Updates from School Board Director Sam Davis

It’s great to finally have some photos besides Zoom screenshots! I want to start by deeply appreciating everybody who is working so hard in our schools this year. I know that with staffing and substitute shortages, complicated COVID safety protocols, and the strain of returning to in-person learning, it has been a huge effort.

Please show your gratitude and appreciation to everybody who works at your school, because everybody is feeling stretched very thin this year. The pandemic highlighted how incredibly important school communities are in our daily lives, and it’s very moving to visit and see the great experiences that students get to have by being there.

Congrats Marco on his upcoming graduation from Dewey Academy! With principal Ms. Staci Ross-Morrison.

COVID Safety Updates

Thankfully, case rates continue to drop in Alameda County, but we are preparing for the possibility of another winter surge. 

Oakland Unified has contracted with another COVID testing firm, so testing is now available every two weeks at all middle and high schools on an optional basis. Pooled testing (where a whole classroom tests at once) will be rolling out to elementary schools, also biweekly.

The district is also continuing the testing hubs and the rapid response testing for modified quarantine in case of positive cases. If you travel for the holidays, I recommend getting tested before and after your trip.

Students aged 5 to 11 will likely be eligible for the vaccine in the first week of November. Oakland Unified is working with the county to set up vaccine clinics in November and December at many elementary schools.

The school board will be discussing implementation of the vaccine requirement for ages 12+ this Wednesday. The Governor announced a COVID vaccine requirement for all students, which is likely to take effect in August 2022. 

Oakland Unified has received vaccination data from the county for adolescent students and has started one-to-one outreach to families of students whose status is not confirmed.

A recent study found that when adolescents had to be hospitalized for COVID, 97% were unvaccinated. Vaccinated students also help protect their families from infection.

As more students are eating inside, Oakland Unified has ordered large air purifiers for all cafeteria spaces, which started to arrive at elementary schools this week.


COVID Relief Funds

All of these safety efforts are expensive! Luckily OUSD received substantial relief funds, and we will be voting on the plan for those funds this Wednesday. The chart below shows the planned spending.

Most of the funds went to address COVID safety issues, technology for last year’s distance learning, and almost 500 new positions this year mostly to support student learning, safety, and socio-emotional well-being. There is a big-picture breakdown of the plan for this year and next year in this document.

Over $20M of one-time funds were used this year to forestall the need for layoffs in the middle of the pandemic. Given how hard it is to hire people right now, that turned out to be a wise move—otherwise we would be even more short-staffed now.

However, despite the one-time relief funds, the state still does not provide adequate ongoing funding for education, especially since Prop 15 did not pass last year. 

And, we also need to find room in the budget to offer salary increases to teachers and staff because of the rapidly rising Bay Area cost of living. So, the Board is forced to look at significant budget cuts for next year, to balance our budget. Hopefully this blow can be softened by the remaining relief funds.

There will be a special board budget study session on Nov. 4. Also, I will be holding a Budget Town Hall on Monday, Nov. 15 from 5:30 to 7:00 over Zoom for those who want to understand these issues in depth. I’ll send the link for the meeting in my next update.


Black Students and Families Thriving Taskforce

In accordance with the Reparations for Black Students resolution, the district has formed a taskforce to propose changes in practices and policies to address the impacts on Black students of racism in our society and our education system. 

Superintendent Johnson-Trammell is providing an update with some disturbing statistics of the disparities in her report to the board for this Wednesday. It’s very concerning but I’m glad that this issue is front and center in our planning and discussions.

Sankofa United held its first annual Move-a-thon last Saturday to build community and get exercise.


Independent Study

Over 1000 students have signed up for distance learning via independent study this year. The program, called Sojourner Truth, has hired over 40 new teachers to accommodate the need.

The state requires the district to provide independent study to any family that requests it, and districts across the state have struggled to meet this new demand. It’s great that OUSD was able to put something together so quickly, but I am asking for more information to better understand how the program is working now and what changes may be needed in the future.

Students who need to quarantine at home can also request short-term independent study from their teacher and school for up to two weeks, without needing to enroll at Sojourner Truth.

New Reading Curriculum

This year, elementary school teachers are using a new reading curriculum from EL Education. Many teachers got training at the beginning of the year, and there has been a substantial investment from the relief funds, as well as outside grants, in additional reading tutors and student support. 

It’s challenging to make such a big change during the pandemic, but there was concern that the old curriculum was not grounded in recent research in literacy. The urgent need to improve literacy rates in the district in the early grades is called out in our new strategic plan.

I am looking forward to learning more about the implementation, and hopeful that all of the hard work by our teachers and staff will help more students feel success and joy in reading.

Thanks to families, students and staff who volunteered at Tech yesterday to beautify the landscaping.

New Electoral Districts

The census results show big population shifts within our town, and the Oakland Redistricting Commission has drawn two proposed new maps for the electoral districts (council and school board). One map changes the current boundaries in minor ways, the biggest being that Kaiser would now be in District 4. 

The other map has more drastic changes, which would also put Chabot, Hillcrest, Piedmont Avenue, and Claremont into District 4, while McClymonds, West Oakland Middle, Martin Luther King Jr., Hoover, and Street Academy would join District 1.

The commission will make its final decision by the end of the year. You can see the maps and find out about the many meetings on this topic on the Commission website.

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  • Sam Davis