Choice Is Not Access: A Parent’s Journey in Oakland’s School “System”

Micshell Bunton an Oakland resident, a proud mom of two boys, and a parent leader with The Oakland REACH. If you are a parent who wants to get involved in The Oakland REACH, please email [email protected].

I would do anything for my sons, especially when it comes to their education.

I’ve spent more than a decade volunteering in Oakland Public Schools – my oldest son, Lejon, is 19 now and my youngest, Tyran, is 10. I’ve volunteered in Tyran’s elementary school from 1st grade to his current 4th grade classroom. I know everything there is to know about the school itself – but until this year, I didn’t know about the system or how it works.

I sent Tyran and Lejon to our neighborhood school – I thought that was just the way the system works.

And when that school underperformed in reading and math, and books were old, and the paint was crumbling – I thought that was just the way the system works, too.

But it turns out we don’t have to accept that system. We have a choice.

This past year, I joined The Oakland REACH, a parent-led group empowering parents from our most underserved communities to demand better for our kids. To date, The Oakland REACH has engaged over 3,000 parents in Oakland.

Smashing Through the Knowledge Barrier

I was one of those parents. And thanks to The Oakland REACH, I was able to smash through the knowledge barrier that faces so many parents: I learned I could choose where to send my kids to school.

I got right to work on my research – going through all the scores of Oakland schools, diving into every detail. I can’t tell you how excited and ready I was to put my son in a school that would better serve him.

But I wasn’t done running into barriers: the minute I felt powerful to take control of Tyran’s education, I got my first letter back from a school that he was 17th on a waitlist. A friend of mine was 180th on another waitlist.

We started to wonder: what’s the use? What good is school choice if we can’t access schools that are good?

Hitting the Lottery Once, Needing to Hit it Three Times

Thankfully, I eventually hit the lottery: next year, Tyran will start 5th grade at Glenview Elementary, which performs much better than his old elementary school.

But my journey isn’t done: next year, I’ll begin the process again for Tyran’s middle school. And someday, I’ll need to begin all over again for high school. I was lucky to hit the lottery once – but now, I need to pray I hit it three times.

And even worse, not all kids can get what Tyran has: some won’t even win the lottery once, no matter how hard we try.

We Need More than a Lottery’s Chance

So I’m going to keep fighting – for our communities, for our kids – so that everyone can have access to a quality education.

I’m wiser now. I’m determined. I’m more powerful. Let’s make it easier for more Oakland parents to feel the same.

It’s time for access, not just choice.

What do you think?

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