Along one wall at the Oakland Educational Center at Tilden is a series of questions that begin with: “How do you know if a school is _?” (Choose your adjective: effective, supportive, healthy, safe)
Sticky notes underneath contain the answers, at least of those who took part in the exercise.
The last time I visited Tilden, located in the East Oakland foothills near Mills College, it was a school for general education and special education students. Before that, it was the site of John Swett Elementary. Now it houses grown-ups — school district employees and trainees who are trying to improve Oakland’s public schools. I don’t know exactly how many people work out of there now, but the leadership, curriculum, instruction, charter school and new teacher support offices moved in, along with the new division called Quality Schools Development.
Denise Saddler, a longtime district administrator, describes it as a think tank.
Tonight, about six months after its reincarnation as such, the center held an open house to showcase the work of its various divisions, including one for math, science and technology. In a brief address, Superintendent Tony Smith described the campus as “a learning place where we can be open and connect as adults.” He added, “People need to believe this organization is headed in the right direction.”
New Oakland City Councilmember Libby Schaaf, a Skyline grad, said she constantly reminds people about the school district’s status as the most-improved urban district in California. (Mayor Jean Quan was supposed to stop by after another event, but she hadn’t come by the time I left, 15 minutes before it ended.)
Maybe, with miles of highway between this little oasis and the decaying, institutional space these employees once occupied, new and better ideas will emerge. The setting might feel more welcoming to families, too. I’m told that some of the community events that have been held there have drawn lots of people.
But tonight’s open house sort of looked like a staff event. I saw a couple of parents and nonprofit people, but it was mostly administrators, from what I could tell.
Claudia Ward was one of non-employees I spotted. Her three children attend district, charter and private schools. She said she forwarded the invitation to a bazillion other parents so that they, too, could learn more about the district’s direction and help to shape it. “If they’re really open to change (at OUSD), I want to see them really change,” she said.
Ward said she wished more families had turned out, but that she’s going to keep spreading the word. “You cannot sit down and complain if you’re not willing to get involved,” she said.
Here is a link to the calendar of upcoming events and task force meetings.