Guest Voice on School Closures: What is going on in Oakland?

Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, A SOBEO (State of Black Education Oakland) member speaks on her feelings about the current state of Oakland.

I’ve always experienced Oakland as a deeply-rooted land of diversity brimming in both culture and intellect. 

Currently, it feels like folks have lost Oakland’s vision. Our city’s governing bodies are tearing down carefully-built trust and alliances. Somewhere along the line, these bodies have decided they are speaking for the people. However what is happening is that they are refusing to speak with communities that have a diversity of thought. Oakland’s school board only demonstrates hatred and contempt for anyone who makes choices that are opposite to their ideology.

While serving on the board, I’ve seen this tactic practiced first-hand and have been victim to it. I’ve witnessed the established norms and standards for engagement be entirely ignored. I believe over the last five years, we’ve watched a picture-perfect display of sociopathic racist and harmful leadership in our nation. And now we’re living in another period of backlash. Threats of violence if we don’t all agree. A mob mentality. A group of people that prefer alternative facts. It has become dangerous that elected officials are using a social justice rhetoric to run for office but do not represent ALL people. We’re living amid economic and racial inequality and a public health emergency. We need representation for all people. The work of our elected officials is to discern the vision and establish collective goals that can be worked towards for the betterment of all.

Currently, Oakland’s elected school board is revealing the lack of collective governance with scattered priorities and disgraceful behavior in the public view. They violate norms left and right. What is most disheartening is watching young people who don’t represent any diversity of thought, follow right along. Youth should not be used as empty vessels to pour talking points into. If we don’t recognize the critical moment we are in, our city’s education system will continue to be in shambles.  Some students and families are reimagining how they are educated by using full-spectrum tools, and opportunities for liberatory practices. Some young people are doing the research and demanding better access to college and career prep and opting for community-based courses of study.

It’s an election year and good folks have already bowed out of investing in Oakland. I’m convinced that if the same power brokers are attempting to run education from the legislature to city council,  state school boards, and unions, time will not be spent on students’ success. Waiting for another cycle only enables them to build a stronger base that doesn’t discern information or demand for improvement in the lives of young people. Their tactics have not served young people in Oakland. 

I’m influenced by my favorite intellects and practitioners in education like the 8 Black HandsThe Oakland REACH, and Families in Action. They ask first How Are the Children?

They offer Solutions! Here’s what you can do:

  • Be agentic! You’re entitled to your opinion beliefs but not entitled to create your facts to suit you!
  • Set a vision and the solutions for children to find joy in learning and be successful.
  • Lift your Voice don’t be marginalized because of the educational choices you make. Your vote matters and any candidate you believe will honor what school systems exist to do and will govern accordingly – Support Strong Candidates.
  • Engage and empower youth to speak for themselves, they are the best advocates for what quality education means to them.
  • Donate to campaigns where you can trust people will govern well. Not just emotional politicians who spew rhetoric with no connection to the education of young people.
  • Get real Information in the 2022 and 2024 elections from reputable sources. Commit to the facts. 

Beyond the noise, Black, brown, Indigenous, South East Asian, and Pacific Islander communities are focused on liberation. They are on their own —educating and loving themselves. We can turn the tide in local politics with better governance and full participation by the people. Ultimately we can only expect things to get noisier but we have the power to speak out on the truth and win against bad actors. 

I served for 12 years on the Governing Board in Oakland California —and I was dedicated. After a year and a half of reflection, I centered myself on what a privilege was placed before me to serve the children of Oakland. I come from a long line of educators and it was my honor to serve and carry on this legacy.  

The more sobering reflection was as school board members and like so many across the nation, we are distracted by the myriad of problems and opportunities within the American school system. There is little focus on student outcomes and instead of greater focus on adult outcomes and needs. I was guilty of it as it’s easy to become hyper-focused on teacher salaries and the construction of buildings.

We should demand that school board members are singularly focused on student outcomes. Let’s begin utilizing  6-8 hours every other Wednesday on measuring all the inputs and activities meant to ensure student success. Spend 6-8 hours holding on to the community vision you were elected to represent. A change in mindset —6-8 hours every other Wednesday— can better serve students. 

We should support the professional development and training of school board members. And to be very specific – beyond Robert’s Rules of Order – although I’d say Oakland right now could benefit from simply having some order during Board meetings, we have entered a time in educational history where we must demand good governance. This is to ensure that there is adequate investment in school board leaders that hold the most precious resources and assets in any city, rural or suburban school district, our children.

As we continue to realign and rethink how best public education should and must serve Oakland children, it will be everyone’s responsibility to lift the values and vision of the community and focus on goals to uphold the vision; with the expressed purpose of students achieving success.

                     Student Outcomes won’t Change until Adult Behaviors Change.* 

These wise and simple words have become my mantra since the end of 2020. I hope that you will begin to repeat this mantra and behave accordingly. 

* AJ Crabill the call in the Guru of School Board Governance.

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