A giant PTA for Oakland schools

Remember the discussion last fall about fundraising inequities in Oakland schools? Some, including Oakland school board member Jody London, said they thought there should be a better way for parents and other interested Oaklanders to support public education in a broader sense (rather than just school-by-school). 

Inspired by those discussions, a new group aims to bring together families, parents and businesses from all neighborhoods to share resources and know-how. The group has also created a wiki, a website where you can post events, resources and emergency needs yourself. You can find it here.

Want to learn more about it? The first meeting takes place from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Sequoia Elementary School, 3730 Lincoln Ave. Babysitting and translation will be provided; organizers ask that you RSVP with those details at sowingseeds@hotmail.com.

In what ways do you think a coalition like this holds the most promise? How would you like to see it work?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Sue

    At first glance, it seems like a really good idea. But then I thought about how invested and how involved my husband and I were with our sons’ elementary schools, and how disconnected we seem to be from middle and high schools.

    I wonder if a district-wide group will be able to attract families and have the level of involvement needed for progress. I doubt that it will have the same sense of community and connections to teachers and other families, that single-school groups have. That’s what attracted us at the elementary level, and what’s missing from the (much larger) middle school and high school where we’re less involved.

    Just random musings – I hope the idea works.

  • CarolineSF

    You all, this IS the way the existing PTA works. Oakland had some dysfunction with its greater PTA and it fell part at some point (I don’t know the details, but they did involve potential financial abuses). Here’s a view on this. I hear young parents all the time say things like: “What we need is a regional/state/national organization that advocates for schools, children and families!” They seem to discount the PTA because … hmm, because it’s old hat? But I maintain that it’s a needless duplication of energy to ignore the existing PTA and try to build a new parallel replication of it. I too have some issues with the way the existing PTA works — for example, I think they make new “unit” (school-level) PTAs jump through too many hoops, which make it dauntingly hard for disadvantaged school communities to organize a PTA. But it’s a lot more feasible to get involved in the existing PTA and help it become more effective than to try and create a new organization from scratch! In fact, I maintain that something with the firepower of the existing PTA (founded in 1897 — that’s EIGHTEEN ninety-seven) could never be replicated today, because it was created in a much, much, much simpler time. People were asked to join it and they didn’t have a massive buzz of competing organizations, demands and interests vying for their attention, and they just compliantly joined. That’s why PTA is a household name; that’s why there are 6 million members nationwide and 1 million in California. That’s why it has a volunteer lobbying force in every state capital and D.C. Go to http://www.CAPTA.org to learn about the state PTA. The National PTA webiste is http://www.pta.org and it is not fully accessible to non-members (which is one of the flaws that needs to be corrected).

  • Jenna

    One of the things that makes me nervous about a full district PTA is the thing that makes me nervous about OUSD in general. Let’s say we can fund the PTA with $5 million per year. Let’s say we follow the PTA rules about how to spend the money. Let’s say that families show up and vote.

    The district will just cut away the programs that are in place so the PTA will have to fund them and take away parents’ choices. That is what happened in the hills schools. We have strong PTA and parental support. Title 1 schools have money for literacy, writing workshops, outdoor / garden education, Shakespearian theater, science and music programs because they use Title 1 money to fund what parents cannot provide and what has been proven to have a positive effect. The title 1 money cannot be touched.

    Mr. Smith, however, could easily make choices to cut funding to schools for these items when it is not Title 1 money and to put in programs that benefit his consultant friends to “study” the benefit of the science programs, the writing programs, etc. These study contracts cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. What I would want is a written declaration from Tony and the Board that they will not cut the services and request the district PTA to fund those same services. Without that guarantee, it is better that we fund at the school site.

    I believe that Tony should be tasked with the responsibility at reviewing the California State Educational Standards and to make sure that EVERY student in the district is given the opportunity during the year (school day, after school, summer) to have access to all of the state standards for every grade. This is what foundations in other districts use their money for – to insure that all of the state standards are taught to every student.

    We also need to do something for the GATE students. I believe that the district contract with the teachers states that elementary schools through high school will cluster students and differentiate instruction in all classrooms. Neither of my sons had ANY differentiation in elementary school even though one was doing Algebra in third grade (at home) and the other was reading high school science text books in his spare time in third or fourth grade. Not one teacher in elementary school consistently clusters students together by ability. Teachers did not respond to email, or written requests for differentiation and in the case of math, no options were given outside the school or on line even when the teacher did not know math at the same level as my son.

    I believe the parents need to work together in a sub-committee to meet the needs of the GATE students that are not being met in the classroom. A few middle schools have a few after-school programs during the year and a few teachers have agreed to differentiate middle school literature, but the vast majority of gifted middle school students seek out private school with scholarships to get their needs met. I know of only one non-charter school who offers middle school Geometry during the school day in Oakland. No school offers advanced science classes or Latin during the school day in middle school. And what happens is that when parents leave for middle school challenging curriculum few return for high school once they see what a strong education as defined by the state standards looks like.

    This is what I would like Tony Smith to hear, acknowledge, and design his plans around. How to raise the achievement for all by offering advanced math and science in all middle schools and all high schools.

  • Peter

    I agree with much of your concerns about GATE. The latest is that the districts are now (starting next year) allowed to divert the meagre GATE funds they receive from the state to address budget problems.

    As a result, OUSD intends to cease sending funds directly to the school sites.

    If you hang in there until high-school, then that’s when the AP classes become available to your kids. Its the first time that GATE students are clustered for a wide range of subjects.


  • Starshaped

    As an elementary teacher, I can tell you that GATE is suppose to happen in classroom. There is no special class that they get to go to, like it was when I was in school. Some teachers do an exceptional job in differentiating curriculum for those GATE students. I know that a 5th grade teacher at my school makes a contract with GATE students and each week, the student has to fulfill that contract to have it re-newed for the following week. This allows students the oppurtunity to take their knowledge further. Of course, this takes a lot of organization on the teacher’s part and a lot of focus on the student’s part. Just so you know, the state pays each school site less the $50 per student for GATE (I don’t know the exact number but I know its a pitance) which doesn’t allow for many dynamic programs.

    Title I is supposed to fill the gap for those students that don’t have music, art, museums, ect. at home. That said, not every student that is Title I is without at home just like not every ‘hill’ student gets to go to the zoo and Chabot every weekend. I am thankful for all the help that PTA provides at my school. I’ve worked at Title I schools that didn’t have the art, music, or library that we do at my school. I feel blessed that the parents at my school care enough to give that to my students.

  • seenitbefore

    DUH….one giant organization controlling all of the money that Oakland parents fundraise and then diverting it to wherever they decide…… is a bad idea.

    Have we not learnt anything from the big government economy????

  • Katy Murphy

    I don’t think the group would replace or supplant individual school PTAs — or function like a traditional PTA. Did you get that sense from its website (wiki)?

  • AC Mom


    The wiki actually doesn’t provide that much information…It just says (I am paraphrasing) that the purpose would be to share ideas, experiences, etc. that would be used to increase community engagement across OUSD. There is no reference to fundraising or the establishment of a group that would receive funds that would be distributed across school sites. That may be the intent/subtext (I have no idea), but it is not explcitly stated on the wiki.

    In response to the comments about GATE…I think that there should be a citywide dialogue about what OUSD can provide for GATE students at the K-8 levels…waiting for AP or IB courses in H.S. is simply not enough.

  • Katy Murphy

    The group is still very new — its first “action meeting” is Saturday — so I’m sure the details of how it would work are evolving.

  • CarolineSF

    So how would it be different from the structure of the existing PTA? Sounds like an effort to create a parallel organization with no real difference.

  • Celia

    As one of the organizers of this event, I’d like to give some perspective. We came together at Jody London’s district One gatherings, as parents from different schools, some not in district 1. We feel it would be helpful to have a way for parents across Oakland to come together. There are great organizations that work in certain Oakland schools, be they for example PTAs or PTO’s or Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) or Oakland Parents Together, etc. For example neither the PTAs nor the PTOs have a real structure for the Oakland chapters to meet together.

    We are facing unprecedented budget cuts and at each one of our schools we are facing daunting challenges. We are seeing a declining enrollment in the district, major budget cuts ahead and Dr. Smith says we have to close 20 schools in the next two years. What a critical time to share ideas, and identify initiatives where together we can help shape the future of our district.

    We could meet just a couple times a year for example or it could take on more of a life. Look at Parents for Public Schools for one direction it could go… some chapters are all volunteer and others like San Francisco have more infrastructure. Come Saturday and help shape where this should go!

  • SKS

    Since the Parent Engagement meeting happened this morning I would like to chime in about the side conversation about GATE. The GATE program is supposed to provide educational opportunities for achieving and underacheiving public school students and we have these gifted, talented and high potential learners in every school in Oakland and in every population, including special education. A core intent of the GATE Program is to provide integrated, differentiated learning experiences within the regular school day and based on their particular area(s) of strength. The only way to acheive this goal equitably across Oakland is to ensure that our educators and administrators are trained, supported and then held accountable for meeting these students needs — both academic needs and social/emotional needs. Over the past four or five years OUSD has made an increased effort to more closely align its GATE program with state guidelines. It is true that there is uneven implementation of the GATE plan and program between schools and even within schools and more work needs to be done. That’s why it is important to acknowledge that OUSD is continuing its commitment to GATE next year. Next year the school sites may not be getting site specific funds but as recently as last week plans for the program for next year included: ongoing efforts to identify these students (particularly in typically under-represented populations); ongoing professional development and support for educators and administrators; ongoing parent education and support. The GATE plan and resources are on the OUSD website, for those who want to learn more.

  • http://www.mainstreetfair.com Bill Gaskin

    I like the website. Hopefully, will help get the message about PTA fundraising to the mass.