My Trajectory in Oakland Education

In 2006, I started working at a family literacy program at the Manzanita campus in Fruitvale, where I taught parents both the English skills they needed for everyday life, as well as how to get involved in their students' education. 

This program was axed due to the recession's budget cuts in 2011, but I had fallen in love with the Manzanita community and I enrolled my son at Manzanita SEED School that fall, and was also hired as the school's family outreach coordinator.

That same year, I also got involved in Oakland Community Organizations (OCO). Emma Paulino, an organizer for OCO, was helping parents to demand safety improvements in the neighborhood of the school. I helped organize a neighborhood Peace Walk to draw attention to how the new strength of the Manzanita schools was making the neighborhood as a whole safer. (This was before the dynamic of gentrification came to that neighborhood - the recession was causing a crisis of foreclosures throughout Fruitvale, and property values were plunging.) 

At the same time, OCO was organizing a city-wide campaign against OUSD budget cuts, insisting that reductions due to the recession be made at the central office first, to affect school sites as little as possible.

I was very moved by the way that OCO (which recently changed its name to Faith in Action East Bay) empowered leaders at the grassroots from the communities most affected by racism and classism. I was amazed to learn the history of the small school movement that OCO had led in the early 2000s, which created many new schools across the flatlands (mostly elementary but also a few middle and high schools), including the one that my son was now benefiting from. 

I was proud to join the board of OCO for the next six years, and did my best to support parent involvement by neighborhood families at Manzanita SEED, even as the economy began to turn around, and the school started to enroll families from outside the neighborhood who were attracted by its suddenly rising test scores and the dual immersion curriculum it offered.

However, like so many positions in our district, the family engagement coordinator job was not sustainable, so while I was working at SEED I also got a master's degree at Cal State East Bay and started teaching remedial math at Cal State and at local community colleges, including the Gateway to College program, where I worked with students who had struggled in high school but were trying to complete their diplomas.

In 2014, after three years of juggling multiple part-time jobs, I decided to try out the private sector and joined Schoolzilla, an educational data startup. After a decade working in schools, I was amazed at the resources that are available in the tech world. 

In 2016, I moved to UC Office of the President's technology division, working on a project to offer automatic evaluation of high school students' progress towards college eligibility (known as 'A to G') to school districts across California. 

But I also missed working directly with kids, and so I started teaching a class at Oakland SOL Middle School's enrichment program, showing young people how to program computer games, and design and write code to control robots, because I have been shocked at the terrible lack of diversity in the tech sector, which looks nothing like the Bay Area that it has flourished in.

As my son has gone through Claremont Middle School, where he has had fantastic teachers and flourished, I am reminded of my own experiences in New York as a teenager. I see how my son is pulled away from his friends from Manzanita SEED, Latino and African-American students who are facing very different challenges from him, as their identities hit up against the structural racism of our society and our schools. Some of them have succeeded, some have had excellent schools - and some have not. None of them has come through their teenage years unscathed by the racism that they must confront every day, and it is heart-breaking to see the effects of this on these kids who I knew when they were kindergartners.

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  • Brian Rothstein
    Sam, what distinguishes you from most teachers is that you care about about your students as human beings, their welfare, and the welfare of the community. What’s more, you have the passion and the capability to do something to help the situation. That’s why I think you’d make a great school board member.