First, I want to give my congratulations to the graduating class of 2021, and wish them all the best as they take the lessons of this very difficult year into their transition to adulthood.
Planning for Next Year
The Bay Area has the privilege of being one of the most highly vaccinated regions of the world, with over 75% of Alameda county adults having received at least one vaccine dose, and infection rates low all across Oakland.
Teens and tweens ages 12+ are now approved for the vaccine, and my son was excited to get his first shot last week. Here is a list of vaccination days at OUSD school sites, or you can sign up for a free appointment at http://myturn.ca.gov.
The California legislature is very unlikely to renew the authorization for hybrid learning that expires June 30, and most districts across the state, including Oakland, are planning for full-time in-person learning at all schools in the fall, with the option of a distance-learning-only academy for those who feel uncomfortable with returning to school due to health reasons or other legitimate concerns.
It is not yet clear what safety requirements will still be required for the fall, such as masking, health screening and air purification measures, but those should become clearer based on state and county guidance over the next couple of months.
Pandemic Relief Funds
The federal and state administrations have provided welcome relief funding for our schools, prioritizing districts like Oakland that have high numbers of vulnerable students with almost $300 million in one-time funding for use over the next three years.
The Governor’s “May Revision” of the budget also provided welcome news. New funds are coming to our schools, because even though the overall economy has suffered during the pandemic, the wealthy have done well, and thanks in part to past ballot measures, they had to pay taxes on that income that will go to education.
The governor has proposed significant new funding for community schools, tutoring, afterschool, summer school, expanded TK, professional development, and more. We will see what the legislature decides over the coming month, but it bodes well for Oakland.
So far, our school board has unanimously passed a resolution directing staff to use some of the relief funds to support social-emotional wellbeing, mental health, and high school credit recovery.
I contributed language to this resolution mandating that these services be managed at school sites by principals and school leadership, with coordination and professional development provided by the district central office.
Director Aimee Eng co-hosted a well-attended forum with me earlier this month where we discussed overall priorities for relief funds, including the $27 million Expanded Learning Opportunities grant which will be coming to the board for final approval this Wednesday.
The plan is to use this grant for tutoring, mental health, family outreach, high school credit recovery, restorative justice, and other programs to help students reintegrate back into full-time in-person learning after the isolation and trauma of the pandemic.
There will be ongoing discussions to decide uses of the remaining funds, and evaluation next year on what is working and what needs to be done differently for the future two years during which the funding can be used.
We need to make sure all the relief funds are distributed in a way that supports the students of highest need that these dollars were sent to support, and to provide transparency to the public on how they are spent.
Over the long term, Oakland Unified still has a structural deficit, because our costs are rising faster than funding from the state. California is still one of the bottom states in per-pupil expenditures for education, yet the Bay Area cost of living is very high. So the flood of short-term funding, in the context of a long-term financial drought, creates a confusing picture.
Luckily, we finally have stronger financial staffing and reporting in the district, and I will continue to pay close attention to the numbers and call for greater fiscal transparency.
I support using some of our current fund balance to pay off the rest of OUSD’s state loan. This will help to address the deficit by reducing our ongoing costs, and will also reduce the involvement of the state in our decision-making.
Proposed New Use of Kaiser Campus
There will be a community meeting this Tuesday, May 25 at 6:30 pm to discuss the proposed new use of the Kaiser campus. You can RSVP on this form to get the Zoom link sent to you.
The proposal is to open an Early Learning hub for ages 0-4 on the campus. Currently, Oakland Unified has one Early Learning hub at Burbank Preschool Center in East Oakland serving only students with special needs. Many of the students at Burbank travel from North or West Oakland, so this would significantly reduce daily travel time for those children.
This plan would also allow both Burbank and Kaiser to have a mix of special education and general education students at both sites, and include more programs for infants and toddlers at both sites.
The location at Kaiser was chosen because this program needs at least 10 classrooms on a ground floor. There is a grant available from Alameda County to make the playground accessible for students with special needs, which would be completed next year, with the goal of opening the program for students in August 2022.
I recognize this plan may be upsetting for families whose children were recently at Kaiser Elementary, because of the recent trauma of being forced off the campus.
However, this does mean that it would once again be a site for public education, instead of being used as office space or rented to a private school, which were both possibilities. I look forward to hearing the community’s perspective on Tuesday.
New Elementary Language Arts Curricula
This Wednesday the Board will vote on adoption of EL Education as the English language arts curriculum for the majority of schools in the district (with Benchmark Advance/Adelante at schools with dual immersion Spanish/English programs).
This program would be used in conjunction with the existing use of SIPPS which teaches phonics and other foundational reading skills.
In conversations with teachers and principals who piloted the program or participated on the curriculum selection committee, I heard enthusiasm for EL Education, which uses in-depth units and authentic literature, both fiction and non-fiction.
At the same time, there is recognition that there will need to be a significant investment next year in professional development for elementary teachers so that they can be supported to make good use of the new curricula.
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
This program was launched by the FCC this month, and provides low-income families or those who experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020, a discount of up to $75 per month on broadband internet, as well as $100 towards a new laptop. You can apply on the program’s website.
And so we come to the end of a school year like no other. The Board will be meeting weekly for the next six weeks, because this is our busiest time of year with the need to pass a new budget and LCAP plan, evaluate the superintendent and general counsel, and plan for the coming year, before taking our annual break in July.
But with school ending next Thursday, I wish families, teachers and staff a happy summer, and look forward to seeing you all on campuses in August!