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Now it’s time to govern like kids’ lives depend on it

OUSD, Our Voice      November, 2020     

They always have and they still do.

Before the elections, we said “vote like kids’ lives depend on it.” The results are in (more or less) and it’s now time for our elected officials to step up. We now have a new OUSD Board and new City Council. Oakland will be in the national spotlight for the next four plus years as the birthplace of our incoming Vice-President.

Although the political landscape has shifted, the need to dramatically improve Oakland public education, especially for our Black and Brown children, has never been greater. But it’s going to be hard:

  • The close presidential race leaves us with a nation divided. The presidential transition may not be smooth. A fight in Georgia for control of the Senate will bring out the worst in both parties. A divided congress is unlikely to produce the federal stimulus package needed by communities all over the country to prevent cuts in public services. And our students are keenly aware that 70 million Americans voted for a candidate whose threatening rhetoric degrades our students’ identities.
  • California voters rejected many ideas we in Oakland supported. Unlike Oakland voters who voted in favor of lowering the voting age and approving a new school bond, the majority of California voters declined to raise more tax dollars for schools, opposed voting rights for youth, and prevented affirmative action from being reinstated.
  • Oakland’s local elections widened the gulf between people who agree on most things. Our OUSD and city council races pitted candidates against each other by emphasizing their different perspectives on just a few issues. Unfortunately, the decades-old systemic problems that have foiled their predecessors won’t get resolved by a clever hashtag or viral meme.

So here’s my open letter to the newly elected local leaders: Please govern like kids’ lives depend on it, because they do. Specifically:

Foster Collective Responsibility
Oakland is a small city. We’re all in this together: children, parents, teachers, community, labor, businesses- everyone. We need to come together, set aside election-exacerbated differences, and solve some problems. It will take listening with an open mind to people with different experiences. Oaklanders’ boundless ingenuity will produce creative solutions; it will take doggedness over years to implement them well. To borrow and adapt a popular Biden victory quotes: We need people who will govern not for district parents, or for charter parents, but for Oakland parents. Home-grown Superintendent Kyla Johnson Trammell has launched a new strategic planning process and asked for community input – let’s get behind her, help shape it and then help do it.

Be Good Fiscal Stewards
Let’s be honest: budget cuts are coming our way. No amount of rhetoric is going to change the facts. Alas, Oakland has a lot more experience with fiscal mismanagement than it does with good fiscal stewardship. We need true budget transparency and an honest discussion about how much it’s going to cost to provide the education all kids deserve.

Focus on Literacy
We spend a lot of time in Oakland fighting about things that sound good but don’t translate into improved learning for students. Meanwhile the abysmal literacy in rates in our city are a travesty that undermine all the claims we make about equity. The saddest thing is we know what to do: use structured literacy in early grades, use high-quality instructional materials in all grades, and support teachers with aligned professional development and good data. But, we get distracted by debates over other needs and issues. Literacy is liberation for our children, and we need to get focused on it!

What do you think? Where do you think we go from here? We’ll be part of the many post-election conversations, focusing on Oakland public education, and hope you will join us.

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