Back to School Newsletter

Coming Back to Campus Safely

We are all very excited to come back to full-time in-person instruction on Monday. The experience of students around the world shows that it is possible to be in school safely with the help of indoor masking, vaccination of those 12+, contact tracing, and other measures, even when the new Delta variant is present.

There are also two air purifiers in every classroom to reduce the chances of airborne transmission. 

Unlike the spring when each district developed its own procedures, this year the state and county public health departments are giving much more guidance on how school districts should handle the pandemic, and our staff are staying in close contact with them in case there are changes. You can read our COVID safety FAQ for more details.

We are working with the county and Kaiser to provide vaccine clinics at middle schools and high schools, and once the vaccine is approved for younger students (possibly as soon as October), elementary schools as well. For example, Kaiser is bringing a mobile vaccine clinic to the Oakland Tech Welcome BBQ this Friday from 4 to 6 pm. Click on this page for other upcoming vaccine clinics in Oakland.

We are lucky to live in a region with relatively high levels of vaccination and mask compliance. I have asked district staff to explore additional COVID testing requirements for students and for the few staff who are unvaccinated. Currently, free COVID testing is available at 10 sites across the district or using an at-home kit available free at any school site.

Relatively few families are still requesting distance learning, for medical or other reasons, which means enrolling in our independent study program, Sojourner Truth. Unfortunately, it would be extremely costly to offer distance learning at every school, and state law requires that a student can only be enrolled in one school at a time, so choosing independent study requires giving up your spot at your current school. More information available at this page.

A Restorative Return to In-Person Learning

As we come back on campus this fall, we are focused not just on academic learning but also on restoring the relationships, habits and behaviors that make learning possible. We will experience again how school can be a place of joy and community as well as serious study. Many students will need help recovering from the trauma and isolation of the past 17 months.

Oakland Unified has invested significantly in socio-emotional and mental health support, academic intervention staff, and community outreach efforts using our pandemic relief funds. 

Many schools are participating in the Parent Teacher Home Connection project to do outreach to the families in the early weeks of the year, to hear about your hopes and dreams for your students and to share expectations for their school experiences. Please let me know if your family or your school wants more information about how to participate.

Let’s work together to make sure every family feels connected and included in our school communities. These restorative practices are a precondition for student learning and how we can come back even stronger than we were pre-pandemic.

Extending the Superintendent’s Contract

In this time of high superintendent turnover across the country due to post-pandemic burnout, we are very lucky to have a leader with amazing stamina and commitment to Oakland who has instead just doubled down.

I am glad to announce that on August 11, the Board will be considering extending the contract of Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell until 2025. This represents a deeply significant transformation in Oakland, from decades of high superintendent turnover to the stable leadership of an African-American woman who not only was born and raised in Oakland but has dedicated most of her career to bettering our schools.

You can read the contract here. It includes a three-month restorative leave from April to June of next year to give her time to rest and reflect on her first five years as superintendent.

OUSD Strategic Plan

At our last meeting in June, the Board adopted a new strategic plan for 2021-24. It commits us to focusing on our core work of literacy in the early grades and preparation for college and career in the upper grades, not only grounded firmly in data and solid planning, but also by deeply engaging with families and the community at large

Recognizing that anti-racism should be at the core of our daily work in Oakland, the plan commits us to equity both when we make our schools places of joy, inclusion and beauty, and in continuing to increase diversity among our staff, which contributes to a more stable, committed workforce in our schools.

You can read more about the plan here.

Citywide Plan for School Redesign, Mergers and/or Closures

Most large school districts in California have an average school size of 70-80% more students than the average school in Oakland. The large number of very small schools in Oakland has created financial challenges for our district. 

To address this, in recent years there have been two ‘cohorts’ of school redesigns, mergers and closures. This has been very controversial, in part because these school changes have disproportionately impacted African-American families over the years. The district postponed a third cohort of school redesigns, mergers and closures during the pandemic, but the Board is slated to vote on this Cohort 3 next month.

Instead, I will be introducing a resolution to postpone the Cohort 3 decision until next May. At this moment in time, the full attention of all district and school staff needs to be on the restorative return to full-time in-person instruction. 

It is time-intensive work to thoughtfully engage with families, staff and students for a successful transition as schools are redesigned, merged or closed. This work and the controversy it generates would be a big distraction right now from the more essential work of bringing our school communities back together safely for full-time in-person instruction.

At the same time, we need to recognize that enrollment in OUSD declined by over 1000 students in the four years prior to the pandemic, in part because of increased enrollment in local charter schools, so we need to return to wrestling with this issue soon. I believe the right time to have this difficult conversation is next spring, after school communities have begun to recover from the disruption of the past year and a half.

Welcome Mr. Moore!

A big Welcome Back to new Claremont Middle School principal Tremaine Moore. Mr. Moore taught at Claremont for many years and served as a dean there as well, before becoming an assistant principal at Edna Brewer Middle School for 2 years. I am excited that he is returning to Claremont, which was recently recognized as a California Distinguished School. We will miss former principal Jonathan Mayer, who has moved on to another role in OUSD after many years as principal at Chabot and Claremont.

Other Updates

  • Huge thanks to the Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries for all their work reorganizing and redesigning the Sankofa United library! 

  • Also thanks to the Oakland City Council for restoring the funding for crossing guards across our town, and for continuing their commitment of some of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax funding to support nutrition education programming in Oakland Unified over the next two years.

  • Planning continues to open an Early Learning Center for preschool students at the former Kaiser Elementary site in 2022 (see Oaklandside article for details). I also took part in a neighborhood meeting there to discuss fire danger, and OUSD has removed excess vegetation on its property surrounding the site to mitigate that danger.

  • All 4th and 5th graders can get a free family pass for all of our national parks. This program started a couple of administrations ago—thanks Obama!

  • Renters who are having trouble paying rent or utilities, or landlords with tenants who are behind on payments, can apply for federal relief at the Housing Is Key website.

  • Oakland’s electoral districts 1 through 7 will be redrawn this fall by a Redistricting Commission made up of members of the community. There is more information at this link.

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  • Sam Davis