Can OUSD ditch its old rep and galvanize the support it needs?

The Bellevue Club on Lake Merritt has an old school, old Oakland sort of feel. But tonight, the future of the city’s schools — the city’s young residents, really — was discussed in its ornate rooms.

The event opened with a reception fundraiser for the Oakland Schools Foundation and remarks about the organization’s changes: its new name, its planned expansion, and its new director, Dan Quigley, former PG&E director of charitable giving.

Holly Babe Faust, the outgoing director of OSF, said the organization was optimistic about its relationship with the school district, which she predicted would become “broader, deeper, more interesting.”¬† She might be right; OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith made the keynote speech, after all.

Tony SmithSmith, who once worked for another influential nonprofit — Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools — didn’t talk much about OSF. His remarks were broader, touching on some of his favorite themes: inequity, Oakland’s “unconscionable achievement gap,” his vision of having the school district become a “convener.”

Smith said he was once a very “school-dependent” child, since his family wasn’t always that stable (He was born to high school-age parents who split up when he was little). He talked about the fifth-grade teacher who turned him on to Emily Dickinson when he was essentially living without either of his parents, and how she encouraged him to write.

Oakland has also become very dependent on its schools,¬†Smith said, though it doesn’t always coalesce around the education system. Smith says the city needs some kind of civic coalition for its youth, to tap into community resources and talents even as state funding disappears.

Then he gave a little tip about messaging and OUSD’s reputation: “The district is leading the way in so many different ways, folks. But we have to pull together and we have to tell the story.”

It was interesting to listen to the principals’ conversation, later in the evening, about parent involvement and ways the community can help their cause. Larissa Adam, of ASCEND Elementary, says her school gets 100 percent of its families to participate in report card conferences, a result of intensive outreach. Kimi Kean of ACORN Woodland talked about efforts to integrate black and Latino parents. Matin Abdel-Qawi of East Oakland School of the Arts talked about a series of home visits he and his teachers made to get to know the families. Monique Brinson talked about Sankofa Academy’s Dad’s Club, and how it inspired the moms to form a group of their own. Zarina Ahmad told us about the cultural exchange and fashion show Piedmont Avenue Elementary had held for its African immigrant families.

On how to help…

Pati Ceja (Community United Elementary, Lockwood campus): “Come meet my kids. … Sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with money and everything to do with you being there.”

Kimi Kean (ACORN Woodland): “We invite you to embrace our kids the way you embrace your own kids at home.”

Jerome Gourdine (Frick Middle School): The next time someone complains about “those” Oakland kids, he said, “You tell them, `No, it’s not those kids.’ … Go visit the school.”

Notice a recurring theme?

Katy Murphy

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

  • district employee

    These exceptional leaders are making a difference for students. Let’s continue to listen to their voices (fishbowl or otherwise) and support them to continue their impact on our future.

  • Miss P.

    the exceptional leaders truly love the children as there own. There is not a “those” or “that” or “my job” relationship. It is much more personal, and from the heart. My undying support for all of those who are willing to open up and take it there. xoxo