Dear OUSD: Turnaround Takes Time

Today’s bron photolog comes from Ron Towns, a 9th grade math teacher at Oakland Charter High School and GO Teacher Policy Fellow.  Ron’s experience as an educator includes working in a Chicago Public School through four years of a district-supervised turnaround process.  He reflects here on his observation of the process becoming corrupted and shares his hope that Oakland will do better.

When I applied for a job at a Chicago turnaround school, I thought, “wow, finally a district that is committed to reforming public schools”.  In a political climate where too many urban districts turn to charter schools to “take over” district, public schools, I was very excited to find a district that was committed to improving its public schools.

I started the job in Chicago after my first year of teaching, which I had completed in Madrid, Spain.  When I first arrived to Chicago, I was floored by the excitement and commitment of my colleagues.  Not only had the district hired a top-notch principal, trained through the nationally-recognized New Leaders program, but had recruited over 100 staff members, including 80 teachers, a full counseling and student support staff, social workers, school psychologist, 3 attendance clerks, 3 deans, and close to 20 security guards as well.  While we were great in number, more importantly, we had a huge amount of commitment to and love for our students and improving their educational experience.

And we did just that.  From the first to second year of turnaround, school culture changed drastically.  During our first year, students were oftentimes roaming the hallways during class and fights in classrooms were not uncommon.  Indeed, I felt more like a classroom manager than an educator during my first year.  On the first day of Year 2, however, things had changed.  In fact, from my second to fourth year at the school, I was able to use my instruction to move students from being five to six grade levels behind a lot closer to grade level.  As a math team, the team I led, we were able to: (a) vertically align our curriculum in accordance with Common Core; (b) dive into professional readings that discussed how to increase rigor in our classrooms; and (c) use lesson study and peer observation protocols in order to observe one another implement the instructional practices we had studied during professional development.

Despite our good work as a school, the district made it so difficult for us to continue it.  After Year 1, the amount of funding that we received each year steadily declined.  Unfortunately, the school is now in a position where they must choose between the reading intervention program and the extra school counselor.  In addition to reductions in funding, more recent district mandates have pressured educators to teaching to the state test, a very low-level test that does not show whether or not students are college and/or career-ready.  The district now micro-manages the school by requiring that all teachers do regular classroom assessments aligned to the state test.  Unfortunately, this has moved instruction (and teachers) away from a focus on how to teach rigorously to how to teach skills in isolation so that students can improve on a high-stakes test.  The result: after only six years of the turnaround effort, the majority of the staff has left.  Next year, the majority of the administration and staff will most likely be in their first to third year at the school.

As Oakland seeks to “turnaround” 5 of its public schools, I encourage the district to think about how support for the educators in that building can be sustained over time.  If Oakland is truly committed to its students and educators, then there will be no other option.


The Most Informative Blog You’ll Ever Read About Oakland’s Call for Quality Schools

Senior Policy Fellow, Rachel Korschun, did extensive research about the Call for Quality Schools initiative, led by Superintendent Antwan Wilson, currently causing so much confusion and controversy in Oakland. 

Read here for an excellent overview of the situation.  The blog includes links galore, so you can check out the information for yourself from its primary sources.

What is the Call for Quality Schools?

The Call for Quality Schools comes from the OUSD Board’s Quality Schools Development Policy which passed in April of 2013.  See Board Policy 6005 updated August 27th, 2014 for the updated policy. See the policy’s Administrative Regulations V4.4 (rev 2/7/15) and Feb 11th Board Presentation (downloads file).


How were the five Intensive Support Schools identified?

Schools were selected by the Board of Education in April 2014.

Going forward schools will be selected based on administration regulations process.

Schools will be identified by a number of different metrics:

School Quality Review

Strategic Regional Analysis (large file download)

Strategic Regional Analysis (overview)

Balanced Scorecard

+ School Performance Framework (under development)

+ Student Performance Data

+ Site Utilization & Enrollment Projections

See slide 4 and page 21 Goal III Section B.


Which schools were selected?

The following five schools were selected by the Board of Education.  Click on each school for more information about academic and other information about each.

1. Brookfield

2. Castlemont

3. Fremont

4. Frick

5. McClymonds


What must be included in proposals for new school plans for Intensive Support Schools?

School sites, communities, and other providers are invited to submit proposals for new school plans that must include the following five “pillars.”

1. Educator Effectiveness Pipelines

2. Strong School Culture

3. Increased Time on Task

4. Rigorous Academics

5. Linked Learning/Personalized Learning

Each school also has district mandated site-specific criteria.

Click here for more information about the five Pillars.   Click here for the district’s research base.


Are schools provided with any supports to complete the proposals?

School sites are provided with $22,000 to support their creation of proposals. (See slide 11)


What if more than one proposal team forms at a school site?

If more that one team forms, the district will help facilitate a process to help them join.  Otherwise, supports will only be available to one team. (Letter from Allen Smith)


Once proposals are submitted who will evaluate them?

Site Based Committees (pg. 24) will evaluate them based on a rubric with these four categories:

+ School Culture

+ Leadership

+ Educational Program

+ Teaching

Site-based Committee rosters are available here.


How are stakeholders involved?

Here is an overview of the different bodies through which stakeholders are involved. (Spanish version)

Here is a graphic of the different bodies for community stakeholders and their roles in the process.


Who makes the final decision on which proposals are accepted?

The School Board makes the final decision. The Superintendent will make a final recommendation to the Board for approval based on feedback from the (1) School Site Based Committees and the (2) Academic Review Board.

Academic Review board composition for 2014-2016.  Click here for the explanation of academic review boards (pg. 24).


When does implementation begin for these plans?

There are two possible timelines.

Under Timeline I, after plans are selected, design teams enter the Program Development Planning Phase to prepare for school opening in the Fall of 2016.

Timeline II results in a new school opening in Fall 2017.

Four of the five schools are on Timeline I. Brookfield Elementary is on Timeline II.


Can charter schools submit a proposal?

Yes. As a condition of acceptance, charters must agree to participate in OUSD’s special education programs, abide by the same discipline policies as OUSD schools, and participate in OUSD’s options process.

Click here for the district’s explanation of why charter’s are involved in the Call (pg. 3)

Update: No charter school proposals have been submitted for any schools on Timeline I.


Does the Call for Quality Schools mean that charter schools are taking over?

Charter schools may submit proposals for quality school plans for any school.

Charter schools in this process must still be approved by the Board of Education.


Is what’s happening here similar to what Superintendent Wilson implemented in Denver schools?

Superintendent Wilson was an assistant superintendent in Denver where he worked specifically with turnaround schools.  In Denver they followed a similar intensive schools and Call for Quality Schools process for consecutive years.

See the Denver Public Schools’ website for their version of the Call for Quality Schools.


Does the Call for Quality Schools process relate to contract negotiations with the teacher’s union?

Article 12, which deals with teacher tenure and reassignment, & Article 27, which regulates school governance freedoms, both impact the Call for Quality Schools Process.

Click these links for the district’s package proposal in bargaining, the union’s most recent bargaining updates, and current contract language.


Important Websites: (regularly updated)