“Oaklanders care deeply about youth and schools and need to know what to expect and what not to expect from the school board,” said Jonathan Klein of Great Oakland Public Schools.

About 100 education workers, community members, School Board President Gary Yee, Vice President Chris Dobbins and Director Noel Gallo met at the Jack London Aquatic Center Wednesday night, to hear Christopher Maricle, senior consultant for the California School Boards Association discuss the roles, responsibilities and challenges of the Oakland School Board.

Sponsored by Great Oakland Public Schools and the League of Women Voters, the purpose of the event was to inform and motivate the community to get involved with school board elections this November.

Maricle said the school board has five key responsibilities:
•    Establish a long-term vision for the school district;
•    Provide organizational structure for the school district;
•    Support the superintendent, mission and values of the board;
•    Ensure accountability to the public for school performance, budget, superintendent and policies; and
•    Engage the community.

Maricle said the most important characteristic of a school board is the ability to work collaboratively so it can make collective judgments. He said members want to do the right thing, “but it’s hard for seven people to decide what the right thing is.”

One reason is that while campaigning, a member states his or her objective and makes promises. When elected, the new member has no individual power; he or she must work with the other members who may have different agendas and promises to keep, he explained.

Maricle then asked the group how many students were enrolled in Oakland schools and was told about 37,000. The Oakland school board has seven members; each member represents about 5,200 families who probably don’t all have the same priorities.

Maricle said board members must read and be familiar with a lot of information because the laws that govern schools are so complex. Yee said he spends about four hours a week reading material he’s sent, to prepare for board meetings. Yee said he would need about 15 hours a week to get through it all and that's usually impossible.

Maricle said at meetings, members must be prepared and stay focused to deal with routine items quickly so they can move on to more important matters. He said a board member has to balance community interests and desires with legal requirements.

“They can’t pursue what can’t be done financially,” Maricle said.

He added that the most important characteristic of a board member is self awareness. Members must be able to maintain a professional persona. Maricle said effective board members monitor how well the board functions during meetings. He said a member can’t always be “right” and must adopt a standard of behavior to achieve what’s best for the students.

Maricle went on to say the public’s role in school governance is to participate in board elections, attend school board meetings and find out how it can help the board member.

Galen Wilson, a teacher at West Oakland Middle School, said he hadn’t considered it before, but could now see how consensus building was necessary among the board. He echoed what several others said about becoming more involved.

“It’s on us,” Wilson said. “We need to be informed and engaged in this process.”

Attendees said they had learned more about how the school board operates and the challenges members face. Suggestions were made for the next steps including taking the presentation to PTA and other school meetings, involving students, training existing board members and recruiting people to run in November. 

Accountability procedures were mentioned several times. Yee volunteered to be evaluated based on Maricle’s presentation points.

To become a member, donate, keep up with school board meetings and elections and all about Oakland’s schools, visit Great Oakland Public Schools’ website.