Like many adults, when I was growing up, the first day of school was the day after Labor Day. So I’m still always a bit surprised when August rolls around and I realize that the new school year is already here! It brings with it a bit of wistfulness, as well as excitement, nervousness, and hope.
This year, I’m greeting back-to-school season as both the mom of a middle schooler and 9th grader, and as the founder and leader of Educate78, an Oakland-based nonprofit focused on improving public education across our city’s 78 square miles. As an Oakland mom, I have had many conversations with other moms (and dads and grandparents and aunties and guardians) about our shared hopes and dreams for our children.
As the leader of Educate78, I have had many conversations with educators, community organizers, and systems leaders about our shared hopes and dreams for all children across our public schools, especially students of color who are way too often failed by our current system.
These conversations share a common imperative: How can we ensure that all children receive every opportunity to reach their full potential, just like we want for our own children?
For Educate78, we respond to this question by working in partnership with dedicated educators, families, leaders, and community organizations. In the four years since we launched, this work has:
It’s only a start. And we’re only one part (of the larger Oakland public education community). We know that we have so much more to do. Race-based opportunity gaps in our city are persistent, and families and students still don’t have enough access to quality public education options.
In the same four years, we’ve also seen dramatic shifts in the public education landscape. Most notably a new superintendent, a new president (with new policies that have horrendous impacts on many of the families we strive to serve), and not-new, but recurring, fiscal challenges. Like many Oakland families, businesses, and organizations, we have had to be nimble to adapt while staying true to our purpose and values.
We have been listening to the teachers, students, parents, principals, and community organizations with which we work. That’s why we are renewing our focus on what we hear matters most in Oakland public education right now, and where we can have the greatest impact:
1. Empowered Families: Parents and guardians want to be, can be, and ought to be their children’s strongest advocates. Unfortunately, sometimes bureaucracy and a fragmented system makes that hard to do, especially for families from the communities who are failed generation after generation by systems never designed to serve them. We will continue to support organizations that are helping families choose the best school for their children, develop their leadership, and amplify their voices to make real, sustainable change.
2. Transformational Schools: It’s obvious to any teacher, parent, or student that what happens in our schools, what students experience in our classrooms, matters the most. To develop the healthy learning culture characteristic of schools that are transformative for kids, teachers and principals need support to deliver high-quality academic programs that will prepare our students for college and career. To support school teams to improve learning, we will continue to fund teacher professional development and pre-service training, help high-demand schools to grow with continued quality, and provide grants and technical assistance to schools implementing new standards-aligned curriculum and research-based instructional practices.
3. Equitable Systems: We believe Oakland must band together across differences to develop more equitable citywide systems. Unfortunately, we live in a time where it is easier to operate in a silo. Polarization is the norm. In education, so much energy goes into fighting: labor vs. management, district vs. charter, whole language vs. phonics, new math vs. new-new math, whole child vs. back to basics. We believe that our most vulnerable children are best served when all public schools work together, get better, and collectively serve all students regardless of race or family background or special needs. Most families just want a good public school in their neighborhood and don’t care what label goes with it. We need synergy, not antagonism. This is how we will raise quality, increase enrollment, and generate more resources to get better and better, especially for the low-income students of color who most need great public schools. Toward this vision, we will continue to support organizations that are finding ways to collaborate across differences for the continuous improvement of all public schools.
We have so many assets as a city: talented educators, strong community organizations, loving families, and brilliant children. We have a home-grown superintendent who deeply understands Oakland and how to turn challenge into opportunity. We have a Mayor who has made public education one of her top priorities through the Oakland Promise. We have state elected leaders who have taken on challenging education reform issues. And we have local success stories to learn from.
We can do this. We can be the generation that builds a community of schools that fulfills the promise of public education for our children, and for all children.
We’re committed to working with everyone who shares this dream. If you are one of these people, please reach out and contact me or one of our team members. We look forward to listening to, learning from, and working with you for all Oakland kids!
Committed as ever to Oakland…