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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.