Positive Changes Ahead: Antwan Wilson and Paul Toner Visit GO Teacher Policy Fellows

June 3rd was a big day for OUSD teachers:  we had the opportunity to ratify the Tentative Agreement on our contract, a step which would reform hiring practices in the District, modify our health care benefits, change caps on counseling and special education ratios, and–perhaps most important–significantly increase our pay.

The date also coincided with a welcome dinner for our fourth cohort of Teacher Fellows. We welcomed sixteen new teachers into the fellowship, and hosted Paul Toner, past president of the 110,000 member Massachusetts Teachers Union.

With the energy generated by the OEA union vote, we were primed to hear Toner’s narrative of strengthening unions through increased participation. Toner first became involved in his local teachers union in Cambridge almost by accident, and initially, he was put off by the atmosphere and tone that pervaded the meetings.  In a 2013 TeachPlus interview on the GameChangers blog, he said,  “I found that a minority of negative people seemed to be the loudest and dominated the union meetings…My friends and I began to think that this was not good…for the members or the students”. Rather than withdraw, Toner increased his involvement and focused on making positive changes, helping to create a union he wanted to be a part of.  When pressed to explain the most critical factor in increasing union engagement in Cambridge, Toner didn’t enumerate some sophisticated outreach strategy.  Rather, he revealed that his union started having regular social events at The Thirsty Scholar in Somerville, MA. (Surely Oakland must have a bar with an equally awesome, education-related name!)

Paul rose from school representative to local president to state Vice President and, ultimately, MTA President.  Paul calls himself a “progressive” unionist and believes we must reform our view of the union as an organization that only pursues better pay and job protection for teachers.  Instead, we need to become a union of professional educators.  He is steadfast in his belief that, in order to be “treated as professionals and maintain the support of the public we must be equally zealous in our advocacy in promoting teacher quality and teacher-led reforms. We must advocate for setting high academic standards, promoting strong evaluation systems and designing better teacher preparation and professional development programs” (Real Clear Education, 2014).

A union that represents more voices, increases dialogue and civility, and seeks to professionalize our work?  That’s something we were all ready to vote to ratify!

Two weeks later, the GO Teacher Policy Fellows had another important visitor.  On June 16th, we met with OUSD Superintendent, Antwan Wilson. The meeting was conceived of as follow-up to a teacher forum the Policy Fellows hosted in April to learn more about the Call for Quality Schools and the current Intensive Support Schools. The forum had been a success:  30 teachers from 20 different schools, both district and charter, came together to hear from a panel consisting of educators with expertise in school turnaround.  Afterwards, the rich discussions among participants were compiled into a letter full of questions, ideas, and understandings, which was sent to the Superintendent (Click here to read the letter).

We spent the first part of our June meeting with Wilson discussing the Call for Quality Schools further. Wilson shared some of the successes around the policy, as well as some challenges that he and his team faced this year. Overall, Wilson evinced optimism about the policy and enthusiasm about embarking on the next phase of reform with the four current ISS schools.

In addition to discussing the Call for Quality Schools, Wilson shared his priorities for the district, specifically around attracting and retaining effective talent, a matter that  the Fellows are strongly invested in.  He shared some of his ideas for helping to keep effective educators in the district, including higher pay, a strong evaluation system, and career pipelines for teachers to advance professionally while remaining  in the classroom. He reached out to the Fellows for more ideas and best practices to attract effective educators and keep them in Oakland. The discussion sparked innovative ideas from both charter and district perspectives.

The meeting ended with a chance for Wilson to reflect on his first year in Oakland and share some of his highlights along with lessons he has learned. He spoke candidly and with a sense of great hope for the future of Oakland Unified. The meeting was an exciting opportunity for GO Policy Fellows to learn more about Wilson’s plans while also providing a platform to share our unique experiences as Oakland teachers. We appreciate Superintendent Wilson taking the time to meet with us and we look forward to working more with him to make positive change in OUSD.

Paul Toner and Antwan Wilson.  The 2014-2015 GO Teacher Policy Fellowship ended with some thought-provoking guest speakers.  We’re going into the summer to rest up and revitalize for opportunities in the new school year to not only do great work in our classrooms, but to be leaders and change-makers in larger spheres.  See you in September (er…mid-August)!


Open Letter to Superintendent Wilson

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.

In Partnership,
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

Call for Quality Schools: A Glossary of Terms

As you begin to learn more about the Call for Quality Schools, you will soon find yourself confronted with an almost impenetrable wall of references, acronyms, and group names.  To help you translate the jargon, we have created a Glossary to define the most important terms.  Put on these rubber boots as you wade through the morass.  Check out the informational post describing the Call for Quality Schools process here.

Academic Review Board

As part of the proposal evaluation process, the District will convene an ongoing team of content experts to review the proposals, conduct interview of proposal teams, and facilitate protocols with Site Based Committees to evaluate the quality of the proposals submitted.   The current membership can be found here

Balanced Scorecard

Provides data to support continuous school improvement efforts.  Indicators include:  chronic absences, participation in Common Core Aligned assessments, suspension rates of African Americans and Latinos, participation growth in the Scholastic Reading Inventory, graduation rates, CAHSEE passage rates, A-G requirement rates, Advanced Placement rates

Cycles of Inquiry

The process of analyzing data, making a plan and implementing it, evaluating the progress of the plan, and making adjustments.

Development Plan Implementation Team

A body set forth charged with participating in yearlong Program Development Process where they detail an implementation plan for Intensive Support Schools.

Effective Practices Database

A database of effective practices that support the sharing of effective practices in and among schools

Extended Site Visits

Extended Site Visits are ongoing annual assessments of school quality conducted once a year in all District-run schools and all District-Authorized charter schools. Extended Site Visits include4 hour visit by a team of trained individuals; classroom observations; interviews with key staff; focus groups with students and teachers; review of data and relevant documents; and observations of other relevant activities within the school.

Incubation Design Committee

The approved proposals for each Intensive Support School will undergo a yearlong Incubation Process. The process involves much more detailed planning, research and preparation. Design Teams will be formed in each school community to lead the incubation process.


The Schooling Process

Intensive Support Schools (ISS)

This year, the schools identified are: Brookfield Elementary, Castlemont High School, Fremont High School, Frick Middle School and McClymonds High School.  ISS will be reorganized according to a plan submitted by any of several potential entities (including the District or charter organizations) and chosen by a Site-based Committee.  These schools will received additional support and scrutiny and may operate under different work rules (e.g., longer school day/year, alternative hiring practices)

Measurable Pupil Outcomes (MPOs)

Charter applicants  certain measurements they will be accountable for achieving, which must include performance on State assessments required of all public schools. The District, as the authorizer, determines if the MPOs effectively evaluate the school’s performance, as well as ensure that the school is adequately improving pupil learning  according to these measurments.



Proposal Writing Team

Teams are likely to form to create a proposal to meet the Call for Quality Schools. These teams will likely include parents, teachers, students, and community members from the Intensive Support Schools. These teams will engage with the Site-based Committees and may share membership.


A quality school is defined as one that ensures thriving students and healthy communities.  The specific standards can be found here.

Quality School Development

Quality School Development is the District’s approach to ensuring that the conditions necessary to continuously improve are in place in every school.

School Improvement Partners

A district employee who will serve as a thought-partner to principals (and ILT’s) and Network and Deputy Network Superintendents and as a critical friend to school leaders and ILT’s to help them improve overall school/ student performance.

School Performance Framework

A collection of indicators contained in the Balanced Scorecard, compared alongside additional relevant indicators, such as enrollment facilities utilization, stakeholder surveys, and other demographic information.

School Quality Review (SQR)

A process in which all schools, through their school governance team, are accountable for assessing performance quality standards, student, student outcome goals, identifying key priorities for school improvement and establishing a school improvement plan.

Site-based Committee

The composition of 10-15 members will include at least two of the following; parents of current students, staff of the school, current secondary students, community-based partners, and community members. The purpose of this body is to elevate students and community need and to evaluate proposals submitted through the Call for Quality Schools Process. Committee may also include prospective parents and prospective secondary students.

Site Governance Team

A body that represents the School Site council that will provides ongoing monitoring and oversight of the implementation of the Intensive Support School’s School Quality Improvement Plan for five years.

Strategic Regional Analysis

An analysis that considers a robust set of factors including: school performance, enrollment trends, facilities capacity, and utilization, demographic trends, and school choice trends in supporting decision-making to identify Intensive Support Schools, changing school grade configurations, enrollment patterns, program placement and alternative program needs.

The Design Community

An informal, broad cross-section of stakeholders, comprised of representative parents, staff, community members and students.   Provides monthly feedback to the Development Plan Implementation Team.

Tiered Intervention

A standard approach to differentiating the supports provided to students based upon an assigned Tier or level of a school having met established quality standards.

Two Ways You Can Be Involved in Oakland Education Policy

limegreenbubbleA new year and lots of new things happening in Oakland Unified! Two opportunities happening NOW will shape district policy for the foreseeable future. Whatever you think about these issues, let your voice be heard.

1. Oakland Education Association Forum on Article 12

Tuesday, January 13 at Westlake Middle School (2629 Harrison Street) from 4:00-6:00. Under discussion are potential changes to Article 12 (assignment transfer, seniority rights, mutual match). Please come to learn and share your experience!

2. Oakland Unified School District Strategic Plan Committees

Apply by January 15.  Superintendent Wilson is seeking wide representation from Oakland teachers and community members to serve on committees to turn his Pathway to Excellence plan into a reality.  Three committees are forming:

  • Effective Talent Programs
  • Accountable School District
  • Quality Community Schools

The Letter of Interest (application) is short and the commitment if you are chosen will be 10 meetings over a 6 month period.

Make this the year you share your knowledge outside the classroom!


Why are 50 percent of new teachers leaving?

The following re-post is not exactly news.  It comes from

Conversation Ed

, a relatively recent blog that tackles similar issues as this site,  but at a national level.  The  methodology the author uses to present the conclusions is not very scientific,  and any reader will gather what they want from it as confirmation for their own beliefs.

Where the post actually gets interesting is in the comments section, where a sizeable number of educators who have been chewed up and spat back out of their short lived teaching careers share their insights and argue and, yes,  even troll each other. Share!

Read the article here

Superintendent Wilson Was Wondering What You Thought About _________.

Disclaimer: I am a bit of a fangirl for Antwan Wilson. I have been nothing but impressed with his ideas for district improvement, communication with teachers and learner’s mindset about Oakland’s unique landscape.

Whether you agree with my assessment of the superintendent or not, what we can all agree on is the importance of getting wide representation on the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan Committees. In order to “ensure that all students find joy in their academic experience while graduating with the skills needed to succeed”, Superintendent Wilson has announced the formation of three committees aligned with each of the core priorities outlined in Pathway to Excellence: 2015-202

– Effective Talent Programs
– Accountable School District
– Quality Community Schools

I’m into it. I think it’s an excellent opportunity for teachers (and other stakeholders) to inform district policy decisions based on the daily feedback loop of the classroom and years of collective experience with varying administrative rules and priorities. See–isn’t Superintendent Wilson great?

If you’re interested in sharing your ideas about how our schools can be better, complete a Letter of Interest (it’s a quick application). I hope fangirls/boys, skeptics, cynics, idealists, newbies and veterans will all find their place around the table to contribute to making the Strategic Plan a lived reality in our schools.

What I’ll Be Reading During Winter Break…

Pablo Delcan/New York Times

Sometimes I need to take a break from reading about education during my vacation time. But right now, there are too many good edu-books out there. Here are two books I’ll be reading over my winter break (after I finish Mindy Kaling’s book, that is):

1) “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)” by Elizabeth Green. In this book, Green explores how teachers are trained in America, and what we can learn from educators who are pioneering new ways to train teachers. If you read “Why Americans Stink at Math” in the New York Times a few months back, you’ll be familiar with some of her arguments. Read more about her book here.

2) “The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession” by Dana Goldstein. I think the title is pretty self-explanatory. I’m interested to learn how Goldstein thinks teachers became so “embattled,” and what we can do to make the profession less so. Read more about the book here.

What will you be reading over your upcoming break(s)?

How a teacher is hired can influence how much collegial support she will find on entry

As a fourth year teacher in Oakland, I have gone through the hiring process in OUSD twice. Each experience was profoundly different from the other and did in fact influence the collegial support I encountered. I came to OUSD through Teach for America. As an incoming teacher, it was TFA’s job to “place” me at a school site. They worked with the district and sent my resume to different schools. I was then contacted by a school principal who conducted a brief phone interview with me.

After the phone interview I completed a Skype interview with a TSA to assess my command of Spanish (as I was being interviewed for a bilingual position). Soon after I was offered the job. No other teachers or staff members participated in my interview or hiring process. When I began my job I found that the collegial support was lacking. My colleagues seemed distant and in a way, distrustful, of me- and I believe they had every right to be wary.

They knew nothing of my background or credentials, had no say in hiring me, and were probably doubtful that I would stay past my two-year TFA commitment. It took almost a year to develop relationships with a majority of the staff and even then the environment was not a particularly collaborative or supportive one for me.

After three years at my initial school site I made the choice to seek out a different position. I researched and spoke with other educators in the district to learn about schools that could be a good fit for me professionally. I found schools that interested me and proceeded through their application processes. For my current position, I began by completing an online application and touring the school. Then I was invited to teach a 30-minute model lesson in which I was observed by both administration and teachers on the hiring committee. After the lesson, I participated in an interview conducted by a panel of administrators and teachers, who took turns asking me questions designed to determine whether I would be a good fit for their school community. When I was offered a position at the school, I was immediately put in contact with the school literacy coach and my future grade-level partner to begin getting to know each other and making plans for the upcoming school year. Prior to the start of the school year I was given a new teacher orientation to the school and participated in staff PD, planning, and an overnight retreat. I felt welcomed from the moment I stepped on the campus and I knew that I was part of a team that valued my presence. I felt excited and inspired to begin the work as part of a collaborative and caring group of educators.

Teaching can be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining. Having a supportive staff culture is so important to develop sustainability in our profession. In order to create the type of collaborative, supportive, and collegial environment that encourages and allows for teachers to stay in teaching I believe it is crucial for teachers to choose where they teach and for current staff members to have a strong say in who is hired to join their team.


This is an interesting opportunity and practically local!

From The Center to Support Excellence in Teaching (CSET) at Stanford University is now accepting applications for the 2015 Hollyhock Fellowship Program.

“This competitive fellowship provides early-career high school teachers who teach in low-income schools with a sustained, high-quality, research-based professional development experience.  Apply today and join 100 other educators from across the country at Stanford University for two weeks of residential workshops–for two consecutive summers–that feature sessions taught by university scholars and expert practitioners.  Fellows also receive online coaching and mentorship for two school years.  Teachers are awarded a stipend for participation, and the program covers all travel and boarding expenses. Check out our video to learn more and for further information, please contact hollyhock [at] gse.stanford.edu.”