The choice of a new superintendent for the Oakland Unified School District might be decided by the end of April, if all goes according to plan. The OUSD board of education is meeting with finalist candidates this week after a year-long search process.
The superintendent is arguably the second most important official in Oakland, responsible for educating 46,000 students and preparing them (or not) to succeed in life. The job in Oakland is complicated by the violence and poverty in this city.
Under its former superintendent, Tony Smith, OUSD drafted a strategic plan of becoming a “full-service community school district” to help schools and teachers to better address the whole needs of their students: social, emotional as well as academic, and sometimes even economic. Fifteen schools in high-poverty areas now have health clinics on campus, supplied by partnering health agencies, and many schools are serving three meals a day to their students.
At the outset of their search for superintendent, the board of education voted to seek someone who would be committed to carrying out that strategic plan.
The superintendent will also have to shepherd the district through a time of major change in public education with the new national Common Core Standards requiring districts to revamp their curricula and teaching methods, and with California’s Local Control Funding Formula changing how schools are funded. Oakland is in the middle of adopting new curriculum methods and figuring out how to comply with the Local Control Funding Formula. There will be a lot on the plate of any superintendent.
“As School Board Directors, we regularly make decisions that impact the lives of children. Knowing what’s at stake, we agonize over all of them. Few choices, however, have more significance—both actual and symbolic—than the selection of a superintendent,” said David Kakishiba, Board of Education President and Director for District 2.
“As the school district’s top employee and the person responsible for executing the Board’s vision, the Superintendent has more impact on student outcomes than any single individual. For this reason, it’s absolutely critical that we identify the best educator for the job.”
He said the district will be hosting “several candidates for superintendent” on Thursday and Friday of this week and might make a decision by April 23.
The district is not disclosing the names or identities of any of the applicants. Kakishiba said that was necessary “To ensure we could obtain the largest possible pool of high-quality candidates.” He said the secret nature of the interviews and deliberations disappointed some people it the community, but “this role is too vital to risk losing candidates because they are afraid of jeopardizing current employment when their pursuit of a new job becomes public knowledge.”
This week, some students will be able to meet the candidates and participate in the final interviews.
In the year since superintendent Smith resigned, long-time Board member, former principal, teacher and district parent Dr. Gary Yee has been Acting Superintendent. He pledged to carry on Smith’s work.
But he has also sought to revise the school budgeting process to level out inequities that have left some schools desperate for resources and with only brand new, lower-paid teachers, and allowed others to attract more experienced teachers. School budetging changes have yet to be adopted.
Kakishiba said the Board and district staff met with hundreds of parents, students, teachers, principals and community members to find out what was important to them.
Meanwhile, the organization Great Oakland Public Schools did its own survey, asking hundreds of parents, teachers, principals and community members what was most important to them and their thoughts on the state of Oakland public schools.
Despite several new directions that OUSD has taken, there seemed to be widespread dissatisfaction with the schools, based on the GO Public Schools survey. While there is much loyalty to individual schools by parents, communities and teachers, 69 percent of respondents said they were not satisfied with public education in Oakland. Notably, 75 percent of principals surveyed said they were dissatisfied, higher than the percentage of dissatisfied parents, at 60 percent. Asked about that, GO officials said they did not know why that was.
While parents and community members GO surveyed mostly thought education in Oakland was moving in the right direction, teachers and principals more often responded that it was not.
Asked what the new superintendent’s top priority should be, principals and community members surveyed said closing the achievement gap, teachers said increasing funding, and parents said improving quality school options.
Meanwhile, education think tank Education Trust West this week gave the Oakland district a failing grade in educating low-income students of color and closing the achievement gap between this group and wealthier students. The organization issued its annual report card on the largest districts in California.
The state’s Academic Performance Index measure of how well students did on state standardized tests showed that in 2013 most schools in Oakland had lower APIs than the year before. District spokesman Troy Flint said that was because teachers had started to use new Common Core-based curricula while the tests measured students on an older curriculum already being phased out in 2013.
Some Oakland schools showed huge gains in the API, however, including MetWest High School whose API shot up 88 points to 664, Claremont Middle School whose API gained 34 points to 713 and MyClymonds High School whose API rose 28 points to 513, which is, however, a score still way short of the state’s goal of 800 for each school.
Ten elementary schools had APIs in the 900s, considered indicators of the highest performing schools in the state.