Return to in-person instruction
On March 30, many schools across Oakland reopened for part-time in-person instruction, and next week, all OUSD schools will have part-time in-person classes for students in TK through 6th grade and prioritized groups in 7th through 12th whose families have chosen to participate.
I was glad to be able to welcome some students back at a few campuses before Spring Break, and look forward to seeing more students at more schools in the coming days. I am very grateful to the tremendous effort by principals, teachers and school staff to make this process work as smoothly and safely as possible.
At the same time, I know the limited hours and staggered reopening dates are frustrating for many families. We arrived at this plan based on the need to maintain the current distance learning schedule and groupings, since a little less than half of families chose to stay entirely with that model, while also wanting to add some in-person instructional time where teachers would be working with just the in-person students. This schedule was a way to keep teachers focused at any one moment either entirely on students online, or entirely on in-person students, but never having to juggle both at the same time, as well as to prevent the disruption of reassigning students to new teachers at this point in the school year.
Welcoming students back at Sankofa United
The process of returning to classrooms will bring up feelings both of joy and disappointment, relief as well as trepidation, and I have heard from people with very strong feelings on all sides of the issue. I hope we can all remember that despite the disagreements, people are doing their best to follow rules and procedures that have changed frequently over the course of the past year, and understand that different people have very different lived experiences of the pandemic. Despite our differences, let's try to go through this process with as much patience and grace as possible, not least because our students are watching how we handle this stressful transition.
Last week, the Governor announced that he expected all schools in California to be open full-time in-person in the fall. Oakland Unified is also looking into the option of continuing to offer a distance-learning-only option in the fall for families who are not comfortable yet with in-person instruction.
All California residents ages 16 and over will be eligible for vaccination starting on Thursday, and it is likely that eligibility will expand to 12- to 15-year-olds in the late summer.
There has been much discussion as to whether OUSD middle and high schools will use a quarter system or semester system next year. There will be a family engagement meeting on Thursday evening, April 15, at 5:30 pm on this topic. Here is the Zoom link for that meeting.
On the question of statewide testing, the state of California is allowing districts where SBAC testing is not viable this year due to the pandemic to use local assessments instead. The phrase 'standardized testing' loses its meaning when every student's distance learning environment is so different, and this year has been anything but standard. Oakland Unified is exploring whether we can use our existing testing system that we are already using to track student learning this year (such as iReady and Math and Reading Inventory) to satisfy the state requirements, instead of using precious learning time this spring to undertake the extensive SBAC testing process.
Pandemic relief funding
Oakland Unified is expecting to receive substantial additional one-time state and federal funds to help with next year's process of readjusting to in-person instruction, as well as with supporting students to catch up on material they may not have learned during crisis distance learning.
For example, summer school will be significantly expanded this year. Look for communication from your child's school very soon about how to enroll. Summer school will include both direct instruction from teachers, and fun enrichment activities from afterschool providers. Dates will vary depending on the site, but in most cases it will be four or five weeks starting June 7.
The district has also committed to restoring classroom teachers to schools where those positions were going to be cut next year due to projected enrollment declines. This was in response to a request that I initiated, and will allow all of our schools to maintain teacher assignments for next year so we can come back strong from the pandemic.
There is also a proposal coming to the Board on Wednesday to increase socio-emotional and mental health support for students, many of whom experienced trauma and/or isolation this year, so that next year there may be more caring adults available on campus that struggling students can talk to about what they are experiencing as they reintegrate into in-person school.
I will be hosting a forum on these plans and other ways that the district might use this one-time funding, and how we can be transparent in our decision-making about it, on Thursday, May 6 at 5:30 pm. You can register for the Zoom meeting at this link.
District Facilities Planning
This Wednesday, the Board will also be discussing how to use Measure Y funding to renovate school sites. Specifically, there is a proposal to look into relocating central office staff from 1000 Broadway to vacant space at school sites. This would be a cheaper option than the current plan to build a new office building for central staff at the Cole site, and would take advantage of the new ability for office staff to collaborate virtually across different sites, which has been something accelerated by the pandemic.
We are also considering whether to explore a joint occupancy lease with the Oakland Library for the empty Piedmont Ave. child development center site. The Piedmont Ave. Library is currently in a small portable on the elementary school campus next door, and this would allow it to expand significantly, while still being accessible for class visits. The principal of Piedmont Ave. Elementary School, Ms. Ahmad, as well as several teachers and the PTA, have sent us letters supporting this plan. However, the site is in disrepair, so it will take some time for the plan to come to fruition.
Thanks to the Friends of the Piedmont Ave. Library for organizing a cleanup of the proposed new library site yesterday, which Councilmember Dan Kalb and I were happy to join.
I was very troubled to hear that the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant on College Ave. was recently vandalized, but I am grateful that the community came together to raise funds to cover the repair costs. I hope this spirit of solidarity can do something to repair the damage this act of hate does to our hearts and souls as well. The restaurant owners met the fundraising goal on their GoFundMe page but are sharing additional donations with other groups.
The district's Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement office is organizing an essay contest on the theme of Speaking Out on Anti-Asian Violence. Students can enter the contest by writing an essay of up to 850 words answering the questions on the APISA website here and submitting it by April 28.
Other Pandemic Relief Resources
If you lost a loved one to COVID-19, you can apply for reimbursement of funeral costs on the FEMA website here.
For tenants who have not been able to pay all of their rent during the pandemic, as well as landlords who commit to working with their tenants to keep them housed, the city of Oakland and the state of California have established relief funds. You can apply to the city program, Keep Oakland Housed, at this website, and you can access the state program, Housing Is Key, at this link.
In these challenging times, I appreciate all of you who are following all the issues diligently enough to read all the way to the end of this article. Stay well and I look forward to being in touch.