Advice to OUSD: Don’t sweat your reputation

From a marketing perspective, the Oakland school district should worry less about its overall reputation and more about how the community perceives its individual schools, MBA students from UC Berkeley concluded after reviewing the results of an online survey I posted on the blog in April.

About 300 people completed the survey, many of them with zip codes in the hills; the report’s authors acknowledged that the respondents weren’t representative of the city’s population.

You can find the recommendations, which include a decentralized, “grass roots” campaign, here. They’ll be discussed at Wednesday’s 5 p.m. board meeting (along with the first reading of next year’s budget and the second part of a study that looks at the number of classrooms needed in OUSD).

Do you agree?

Katy Murphy

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

  • harlemmoon

    Uh, that’s quite novel.
    It’s fundamentally impossible to separate the parts (individual schools) from the whole (the district) in much the same way that a physician would not (could not) determine a diagnosis in a vacuum.
    The schools are symptomatic (or representative of) a larger, more comprehensive issue (or problem). To separate the “body” from the parts is to unwittingly place greater distance between the questions and the answers.
    That it was overwhelmingly suggested that more attention be paid to the schools (interesting note that the majority of respondents are in the hills) rather than the overall district is more of the same myopia or disconnect between the hill dwellers and, well, everybody else “down” there.

  • Katy Murphy

    On a related note, also on Wednesday’s agenda is OUSD’s strategic communications plan. Here are the seven goals listed on the first slide:

    1. “Reboot” relationship with Oakland community
    2. Begin healing process with labor
    3. Create narrative for District progress
    4. Generate support for OUSD’s strategic vision
    5. Clarify organizational values, goal and strategies
    6. Grow grassroots capacity through partnerships
    7. Encourage higher public acceptance of and enrollment in OUSD schools

  • harlemmoon

    Hmmmmmmm, pretty pedantic.
    This is a story, oh, uh, excuse me, a narrative that we’ve all heard before.
    Rather than treat the good people of Oakland to something akin to reruns of The West Wing, why not embrace a more original, vivacious plan; a reboot is hardly the answer when a real upgrade is called for.

    Oh, and finally, while these seven points are listed as goals, where can we find the actual strategy to achieve said goals? And who owns/tracks progress of each? What is the timeline? Costs associated with each? What of relationships with the city, corporations, third-party endorsers?

    Inquiring minds want to know –

  • oakey

    If the district really wants to identify ways to re-attract sentient parents, they may consider the following ideas for discussion:

    1. pay teachers on performance (open for discussion as to what good metrics might be–not whether performance should be the basis of compensation), not how many years they have been employed (a virtually useless measure of the value of a teacher).

    2. eliminate tenure. eliminate the dance of the lemons. Give principals full authority to get rid of teachers they don’t want. If no principal wants them, they’re out.

    3. participate enthusiastically in race to the top.

    4. pay attention to what Michelle Rhee is accomplishing in Washington, DC.

    OUSD isn’t really serious from the look of their agenda. I predict their enrollments will continue to decline. And I, for one, am very happy about that. And I sure would like to see Claremont MS close so that the tenor of public life on College Avenue can improve. We can use the grounds for a nice city park after they tear down the ugliness.

  • Just My Thoughts

    Michelle Rhee is not the sup to follow. Sorry. What Oakland should consider is a magnet middle and high school for students attend. This would attract a diverse student body, including students who traditionally leave for private high school. I think parents want their kids to learn in a classroom where the teacher can focus on the curriculum and helping students.

    All this talk about firing teachers and Race to the Top is silly. Teach in an urban classroom for a month and you’ll realize that the issues are so deep, even the most talented of teachers have problems teaching.

  • Donna

    @Just My Thoughts:
    Engineering Academy and Paideia program at Tech function as a mini-magnet and have a number of kids who came from independent private middle schools/middle school programs (Head Royce, Black Pine Circle, St. Paul’s, Julia Morgan, Pacific Boychoir, to name a few), and who presumably could have gone to private high schools.

  • Sue

    harlemmoon Says:
    June 7th, 2010 at 3:37 pm
    Uh, that’s quite novel.
    It’s fundamentally impossible to separate the parts (individual schools) from the whole (the district) in much the same way that a physician would not (could not) determine a diagnosis in a vacuum.

    Actually, that’s a really *lame* analogy.

    Real-world example: when I was 25 and serving on active duty in the Air Force, my physician sent me for my first mammogram (first mammograms, called “baseline” are normally done around age 40) because we found a lump. At the same physical examination, based on a lot of other tests (blood pressure, resting vs active heart-rate, cholesterol screen, etc.), the same doctor told me that my heart would last until 100 as long as the rest of my body held up.

    It’s possible to separate the various body parts and have concerns about some parts while other parts are in excellent to near-perfect condition. Whether we’re talking about a human being or a school district.

  • harlemmoon

    Thanks, Sue –

    Actually, I am well-versed in human physiology and biology. And any first-year med student will tell you that you cannot assess an illness, disease, etc., absent a holistic approach. Indeed, you actually noted that your physician did ” a lot of other tests.” They were done, no doubt, to rule out some concerns while considering others.

    Now, if you’ll excuse yourself (and the blatant injection of your so-called real-world story) , the rest of us can resume the original conversation, which is about the district’s “been there, done that” strategic communications plan and its shortcomings.

  • Sue

    Funny, I’m reasonably well-versed, too, and my brother-in-law is an ER physician.

    You’re making assumptions that have no basis in reality – first, that I was being assessed for “an illness, disease, etc.” Wrong, I was required to have a full physical simply due to having a 25th birthday. When Uncle Sam says “full physical”, they really-really mean it. There were no concerns to be considered or ruled out, just a bunch of paperwork for the doc to complete, and a bunch of needles and specimen cups for me. (wink – but not everyone today is a veteran, so it’s not surprising that many don’t understand how the military treats its enlisted folks.)

    Second bad assumption, everyone here is talking about the same thing as you – when the reality is that you were trying to highjack the discussion long before you accused me of doing so. The topic is the results of a self-selected survey with little validity, and the district’s response to those unlikely-to-be-useful-in-the-real-world results. Not exactly, “the district’s “been there, done that” strategic communications plan and its shortcomings,” but sort of related.

    By the way, how many times did you respond to that survey, Harlemmoon? Full disclosure, I went through it once for each of the two schools my two sons attend – which we chose as the best schools in the district for our kids. While my husband and I agree that there are district-wide problems, we also are quite happy with the schools that our sons attend. Oh, and we live in the flatlands, but the schools are in the hills.

    There – *really* full disclosure, and I’m all done now, so feel free to resume your thread highjack without further undisturbance from me.

  • harlemmoon

    Sue, Sue –

    All this and high-strung, too.

  • Sue

    Why would you think I’m high-strung? Like accusing me of being off-topic when you were the one who was highjacking the thread, this just seems like more projection to me.

  • harlemmoon

    Ok, ok.
    Please, find another bone to chew. I’m trying to be kind here, but you make it hard when you act like a rabid chihuahua.

  • Katy Murphy


    Please, let’s not compare each other to animals, however jokingly… (Such a high bar for our discussions, I know.)

    The thread is about OUSD’s communications and public relations plan. Let’s get back to it!

  • AC Mom

    Does anyone else find it ridiculous that OUSD either has or is developing a marketing strategy?

  • harlemmoon

    Thanks, Katy –
    I really was trying to provoke honest debate, really!

    I feel strongly that the district does indeed need a PR strategy. But I fear their traditional approach won’t gain nearly the traction needed to change the heavy hearts and made-up minds of the public.

  • jenna

    I was at the Vision Planning at the public middle school “with the best test scores of any non-charter middle school in Oakland” and as one parent kept bringing up the State Standards it seemed to be ignored. There is the noble goal of closing the GAP – but it seemed to be a fear that raising the standards creates a larger gap. One father stood up and spoke and stated clearly that schools are schools and parents are parents and that the school needed to concentrate on education and the parents must contribute to education.

    Two important things: no GATE committee or program and they are accepting GATE money and students and the other is that test scores and reputation of the Panther Pride seemed to significantly outweigh rigorous instruction and scholarly behavior.

    As a group we often say that “high stakes tests” are not a good measure – but the high stakes test scores are what gives this middle school and OUSD bragging rights. It’s on the district website as the most improved school district, and they are not talking about inclusion of students, reaching out to English language learners, debate teams, they are speaking of test scores.

  • concerned parent

    Make more star schools and folks will come back to OUSD. Respond to problems quickly so families are not turned off. Make the OUSD bureaucracy more efficient and friendly–avoid the morass of unaswered phone and email messages that usually mark district parent interactions…..

  • Pedro Topete

    My name is Pedro. I’m from Mexico and I attend the adult school of Oakland, CA, OACE (Oakland Adult & Career Education). When I heard the news about how they are going to close a couple of adult schools in Oakland, I really felt so sad because it’s so important to us to continue learning English, I already have one year in this school. I take ESL classes and GED. I also think some students really need to get a GED diploma to get a better job and go to a college. Maybe a good alternative is that all students to pay a fee for classes.