The board of the Oakland Unified School District announced it has nominated Antwan Wilson from the nationally recognized Denver Public Schools where he is assistant superintendent, as the new superintendent for Oakland.
The Oakland Board of Education plans to vote on the nomination April 23, finishing up a year-long search for someone to continue to reform Oakland’s 46,000 student school district (including 10,000 charter school students). Former Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith resigned a year ago when a family health emergency called him to move out of state. Dr. Gary Yee has been acting superintendent since.
As assistant superintendent for Denver Public Schools, Wilson focused on improving education for middle school and high school students, particularly in troubled neighborhoods. During his tenure, high school graduation rates in Denver improved significantly and there were increases in the numbers of students enrolling in college preparatory classes and attending college, according to a biography supplied by OUSD. Denver Public Schools are often cited in education reform studies about what works.
Earlier, Wilson was High School Instructional Superintendent and earlier still a high school principal. OUSD said that Wilson gained acclaim for his work as principal of Denver’s formerly troubled Montebello High School, where he turned around achievement such that the percentage of students accepted into two and four-year colleges soared from 35 percent in 2005 to 95 percent in 2008.
“Antwan has numerous qualities to recommend him, but we were most impressed by his work in reinvigorating troubled schools, eliminating inequity and producing results for all students, and creating a strong college-going culture everywhere he’s worked,” said Oakland Board of Education President David Kakishiba.
The OUSD board said it considered 20 applicants for the Oakland Superintendent position. It sought someone who would continue with the strategic plan known as “Thriving Students” established during Smith’s tenure that calls for converting schools into full service community schools that would help students with needs such as food or counseling or healthcare that, if lacking, can prevent a student from being able to focus on academics. It also sought someone committed to closing achievement gaps “and directly confront issues related to race and equity,” that interfere with education and the district’s stated goals of getting kids to graduate high school ready for college or a career. Those goals, however, have been elusive for OUSD, which although it has improved graduation rates to 62 percent and student achievement overall, still sees nearly half of its black and brown male students not finish high school in four years. Among non-English speaking students, more than half do not finish high school in four years.
Wilson said “I am pleased and honored to be the finalist for the Oakland Unified School District Superintendent position. It is my belief that all young people have the ability to achieve at high levels, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they do,” in a statement released by the OUSD board. “This includes having high expectations for students to succeed academically, socially, in their college and career pursuits, and in life,” he said.
Wilson was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1995 with a degree in History-Social Science Education and minors in Women’s Studies and Minority Studies, according to his biography supplied by OUSD. He then earned a Masters in School Leadership at Friends University in 2000. He is married and has three children, it said.
“I am pleased and honored to be the finalist for the Oakland Unified School District Superintendent position. It is my belief that all young people have the ability to achieve at high levels, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they do,” Wilson said in a statement released by the OUSD board. “This includes having high expectations for students to succeed academically, socially, in their college and career pursuits, and in life,” he said.
He said he is excited to work in Oakland because “I believe the Board of Education and the community share a similar interest in preparing all students for success, and I believe we can work together to help Oakland become a premiere district in educating students and helping them achieve success.”
Several national reform groups have done pilot work in the Denver Public Schools, which serves a student population with many immigrants and English language learners. Generation Schools, the Ford Foundation’s More and Better Learning Initiative, the Rose Community Foundation, and the Public Interest Projects have all found success working in Denver schools.
Dr. Janet Lopez, education program officer of the Rose Community Foundation said that Denver Public Schools have had significant success in boosting student achievement and in attracting higher quality teachers.
A large part of the success in recruiting teachers was due to Denver voters passing a special tax measure to finance higher teacher salaries and implement some performance-based pay bonuses for effective teaching and for willingness to teach in hard-to-staff schools. Teachers can get bonuses of 11 to 15 percent.
“Denver Public Schools are able to recruit more high quality teachers into the system as a result,” Lopez said. But she said it is not clear that the program has allowed Denver to attract more teachers of color. She said that only about 17 percent of teachers in the Denver Public Schools are teachers of color.
Oakland has also sought to raise student achievement and recruit more teachers, particularly teachers of color.
Denver Public Schools have also experimented with longer school days and with integrating experiential learning into the school day.
Oakland has been looking at different education models to boost student achievement. It also wants to recruit more teachers of color.