An Open Letter from a Former OUSD Leader Supporting Latitude Charter High School

Here Aaron Townsend, a successful former OUSD school and district leader, shares his support for the Latitude 37.8 Charter High School petition that is up for vote this week before OUSD and has received a staff recommendation for approval.  He argues both for the merits of the school and also for local authorization identifying how the school, district and families of Oakland would benefit.


I am writing to urge the approval of the new school charter petition for Latitude 37.8 High School. While I recognize there are a number of challenging financial and achievement issues facing the district, it is in the best interests of Oakland students and families to approve Latitude and maintain local authorization control of the school.

I led the transformation of the Havenscourt campus which has grown into one of the highest performing high schools in Oakland, Coliseum College Prep Academy.”

I am confident in Latitude’s potential to be an asset for the city because of my experiences working for 15 years in OUSD as a teacher, principal, and most recently, Deputy Chief of Talent. As a school leader in Oakland, I led the transformation of the Havenscourt campus which has grown into one of the highest performing high schools in Oakland, Coliseum College Prep Academy. As a district leader, I continued to be involved in working to transform our most underperforming schools through various turnaround efforts and building effective pipelines of talent.

I remain committed to the success of all Oakland students, teachers, and schools, and I have deep regard for the leadership that has been appointed to manage OUSD out of its current challenges. These experiences have also demonstrated to me the challenges inherent in building and maintaining successful schools within the district.

Retaining the local authorization control of Latitude best positions the district to manage the collaboration and sharing of practices and resources in service of all Oakland students.”

To accelerate the achievement of Oakland students, we need more local models of innovative practices that have a responsibility to collaborate with the OUSD high school portfolio. As district staff have concluded, the Latitude proposal demonstrates a sound educational program and the capacity to implement it; thus, we are confident in the ultimate approval of Latitude at the county or state level. Retaining the local authorization control of Latitude best positions the district to manage the collaboration and sharing of practices and resources in service of all Oakland students.

As the leader of the design team for Latitude, we have incorporated the lessons learned at CCPA and other innovative and successful schools around the country with current understandings of best practices in adolescent development to push the envelope further in developing a school model to prepare Oakland youth for productive and meaningful lives. Latitude is positioned with the talent, resources, and conditions to become the next great school in Oakland and to be a leader for all high schools in the city.

Why Latitude? Why now?

Latitude is the kind of school the blueprint process will recommend creating.

The existing high school quality and enrollment data demonstrates the types of schools Oakland should be investing in to meet the needs of Oakland students and families. The Latitude proposal is aligned with schools that are currently providing quality seats and have significant enrollment demand (Met West, CCPA, and Life Academy). Approving Latitude would expand the number of choices that are contributing quality seats in the city while drawing from a student population currently outside of the district as indicated by the district’s own analysis. Given the need for more quality options for families, there is no need to delay a decision until the ‘end’ of the blueprint process to provide another quality option for Oakland students. As a locally approved charter, the school’s authorization would remain under your authority and ability to manage as part of the portfolio of school options in the city.

The Latitude team has the talent and conditions to succeed now

 In my numerous years of leading leadership selection for OUSD, the Latitude team is the strongest group of educators I have seen to take on a school start up or redesign. Lillian Hsu, the founding principal, comes to Latitude with national experience and local bonafides. She has proved her mettle here in Oakland at Unity High, and she has expanded her toolkit at the national level with High Tech High. The founding team has proven experience together executing a progressive educational program that achieved strong college outcomes for all students. Collectively, this is the most experienced and cohesive team I have seen take on school leadership in the city. Additionally, given Latitude’s relationship with Education for Change, we have the fiscal and operational capacities to be successful. Our team has already established quality working relationships with district educators and with community partners. This set of conditions reflects the careful work that has Latitude positioned to be successful now.

Latitude is a unique offering for Oakland

 There are no current district or charter schools that provide the kind of learning experiences that Latitude will provide. While the instructional program does share some qualities with various programs in the city (i.e. Linked Learning, SEL, project-based learning), it is the integrated and place-based nature of the program that separates it from any other school. The core instructional experiences at Latitude combine subject areas and require experiences outside of school with professionals in authentic settings. For example, students will build competency in reading, writing, analysis, history, and science through their Oakland and Me studio as they partner with journalists from KQED to develop and document their stories of Oakland. Students will learn civics at City Hall, California History in partnership with the Oakland Museum, and science through projects with the Port of Oakland. This model builds on successes at schools across the city and goes multiple steps further in increasing the quality and depth of students’ learning experiences.

“As a diverse by design school, Latitude will represent the racial, cultural, socioeconomic diversity of the city as a whole unlike any other program.”

Additionally, there are no charter or district high schools in the city that serve the student body that Latitude will serve. Oakland Tech is the only high school in the city that approximates the level of racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity that mirrors the city as a whole. The rest of the portfolio of high schools reflects a segregation of race, culture, and class that concerns many of us. As a diverse by design school, Latitude will represent the racial, cultural, socioeconomic diversity of the city as a whole unlike any other program. Latitude will push the envelope for the high school community of Oakland and support the collaboration to allow all schools to improve.

Why charter? Why not OUSD?

OUSD does not provide the conditions necessary to support the school’s launch.

 Latitude has been able to raise a significant amount of dollars in startup funding for Oakland students and families because of its innovative school model and high caliber founding team. Our collective experience has demonstrated that innovative school startups require significant investment to allow them to grow slowly and build capacity in order to ensure quality. These are dollars OUSD does not have available to invest in an innovative startup and otherwise would be lost to Oakland families. Because it is a charter school, and whether that is fair or not fair, these are resources our city should leverage to develop high quality options for Oakland students and families.

Additionally, OUSD cannot provide the human capital flexibility necessary in an innovative school model. While there have been gains on this front with OEA, a small, innovative start up requires the ability to craft flexible job descriptions, leverage credential flexibility, and to have hiring autonomy across bargaining units. Finally, the Latitude model would require additional facilities, budgetary, scheduling, operational and instructional program flexibilities that continue to be a constraint for school leaders within the district system.

Latitude can be a better partner to OUSD High Schools as a charter.

 The charter environment provides the conditions for Latitude to establish itself and collaborate with the broader high school eco-system more rapidly. In the model of prior early literacy partnerships between Aspire schools and OUSD schools, Latitude intends to partner with OUSD schools to share practices and resources. We have already embarked on efforts to improve the quality and engagement level of project based learning within OUSD alternative schools. Latitude recently secured funding to bring a cohort of OUSD teachers to San Diego to visit model juvenile court schools that are implementing project based learning as a part of this partnership. There are a number of potential additional areas for collaboration to pursue in the future such as Special Education, competency based assessment, and acceleration for under credited, over age students.  Latitude is best positioned to develop and test these practices because of the conditions afforded in the charter context, and we are best positioned to partner with the district as a locally approved school.

“As a leader in Oakland for the past fifteen years, I have been committed to providing quality school options and developing the talent necessary to execute them.”

As a leader in the small autonomous schools movement, as a district systems leader, I, like many, believe in a system that supports innovation, iteration, flexibility and autonomy.  I know these are values many in OUSD share, and I know that we will get to a place where those flexibilities are afforded to school leaders inside the district who can truly take it to the next level. I also know that we don’t have those conditions today.

As a leader in Oakland for the past fifteen years, I have been committed to providing quality school options and developing the talent necessary to execute them. These experiences inform my advocacy for Latitude 37.8 High School as a school that represents an incredible instructional program and possesses the capacity to implement it on behalf of Oakland students and families.  Denying this petition and not having it serve as an anchor of the Oakland high school and innovation portfolio would be a tremendous lost opportunity for this city.

Thus, I urge the approval of the new school petition for Latitude and the retention of authorization control for the school as part of OUSD’s overall blueprint and portfolio management strategy.


Full disclosure, I, Dirk Tillotson, sit on the board of Education for Change and Latitude High is one of our schools

A Tactic without a Strategy in OUSD’s Failed “Charter Moratorium”

Oakland Unified’s tactic of denying every charter petition, no matter how promising, isn’t working, and is actually counterproductive based on the district’s own goals.  It won’t constrain charter growth and will undermine collaboration in areas helpful to the District.  They need to rethink it.

The OUSD board and superintendent have expressed 3 specific policy goals around Oakland’s charter schools; controlling charter growth, reintegrating county authorized charters into the district, and bringing more charters into the District’s special education plan, and none of these are actually advanced by the “moratorium.”

Let me explain.

A moratorium does not stop charter approvals on appeal

A local charter moratorium will not reduce the number of charter schools, in fact it may do the opposite.  You heard that right.  The Charter Law, approved by the people’s representatives, establishes a standard for charter approvals and also includes appeals to the county and state, with each taking a fresh look.  So even if Oakland never approved another charter, qualified applicants will be approved on appeal.  And OUSD will have less authority over them.

Let’s take a look at the standard for charter petition approval from the California Department of Education website:

On what grounds can a local governing board deny approval of a charter petition?

EC Section 47605(b) specifies that a local educational agency shall not deny the approval of a charter petition unless it makes written factual findings, specific to the particular petition, that:

  1. The charter school presents an unsound educational program.
  2. The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.
  3. The petition does not contain the required number of signatures.
  4. The petition does not contain an affirmation of each of the conditions described in EC Section 47605(d).
  5. The petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of all of the 16 required elements of the petition.

Note that pesky “shall not deny” language. Basically, if a solid, comprehensive plan is presented in the charter with a solid team behind it, the district is supposed to approve the charter. And if they don’t approve it, the county or state will.

So as was recently the case with Aurum Preparatory Academy or even the deeply rooted community based school, Lazear, the district can turn them down, but they get approved at the County.  And what credibility does a district who admits that it doesn’t follow the law and won’t approve any charters, have in working with the county or state during the appeals process–none.

OUSD has less credibility with the County because of this stance and it won’t stop a single deserving charter from being approved.

Why would a wrongly denied charter reintegrate into OUSD

While denying every charter in front of them, some on the Board have been pushing to reintegrate County charters into OUSD.  So let me get this straight, you are going to deny every charter, make them go to the County for approval and then you want them to come back to you and get reauthorized by OUSD.  If someone can explain any logic behind that, please do, and share some of that Cookies Kush you are smoking, cuz I need to lose my mind to try to understand that mess.

So if the goal is to integrate County charters back into OUSD, the tactic of denying every petition is not going to help and will likely hurt.

Denying charters reduces the chance they join Oakland’s SELPA

The last way OUSD has wanted to engage with charters is on special education and integrating more charters into the OUSD special education plan (the SELPA).  This was part of the superintendent’s work plan and could bring up to $10 million in additional revenue to the district.  This could be a win-win.  But there are risks for the charters, and based on history with OUSD, most are risk averse.

If the first interaction with OUSD is being wrongly denied a charter, what kind of partnership is that, and why would you consider taking a risk with that “partner?”  You probably wouldn’t.

Again denying strong charter schools works against the district’s own goals.

Towards a more functional authorizing process

OUSD needs to rethink its moratorium.  It won’t work.  And it undermines legitimate goals of the district.  This is not to deny some of the negative effects on the system from uncoordinated charter school growth, or even some of the very real issues in the Oakland charter school sector around serving the most high needs students.  But a policy of blanket denials won’t help with either of those issues either.

There are two public school sectors operating in Oakland right now, they can ignore each other, go to war, or start to have a better dialogue and cooperation around the issues that really matter to families; quality, equity and access.

A blanket policy of “no” is great theatre for the partisans, but does nothing for kids, and undermines the district’s own interests, not to mention those of families who want the best school for their family regardless of sector.

Oakland deserves better.

Note that I do sit on the Board of Education for Change, which supports several charter schools in Oakland

VIDEO: In Oakland We Believe in the Greatness of Our Black Male Students

A guest cross post from Bankh Akintunde who is a native of Oakland and the Manhood Development program instructor at West Oakland Middle School. FULL PROFILE →
VIDEO SERIES: BLACK MALE EDUCATORS SPEAKIn partnership with Education Post, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) has launched the Black Male Educators Speak video series, focusing on the stories of four Black male teachers in four different cities and exploring the innovative teaching methods they use to engage Black students. Meet these Black male educators →

Imagine walking into a school every day and being taught by someone who looks like you. Imagine that person shares your upbringing, the music you listen to, or simply represents a living roadmap to the future—a walking embodiment of success.

Now, what if this educator rigorously challenged you every day to tap into your greatness, exposing you to literature that broadened and enhanced your cultural understanding of who you are?

This was a dream of mine when I was younger.

However, as a student I was often placed in classes that were taught by teachers who had absolutely no clue what it meant to be a young African-American male growing up in Oakland. They spewed academic cultural prejudice while undermining my intellect. They looked at me from a deficit lens. And they looked nothing like me!

That is, until I reached high school.

I remember at the beginning of my sophomore year, my friend told me he was taking a really fun class and learning so much in such a short amount of time. He also mentioned that the class was only offered before school. I thought about it that night and decided to observe the class the following morning.

Upon entering that class, I could feel that there was something really different about it. A young African-American male teacher greeted us at the door and then followed with a brief check-in. There was music being played and everyone genuinely looked excited about being educated. At the start of the class, everyone stood up and recited a powerful affirmation.


This was the very first time I ever felt goosebumps inside a classroom.

The students sat attentively and the lesson began. I had no prior knowledge of the information being covered during this class, yet I was mesmerized by the content. Seeing someone who represented me in an academic setting had a profound effect on the way in which I viewed myself. In a time period during which I was fishing for so many answers, I can not express how impactful it was to witness a Black man teaching.


Years later I find myself in a web of infinite possibility. I have been given the greatest opportunity in the world, to teach young African-American men during the academic day. Through the Office of African-American Male Achievement (AAMA) within the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), I have been able to positively influence hundreds of young African-American men to continue their pursuit of higher education.

Upon joining AAMA, what immediately stood out to me was that I was surrounded by other African-American male teachers. Already this was very rare, since Black men make up only 2 percent of all teachers within the United States. Also, these African-American male teachers prescribed to a completely different pedagogy—one that involved encouraging, engaging and empowering students on a daily basis to reach towards their greatest potential.

By creating student-centered rituals in the classroom—such as handshakes and class affirmations—the pathways were wide open for establishing healthy relationships with the students. Not to mention, the academic discourse these educators engaged in with their classes was designed to dramatically improve academic performance and ultimately shift life outcomes.

This program is beyond important because it provides a consistent and healthy lens through which African-American young men can see themselves as they develop. Particularly for those young men who may not already have a strong male presence in their lives, this course stands as a beautiful opportunity to explore manhood with the principles and academic rigor necessary to evoke growth.

I’ve found when we set the bar high for these young Kings, they excel beyond our wildest dreams simply because we love them and believe in their innate greatness. We are the architects of the destiny we wish to see within our community, and this is the power and privilege I have every day as a facilitator within the African-American Male Achievement Program.

“I Was Failed Once by the School System” Now This Oakland Parent Is Finding Her Voice and Power

A guest post from Lisa Babbitt and Oakland parent describing her experiences and why she joined The Oakland REACH

Do you know how impossible it can feel to play in a game when you don’t know the rules?

You get dismissed, pushed out, left feeling defeated. I know this feeling all too well trying to help my son navigate the school system.

How can a child sit in class every day and not get what they need to be on track?

Well this was his reality.

Teachers, faculty, staff were all determined there was nothing my son could do that would allow him to graduate on time so he was coached out to get his GED. I say coached out because getting his GED was never on his roadmap to success. My son left school unprepared to enter college and with a defeated attitude. School administrators stopped believing in him so this caused him to alter his vision of success.

The system had failed him.

Who here has seen that happen to a child?

Even though I was constantly up at the school during this time, I didn’t know who or where I could go to for help. Looking back, I don’t think there was anywhere to go. I’m part of Oakland REACH because I want to change that. I want us to have resources, a support system – to know how to make our voices heard, to demand change.

We at the Oakland REACH believe success in school is being ready for college… and for jobs in Silicon Valley, or wherever our children want to go! Our children should have the best choices for their future.

But right now, they’re just not ready.

I’m speaking out because I want my daughter to be ready. I don’t want her to go through what my son went through.

She deserves to get the skills she needs to pursue whatever career path she chooses. She should leave Oakland schools confident that she can compete for top-paying jobs and pursue higher education. She deserves options for her future.

Who agrees that’s what all our children deserve?

Fire Him!  Piedmont Reinstates Teacher who Allegedly Propositioned Students

A 14 year teacher with a trail of complaints of “inappropriate” interactions with students returned to the classroom this week amidst uproar in Piedmont.  Apparently propositioning students, inviting them to private meetings, touching them inappropriately or more isn’t enough to get fired any more.

I have seen much more egregious abuse first hand, but this is abuse nonetheless, and I don’t give a damn what some contract says, this dude should not be in front of children.

In the interview on KCBS, the districts spokesperson said that it wasn’t “sexual abuse.”   Apparently someone needs to get physically attacked to justify a firing?  Really?  And I get that that is probably some negotiated legal standard for dismissal, but so what.

His fellow teachers were at the board meeting protesting his reinstatement.  And what is the signal this sends to the young women and young men, to see this teacher “welcomed” back as the District’s notice to parents described it.

“he asked students if they would sleep with him”

KTVU aired the testimony of a parent that described in some detail the behavior, “he asked students if they would sleep with him as he simultaneously doled out their grades and recommendations and chaperones them…”

Let’s look at what the district admitted to, which probably understates what happened.  This is from KPIX

A district letter was sent to victims’ families saying evidence shows Cowherd engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional behavior and failed to serve as a positive role model at school and in the community.

The letter even listed Cowherd’s inappropriate actions, which included:

  • Repeatedly asking students to meet personally and privately.

  • Touching, grabbing, and/or holding students by their shoulders, heads, elbows, and backs.

  • Calling students nicknames that made students feel uncomfortable and harassed.

  • Sending inappropriate text messages and emails.

  • Consuming alcohol in the presence of students.

  • Making inappropriate and unprofessional comments that were interpreted to be sexual in nature.

  • Asking inappropriate and unprofessional personal questions…

And from a parent whose daughter was one of the victims,

Parent Pear Michaels said, “The district should not allow a predatory teacher who has sexually solicited, harassed, and intimidated his students to remain at the high school.

Any one of the founded allegations should basically get you fired, but asking a student to sleep with you, should get you blacklisted from teaching, anywhere, basically forever.

Fire this guy, even if he beats you in court, put him in a desk away from kids, and any time he tries to teach elsewhere as these folks usually do it will come up in a google search.  He should not be teaching children.  It’s the district’s responsibility to do the right thing.