tech, and who knows what percentage of those go on to finish a four year college degree, what the heck good are we doing for those kids to say we didn’t allow them to be tracked into “dead end” blue collar jobs like plumbing, electrical, sheet metal, auto mechanics that pay more than many white collar clerical jobs and are at lower risk of being outsourced?

    Granted the failure to even teach many of those kids to read and do basic math in the lower grades, makes it hard to train them for many good paying secure blue collar jobs, but at least the kids could see that there was a future for them, that selling drugs or worse is not their most rational economic choice.

    and yes Pat McCullough candidate for City Council advocates bringing back vocational training to city high schools if accompanied by strict measures to prevent racial or economic tracking. Pat is both an attorney and a tradesman (electronic tech for the City of Berkeley). I was an auto mechanic for many years before I became a CPA.

    -len raphael
    volunteer treasurer for Pat McCullough, City Council District 1 Campaign

  9. Ralph

    didn’t have time to read thru the entire post, but did want to make a couple of comments.

    1) I agree that we need to recognize that not all high school graduates either will or should go to college. We should have an educational system that recognizes this, but as many have pointed out this is the third rail of education.

    2) But if you have ever spent any time in OUSD high school you will know that in at least some school the the 9th text books and expectations are so dumb downed that the disservice down to the capable is greater than the good, if any, done for those in the bottom quartile.

    3) If you want to minimize some of the tracking discussion, one must create a system where all children get a real education in the early years. hopefully, they will then have the tools to decide what they want to do. I’ve talked to Oakland 9th graders who do not know that 1/2 and .5 are the same thing. I don’t know about you but these are not exactly the people I would want constructing my house or preparing my food.

    4) i think more students should attend a university away from home – but you sometimes run into first time college syndrome and other factors which make it cost prohibitive. I’m at a school where most of the kids don’t see beyond their ‘hood. When dealing with a population that doesn’t have the college experience you need to start early – work with the student and parents to get them involved and aware about getting in and paying for it.

    5) i probably had more but i am tired and hungry.

    6) Based on my math 8K spent on CA student seems about right, but when you do COLA that number drops and becomes equivalent to what they spent when I was a student 30 yrs ago on the east coast