By Superintendent Gary Yee
I had the privilege of being part of a panel for the chamber’s Leadership Oakland Academy of 2013/14. This program of the Chamber provides “ … current and future leadership the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the role leadership plays in our city.” In addition to sharing our new “Fast Facts” snapshot of our school district (you can get one off our website), I talked about the importance and value of finding and hiring leaders with experience within our local context. While it isn’t the only factor that matters, local experience can make the difference when we are talking about building a strong positive culture in our schools, and partnerships with our community for our students.
I shared with the Academy class my excitement in meeting with two Oakland educators who attended our schools themselves. Skyline High School has not one, but two assistant principals who not only grew up in Oakland, and were educated in Oakland public schools, but actually attended Skyline High School themselves. Christina Macalino and Elin Peinado both attended Skyline, and both were part of the Future Teachers Pathway (now the Education Academy). Elin commented that the Academy consisted of a team of teachers who were great teachers, but even more, who knew the kids. A third member of the administration team, Anya Gurholt, was the Academy director for many years, and through her efforts, it has become one of our premier Linked Learning Academies (more information here).
The school leaders feel that being from Oakland really makes a difference; the students know that they are from Oakland, that they understand the challenges and opportunities of growing up here. They are able to help students imagine a bright future if they work hard and are focused on their social and academic development. Both educators shared that their work on the front lines is full of relentless daily tasks, surprises and problems that require immediate attention, but there are benefits too. They also experience wonderful, fabulously rewarding interactions with students.
They are spearheading two big projects that have the potential to change the culture of Skyline. The first, is a life map project that they are doing with small groups of academically struggling students; in this work, they share what shaped their lives, and then invited the students to do the same: their past, their present, and their goals for their future. They will use these maps as an organizer for future conversations with these same students. The second is an initiative we have begun across the district: restorative justice. RJ asks adults to work with students to understand the consequences of their actions, and provides alternative disciplinary options for students who agree to participate. Through this process, Skyline has been able to resolve student conflicts that had previously led to long suspensions from school. Across the district this and other new strategies has led to a significant decline in the numbers of referrals to the office, suspensions, and expulsions.
At the end of my session with the Leadership Oakland Academy, I was reminded once again how important it is for our school district to be connected with our business leadership. I asked how many had attended an Oakland school, and I was pleasantly surprised that many had, and in fact, two graduated from my alma mater. Martha Hernandez, a manager at Inner City Advisors, joined me at the Castlemont High School Alumni Association annual luncheon two weeks later!
What could be better for the future of Oakland, than to have our own children choose to be educational leaders in our schools, and for our schools to have academies like the Education Academy, where our young people can have an early peek into a wonderful career of public service in our schools? If you know of any local residents who may be interested in a career in the Oakland Public Schools, please have them check out a great local recruiting and support program, Teach Tomorrow in Oakland.
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