Day 2 of the Oakland teacher convention ended with anger and frustration. Today ended with standing ovations.
“What a turn,” said Mercedes Ugarte, a fourth-year teacher at Melrose Leadership Academy. “It’s turned into something that’s teacher-owned. We’ve never had this space before to share these things out.”
A last-minute change to the program, made in response to the sharp criticism, was well received. This morning, the 200 delegates divided into six groups. Each one papered the walls of their rooms with lists of what was working and not working in their classrooms, in their schools and in the district, and recommendations for resolving them. They came up with their top priorities and shared them with everyone, including Superintendent Tony Smith, at the end of the day.
Some of the recommendations: teacher-led professional development and time to observe other teachers and share what’s working with others, equitable disciplinary systems, leadership opportunities, more flexible curriculum, evaluations for all (including principals), more even distribution of new/veteran teachers, keeping all of the existing, pink-slipped teachers, a core ethnic studies curriculum, accountability for principals, maintaining family literacy and other adult education programs, and removing actual teacher salaries from school budgets.
“This is the first time I’ve felt this spirit here in OUSD, and I want everyone to know about it, ” said Dionne Embry, a teacher at Rudsdale Continuation High School.
“Today was what we expected yesterday to be,” said Courtney Couvreur, a teacher at Oakland International High School.
Ash Solar, a district staffer who facilitates the Effective Teaching Task Force, told the group that he woke up this morning with butterflies in his stomach. After stumbling out of bed, he said, he walked past the framed wedding vows he and his wife had written. One seemed particularly poignant, given Friday’s low point: ”When times get hard for me, I will turn toward you and not away.”
“That’s what happened today,” Solar said. “We had a little bit of a tough time yesterday, and every single person in this room made the choice to turn toward each other.”
Task force members say they expect more participation from the momentum started at the convention. Deputy Superintendent Maria Santos promised to “immediately” begin to turn around professional development so that it’s led by teachers and to start building teacher leadership teams. Smith said he was “totally committed to doing ethnic studies here and making it part of the core.” He said the district’s budgeting system has to change (though he didn’t say how), and promised to rescind as many layoff notices as possible, as soon as possible. Dozens of teachers who participated in the convention received pink slips, and some wore signs that said so.
The group started a Facebook page, called OUSD Teacher Convention Task Force.
Look for a story on the convention in Monday’s paper.