Local control has returned to Oakland Unified, and the new superintendent is in effect. Now what?
A coalition of Oaklanders called Great Oakland Public Schools, or GO Public Schools, is vying to help chart the school system’s path. The group, which formed last fall, is distributing a 5-page document titled “A Declaration of Community Beliefs and Visions for Oakland’s Public Schools.” Those who endorse it were invited to attend a meeting with Superintendent Tony Smith.
Some of the ideas in the declaration sound a lot like previous or existing initiatives: That principals should have greater say over staffing (i.e. hiring and firing), budgets and curriculum. That families should have the option to send their children to various district or charter schools. That Oakland should offer rewards and incentives for teachers in high-poverty areas, and raise base pay for teachers.
Some seem to regard the group with suspicion. Former OUSD Superintendent Bob Blackburn wrote an email to Hae-Sin (Kim) Thomas — a former OUSD principal and high-level administrator who later helped found GO Public Schools amid the threat of small school closures last year — in response to the declaration. It was posted on the Oakland public school parents’ Yahoo! group (to Thomas’s dismay).
I’m sure you realize that many people – parents, staff, leaders – throughout Oakland regard GO and Jonathan as cats-paws, as poorly-disguised advocates for more charters, and charters over everything else. As in: the wolf of charter support in the sheep’s clothing of interest in the system as a whole. Despite the PR slickness, people are dismayed at this gamesmanship, and the unadmitted real agenda. …
Thomas and Jonathan Klein, another ex-OUSD employee who is now at the Rogers Family Foundation (the “Jonathan” referenced in Blackburn’s email), each responded at length. To Blackburn’s point about charters, Thomas wrote:
…GO Public Schools was not created to endorse charters or to create charters. That said, we have no problem with quality charter schools and fundamentally believe that parents should have options. The small schools movement was born from families frustrated with their one overcrowded, low-performing option. They demanded choices.
I personally have gone back and forth on charters in Oakland and have spent a lot of time conflicted about them. …
Should OUSD embrace (or continue) the ideas and goals expressed in the declaration? Which ones? What would you change or add?