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Op-Ed: Oakland Schools Need New Leadership




By Dan Siegel


Oakland desperately needs new leadership on the Board of Education. The current board has failed to demonstrate the leadership necessary to rescue our failing schools and refuses to challenge a district administration that lacks a plan for school improvement. 


Even putting aside the debate about charter schools and Oakland’s complicity in privatizing public education, the bottom line for the school district is making sure that all of our children learn – no excuses!


In the 2016 tests, only 30 percent of Oakland’s students met or exceeded state standards for proficiency in English, and only 25 percent met the standards in mathematics.


The statewide averages were 49 percent in English and 37 percent in mathematics and are rising more rapidly than Oakland’s scores.


High school graduation rates are increasing throughout California. Among California students who began high school in 2011-12, 82.3 percent graduated with their class in 2015. For Hispanic/Latino students, the figure was 78.5 percent; for African Americans it was 70.8 percent.


Unfortunately, the corresponding percentages for Oakland students are much lower: 63.4 percent overall; 55.9 percent for Hispanics/Latinos; and 60.7 for African Americans.


The reasons for Oakland’s failures are complex, and test scores are not the only measure of school quality. Any plan to raise student achievement should begin by implementing proven strategies for creating successful schools:


(1) Appoint principals who are educational leaders, “head teachers” who focus on teacher performance as mentors and models – not as disciplinarians, fund-raisers or cheerleaders. A principal needs at least two or three years to have an impact on school performance.


(2) Develop strong faculties of teachers who remain at school sites for multiple years, work together at and across grade levels, and create site-specific plans for staff development.


District resources must be focused on improving teacher compensation, reducing class sizes, and providing incentives for teachers to remain in high needs schools.


(3) Welcome and involve parents as leaders of their school communities.


(4) Provide a diverse and challenging curriculum that develops critical thinking skills, is culturally compatible with the student body, and includes arts programming and classroom offerings beyond just the basics.


(5) Implement site-specific programs that address students’ life circumstances and social needs, including violence prevention, economic literacy, nutrition programs, mentoring, and counseling.


The school board must take the initiative to demand a strategy that lifts all Oakland students by providing a quality community school in every neighborhood.


The Oakland Justice Coalition supports four candidates who will work to provide a quality education to every Oakland student:


Don Macleay, District 1


Kharyshi Wiginton, District 3


Mike Hutchinson, District 5


Chris Jackson, District 7


Dan Siegel is a member of the Oakland Justice Coalition. He is a former member of the Oakland school board and former general counsel for the Oakland Unified School District.