Finding Silver Linings in the Oakland Schools

News of the Oakland schools was dominated last week by the confrontation at the school board, where police hit and tussled with protesters who shut down the meeting. I'll address that in a moment, but first I want to highlight some good news.

Bad news always gets more press and 'likes' than good news. But at the same time as protesters were getting arrested across town, parents from both Kaiser and Sankofa met to form a "design team" for the new merged school. One parent told me she was surprised to see more than 40 people in the room from both schools, some of whom had strongly opposed the merger, but decided to show up with goodwill to make the best of it now that it is going forward.

Then on Saturday, Dana from Sankofa and Marin from Kaiser (shown above) organized a barbecue at Bushrod Park that was very well attended, with parents from both schools as well as Peralta and Santa Fe. Many Kaiser families live in the Sankofa or Santa Fe neighborhoods, and are happy at how welcoming the Sankofa community has been. Derrick, who has worked at the Sankofa afterschool program for over a dozen years, told me that Sankofa parents felt the merged school should have a new name to reflect its new merged identity. A couple with a prospective kindergartner said they found enrolling at Sankofa more appealing than Peralta because of its proximity, the wonderful campus and the appeal of the community effort exemplified by the barbecue. And again, Kaiser parents showed up who opposed the merger but are committed to making it go well now that it is going to happen.

In other good news, Schools and Communities First petitions are here! This ballot measure is the one plan that everybody in Oakland education agrees on, from the Oakland Is Not For Sale protesters to GO Public Schools to the California Teachers Association to the OUSD School Board. It would raise billions of dollars for education statewide, including over $50 million for Oakland schools, by exempting large commercial property such as office buildings, gas stations and Disneyland from Prop. 13. It would not affect residential property in any way, and small commercial property worth under $3 million would also be exempt. I've already gathered 30 signatures and plan to get a lot more! Please get in touch with me or any of the supporting organizations, such as Faith in Action East Bay, Oakland Rising, OEA, or GO, if you want to help.

Now about the protests at the school board meeting: I was in the audience last Wednesday, but did not witness the altercation because protesters were between me and what happened. Of course, I have seen the video, and it seems clear that police used excessive force and should be disciplined. Police should be trained to de-escalate, but so often they do not. One of the people struck by a police baton was the colleague of a friend of mine, who tells me she is a long-time constructive and non-confrontational teacher in OUSD.

At the same time, shutting down the school board meetings by protest is a destructive strategy which will not lead to any positive resolution. The board meetings just move upstairs and proceed with less public comment. Shutting down the meetings would only help if the district needed less public comment, or if the superintendent and staff needed less oversight by the board - but that is hardly the case. I was in the audience with people who had come to speak critically to the board on other important issues such as the budget and the audit of the school construction fund, and they were frustrated by the protesters. This is the fourth meeting in a row that protesters have shut down, and as this continues it is only making it harder to attract good people to run for school board with me next year.

One last topic - if you're still reading this far, then you're the kind of person who will write a letter to your county representative! Please do so, because Yu Ming Charter School in North Oakland is applying to nearly triple in size. At a time when Oakland is going through such a painful process to address the problem of under-enrollment, adding so many seats at a charter school would make it worse. You can read my blog post about the other reasons that Yu Ming should not expand. The Alameda County board of education will decide on this expansion on December 10 in Hayward.

Thanks for being one of the people keeping track of the issues in the Oakland schools. While we may not agree on everything, I hope we can take the example of the Kaiser and Sankofa parents who are working in unity, or the folks gathering signatures on Schools and Communities First, to re-energize our belief that positive change is possible and that we can make it happen together.

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