The third in our interview series with Oakland school leaders going through our Transformational Schools Fellowship, Hoover’s Lissette Averhoff discusses finding commonalities between families, breaking longstanding practices that aren’t serving students, and Oakland’s long history of inequity in public schools.
Why did you and your school get involved with the Educate78 School Design Lab?
Lissette Averhoff: The principal who was here before me had initially gotten involved. At the time, the superintendent was talking about choosing schools that would redesign their programs. It was a time, in general, where OUSD schools were trying to change what they were doing, and it was an opportunity to do that with some support through Educate78’s process. OUSD gave money, but no additional resources. It was compelling to work with ED78 because there was going to be a cohort and a process to approach redesign with.
What does a quality transformational school look like to the community you seek to serve?
LA:I think it’s taking into account what parents want, what compels parents, why they choose the school and combining that with academic outcomes for kids. You want your schools to be safe, and you want kids to want to attend your schools. But going above that and looking at how the community interacts and what compels them to choose the schools is also critical ‒ thinking about what the community wants and having the outcomes to match that.
I think it’s been tricky for us to understand what families want. A lot of families chose this school because it’s close to home, or because they are a legacy family. Currently, there aren’t a lot of commonalities about what families are looking for. When we first started the redesign process, there was a vision for West Oakland to be a STEM corridor, which came from the superintendent at the time. A lot of families here just want their kids to be happy and feel welcome, but right now, we [at Hoover] are all over the place with what that looks like. We had a design team with families, and found that there wasn’t a lot of common vision about what they wanted. We visited a lot of schools to give people ideas, and even then, there wasn’t one thing that was really compelling. West Oakland has a very unique community with everything that’s happening politically.
As leaders committed to transformation, you have to be intentional about interrupting policies and practices that perpetuate oppression. How have you done this at your site? How has Educate78 helped you in this work?
LA: For us, we’ve been doing things the same way for a long time. The work has been about critically looking at the longstanding policies and practices we have. It’s hard, because it’s what people feel comfortable with. So some of it is about talking to families about the impacts of the way we used to do things. For example, restorative justice is something we wanted to implement and it took a long time, but we did it for the long term implications for our students.
Ed78 helped us work with other schools and showed us what other schools are doing. Sometimes you’re so embedded in your practices, and they gave us space to step back. The [Transformational Schools] quality review process was helpful in giving us an extra voice and set of eyes. They interviewed families and were able to get more candid responses than we were able to. That was really helpful in helping us think about equitable outcomes.
We used part of our grant money to send people to the National Equity Project. We’ve gotten to partner with other organizations in how we think about equity and standards, and how the standards help us get to equity.
Over the last two years what have been the highest leverage supports from Educate78 that have helped you in your transformation/redesign work?
LA: Some of the highest leverage support: The community of practices (in the fellowship), the support to go to the Standards Institute and Leading for Equity. We went on some observational school tours with our design team and teachers, thinking about what our learnings were and calibrating on what we were seeing‒that was really high leverage. The coaching and the school review were also really helpful.
As a school: What have been your biggest learnings in the time you’ve been involved? Your biggest win(s) that you believe has/will move the needle for students? What are the biggest challenges to moving this work forward?
LA:The biggest learning has been that for change to happen, we have to have everybody on board, and it has to come from the community. A lot of the work we’ve done and the traction we’ve gotten is because the teachers and the parents have taken ownership on things. There’s a lot of talk about curriculum and structural changes.
This past year, we made some academic gains, and they resulted from everyone working together and having a common vision for kids. We looked at data. I don’t think we had been real with the community in the past about where kids were at academically. People didn’t realize how low our scores were as a school. Our SBAC scores and reading scores were low. We shared that with families, started doing things differently and following the data through the year, keeping families in the loop. We didn’t allow things to keep going the way they were. We were looking at growth data, but weren’t talking about whether we were growing enough, where we were landing and what that means for kids.
We observed that students grew but they didn’t grow a year’s worth for the year they were in school‒they were making half a year’s growth in a year and that’s not OK.
Some of our challenges are around our kids who are multiple grades below grade level and need heavy intervention. How much growth are they actually making? They might be growing, but they are so far behind. Our attendance is not great. For the kids who are not coming every day, how can we get them to come to school every day when they have a lot going on at home?
We came to realize that you can’t tell people what to do, they have to really believe in it and buy in. The work is adaptive and it’s about people working together, having a common vision and being real about it.
How can all of Oakland take more collective responsibility in making sure ALL students/families in Oakland have access to quality schools? What would you ask of OUSD, other schools (district and charter), our unions, businesses, and people who live across this city?
LA: I think about this a lot. Everything that’s playing out right now, who goes to what school and who has access to what school is very inequitable. Thinking about the system as a whole and the enrollment process, thinking about communities like ours where many kids are newcomers, English language learners, and qualify for Free or Reduced Price lunch. How does the community support schools that need more support? At our school, we are pulled so thin because our parents don’t have the time and resources to give to the school the way that they are at a lot of other schools. I’m not just talking about money, I’m talking about parent volunteer time. Why couldn’t a community member come outside and help direct traffic, or come in the morning to help kids get to and from school safely? There are so many ways the community could come in and support.
It’s a whole systemic thing. Schools are really under-resourced because of our funding. People can push our government to give more funding to schools. In West Oakland, there are a lot of community members who choose to not send their kids to the neighborhood school. How can the community still give to the school that’s in their neighborhood, even if they aren’t choosing it?