Good News Bad News on the OUSD Budget and the Two Slides you Need to Read

OUSD will approve its budget tonight after a tumultuous year.  The good news is that they really did cut into the mounting deficit, and cut significantly from central office, mostly by reducing administrative positions.  The bad news is that unless something changes, we may get a year off from fiscal crisis, but its coming.  You can see the budget presentation here

I am sure GO Public Schools will do a solid job of peeling back the budget, so I will leave that to them.  I don’t want you to look at 2017-2018 OUSD, but some of the trends, that portend very dark times.   You can find these buried pretty deep in the deck, but the basic story they tell is that, first, state funding under the current formula- the LCFF– is about at its peak, so while schools have seen significant jumps in funding the last few year, that is over.  So revenues will basically be flat.

If we are lucky, that does not count possible federal reductions or the eventual economic downturn.

At the same time, costs are going to continue to balloon, especially in a place like Oakland where the cost of living already makes it challenging for teachers and we historically overspend budgets on key areas like special education.



And schools in Oakland are already underfunded.  Even with the recent jumps in state money, the amount of funding is not adequate to really give our students what they need, and the way it is distributed is totally inequitable, with the highest needs children getting nowhere near what they need.

Plus we have that pesky state loan we are repaying at $6 million a year, from the last bankruptcy, where almost none of our current kids were even in school.

There is a lot working against future solvency.

So on to the next slide you need to see

What we are doing is unsustainable.  We are barely sustaining in the best of economic times, what happens in the worst?

And neither of these slides accounts for the likely increasing pension costs paid by current teachers and districts to cover the deficits for retirees from an overly optimistic set of projections.

We have two ways out of this mess.

First we need to more adequately fund schools, which means reforming Prop. 13 and thinking about a more equitable funding formula and, second, we need to rethink how we are doing things.  Prop 13 reform is not a given and in the event that we can’t get more resources.  There has to be a way to structurally cut more costs.

So yeah I am glad we have kind of dug ourselves out of today’s hole but I see a chasm ahead, and right now we don’t have shovel big enough to handle it.

Graduate Stories from Lighthouse’s College Declaration Day-Believe in Yourself, Work hard and You can Do It

Brianna wanted to drop out, Isabel didn’t think she could go to college, Brandon was flunking, Diana didn’t know any English, and DJ couldn’t read.  Now they are all off to college, marked by a recent emotional celebration on College Declaration Day.

Staff, alumni, families and graduating seniors at Lighthouse Community Charter School came together to celebrate their time together, growth and new beginnings. The Class of 2017, brand new college t-shirts in hand, sat together surrounded by their families, teachers and administrators, and fellow students.

More than half of these graduating seniors have held jobs throughout high school, six have had to repeat at least one year of school, and most have faced systemic problems like poverty and racism. And yet, of the 49 seniors in Lighthouse’s Class of 2017, 46 were admitted to 4-year colleges and universities. One student is pursuing a career at California Highway Patrol, one is taking a gap year with plans to attend college in Fall 2018, nine will be attending community college, 14 will be attending UC schools, and 25 will be attending CSUs.

For these students, the road to college, career, and discovering their passions has not been a straight one. In addition to announcing their college choices, the seniors passed on advice to anxious 11th graders, curious 8th graders, and squirmy 6th graders who shifted in their seats: Don’t fear rejection. Don’t set your mind on one dream school; apply to many. Believe in yourself, even when you feel hopeless. Ask for help. If I can do it, you can do it.

And Lighthouse students have had success in college relative to their peers, with 40% graduating from college in 5 years.  A number that starkly contrasts with the depressing numbers touted in the Oakland Promise for Oakland students in general.   They state that for every 100 Oakland students who start high school: • 67 will graduate. • 46 will start college. • 10 will graduate from college within five years.

Here is a closer look at some of Lighthouse Community Charter School Class of 2017:

Isabel Cuevas (L), SJSU and Neeki Bashiri (R), UCB

Isabel Cuevas: “This is a big step toward my future because there’s been times I’ve doubted I could attend college, and now I have hope. My soccer coaches helped me get here.”

Graduating seniors pose with their college t-shirts.

Brianna Kakos, Humboldt State University

“My freshman year I wanted to drop out of high school and my senior year I wasn’t going to apply to college at all. I told my grandma and at first she was a little disappointed, but she said she’ll be proud if I graduate high school and that I should try out college, even for a year. It was really nice to know she was supportive, because I am the first in my family to graduate from high school. My classmates encouraged me as well, and my brother, who is graduating too. When I told them I wasn’t applying they asked me what my plans were, what I was going to do. They really encouraged me.

My passion is fighting for social justice. I’m excited to go to Humboldt State because I got to visit their campus and it needs someone to advocate for underrepresented minorities. I met people from the African American Center for Excellence, the Latinx center, the Multicultural center, but there’s still so much that needs to be done.

My advice to others is don’t be discouraged because I didn’t see myself here but now I am really excited.”

Isela Chavarria, UC Davis

Isela Chavarria: “I’m making my parents proud. They have been my role models to become the doctor I want to be. I want to tell people that it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do yet, because that’s what college is for. You should work hard to make your dreams come true.”

Back row: Brandon A. Segundo, Sonoma State; Diana Rodriguez, UC Davis; Daniel (DJ) Acosta, SF state Front row: Brianna Kakos, Humboldt State University

 Brandon A. Segundo: “I came to Lighthouse from a tradition school where ratios were 30:1. Here it was more like 20:1. The teachers here were closer to me. At first I got into trouble, got suspended, was flunking. But my parents had wanted me to go to this school and I wanted to show them that I was here for a reason. By the end of my freshman year I got a 3.8. Junior year, a 3.9  Now I’m planning to do nursing at Sonoma State.”

Diana Rodriguez: “I’ve been at Lighthouse since kindergraden. I didn’t know any English when I came because I spoke Spanish. I still remember how Alex P’s mom translated for me. Now I’m fluent. Lighthouse doesn’t separate us based on language skills, but integrates us into better things. When I tore my ACL Lighthouse had packets of work for me ready as soon as I got out of surgery. I learned I could do things and keep moving on. Last year I started a Japanese Anime club. This year we raised enough money to go to the Anime convention in San Jose.”

Daniel (DJ) Acosta: ”Lighthouse is a home for me. I was always in Special Ed, people would pull me out to teach me how to read. Ms. Kretschmar, my fifth grade teacher, knew my brother and knew about me. She gave me that push that made me love school and that year I learned how to read. Next year in sixth grade I hit the ground running. I didn’t have perfect grades but I had that motivation. My passion was Art and I decided to go to art school to pursue it with the momentum that lighthouse gave me. After that I spent a year in Berlin. That year our principal, Mr. Sexton, passed away. I felt homesick. He had said that there is always room for me here. I was so taken by the caliber of people here that I came back to Lighthouse to finish high school. This is the best year I have ever had.”


Two Ears and One Mouth; Doing Youth Engagement Right in Oakland


An amazing dialogue took place at MetWest last week.  It was amazing for two reasons.  First our young people are awesome, and second, the youth did most of the speaking.  Even though there were many dignitaries and officials in the crowd, including our newly contracted superintendent, Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell (woot woot)—the adults largely yielded the floor.

This was the youth’s time, to hold us accountable on our promises, comparing their experiences to our promises and rhetoric.

They had a lot to say, some good, some bad, all honest, and deeply inspiring.

But I still worry about some silences.


Are you ready for the world?

30 or so Oakland seniors and recent graduates answered that question for us.  Did they have the academic and social preparation for success in college career and beyond, what worked, what didn’t, and how did they feel?  It was deep.  You can see some video from KPIX here or a report from the Chronicle here.

The youth talked, and the adults listened—and again, it was a great Oakland cross section, the new superintendent, a board member, principals, teachers, key district staff, funders, community organizations, parents and community.

Anyone who heard the young people would know more about Oakland’s schools, the successes and challenges than someone who watched every minute of every school board meeting.


The best parts of school are outside the formal curriculum and “engagement is joy”

This event wasn’t about posturing, or scoring political points, it was about experience.  The lived experiences of young people from all backgrounds, the amazing inspiring teachers they had, and those that put them to sleep.  The real world engagements and youth leadership experiences that made them feel empowered and also the classes they thought irrelevant.

But much of what they cherished about school did not happen in the regular classrooms, it happened outside the school walls and traditional classes: at hack a thons, through travel, from sports and arts engagement, maker fairs and creative activities where they are put in charge of the work, finding joy in creative hands on engaging work with teachers and other adults who cared.  And cared enough to make the content engaging and relevant.

On the flipside the youth know the challenges.  Classes that put normally engaged students to sleep, with teachers who don’t seem to care, or notice when students slip out after attendance, and a curriculum that doesn’t adjust to different learners.  Middle school was described as “forced feeding.”  And students struggled with the relevance of much of the material.  At the same time they wanted classes on those things that seemed most relevant.  And also more diverse school staff who could relate to them and understand their experiences.

The curriculum they need

In my group, at least, there was a universal call for a life skills class, both from current students and recent graduates in college.  Students needed to actually have a curriculum around conflict resolution, financial literacy, dealing with stress and trauma, working together, help with the real world challenges of growing healthily in a stressful environment, and also just those practical skills of understanding how to manage money, create a resume, do taxes, apply for aid etc.  For a host of reasons, many students don’t get all these skills from home, and schools should be more explicit about making them part of the curriculum.

And if the curriculum is not relevant or doesn’t meet the real needs of students, what is it?


The approach we need

Dr. Johnson-Trammell began her reflection time with one of those ageless Grandma sayings, “we are born with two ears and one mouth for a reason.”  We do well to heed the wisdom of the ages, and many of our answers are right in front of us if we pay attention.

The youth are inspirational.  In this drumbeat of depressing news, hearing from them is an anti-depressant.  There were some incredible stories of student empowerment and the successes our youth have worked for, and the challenges they have overcome.  I had a Yale student from Mack and a Notre Dame students from O-High (I think), as well as students fighting to make the schools better and more equitable places, and having a real impact.

And we will be presenting some of those stories in coming blogs, alongside hosting additional youth –centered forums.

The students that didn’t speak

But amidst the learning, connections, and inspiration, I know that most of the students I met were experiencing success in our schools, in one way or another.  And I wonder about the silent many.

The students who were not there, who were not engaged, who didn’t feel confident to raise their voice, who may not be in school any more.

In the presence of such powerful young people, I feel the absence of those who should be there but aren’t, who could be there, but didn’t have the support or opportunities, and the strength of our successes shows me how far we have to go to spread that to more young people.

Even with that, it was a good day, and I hope we have many more to come.

As long as school is done to students and not done with and for them, results won’t change.  This forum was a good first step and I appreciate the students, superintendent, and everyone else who made this first step possible.  If we listen to the youth and let them lead, I know we will go in the right direction.


Thanks to Sophia Sobko for the photography




Are Oakland Students Ready for the World?

On Tuesday in Oakland, the school script was flipped. Gathered around bright tables in the atrium of MetWest High School, dozens of high schoolers and recent graduates confidently and openly reflected on if and how Oakland public schools prepared them for college and careers; while dozens of adults including the new Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Oakland Board of Education member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, school administrators and teachers, listened with rapt attention.

The youth-led discussion forum, called ‘Ready for the World’, was hopefully the first in a series of forums. Our education system is built for students; we adults are the hired help. In order to do our jobs right, we need to listen better.

To that end, Tuesday’s forum included Oakland students candidly discussing four themes – Leadership, Expression, Equity, and Real World Opportunities – to inform school leaders working towards better outcomes for future graduates.



 Several young people discussed equity issues and struggles related to the lack of resources in their schools and in Oakland, such as not having a girls’ basketball team and wearing old jerseys on another team.  As one young woman said, “our school may not have the same resources as others… it gets in my head.”

Students also candidly acknowledged racial, ethnic, gender, sexual identity and class tensions in their schools, and expressed their strong support for diversity and equality.

 When one recent graduate expressed the need for more teachers of color with cultural competency in Oakland schools to work with students of color, an OUSD Administrator asked her, “would you consider going into education?” Her unequivocal answer: “I would.”

Another student expressed her distaste for the term ‘continuation,’ saying, “I don’t like that title because it makes me feel like it’s not a real high school.” She shared how the school’s smaller size and community she’s found there have benefited her education, and called for greater equity between alternative and traditional school models in Oakland. 


 Another thought-provoking discussion was about how students react when they feel unheard in their schools.  Several young people emphasized the need for meaningful engagement by adults in their schools to counteract pervasive problems like disengagement, low test scores, apathy and tardiness. One student said, “when you know your school is not out the help you, you’re not going to show up.”

Another student shared her experience, saying, “a lot goes on, and teachers don’t see that. They just say, oh you have an attitude, what’s wrong with you.  But I could’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed. I could’ve gotten some terrible news. [Teachers should] know what someone is going through instead of jumping to conclusions.”

A third student explained, “teachers that come to school need to be able to relate with what the kids are going through so they can have a voice in the situation.”

This discussion underscored the need for adults to ask ourselves, how much attention do we give to students’ personal well-being and development, not just academic achievement?




 Other discussions centered on how Oakland students seized opportunities to lead and succeed, pushing the boundaries of adult expectations. Students shared inspiring anecdotes about sticking their necks out and motivating others to care about critical issues in their schools and communities.

As one student shared her involvement in Youth Together, saying “I’m a lead student organizer and I was able to learn about the Black Panther Party and other movements that opened my eyes to the fact that students are at the forefront of everything.  [So] no matter how hard it is, I have to be at the forefront to advocate for those who can’t.”

“I feel like I can make a change, even as a 16-year-old” said an Oakland Unity High School student, who advised OUSD on its sexual harassment policy.

 Real World Opportunities 

At another table, students discussed the value that internships, extracurricular programs, vocational training, experiential learning, field trips, and travel opportunities added to their Oakland school experiences. The overwhelming consensus was that access to experiences outside the classroom enriches student learning and opens students’ eyes to new opportunities.

“I was an intern for Californians for Justice, it was really comprehensive and I had a lot of hands on opportunities to get to see what it’s like being a person of color in 2017,” noted one student.

Another student described her involvement at Facebook’s Emotional Leaning Summit, saying, “what I learned from it was how valuable the opportunity to fail is.  If we aren’t given the opportunity to mess up that means adults are too involved.”

At the conclusion of the forum on Tuesday, the adults in the room were clearly moved by powerful student stories they had heard.

Superintendent Johnson-Trammell said, “our core mission is quality education… [so] we all need to be working together.”

Allowing students to have their own voices in improving their schools is critical. This forum was only the first step in a longer journey.

Watch These Oakland Students Tell Us How to Understand and End Gun Violence

About the Author: Sophia Sobko is a former teacher and current graduate student at UC Berkeley.

​Last Friday evening E14 Gallery in Downtown Oakland buzzed as 7th and 8th graders from Lighthouse Community Charter School shared their research, artwork, and writing on gun-related violence in Oakland. The exhibit was the culmination of a year of research and creative production exploring the causes, consequences, and potential solutions of gun violence in their community and beyond.

Student ambassadors spread across the spacious gallery, leading visitors through the exhibit’s many stations: research and data, history of the 2nd amendment, narratives, art campaigns, potential solutions, and participant response. Student speakers moved between English and Spanish, sharing statistics and personal stories about gun violence with one goal: to educate others and move them to action.