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Op-Ed: Wilson: Together We Can Ensure That Every Student Thrives

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By Supt. Antwan Wilson

 

 

The New York Times recently wrote an article about our efforts to improve public education: Oakland District at Heart of Drive to Transform Urban Schools. It has generated a lot of important feedback, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share my thoughts.

 

 

Motoko Rich, the Times’ lead education reporter, worked hard to understand our work. But it’s not easy to tell a complex story like Oakland’s in one newspaper story, and there were certainly opportunities missed to deepen the conversation. Several national and local authors felt that the article did not give voice to the mainly Black and Brown families that have been failed for decades under our system – even longer than the seven superintendents that preceded me over the last twenty years.

 

 

These parents and students are bearing the brunt of the inequities and lack of quality schools in Oakland’s public education system, and they have been for decades now. That needs to change. I know we can do better, and to do so we must both strengthen the programs that are working and bring in new schools to drive greater equity and serve our families better.

 

 

As I shared in an interview with Maya Pope-Chappell, the head of education publishing with LinkedIn and a female African American leader, I find that the polarization in the arguing – which is much of what has come in the wake of this national coverage – is distracting and harmful.

 

 

What we really need to focus on is quality and getting people access and equity. By moving away from arguing about district versus charter and moving toward giving all parents the same opportunities that more affluent parents have to determine where their children go to school, we put parents and families in the driver’s seat.

 

 

Rather than arguing, I’d like to work together to help some of our struggling schools implement the innovations many families have found so attractive in our successful charter schools. While working on a way to pay for extending the school day across Oakland schools, let’s make sure our students who most need more instructional time have a longer school day now.

 

 

I know firsthand what it’s like to be provided public education equity – rigorous instruction with high standards and quality supports. It helped make me who I am today. I also know what it’s like to be tracked toward failure and expected to arrive there. That made me feel angry and disillusioned at times. It’s this personal experience that led me to enter public education.

 

 

And it’s the unacceptable reality that too many of our children are still not getting a quality public education that drives me forth every day.

 

 

I am not asking you to choose sides. I am here to offer more quality schools to our families and our kids. Now. That’s my “agenda.” Nothing more. I remain focused on our vision – Every Student Thrives!

 

 

And when I hear people say we should wait, slow down, or not move “too fast,” I think about what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail; “For years now I have heard the word ‘wait’…This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never.”

 

 

We moved quickly to increase salaries for our teachers to attract and retain the best front-line educators serving our children. We moved quickly to provide every teacher a laptop, and more to our children. We moved quickly to cut millions from district-office budgets to give more resources to schools.

 

 

We must continue to move with urgency to create a system of schools focused on educating all children well. Let’s cut through the supposed “agendas” and “sides” and all focus together on the lives of our children.

 

 

Antwan Wilson is the superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.

History

The Black Press: Our Trusted Messenger

Our Black newspapers are now celebrating 194 years of being the keeper of the flame of liberty and the source of information in “our” struggle for freedom and equality.

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Cover of the Oakland Post

Sometimes it’s necessary to be reminded who we are and who our friends are.  It’s also important to remember from whence we have come. 

Such is the case this week with the Black Press. Our Black newspapers are now celebrating 194 years of being the keeper of the flame of liberty and the source of information in “our” struggle for freedom and equality.

With the advent of the recent pandemic and the visible disparity of Blacks dying at greater numbers than others, getting fewer vaccines, working in the highest risk occupations and death at the hands of law enforcement, our need for a “trusted” source of information is greater than social media, which has become an alternative for many.

 At the same time, the interest in reaching our communities has increased on all levels. The question has become “who is in touch with the Black community” as injustice, murder and social disparity continues to grow among Blacks. 

The NAACP and the Urban League gave the impression that they were in touch with the Black community. But the reality is neither organization has ever been in touch with the Black community without the Black Press.  It is Black newspapers and not CNN, ABC, NBC or CBS that carries the articles and commentaries of these organizations to the Black community. 

Yet, neither of these organizations ever mentions the Black Press when taking both credit and dollars for outreach to the Black community.

The African American and Black communities of America should not be duped into believing that social media has become a substitute for the Black Press. The Black Press is now both print and electronic, it’s a newswire service as provided by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), providing coverage of both news here in America and around the world.

 It is the Black Press that has been the “Trusted Messenger” to our communities for 194 years, and that says a lot. Our newspapers are the rear guard, the battle ground against the efforts to resegregate America and return to “Jim Crow” racism.

As we celebrate Juneteenth, let us remember that we are not only free but capable of defending and determining our futures if we get serious. Let’s remember how we got here, on the backs of those like the Black Press who bought us thus far; let us not forget in the words of James Weldon Johnson: that “ we have come over a way that with tears has been watered, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” We are still being slaughtered today by others as well as each other.

Let’s remember who is truly telling our story and our obligation to keep and support that effort. Pick up a Black newspaper and get involved. You owe that and more to keeping the Juneteenth principle of freedom alive today.

Editor-in-Chief note:  The Post News Group consists of nine newspapers:  Oakland, South County, San Francisco, Vallejo, Marin, Stockton, Richmond, Berkeley Tri-City and El Mundo.  We are also online at postnewsgroup.com.

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Community

Assembly Candidates Confront the Issues:  Howard Terminal , Local Control of Schools, Reparations

The candidates are running to represent Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro in a June 29 special election for California State Assembly District #18, a seat that was previously held by Rob Bonta, who was recently appointed as California Attorney General.

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James Aguilar

Janani Ramachandran

Malia Vella

Mia Bonta

 

Candidates for State Assembly responded to pointed  questions on some of the critical issues facing Oakland schools and the community – including displacement, housing, reparations, public safety and returning full local control to the public schools – at a recent Education Candidate Forum on Zoom hosted by the School of Education at Holy Names University in Oakland, in partnership with the Oakland Post Community Assembly.

The candidates are running to represent Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro in a June 29 special election for California State Assembly District #18, a seat that was previously held by Rob Bonta, who was recently appointed as California Attorney General. Candidates attending the forum were James Aguilar, Victor Aguilar, Mia Bonta, Joel Britton, Janani Ramachandran, and Malia Vella.

The event was hosted by Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, dean of the School of Education at  Holy Names, who emphasized the importance of these issues for the city’s future.

“We have just come through a moral and political crisis (in this country) around racism and the government’s role in maintaining this system. We are looking for a new approach, and this is the lens we will be using today for this education forum,” said  Dr. Mayfield.

Also welcoming the candidates and the public to event were Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb and his wife Gay Plair Cobb, who highlighted  their intense interest in schools and education. Paul Cobb is a former member of the Oakland Board of Education, and Gay Cobb served for many years on the Alameda County Board of Education.

The first question to  candidates was whether they would oppose the big money coalition of politicians and  powerful interests  behind  Oakland A’s owner John Fisher’s stadium and massive downtown real estate project at Howard Terminal. 

 Opponents of the project  argue  that the A’s proposal is vaguely worded and would come at a  high cost to Oakland taxpayers, who would foot the bill for decades. They say the development would create  a city-within-a-city, like Piedmont, that would  displace local residents and likely wreck  the Port of Oakland and its decent-paying longshore jobs, turning the city’s waterfront  and downtown into a tourist attraction like Pier 39 in San Francisco.

Of the three candidates who are considered to be the top contenders., only Janani Ramachandran was strongly opposed to Fisher’s deal. Malia Vella and Mia Bonta raised concerns but did not oppose the development. 

James Aguilar, Victor Aguilar and Joel  Britton were also against the project.

Bonta, president of the school board in Alameda, said, “I believe that there is a way for us to be able to hold the Oakland A’s accountable to the plan and the processes that they made … starting with stakeholder involvement in the environmental impact of the proposed project.”

Malia Vella,  vice mayor of Alameda and attorney for the Teamsters Union, said, “We need to have community input. The best projects are the results of a robust process that involve community stakeholders,… and an opportunity to meaningfully engage.. to get the best community benefits.”

Said Janani  Ramachandran, a social justice attorney, “I was the first candidate in this race who took an uncompromising, clear and public stand against the project … because having visited Howard Terminal, I have seen why it is entirely unfeasible and harmful to our West Oakland residents and extremely harmful to our thriving port, the fifth largest in the country.”

The candidates supported the statewide demand or reparations and the movement for Reparations for Black Students raised by community groups in Oakland.  They also backed an approach to public safety that deemphasizes policing and stresses the need for jobs, housing and health care to build safe communities. 

Candidates also backed the return of local control of Oakland schools and loan forgiveness, to end the domination of the schools  by a state-imposed trustee and the austerity program pushed by Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT),as well as halting the closing of schools in flatland neighborhoods.

Bonta called for “an end state receivership, which is decades old, and  the FCMAT order that has created a status of fiscal enslavement of Oakland Unified, which paired with growth of charter schools has created a structural deficit that OUSD  can’t get out from under.”

About teacher recruitment, all the candidates said would seek to end expensive standardized tests and other obstacles facing Black and other people of color who want to become teachers.

Janani Ramachandran said she would support legislation  “to remove excess and expensive tests and other barriers that .. keep Black and other potential teachers of color from entering the profession.”

 

To watch the video of the forum, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vsEi_7bXx4

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Oakland

Naismith Hall of Fame Basketball Legend Nancy Lieberman WNBA team for Oakland

The former player-coach and Gary Reeves, her development partner, have talked with Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan and members of the African American Sports Entertainment Group since March.

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Nancy Lieberman/ Wikimedia Commons

Nancy Lieberman, one of the most celebrated female basketball players over the last decades, is supporting the push to bring a WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) franchise to Oakland.

The former player-coach and Gary Reeves, her development partner, have talked with Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan and members of the African American Sports Entertainment Group since March.

Reeves said, “she (was) one of the most successful WNBA executives. In the early stages of the league’s development with the Detroit Monarchs …. she impressively operated the business side of the team into the ‘black’ and drove a fearless community outreach program. This resulted in the team having one of the largest fan bases in a large, urban-based WNBA city.”
Lieberman has spoken at length to Kaplan about possibly joining a female-led and Black-equity ownership group to bring a team to Oakland. Nancy Lieberman Charities is active today, supporting under-resourced communities across the country with PPE, food distribution, academic scholarships, job readiness programs and providing clothes to 100 new Nancy Lieberman Sport Courts for neighborhoods that don’t have up-to-date, safe playing surfaces.
Lieberman told Post Publisher Paul Cobb that she often credits the African American community for protecting her and supporting her as a child, especially when she played hoops at the legendary Rucker Park in New York City. 

Kaplan cited the June 2021 cover story of the Sports Illustrated magazine as evidence of the emergence and growth of the WNBA and its potential opportunities for diversity and equity and female and Black ownership potential.

Since Lieberman’s first interview and podcast with the Post, many Oakland-based groups have expressed interest in bringing a WNBA team to Oakland. 

Reeves said the initiatives taken by Lieberman and Kaplan should be supported and embraced by the Black community. 

Gay Plair Cobb, CEO Emerita of the PIC (Partners In Careers), said “It’s past time for Black women to also participate as co-owners with a diverse group of women investors in major sports franchises.”

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