Top OUSD leaders retreat in Tomales Bay, then Napa

tomalestourresize1.gifOUSD’s “strategy group,” the top four or five district officials, have spent the week ensconced in retreat centers to prepare for another school year in Oakland.

They began the week at the Marconi Conference Center, which boasts a “cozy dining room high above Tomales Bay.”

They then headed to the Embassy Suites in Napa Valley (below), where they met the rest of the top management for more strategizing.


 District spokesman Troy Flint, who might join them tomorrow, said they will talk about “everything under the sun.”

He said he didn’t have the cost estimate on hand. The people who’d have it are probably in wine country.

District officials kicked the year off in this way last year, as well. Does anyone know when this tradition started, or what prompted it?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Debora Rinehart

    I believe this was the right choice for a planning session. Tomales Bay is less expensive than meeting rooms in Oakland and it allows for a more creative process. Assuming there are not extravagant meals in the evening, Sonoma County is cheaper than the bay area.

    We have witnessed an unusual amount of transparency lately. That is not to say that everyone agrees with the decisions. But planning is an integral part of any great organization. That is why
    teachers have a short classroom day on Wednesday, for planning.

    I know our school district has a long way to go. We have students that are behind in learning. Teachers who cannot reach some of the students assigned to them, principals who are satisfied keeping the majority of parents, or those in their neighborhood happy at the expense of others. But, we also have teachers who spend time with parents talking about where to find additional resources, volunteers in our libraries working with children who need help in reading and math and we have a district attempting to plan for the future of all children in the district.

    We have a long way to go. I hope the plan includes incremental steps. I hope there is a way to include parents and community leaders. We must find a way for all students to be in school, ready to learn every day. We need a vision and a plan to get there – whether it’s developed in Tomales or Napa or Oakland – we need a plan.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    We all know how important Planning is, but I don’t see how an organization in so much debt can justify spending a dime more than is actually necessary for it to achieve it’s goals. OUSD owns quite a bit of Real Estate here in Oakland, I’m sure this whole thing could have been done for much less on OUSD property. It may not be as comfortable but Planning does not require a serene setting.

    When I worked at Cisco Systems one of our guiding principles was Frugality; that meant, among other things that everyone flew coach, stayed in standard hotel rooms, etc.. It wasn’t just a platitude on the wall, it was an everyday every-person effort that to keep discretionary spending to an absolute minimum. And it worked.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    (continued) It worked because our jobs (and our bonuses) depended on the performance of our business units, so it was in our interest to keep costs down. What incentive does OUSD management have to keep it’s cost down?

  • Debora Rinehart


    I understand the need for frugality – I work for a Credit Union. We are in downtown Oakland and have our planning session right here on the premises. I have also worked for other Credit Unions in Oakland, and Sonoma County and know that sometimes the inner-city buildings and establishments are not good for the planning process. We have a lot to learn about service in most Oakland businesses. Sometimes when you get away, you see problems and solutions in a whole new light.

    Getting a view of the way others are serving their populations, whether hotel, restaurant, or janitorial, helps see things in a way you don’t see them in an everyday situation. With all due respect to Cisco Systems, they do not have their offices in Oakland, Detroit, or Pittsburg PA. There is an inner-city dynamic that is very hard to overcome.

    I believe there are cost-effective ways to meet out of the city and there are extravagant ways to meet out of the city. Let’s watch and see what our School District Officials have chosen.

  • Turner Dodge

    It all started during Dr. Ward’s tenure. The top management would go on a retreat and plan for the upcoming school year. The idea was to take the managers out of their normal work situation and have them focus 100% on how to improve the district. It was a very intense session. It would start at 8 o’clock and end sometimes past 10 in the evening.

    Dr.Ward ran it like a boot camp. I don’t know if it is still the same. It sounds like it is just a fun trip now for the top management. Does anyone know what they are doing?

  • Katy Murphy

    For all I know, it’s still as intensive this year. Maybe one of the participants will tell us about it when they return.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.


    Let’s talk plainly. What exactly do you mean by “Inner City dynamic” ?

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    How does leaving the city with is the focus of your intensive planning help the planning process? And if the only way to focus 100% is to leave the city, then what are they doing during the School Year?

  • Debora Rinehart

    An inner-city dynamic is one where there is crime without an identified plan of a solution, where the city officials, school district, utility district, police, fire fighters, neighborhoods, community retail establishments and citizens are not focused on a central vision for the city. It is a city in which there is a high school drop out rate in excess of 25%. Where there is rampant teen pregnancy without the financial, educational, moral, or social network to raise healthy productive citizens. It is a community without a financial and retail base for taxes to support the needed services for the community. The majority of the citizens do not vote, know their elected officials or champion the causes to make life better. Young people cannot see a vision of a happy, successful, productive life. And people feel that things are not getting better, they see things are not getting better and they don’t know or can’t fix it for reasons unknown to them.

    An example of an inner-city dynamic for a smaller community is Paradise, California. My mother lives there, my niece attended school there. The high school drop out rate is high; nearly 50% of the young women are mothers before age 21. There is no social network to escape the life and it continues generation after generation. There is no tax base, a great number of people collect money illegally or from “under the table” work. Paradise CA, population 60,000 also operates as an inner-city dynamic.

  • Richard

    These retreats are paid for by grant money from private groups (e.g. Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli Broad Foundation). The money is specifically for planning, nothing else. The retreats to places like the Marconi center (no cell service, no distractions) is exactly what people being pulled in 1,000 directions need: being forced to focus and solve problems together. It’s not a luxury resort. Believe me, the days of milk and honey are over in OUSD.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.


    That makes sense. If it’s Grant money specifically for planning then I can’t see any problem with it.

  • Turner

    They do a lot of work during the school year. But they need some time to make sure everybody is on the same page for the next school year. They go through many of the successes and failures of the year with a view to maintaining the successes and improving on the failures. This goes on without the constant interruption of the normal work routine. Many of those managers put in more than 10 hours a day running their own sections. That is why they have to leave.

  • Jake

    The practice goes back at least to Chaconas’ time. I assisted with materials preparation for the 2003 retreat, which was Ward’s first, and there were discussions about previous summer planning retreats at Asilomar, Westerbeke, etc. I gather that the group has changed sizes over the years, sometimes including the network executives, sometimes all the department heads, sometimes even the principals of the comprehensive high-schools (when there were only 6 of them).

  • alison

    The practice of staff retreats (boards, management, school faculty and staff) goes back several
    years prior to Chaconas’ time. I remember retreats in Napa during Joe Coto’s years. I
    agree with Jake and Turner about the purposes of the retreats. However, I do recall that
    there was a lot of media attention brought on by a retreat that brought administrators
    (central office and school site), teachers, support staff, students, parents and other repre-
    sentatives from stakeholder groups at Asilomar. The retreat was an approved activity in a
    grant paid for by outside sources, but some people who had other motives used this as
    an opportunity to attempt to distort this time of reflection and planning to one of fun and
    games. I guess whether or not one thinks retreats are valuable depends on who is doing
    the thinking.