OUSD’s strategic plan — and your place in it

On Tuesday evening, I’ll be speaking on a panel convened by the League of Women Voters about the strategic plan the Oakland school board adopted last year. The event, from 6-8 p.m. at Oakland City Hall, is titled “The Promise and the Challenge.”

I’ve been invited to talk about the role the community should — or needs to — play in meeting the plan’s goals. It’s a good thing I have a few days to do my homework first (and that I have this blog!), as the answer isn’t clear to me.

What about you? As a parent, neighbor, volunteer, or OUSD employee, do you feel you have a sense of your place in the work outlined in the strategic plan? If so, I’d love to hear what it is — and how you learned about it.

If you aren’t really sure about what the plan is or how you might fit into it, do you have suggestions for the district’s leaders about how to spread the word and call to action more widely?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Katy Murphy

    Almost 24 hours later and not a single response… Maybe that, in itself, is telling!

    I could really use your help, though. Anyone? Anyone?

  • http://www.examiner.com/bahai-15-in-oakland/angela-shortt Angela Shortt

    Katy, I want read about and watch all of the video about the strategic plan before I can respond to your questions. I have very strong opinions about K-12 education in general based on my experiences as a writing teacher and tutor, but that isn’t what you are asking for in this post. I will have to get back to you with (hopefully) a more informed response.

  • Katy Murphy

    Why thanks, Angela! There’s lots of material to sift through, that’s for sure. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, once you’ve taken it all in.

  • Nextset

    Is what they are searching for a brand new way to do the same thing they have done since 1965 – run the place into the ground?

    I think they will have a hard time topping the “progress” made since then.

    Perhaps they should look at a more retro approach to education. Something that worked previously before fad education came into vogue. Phonics, maybe..

  • Jim Mordecai

    I think the Strategic Plan is too big for most people to find their place in relationship to it.

    When I skimmed this very large document I was looking for something that I could make a judgment about. I noticed that year 2011-2012 was the first year of moving from planning to implementation. But, I know nothing about the strengths and weakness of that first year of implementation. Knowledge of that first year would help me decide if implementation is going in the right direction.

    According to the Strategic Plan the following inquiry team concept was to be implemented in all schools and I would like to know how it went but I can’t recall anything being reported at a School Board meeting and I attend most School Board meetings.

    From Strategic Plan Focus 15 [page 30]
    “In 2010-2011 each school was asked to establish an inquiry team for fifteen students focused on ELA or mathematics performance data. The specific student cohort shared a set of instructional challenges. The team of educators on the inquiry team included the principal, a facilitator and teachers that shared these students. With consultation from instructional specialists from the region and/or Central Office as needed, Team members examined student work and data. Some used reading diagnostics. They examined teacher practice and strategies exercised to meet student needs. They engaged external resources as needed for research, high yield resources, professional development on practices novel to them and explored other questions. The team defined the instructional strategies they employed with the specific student cohort and set goals. The team made decisions related to curriculum, instruction and assessment for each child. Appropriate strategies and interventions were identified to accelerate achievement and ensure use of rigorous and relevant curriculum, instruction and assessment. The team then implemented the identified strategies with the specific cohort of students. They monitored the progress of students using site determined assessments. The team analyzed outcomes, made revisions and shared knowledge the Focal 15 Forum.”

    “Inquiry Teams at school sites will continue to identify fifteen students outside of the “sphere of success” for intensive support to accelerate their academic achievement in a target area, and will promote strategies that produce significant documented gains throughout the district on the promising practices site. The cycle will be repeated each year, with work continually refined and best practices shared. School may opt to continue the work with the first Focal 15 or identify a new group of students. High-yield practices from this inquiry will inform both school site and district work.”

    Jim Mordecai

  • livegreen

    Eyes glaze over from Jim’s excerpts of bureaucratize.

    Regardless of the haze of language, which tries to say something while saying nothing (typical for a large organization that wants goals, but doesn’t want them so specific that they can be blamed for either failures of language or implementation) I think we must also examine & evaluate first, the goals of the Plan and second it’s implementation (incl. budget).

    I think the goals and plan are valuable. For example, the goals of Community Schools and the Wrap Around services are a high benchmark to set. Since some of the impact is of non-academic, health based programs, that are seen to impact student performance but are non-academic, it is very important to find enough non-academic funding sources to pay for these. Otherwise it will be cannibalizing academic funding.

    I believe the district has received other funding than just the Kaiser grant, but am not sure as they have not well publicized it. (Have they?)

    The second part of the Community Schools that OUSD & the Strategic Plan need to remember is not all kids are in the flatlands. Yes, our highest need children need more support to achieve academically (esp. when they come from broken homes or no homes at all). But OUSD needs to do that WHILE also supporting middle class families & schools (as has been often discussed on this blog).

    Yes, some of these schools are well off and can support added programing without the district. But no OUSD school is without need because, as has often been reported here, even the hills schools are populated by the middle class (otherwise they’d be going private).

    The schools that are in the middle are now the most in need. Why? Because they don’t have as high incomes as the Hills schools, they have 40-60% FRL, and still need to support low income families. This is also often where minority students are doing the best.

    Yet OUSD & OFCY continue to ignore these schools, pretend the school populations are the same as the surrounding neighborhoods they’re in, and not implement the wrap around services for FRL & low income kids who WOULD be getting these services if they were in the Flatlands.

    This in turn means OUSD retains less students & families and hurts it’s own Budget and, ironically, money for both academics and implementation of the Strategic Plan.

    I haven’t even begun to speak about academic goals, African American males, Options, RBB, and other parts of the Strategic Plans goals & committees. But the key for both what I have talked about AND the rest of the Plan comes down to one word: Implementation.

    And more specifically, Implementation for ALL Oakland students and families.

    It’s time for OUSD and Tony Smith to study which populations & which schools the plan has not yet impacted. Hint: It’s not just the Flatlands.

  • Jim Mordecai


    The Strategic Plan is filled with detail. But, what I posted was a specific detail that was to have been implemented last school year and continuing this year. Since these “Inquiry Teams” were according to the plan being implemented in all the schools, this is a detail that needs to be examined to sample if the plan is successfully being implemented.

    I was very disturbed to see that Oakland was about to lose around $7 million dollars because it couldn’t properly implement the seven year multi-million dollar Quality Education Investment Act grant (QEIA). Fourteen of nineteen Oakland QEIA schools will mostly be dropped out of the grant in the third year. Twelve of the schools fourteen QEIA schools will most likely be dropped from the grant because the administration couldn’t use the grant money properly to provide targeted class size reduction and providing experienced staff. Los Angeles in comparison with 94 QEIA schools did not have one school dropped in the third year for lack of keeping down class size and providing minimum number of experienced teachers on each QEIA school staff. Oakland is kissing millions good-bye for its low performing QEIA schools because the Smith Administration messed-up in implementation of the QEIA Grant. In sports a record of 5 out of 19 will start talk about firing the coach. When the loss cost $7 million many companies will fire their CEO.

    It is the apparent mal-administration of the QEIA grant that makes me to want more information about implement of the Strategic Plan.

  • J.R.

    Scandals,graft,stupidity and corruption have always gone hand in hand with any and all Oakland government entities:



  • livegreen

    Thanks Jim. Just goes to show that Follow-UP is a key part of administering academic programs, school plans, and the entire district. I do have to say some of the people administering OUSD seem very capable. There are a LOT of moving parts. But with a lot of moving parts, it makes Follow-Up on each individual part (academic or administrative) difficult.

    Esp. with a Board that is inconsistent with Follow-Up itself.

    Re. the QEIA grant, doesn’t OUSD routinely apply for waivers to classroom size? Or is that a different funding source? (State or something else?)

  • Debora

    Jim: According to Tony Smith in a previous statement the district loses about 6 million dollars a year on the students who leave the district after fifth grade.

    Between the two situations that is $13 million. It begins to add up.

  • Jim Mordecai


    This money was from a seven year grant that was provided to 19 schools. The idea of the grant was that lowering class size and having a staff that had the same amount of experienced teachers as the District average would be factors in providing conditions for students at low performing schools to better perform.

    However, because the District administration took the grant money but didn’t provide the conditions it agreed to in accepting the money and keeping class size down, after three years students at 14 of the 19 schools no longer will get the benefit of the grant money and the learning conditions of lower class size and experienced teachers.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Harold

    The school board should is spineless and needs to be completely turned over. After we install real community human resources … we need to look seriously at new leadership (superintendent) and a purge of incompetent administrators at each school site and Second Avenue.

    @OUSD Parents who read this blog – do you realize how incompetent your average OUSD administrator is? Do you realize how much of our money they are wasting? Oakland’s Teachers are the lowest paid in Alameda Co. These millions of dollars of waste could go a long way toward fixing crumbling infrastructure, books, field trips and Teacher salary. In my opinion, if Oakland salaries were closer to the surrounding districts, we would attract and retain, more Teachers.

    Certain regulars on this blog, frequently, regurgitate how difficult it some cases it is to release an ineffective Teacher. But what about all the dead weight at the Harper building?

    @Katy – now that we are going “back to the future”, small schools – can you track what happens to all the six figure administrators? Will they morph into consultants? What’s the plan?

  • Jim Mordecai

    At one time Tony Smith was the highest paid Superintendent in the area. I plan on taking a look at the surrounding districts that took on the QEIA grants and see how nearby administrators did compared to Oakland’s highest paid administrator.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Jim Mordecai




    So what that the highest paid administrator is in the bottom three districts in administration of QEIA funding?

    What does it matter that good administration of the QEIA funding provides experienced teachers and lower class size for the lowest performing schools?

    Who cares? Oakland has after all has a terrific Strategic Plan!

    My last statement is a bit too much as good planning is necessary in serving students but so is good administration of funding . It is the taxpayers paying the bill for the plans whether the money is attracted by a Strategic Plan or the promise to keep class size lowered as in the QEIA grant.

    And, I believe the Oakland School Board as well as taxpayers should care about Superintendent Tony Smith Administration being accountable for its poor record in administration of the QEIA grant monies.

    While it is inappropriate for School Board Members to discuss Superintendent Tony Smith’s record on administration of the QEIA grant, the public should expect its School Board officials to question and understand what went wrong so that only 5 QEIA school remain serving Oakland’s underperforming schools after this school year.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Debora


    Mia Settles, one of the ReXOs did amazing work at Cleveland Elementary School when she was the principal. It is a Title 1 school that has many of the same programs – garden science, music beginning in kindergarden, two libraries – one focusing on k-2 and the other 2-5 (yes, an overlap) and many other projects. She believed with working with and incorporating parents in planning and using grants to fund outside what OUSD had to offer. She had buy-in from all or nearly all of the teachers who each sat of committees at the school.

    There are many talented people within OUSD who know how to work within the school system, work with private grants, work with federal grants (QEIA), work with families, work with teachers and other union personnel, work with non-union personnel, work with the neighborhood around the school and work with and for the children they serve to educate.

    Of all of the administrators in OUSD, I feel as though Ms. Settles understands the complexity of a school district. It would be interesting to hear what she has to say about the Master Plan and the QEIA losses.

  • Jim Mordecai


    It would not be wise for any ReXO to say anything in public about QEIA losses.

    And, I believe last year was the first year of the Strategic Plan’s use of school site “Inquiry Teams” and Mia was no longer the Principal at Cleveland. Cleveland has never been a low performing school eligible for the QEIA grant. Finally, as a beginning ReXO Mia Settles might have learned about the schools she was responsible for supervising and ongoing failure to meet QEIA targets. But, as a newbie challenging what school site principals were doing in implementing the QEIA grant targets was likely beyond her pay grade.

    In addition to self-censorship on QEIA losses any public comments on Strategic Plan Inquiry Teams that wasn’t positive would also be unwise on the part of any ReXO that isn’t ready for retirement. And, a Superintendent isn’t running a democracy or debating society and should get rid of his ReXOs that are not onboard with his program. While some superintendents are open to criticism moving a program means that criticisms are kept in-house.

    Jim Mordecai

  • livegreen

    I think Jim raises some interesting questions that merit a response from OUSD. Administering the QEIA funding correctly also impacts the impressions of OUSD administration in other areas.

    A response and addressing the situation is better for everybody. Any temptation to ignore or sweep it under the rug is not.

  • http://www.movingforwardedu.com Lacy Asbill

    As an OUSD partner, I am clear that the strategic plan requires us to work together much more closely and intentionally. However, I am not yet at all clear about how this will actually happen.

    We’ve all been guilty of working in our own silos, doing good work for Oakland youth through health, counseling, tutoring, enrichment, arts and music, etc. without coordinating our efforts.

    OUSD must become an effective hub for partners, opening its doors and coordinating true and deep partnerships among diverse organizations. I haven’t seen this happening yet, but continue to advocate that this is what OUSD partners need in order to truly engage with the work of the strategic plan.

  • Lasha Pierce


    I had a chance to briefly look over the district’s strategic plan. I think in theory alot of the ideas are very sound, but the district needs to be careful about implementing some of them. Stand out examples include making schools “safe”, “engaging” parents and “creating systems” of some sort or another to improve performance. My son’s High School’s idea of making the school “safe” means a locked campus with a very visible security and police presence. I took my son out after feeling imprisoned myself with every school visit (complete with the requisite interrogation from the security staff about why I was on the campus) and couldn’t imagine how he would be thriving educationally under those conditions. The “engagement” of parents was to let us know how the students’ “unstable” home lives were a negative impact on learning and how the school needed “parent partners”. Sounds good on the face of it but came off very judgemental, as if all parents were somehow neglectful. We all know how effective “systems” can be when there is no human element involved to inject common sense and compassion. I think some things that could be helpful for the district would be to include crosscultural training for teachers, staff, administrators and students, explore alternative discipline models to the exclusionary ones in current use (suspensions and explusions that remove students from the learning evironment altogether), employing teacher “coaches” to coach teachers who are not as effective (in a non-punitive manner) and include a community building curricula in their efforts.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Teachers and Administrators at school sites,

    I am still hoping that someone at a school site will comment on their experience; positive or negative, in regard to the “Inquiry Teams” that are part of the strategic plan and according to the plan have already been implemented at all schools starting last year.

    Jim Mordecai