OEA elections: a new leader, more calls for change

It’s election week for the Oakland teachers union, and that has extra significance this year. Betty Olson-Jones, the Oakland teachers union president since 2006 (since I’ve been covering Oakland schools!), has reached her term limit. She’ll be succeeded by Mark Airgood or Trish Gorham, who are running to replace her.

Olson-Jones has endorsed Gorham — as well as Steve Neat, Chaz Garcia, Vincent Tolliver, Janan Apaydin, Manny Lopez and Andy Young for seats on the union’s executive board.

Ballots are due on Friday. You can find the complete list of OEA candidates and their statements here.

A year ago, I blogged about a small group of teachers called Oakland TIES (Oakland Teachers for Innovative and Equitable Schooling) that proposed a new set of priorities for the Oakland Education Association. Four of the candidates for the 16-member OEA executive board endorsed by TIES members were elected: Kei Swenson, Toni Morozumi, Benjie Achtenberg, and Isabel Toscano.

This time around, a group of four candidates with similar ideas as TIES (which is no longer very active) — namely, about shifting the union’s approach and embracing a diversity of viewpoints — has emerged: Mark Hurty, Cary Kaufman, Marva McInnis and Angela Badami. Emily Sacks, a Redwood Heights special education teacher whom I interviewed last year about TIES, said she is endorsing all four.

Hurty, a second-year teacher and career-changer, even created a website for his OEA campaign. He says he feels the union leadership needs to bring more light and less heat in its dealings with the OUSD administration, that it should be open to new ideas (from revamped teacher evaluations to an online voting system to encourage participation in OEA elections), and that it should stop trying to advance its cause by maligning those at the other side of the table.

“I want us to be the big kid in the room,” he said. “We have such high moral ground under us that we don’t need to resort to some of the dirty rhetoric that gets tossed around.” (When I asked him for an example, he cited the phrase “education deform.”)

Do you agree?

Last year, fewer than 900 of the roughly 2,500 OEA members voted — less than half, as you can see from the results. How do you think turnout could be improved?

Do you feel well represented by the union leadership?

Katy Murphy

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

  • J.R.

    Let’s get real wrote
    “Let us please not forget the purpose of a union, OEA or otherwise.

    Labor union: An association, combination, or organization of employees who band together to secure favorable wages, improved working conditions, and better work hours, and to resolve grievances against employers”.

    If that is the purpose then why are they:

    1. Stepping way over the boundaries of their stated purpose and involving their opinion politically in the Israel/Palestine situation?


    2. Supporting a movement that is tearing the community, instead of strengthening it.

    3.Aided and abetted the shutdown of vital economic ports(that pay the people who pay property taxes that pay your salaries).


    You whine and moan about economic justice(whatever that truly means), but you fail to understand is that the majority of jobs in this country are supplied by small businesses, not Corporations. The small businesses were hurt by these protests, and you didn’t care.


    You and your unions always say how important the children are(besides a revenue stream), well why doesn’t the union take a small portion of those hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money funneled to it through mandatory dues and organize some voluntary tutoring at shelters for kids. Its way past time to stop enriching the select few, it’s time to give back some time to the kids.




  • J.R.

    Let’s get real,

    Bottom line, when an entity(such as OEA,CTA,NEA)stray outside their stated purpose, they become a clownish caricature not an organization of professionals.

  • Catherine

    Let’s Get Real: I will assume that you are a classroom teacher. This is just an assumption on my part.

    Do you differentiate for your gifted students every day across all subjects you teach?

    If you had a gifted student in your class whose knowledge level of a core subject went above your level, would you learn the subject enough to teach the top students in your class?

    Do you know what “over-excitabilities” are in gifted students and would you know the difference between these common gifted ways of seeing the world and ADHD or other learning issues?

    While it may seem that I vilify teachers, nearly every teacher I know say no to each of these questions – yet, the ability to answer yes to each and every question is part of the contract ratified by YOUR union.

    Parents and community members spend countless hours sitting on committees, supporting teachers through funding classroom needs, voting for bond measures and taxes, donating money to pay for seminars in supporting gifted students AND paying for the substitutes for the day for teachers who attend or giving stipends for teachers who attend on the weekends, yet so few teachers will help this group of students.

    The district loses 40% of all high achieving students at the end of fifth grade costing the district $6 million – the amount that was to be saved by closing five schools. You may consider it vilifying teachers – for those of us who were forced out of the district to meet our children’s needs we consider it to be asking you to live up to what you have already agreed to do for the job and the pay you receive.

  • an Observer

    $6 million is 3 times the amount they said they would save closing schools. Which they are not going to save. Anyone want to take bets they’re going to lose money by closing the schools they way they did it?

  • Let’s Get Real


    I am one member of my union, and I clearly stated what I felt union priorities should be and the type of candidates I would support. Teachers are as diverse in their political beliefs and concerns as the general population, and some feel strongly that issues such as those you mention impact our students and their families–including those who are Palestinian (yes, there are Palestinian students in Oakland)or Jewish.

    I personally did not “whine” or “moan” about economic justice, although I believe there are issues to be addressed in that area. I do not support acts of property destruction or violence during protests. (And I do not know any teachers who do.) You are making an unfair generalization.

    The teachers’ union should not have to pay for services, such as tutoring. Providing support services is the responsibility of the school district, state, feds–those who are financially responsible for public education. Unfortunately, these seem to be the first services cut when budgets get tight. And I can assure you that many teachers try to fill the void by providing such services without compensation before or after school hours.

    Rather than constantly criticizing Oakland teachers, the great majority of whom do the best they can under the conditions they’re provided, why not siphon that energy into providing or organizing assistance for students yourself? This would be a much more positive and productive use of time.

  • Let’s Get Real


    You are right to assume I am a classroom teacher. I have a first grade class of twenty-eight students with diverse abilities. Several students in my class are receiving counseling services (starting before they entered my class) due mainly to emotional outbursts. I have a visually impaired student. My students range in ability from being advanced to being far below basic.

    A support teacher assists (and helps provide materials for) my visually impaired student a few hours per week.
    A resource specialist and speech therapist assist two students who are learning disabled for about two hours each. Other than that, it is up to me to provide support for students of all levels of ability in learning to read, write, master basic math skills, acquire basic knowledge of the first grade science and social studies curricula, and experience creative and performing arts. (We do have a P.E. prep teacher.) Please take a moment here to visualize the scenario I described.

    Now, let me state clearly to you, no, I do not differentiate for my gifted students every day across all subjects I teach. It is impossible under the circumstances. Of course, gifted has a different meaning in first grade than it does in fourth grade, or middle or high school. Mine are basically advanced students who may test as gifted in a few years. Nonetheless, most Oakland teachers of any grade level face similar challenges to those I just mentioned, and some have even less support.

    It is unfair for district officials or parents (and I am a parent of adult children who attended Oakland schools at various times, two of which were in GATE) to expect teachers to perform miracles under less than adequate conditions. Please look at the whole picture, and all that it would really take to accomplish what you would like to have seen happen for your children. Think about the time involved in planning, preparation, correcting, etc. And realize that elementary teachers are only provided 50 mins. of preparation time per week! (Unless their school has additional funding that can provide them with more.)

    The best I have been able to do this year, in addition to my own individual and small group instruction (which is very difficult to accomplish with such an “active” class), is to recruit two parents and train them to assist students who need reading support a few hours per week. One of those parents also worked with small groups of advanced students, but she has not been able to come for several weeks. I appreciate their help greatly, but having parent volunteers is not as dependable as having an employed support person. I do provide more challenging work for my advanced students to complete independently, mainly in reading/writing. At times, in the past, I have coordinated programs for GATE/Advanced students after school or at lunch time.

    Catherine, I don’t think you are vilifying teachers by wanting them to have met the needs of your sons. But I do think it is necessary to be realistic about how much support gifted students can receive in a typical Oakland classroom under the current circumstances.

    If you know of some district with a student population similar to Oakland that has managed to successfully address this issue, please share what is being done.

  • J.R.

    Lets get real,
    If I can volunteer to help, there is no reason your union can’t. I have been working in classrooms on my own time to fill the IT gaps, and help the children(and I have never moaned or whined about doing it). You are unable or unwilling to acknowledge that I have consistently said that most teachers are capable, some are great while others are practically worthless. I think the majority of teachers do just fine, it’s the ones who go through the motions that bother me. You are hopelessly biased in favor of a tattered and torn system, and will do or say anything to avoid necessary change. I guess it is to be expected as long as the checks keep coming in.


    I’m sorry. OEA CERTAINLY defends bad teachers. OEA defended a worthless teacher in our school this year, who transferred into a vacancy (dance of the lemons) and wrought havoc due to utter incompetence.

    I wish the public stood up to this – what is especially scandalous, is that OEA is massively dishonest in its apparent commitment to social justice when OEA is in fact as bad as a corporate lobby.

    Shame on you OEA. You serve narrow interests (and hose poor children in the process) and bully your members, and you pretend to be activists? By Any Means Necessary? Are you serious?

    Makes me want to vomit.

  • Let’s Get Real


    I don’t know how you have drawn the conclusions you have from what I said in the posts above. I do not favor the current tattered and torn system, and made suggestions from my own classroom experience of how it can be fixed.

    I’m glad you spend time volunteering, and that you acknowledge the good work that most teachers are doing. The teachers you describe as “worthless” are relatively few, and that’s why I resent the constant harping on “bad teachers.”

    I also remember reading posts from you that acknowledge that many of our students come to school ill-prepared for success. And, if you’re volunteering in schools like mine, you know the challenges that arise from having such a student population.

    I mentioned that many teachers DO volunteer to fill in the gaps by tutoring during off-duty time. However, it is not the responsibility of any union to PAY for services not rendered adequately by the employer, which is what you suggested in a previous post.

  • J.R.

    Let’s get real,
    I am tired of belaboring the point over and over again, so let me just end with “unless attitudes,priorities, and the “culture of mediocrity” change, this district will never rise above low performing. Parents, teachers, and admin are all responsible for the malaise of failure that is propagated by the mantra of “social and economic justice”. There are plenty of poor disadvantaged kids that make good lives for themselves through discipline hard work and tenacity. I have personally witnessed turnarounds at different schools in different districts.



  • Nextset

    This is all rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

    OUSD and such “schools” are going to collapse with sudden swiftness. It appears they will lose a block of their students fast enough that their budgets will have problems of the “meeting payroll” kind.

    Think of it as a death spiral. Yes, there will be the dregs who are not acceptable and don’t want a real school. The continuation school kids.

    Other than that, Charters are online, just like Amazon.Com. As goes “Best Buy” so goes the urban public school.

    Brave New World!

  • Let’s Get Real


    Once again you have drawn an erroneous conclusion from my statements. I was not trying to say that students who come to school ill-prepared cannot overcome obstacles and thrive.

    My point is that they need a lot of extra support to do so, and that OUSD resources either don’t exist or are not being directed to provide that amount of support to all the students who need it. I’ve had success stories in my own classroom, but I also have stories of students who needed more than I could give them.

    As for whole school turnarounds, most such schools enforce a strict discipline policy which I completely support. The teaching and learning time at schools would increase dramatically if stronger policies were put into effect in Oakland, and I have advocated for that to happen. Still waiting…

    I fully respect what the educators at Frederick Douglass Academy (cited in your post) have attempted, but they, evidently, need more supports in place to sustain their success as well:


    Time to acknowledge what truly needs to happen, and get to work!

  • unions are the problem in education

    What truly needs to happen is to separate the wheat from the chaff in American schools. We need to build community schools with outstanding teachers.

    If a teacher can’t teach, the district needs to fire that teacher.

    If a teacher needs support, the district needs to support that teacher.

    If a teacher is getting remarkable results, the district needs to promote, bonus, exemplify and make happy that teacher.

    If a principal can’t lead, get rid of the principal.


  • Steven Weinberg

    If post 63 were true, charter schools, which are largely non-union, would be outperforming other public schools. All studies of charter performance show that, as a group, charters are not showing any stronger results than other public schools, and some studies show charters as not doing as well as other publics. In general states with strong teacher unions outperform states where the unions are weak. Many posters here have a strong anti-union bias, but the facts do not support their positions.

  • Catherine

    Let’s Get Real:

    I have been talking to my sons about what made first and third grades so special for them. (These are the grades in which the teachers differentiated work.) Their elementary school was a magnet school for students with Down’s Syndrome. I do not remember a year when my sons did not have a group of four Down’s Syndrome students in the class. The aide was often there, but when she was sick, it was often hours before an aide was found to come into the classroom. These students were still wearing pull-ups in first grade and the aide had to assist with restroom habits which left the teacher with three of the students and no aide several times during the day.

    Here is what my boys remember: Ms. S in first grade pretested everything. Remember the 100 sight words. There was a pretest and if you got 9 out of 10 right on the pretest you didn’t take the test at the end of two weeks. Remember “Everybody Eats Rice?” That’s how we learned geography. Each family brought in rice from their country of origin. The student who brought the rice had to be able to point out the country on the globe, on a flat map and show the nearest body of water. Our reading was tested and we had those textbooks from the 50s and 60s at our grade level. Those books had stories, poetry, science and songs.

    I remember the math that was pretested. Addition, subtraction, greater than, less than, equal to, skip counting was all pretested. Students who completed 90% or better on the pretest estimated how tall the vegetables in the planter would grow in a week, or a month. They also worked on tangrams – a set of 100 in which they kept track of their progress on a chart.

    One of my sons who was a good reader and writer, wrote a story about a bird who made his own family by flying to all of the continents and gather a bird native to that country. He worked on this book and report while other students were learning to string together sentences. My younger son did a similar project with bears when he was in first grade. The student, teacher and parent all had to sign the contract. Students were not allowed to disturb others.

    I asked about the planter – in lieu of an end of the year gift one year the parents got together and had two 10-foot planters made. The students measured the vegetables, brought in pumpkins and estimated the weight, seeds and circumference. Oh, first and third grades were the only years that my sons never, ever had work sheets for homework. They had a package of homework every week, but NEVER was there a worksheet.

    The classes ranged from 24 – 28 and did not move to 33 – 34 until fourth grade. Both of these teachers allowed my sons to advance their learning more than a year in the year they had them. All of the other years at the school, my sons learned twice as much over the summer break as they did during the regular school year in ALL areas of academics.

    I guess my question is that if these two teachers could do it, why can’t all teachers with five or more years of experience work toward the same thing?

    While teachers complain about the textbooks and the workbooks and the training that goes along with them, teachers rely on them too much on these items and Lakeshore learning for classroom materials. Both of the teachers that differentiated used hands on materials from everyday life.

    One assignment I remember particularly well had to do with walking in the neighborhood and collecting two each of three different kinds of seeds. The first set was glued in order of the size of the seed and the second set was glued in the order of the size of the plant the seed would grow to be. More advanced students named the plants and even more advanced student researched the botanical name.

    Two things were also important: the principal, who is no longer at the school, reviewed the lesson plans for differentiation. Those teachers who differentiated were observed less often than other teachers. The current principal only requires differentiation down to the lowest levels – not even the least bit above grade level. The second thing is was Ms. S told me – it is horrid to have a bored, bright child in my room because the student will make her or his own interesting work and it will probably interrupt others. The second worse thing is when parents come in and complain because they have supported the school and their child is not learning anything, because you can’t really argue with them. Their child has a right to learn at school and I have a responsibility to teach every student. And some years it is easier than others.

  • Oaklandedlandscape

    @steven Charter high schools outperform OUSD high schools. That’s a fact.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Catherine, thank you for taking the time to point out specific examples of differentiation in your sons’ experience.

    I don’t expect you to name the school, but I’m curious about what public school in Oakland was a magnet school for Down Syndrome students, had a class size of 33-34 fourth graders (the limit is supposed to be 31), and only had one aide for four DS students (unless they had no major behavior issues).

    At any rate, some of the activities you describe involve the need for adequate planning time, supports, and resources to pull off, which are not available at all Oakland schools. Also, the general school climate must have been relatively free of disruption for it to be considered suitable for recruiting special needs students–another difference from many Oakland schools.

    As to why the level of differentiation varied from classroom to classroom, I can only speculate since I’m not familiar with the school community. Possible factors, as I’m sure you have considered, are differences on the part of the teachers in the level of training and experience. Also, the make-up of a specific class can affect the teacher’s approach to instruction. A large number of distractible students can make it more difficult to differentiate.

    But you are not describing a setting that sounds like there were a large number of distractible students. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that there are wide differences in school cultures within Oakland–and, of course, between Oakland and other districts–depending on the student populations. It’s probably difficult for you to visualize a classroom setting where multiple disruptions may occur throughout the day. If you could, you would understand why differentiating across curriculum on a regular basis can be difficult to accomplish.

    Because of pressure (high stakes testing) to boost the level of students who are functioning below level, that principal you mentioned is not alone in focusing on differentiating down.

    A shift in education policy (which is not currently dictated by educators) must occur if we are to make sure that all schools are in a position to meet the needs of all students. This is something that parents and teachers alike should advocate for.

  • Catherine

    Let’s Get Real:

    Oakland has specified different schools for different needs. Last I knew Carl Munk and Joaquin Miller served students on the autism spectrum, Glenview served visually impaired students and so on.

    When I talked to my sons teachers about why they would agree to large classes, they stated that many students leave during the year and many students arrive. It is easier to “take the hit” with a large class at the beginning of the year knowing they will not have to accept transfer students later in the year because their classes are full. I guess for high stakes testing it makes sense if you keep the student for the year you know what they know and have learned.

    From a parent perspective – believe it or not – I would rather have 40 students in a class with a teacher who is able to differentiate for GATE and Highly motivated than to have a class of 20 with a teacher who does not or cannot differentiate for the upper performing students.

    And to your questions about high stakes testing, yes, the teachers in first and third grades still had that pressure. One teacher was in her first five years and the other was in his fifth to tenth year. The first few years both teachers said that they had to put in 60 – 80 hours per week, but once the habits were in place and they could teach scholarly habits to students, it was easier.

    Two interesting things: the group of students with Down’s Syndrome often needed to be reminded to be quiet, they had a different lesson plan, and so on. One of the students seemed to be very anxious with new people or routines in the class. About half or more of the class qualified for free and reduced price lunch.

    Both of these teachers also taught from the opening bell to the ending bell. The first grade teacher picked up students about 5 minutes early on the playground. The second teacher left his door open and students came in on their own. As the morning bell rang students had backpacks away, homework in the upper right hand corner of their desks and were seated on the rug in their spaces. In third grade students turned in homework by subject sorted in different baskets. Students had jobs and one job was to put the third grade work in alphabetical order by last name.

    In both of these classes students put their things away only after the last bell rang. All desks were required to be neat and students then went to get backpacks and leave. I found it odd, because all of the teachers who did not differentiate had two lines – one for boys and one for girls or line by student number. However, the differentiating teachers did not spend time on lines, cleaning up after class, putting up chairs – students had classroom jobs. It was a pain in the rear picking up the boys these years because they often were in class 10 – 20 minutes after school. I was frustrated – they were happy – no, satisfied and joyful, for the most part.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Thanks again for sharing, Catherine.