The Reach Institute has trained many of Oakland’s and the region’s most impactful educational leaders. These were leaders who learned the nuts and bolts of leadership, alongside a legitimate and robust equity focus. In an area needing more leadership talent, the Reach Institute was a huge resource for Oakland and the Community.
That was before recent changes that have both current students and alumni up in arms. You can read some of the complaints below. But basically, they tell a story of a community institution, with community leadership (some of you may remember Superintendent Chaconas) being bought out, privatized, and sold to the highest bidder. Removing the very staff that make the Institute the Institute, the supports that develop leaders, and the commitment to Oakland and equity.
You can read the details below and you should, but if you support the Institute and its mission, advocates for Reach are asking that folks;
- Attend the Zoom Board meeting tonight and make your voice heard
Meeting ID: 814 1876 2874
- Write to the Board of directors here
- Keep following the blog for updates
Below you can see a summary of the situation from an alumni
And you can read letters from students, alumni and supporters here
The Reach Institute Story and How It Is Being Dismantled
Reach Institute was established in 2006-2007 in partnership with On The Move (OTV), an organization dedicated to addressing some of the most pressing inequities in the Bay Area, education being one of them. The Reach Institute sought to specifically address the “need for better, more job-embedded, and more authentic forms of new teacher and leader development” (https://www.reachinst.org/about-reach/history-of-reach/). Since 2006 it has trained dozens of leaders, many still serving in various capacities in Oakland public and public charter schools, as well as in other Bay Area public school districts from Hayward through West Contra Costa and beyond. According to one student, “Reach is the rare oasis where charter and district educators come together and focus on what they can do to close the huge achievement gaps that exist in the Bay Area.” Equity was a main focus of Reach, embedded in teacher and leader training, and coached by people who had first hand experience in how poorly led schools can exacerbate inequity in outcomes for students, especially black and brown students, English Learners, economically-disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities.
On September 17th the Reach Institute’s board of directors voted in a new Chief Executive Officer, Mallory Dwinal-Palisch, of Oxford Day Academy in East Palo Alto. The next day, on Friday the 18th, The Reach Institute received a terrible blow to its leadership when its two longest serving faculty, including one of its founders, were terminated due to “challenging economic realities”, according to a September 19th email Dwinal-Palisch sent to current students of the administrator’s credential and masters’ degree program, the Instructional Leadership Academy (ILA). Minutes from the September 17th board meeting have not been released and Ms. Dwinal-Palisch, who has oscillated between the titles of CEO, President, and Executive Director of the Reach, has taken full responsibility for the layoffs.
The decision to exit the longtime faculty came after a two-month old merger between the Silicon Valley-based Oxford Teachers’ Academy and the Reach Institute. Dwinal-Palisch, a Rhodes Scholar and 2011 Teach for America Corps Member, spent three years preparing for the opening of the Oxford Day Academy. Oxford Day Academy, a charter school in East Palo Alto that opened its doors in 2017, served approximately 100 students during the 2019-20 school-year and will graduate its first class of seniors this year. According to WISE, an arm of the Qatar Foundation, Dwinal-Palisch “has spent the last decade developing the instructional, operational, and financial systems for these sister organizations” referring to Oxford Teachers Academy and Oxford Day Academy (https://www.wise-qatar.org/biography/mallory-dwinal-palisch/#).
Terminated from The Reach Institute were two of its longstanding faculty members, representing two-thirds of its Instructional Leadership Academy’s faculty, Dennis Chaconas and Victoria Folks. Mr. Chaconas’ career spanned over 45 years in the bay area, from teacher to superintendent of Oakland and Alameda. Chaconas, a life-long resident of Oakland, “specialized in helping to ensure academic excellence and expanded opportunities for youth who are underserved through leadership and coaching,” according to the Reach website (https://www.reachinst.org/current-students/). Dr. Folks taught in the Bay Area for over ten years before joining the Reach Institute. After graduating from Berkeley, she started her career in education through BAYAC Americorps, eventually receiving a Fulbright-Hays Grant for Educators and mentoring teachers in Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) programs.
According to current Reach ILA students who attended some of the town hall meetings, the economic “crisis” was precipitated by the school’s rejection for Title IV financial aid, a stipulation of a mysterious funder or funders, whom Dwinal-Palisch refuses to disclose. An additional objective Dwinal-Palisch presented to the board, and subsequently shared at the town halls, was a desire to fundraise $1.5 million dollars. For some perspective on where the Reach Institute is at now, and where it is going: the deficit that needed to be rectified immediately, causing the “down-sizing” of the Masters’ program (ILA) staff, according to Dwinal-Palisch, was between $150,000 and $200,000. Dwinal-Palisch also aims to increase the student body of Reach from its current 434 students, to between 1,000 and 1,500 students in the 20-21 school-year. Current students of the Masters’ program assume this dramatic increase in the student body will come from the Oxford Teachers Academy (OTA). OTA is the program Dwinal-Palisch brought to the Reach Institute, an online BA program developed by Palisch with a mission “to fill rural teacher shortages by enabling local residents to become high-quality, credentialed teachers”, according to the website (https://oxfordteachersacademy.org/).
Students and former alumni, numbering over seventy, most of whom work in Bay Area public schools as leaders, (principals and vice principals), signed letters of disapproval of the “restructuring” of their program and sent them to Dwinal-Palisch and the Reach Board on September 22nd. Current students are most concerned about their ability to complete their programs, the most comprehensive of which involves three-years and allows its graduates to receive a Masters in Instructional Leadership and a California Clear Administrative Credential.
Furthermore, students in the ILA feel as if “the heart” of the program has been removed. The letter sent by current students reads,
Without the guidance of our mentors, we will be markedly less effective…Removing our seasoned coaches mid-year is a blow not only to the Reach program, and to our own professional growth, but to our school communities, our students and their families…As educators, we are demoralized. It appears that the new leadership of the Reach Institute has either an extremely limited understanding of school leadership or very little respect for it. These changes appear to us to signal a dramatic shift from the values of the Reach Institute in which we enrolled.
As one student in the first year of the program put it, “A lot of people are scared. They can’t afford any other programs in the Bay Area.” At least one candidate needs to maintain their status in the program in order to continue their leadership position.
Dwinal-Palisch has stated that the board meeting to be held on October 8th will allow for only 15 minutes of public comment “to ensure that the board has adequate time for its own internal reflection and discussion.” If no changes come about as a result of the meeting, it is likely that many of the nearly 30 students in the ILA/ masters’ program will take the option offered to them by Dwinal-Palisch and drop the program for a full refund before the October 15th deadline. Additionally, alumni, who represent at least a dozen partnerships with Reach’s teacher induction and intern credential programs in schools across the Bay Area, are threatening to take their teachers elsewhere.