It has been very heartwarming to see many students back on school campuses, even if for only a few hours at the tail end of the school year.
I know it has been a huge lift for teachers, principals and other school employees to make this possible while enforcing all the safety rules and procedures, and very challenging for those parents who have been able to juggle their schedules to get students to campus. And, disappointing for those of us whose kids are still not able to get in-person instruction.
However, the students who I have spoken to at schools are all very excited to be there, and it is providing some much-needed hope at the end of this incredibly difficult year.
While cases are tragically spiking in other parts of the world, in California hospitalization rates are at their lowest since the pandemic began, and in every zip code of Oakland between 33% and 60% of those aged 16+ are fully vaccinated.
There are free vaccine appointments available now for anyone 16+ at myturn.ca.gov and also at Fremont High School off of High Street. The Chronicle reported that vaccines may be approved for younger teens very soon.
Everyone is planning for full-time in-person school next year, with an option for distance learning for those who prefer it, and all OUSD families should complete the survey on ParentSquare about their plans for the fall.
The first day of school is expected to be August 9 (click here for the draft school calendar).
Principal Ahmad welcoming students
back to Piedmont Ave. Elementary
Pandemic Relief Funds
There is a great article in Oaklandside on the rollout of outdoor learning spaces at 29 schools in Oakland so far, with all OUSD elementary schools slated to get them by August. The article highlights outdoor learning at Peralta, Sankofa and Hoover elementaries.
This is just one of many initiatives being funded with substantial pandemic relief funds that OUSD has begun to receive and which we can use over the next 3 years to help students come back strong.
Along with my colleagues, I successfully advocated for using these funds to prevent reductions in classroom teachers at schools where enrollment is projected to decline. This would have been counterproductive, since enrollment may bounce back next year, and even if it doesn’t we will need additional teaching staff for academic intervention.
At our next school board meeting, we will take up the plan for the Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant, which is $27 million in state funding that can be used over the next year for literacy and math intervention, tutoring services, family outreach, social-emotional learning and mental health, attendance incentives, helping high school students to get back on track for graduation, expanded summer school, restorative justice, case management, anti-racist professional development, community school managers, and more.
Last Wednesday, the board unanimously passed a resolution for Social Emotional Wellbeing, Mental Health Services, and Credit Recovery to give guidance to staff on developing the plan for this grant, so schools can start to hire, train and supervise their growing teams as soon as possible.
We need to use these funds well because we only have them for a short time, and although there are additional federal resources coming soon thanks to President Biden, those will also expire after 3 years, and Oakland Unified has a structural deficit that we need to address. But for now, the additional urgently-needed resources will help our schools in a big way.
Please join Director Aimee Eng and myself on Thursday, May 6 at 5:30 pm for a town hall on our plans for the relief funds, and how some of our existing high school wellness centers are a model for providing wrap-around services for our students. You can get the Zoom information by registering here.
At the last Board meeting, we passed a new enrollment policy that requires OUSD schools to have a plan to do outreach to feeder schools or preschools and to the community to encourage enrollment, and to provide help and funding from the district office to support those plans.
Oakland Unified's enrollment system can be hard to navigate for some families, and as a parent I know I have sometimes heard prejudiced comments against certain schools because of where they are located or who attends. For some interesting anti-racist perspectives on school enrollment, I recommend the podcasts by the group Integrated Schools.
The new policy also requires the district to divorce its enrollment website from charter school enrollment for next year.
I am heartbroken by the headlines in the news on the death of Mario Gonzalez, a 26-year-old OUSD graduate who died at the hands of Alameda police the day before the Derek Chauvin verdict.
In Oakland Unified, we are implementing the George Floyd Resolution and have developed new guidance for school staff to clarify what numbers to call other than 911 when there is a safety issue that is not a life-threatening emergency, such as the Alameda County Mobile Crisis Response hotline. And, we will be developing more expertise among school staff to resolve conflicts onsite.
By eliminating our school police department and relying less on police services, we are developing a more restorative approach to school safety.
Young Adult Program
Thanks to David Cammarata for giving me a tour of the Young Adult Program at its new home on the Santa Fe campus, which like all of our schools has reopened for limited in-person instruction. This program teaches life and job skills to students aged 18-22 with moderate to extensive special needs, in partnership with the Peralta Community College system. Santa Fe is also now the home to many other staff and services for our Special Education department.
New mural on the front of the Santa Fe campus
Improving Graduation Rates in High Schools
The board got a very uplifting report from High School Superintendent Matin Abdel-Qawi on the success of Measure N in creating career pathways at all of our high schools in the years since its passage in 2014.
These programs have helped high school students understand the relevance of their learning to their future, and raised graduation rates across Oakland. You can read more about it in an article by education reporter Ashley McBride.
If your business or agency would be interested in hosting a high school student intern, please read more information on our website or in this presentation, or get in touch with me for more information! This can be an incredibly rewarding way to connect with our bright and motivated young people.
We are seeking dedicated community members to serve on our parcel tax committees, including the Construction Bond Oversight Committee, as well as the committees that oversee how we spend our funds from Measure G (which focuses on art/music education and libraries) and Measure G1 (which focuses on middle school electives).
If you are interested in public service and promoting financial transparency in the district, please get in touch with me for more information or submit your application on our website.