We Got Our Homegrown Superintendent in Oakland. Now What?

The community spoke. We wanted a homegrown leader, who understood OUSD and could hit the ground running. And now we got one in the appointment of Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell for superintendent. 

Whether we actually give her a chance is another question.

But before the mud flies, let’s pop a cork. We need a leader and we got one.

She is eminently qualified, if a bit new to the top spot, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I, among many, have high hopes. She knows our kids, schools and staff. And knows what it takes to make them better.

The initial reviews are good, focusing on her instructional knowledge, ability to work within the system but still show bravery when needed.

Director Jumoke Hinton-Hodge praised the hire, noting the unanimity of the Board:

The OUSD Board of Education demonstrated its own grit in selecting a new education leader for Oakland Unified—we unanimously brought forward Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

With considerable support from a community panel and OUSD students, Dr Johnson-Trammell was recognized as a talented and committed educator.

She is a third-generation Oakland educator and a product of Oakland public schools. We are excited that we have looked within our own organization to nurture and support this capable educator.

We trust she will successfully navigate this new opportunity in a city and school district where she has taught children and supported families and educators for decades. Oakland is fortunate to have her.

Similar praise came from Hae-Sin Thomas, a long time OUSD educator, now CEO of Education for Change:

I have a lot of confidence in Kyla—she is a strong instructional leader and I am glad that we have someone who will maintain a keen focus on teaching and learning through all of this financial stress.

Kimi Kean, another longtime OUSD educator who worked with Dr. Johnson-Trammell as a principal and on the OUSD executive team, now Area Superintendent of Aspire Public Schools, was equally supportive:

Kyla has deep roots in Oakland. Her mom was an OUSD educator and principal. Kyla will be in Oakland for the long haul and is rooted in and committed to the students, families and staff of OUSD. Also, I appreciate that she has been a principal in Oakland—I think that will resonate with Oakland principals.

I haven’t heard a critique yet in my small survey, nor received that kind of side-eyed look you often get.

She is homegrown, has worked in the schools and with our students, and knows Oakland, so what could go wrong?

Will We Give Her a Chance?

Much love to anyone willing to take on the accumulated challenges of OUSD. She did not cause these problems and I hope she won’t be blamed. It’s a lot easier to run someone out of town on a rail than it is to build a better railroad. And I really hope these fools don’t come in screaming about Jim Crow, or in her case she may be seen as “aggressive” or some other loaded term.

Nevertheless we need her to persist.

It’s a tricky time in Oakland right now, even beyond finances. OUSD is making progress in some areas, and it is also starting some difficult conversations around privilege and inequality, culminating in an ambitious equity policy. It will take real courage to finish these conversations and realign opportunities and resources. And I am pretty sure Dr. Johnson-Trammell could tell some stories from her own experience. I believe she went to Montclair.

We know the problems—structural deficits, a state loan hanging over our head, teacher shortages, high cost of living, broken funding system, declining district enrollment, high needs kids and families, to name a few. Things are going to have to change and there will be fallout. There will be some losers, but what we really need is stability and a strategic plan with strategic investments and the courage to see it through, in spite of the interest groups and current entitlements.

The superintendent can’t do any of this alone—it will take a village. And now that we have our chosen sister, it’s on us to treat her fairly, and be sure that others do as well.

 

Here’s a short excerpt of Dr. Johnson-Trammell’s bio:

Born and raised in East Oakland, Ms. Johnson-Trammell is a fierce advocate for Oakland public schools, having attended Montclair Elementary and Montera Middle School. She holds a communications degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and earned her Ed.D. from UC Berkeley in educational leadership.

Ms. Johnson-Trammell’s commitment to Oakland and urban education is evidenced by more than seventeen years of service in several capacities including elementary school teacher, middle school assistant principal, elementary school principal, Director of Talent Development, Associate Superintendent for Leadership, Curriculum, and Instruction and Elementary Network Superintendent.