Dear Superintendent Wilson,
We, the GO Teacher Policy Fellows, are writing to share appreciations, concerns, and ideas regarding the Intensive Support Schools initiative and Call for Quality Schools policy. The GO Teacher Policy Fellows are teachers from across Oakland – in both district and charter schools – who work together to learn about teaching policy and community organizing, build community among Oakland’s teachers, and ensure that teachers’ voices are included in decisions about the future of education. Recently, we organized and hosted an informational forum for Oakland teachers on these policies.
Approximately 30 teachers from 20 schools, both district and charter, participated that evening – a mixture of GO Teacher Policy Fellows and teachers unaffiliated with the fellowship.
At the event, teachers had an opportunity to learn about the Quality Schools Development policy and share their (1) appreciations, (2) concerns, and (3) ideas for future implementation for this policy. Below, we have done our best to capture the most often expressed sentiments in the room as teachers discussed the policy and implementation.
We hope you will consider this as you lead our district in the effort to ensure that every Oakland student receives a high quality education, no matter where he or she lives or chooses to attend school.
1. Appreciations. In general, when considering the ISS policy, the educators in the room are appreciative for the following:
● A clear rejection of the status quo. The teachers at our forum all recognize that far too many Oakland students are underserved in our schools and appreciate your willingness to reject this current state of inadequacy and underperformance. The consensus in the room is that we can and must do better by our students.
● A strong sense of urgency. Attendees shared an appreciation for your willingness to take bold action that will create the systemic change Oakland schools need to improve.
● The opportunity to “dream big”. Many in the room, especially those at the five ISS schools, thank you for the invitation to plan ambitiously when considering possibilities for school redesign.
● Community engagement. While most teachers at the event shared frustration with the lack of community engagement at the beginning of this process, many also voiced an appreciation for the attempts that the district has made since to foster more discussion with all stakeholders about this policy and implementation process. We encourage you to continue to make this a priority.
2. Concerns. While the Oakland teachers who attended this event recognize the need for urgent, bold change, we have some concerns about the process by which change occurs. Specifically, we wonder about:
● Sustainability and funding. Will schools receive the adequate resources, primarily funding, needed to not only begin but also sustain, over time, school improvement? Will you, Superintendent Wilson, be here through the many years it will take to support the continued growth and improvement in our schools?
● Lack of trust and district accountability. Johanna Paraiso, Teacher of the Year and a panelist at the event, asked, “When does the healing happen?” Over the years, Oakland teachers have experienced consistent turnover and lack of follow-through from the district office, while at the same time being expected to implement different reform efforts every year. Many expressed disappointment that the roll out of ISS seems to have only deepened these feelings of distrust. These teachers are concerned about how, and whether, the district will take effective steps to heal this broken relationship.
● Community voice and engagement. As mentioned above, many teachers recognize and appreciate the level of community engagement that has occurred since the ISS process has begun. However, they are still frustrated with what they felt was a lack of community engagement prior to the roll out.
● The broader context. When we discuss school improvement in Oakland, we must consider all of the elements affecting school performance, including, but not limited to: the history (successes and failures) of education reform efforts in Oakland and the impact of poverty on student learning. In addition to encouraging and supporting the schools to better serve our students, what are you doing to partner our schools’ efforts with the broader community’s so that we are all in this together?
3. Ideas for Future Implementation. As we move forward with this critical work, we ask that you consider the following recommendations:
● Create institutional power for all community members to have a voice. It was a transformational moment when OEA President Trish Gorham applauded you at a school board meeting in the fall for representing the union’s voice in your five-year plan. Similarly, the GO Teacher Policy Fellows appreciated the great work you did at the start of this school year to engage with us and all members of the community while determining your administration’s priorities and plans. It is critical that the district establish and continue to nurture a community-minded model as we work to improve outcomes for Oakland students.The district must consistently recognize and utilize the expertise that all stakeholders bring to thisc hallenging work and slowly rebuild the trust needed to make the real, bold change that we ALL want to see in our schools.
● Fully fund the reform we all seek. The teachers, school leaders, parents, students, and community members at the five ISS schools are already meeting the deadlines for letter of intent and proposal submission. However, we know that a plan is just a plan without the resources needed to implement it. Let’s show our students that we are willing, ready, and committed to investing in the high quality education they deserve.
● Build upon what is already working in Oakland schools. Despite the severe challenges we face, Oakland educators are accomplishing incredible things with students everyday. We urge you to continue to visit schools and engage with educators to learn what is working in our schools. With all the amazing efforts already underway, we can boldly improve our schools without starting from scratch.
● Ensure a culture of support, not punishment. It is critical that teachers in ISS schools – and all Oakland schools – feel supported, not punished, when there is room for improvement. Some educators at this event felt that the ISS process is punitive. We can all agree that turning around schools is hard work. It requires a drive for constant improvement, both at the district level and in schools. In order to ensure that all Oakland schools are consistently improving, the district must promote a culture of support districtwide.
Thank you for taking the time to listen and engage with the thoughts and experiences reflected in this letter. We remain hopeful and committed to working in partnership to achieve the best for our students.
Lisa Rothbard, Skyline High School, GO Teacher Policy Fellow
Christi Carpenter, Life Academy, GO Teacher Policy Fellow
Emma Coufal, Think College Now, GO Teacher Policy Fellow
Rachel Korschun, Coliseum College Prep Academy, GO Teacher Policy Fellow
Jennie Herriot-Hatfield, Think College Now, GO Teacher Policy Fellow
Katy Simon, Edna Brewer Middle School, GO Teacher Policy Fellow
Ron Towns, Envision Academy of Arts and Technology, GO Teacher Policy Fellow
Sonya Mehta, Learning Without Limits Elementary School, GO Teacher Policy Fellow