RESPONSE: Former Lafayette Principal Responds to Article Detailing Former Student’s Experience

Guest post by Karen Haynes, originally posted by Charles A. Cole III

A while back, I wrote an article that discussed work happening at a West Oakland elementary school. In that article, I asked the question of who should I blame my pre-ed reform education on if a plurality of people are now blaming charter schools and big money. Former Lafayette Principal, Karen Haynes offered a thoughtful response. Enjoy. 

As a former, four-year principal of Lafayette, I had to get in on your post about the whack education you received there years ago. I have never had the opportunity to “tell my story”. Perhaps this is the forum …

Too bad you weren’t there when I, (and I say this with much humility), was one of the “bold leaders” that you refer to. You would have been one of the privileged students that took part in a “grand vision” to restructure and bring about a “renaissance” of the rich musical and cultural traditions of West Oakland, the city of my heritage. My childhood home was situated where the MLK ES parking lot is now. I remember we had a horse hitching post in front of our house and dirt sidewalks. Yes, I guess you could say, I “remember when”, but I digress.

My vision to redesign Lafayette as a public music and literacy school became a group effort. Lafayette was supported by the families, students, faculty, New England Conservatory of Music in New York, a Music Integrated Learning Education grant, the OUSD music department, Stanford University, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Bay Area Links, Oakland Chapter, great Bay Area musicians (Bill Bell, Pete Escovedo, Victoria Theodore, Alison Streich (OUSD Teacher of the Year), & MANY more). We had visits from high school music students that traveled in a bus all the way from Canada, MLB player C.C. Sabathia, Oakland A’s players, Oakland Symphony Ballet, and more! We even won a grant to beatify our campus!! My vision was not however, supported by SOME “higher ups” in the district.

Data from the music program shows incredible student achievement! Several students received music grants from the Young Musicians Program at Cal Berkeley with guaranteed college scholarships, several students matriculated to middle schools for performing arts and are doing exceptionally well, and many students perform all over the Bay Area with the Oakland Spirit Orchestra. No one views this qualitative data as a marker of success.

In its entirety, the 4-year restructuring was a success, not perfect, but excellent!!! Students, families, and staff were clamoring to get in and dismayed when I left. I left a good sampling of what educational reform and drastic change could look like. Too bad you weren’t there then!

Our dream is now, as Langston Hughes coined the phrase, a “dream deferred”. A dream deferred because of a financial attraction to funding by a large corporation for STEM corridor programming. Our efforts to convince the corporation, and SOME OUSD “higher ups” that music, is, was, and always has been, STEM-related (think “Physics of Sound”, for example), was negated. The big bucks won out.

My over-arching point: It doesn’t matter what visions the “bold leader” has if those visions are not aligned to the grander visions of the higher-ups or the restructuring (sometimes large corporate entities). Bold leaders need autonomy and a belief by their employer in their ability to “make a dream come alive” for students, families, and teachers.

Believe me, it would not have mattered if Lafayette had been a charter, private, or magnet school as long as West Oakland children and their families thrived. I make no apology for attempting to maintain high hopes and unlimited potential for Lafayette.

I wish you had been part of the dream I/WE had for Lafayette. I believe your education would have been anything BUT whack!

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