Coffee and enthusiasm flowed at Emerson Elementary School in north Oakland on Saturday morning where District 1 parents, teachers and educators brainstormed how to improve their schools.

“Engaging the community is a two-way street,” said Elizabeth Gessel, a Peralta Elementary School parent. “Schools can have a presence in the community, at festivals for instance, and the community needs to be pulled into the schools. Schools can allow their spaces to be used for community meetings or even exercise classes. We need to turn the school into a community institution rather than just a place where we send our kids.”

The workshop was organized by Jody London, District 1 director for the Oakland Unified School District, and facilitated by Pam Rich, a parent and consultant who lives in the district.

All agreed that crippling budget cuts for education demand more and more action from parents and the community. They defined their greatest challenges, and came up with ideas to foster communication and build greater visibility in the community.

Ideas included:

•    A single Web site where members of Oakland schools can share information from fundraising tips to which restaurants offer discounts for school meetings
•    Parent leaders throughout the district
•    Regular breakfast meetings for parents to support and advise each other
•    Sister school relationships in District 1, and ultimately partnerships throughout Oakland schools
•    A citywide education foundation to fundraise and distribute money to schools
•    A bigger presence in the community

Rich emphasized the need for accountability. She went through the group, asking committees to state their plans and give timelines for their goals. London offered support for the groups and suggested another meeting in about six weeks.

Odest Logan, education outreach advocate for Great Oakland Public Schools, came to the meeting to let parents know about the group, which helps provide resources for cash-strapped schools. The organization’s goals for 2010 include advocacy and support for budget management, preparation for college and careers, and research on how parcel taxes can be used for teacher compensation.

Bruce Douglas showed up even though his son Roli is only 1.

“We live one block away,” he said. “This is the school Roli will go to, so I wanted to get involved.”