A Good Meeting from OUSD;  How “the Public” Can Wreck a Public Forum

This is not an April Fool’s joke.  I attended a powerful, informative, and productive meeting of an official OUSD committee.  I repeat-not a joke.

Before I dig in, let me describe it.  I was a few minutes late, but got to the room at Skyline and saw an attentive circle of probably 25-30 folks.  They looked like our kids, some of them were our kids, a parent was leading the meeting, staff, advocacy groups and students shared meaningful information, the principal shared his insights and we mulled through some of the real challenges facing underserved students.

It was respectful and interesting and unlike most every other OUSD meeting—I felt like I heard from the people I really needed to, the actual kids, graduates, families, ground level staff, and advocates.  The public comments here were from the real public, who had a neck deep stake in the system getting better.

Students and parents were on equal footing with staff and advocates, and the meeting was focused on sharing information and working through real solutions.  And as I said a parent ran the meeting—though I assumed she was a district heavy until she introduced herself.  And we covered real content and adjourned on time.

Contrast this with typical OUSD meeting, where the speakers seldom are students, often don’t resemble the average OUSD student or reflect their needs, and there really isn’t a search for solutions.  It’s more of just making your (often tired and redundant) point, criticizing the board or staff, then not listening to anyone else, while you wait for your next turn to say the same thing.

Personally I need hazard pay or pre visit to Harborside, to attend an OUSD board meeting.  I know that some hold those meetings up as the pinnacle of democratic governance and the bedrock of the public schools.  But they are painful to me, there is no discussion with the public or real engagement, the meetings are horrendously long, and if you have actual parents with their kids there, they are waiting hours for two minutes of talk time. And then that’s it.

I don’t blame the board.  Some people come to meetings and act the fool, so then you need to put a whole set of blanket restrictions on everyone—the law treats fools and savants equally.  But this dampens the real deliberation I think we imagine taking place.  And with all the parents and community members in Oakland a very small percentage make the vast majority of the comments.   And God bless the Board members.  No, whether I agree or disagree, God or Darwin, or whatever higher power, may that bless you.

Most of these official board or committee meetings are not a good forum for public engagement or reasoned deliberation in my humble opinion.  But seeing this one in action I had some faith restored.

I am an optimist, I believe deeply in our common humanity, the power of empathy, and our ability to work through our problems together.  I would share the name and meeting times of this group, it’s a great model for how to do the work.  Problem is, I am afraid “the public” might wreck it.





What do you think?

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