By Jumoke Hinton, Co-Founder of SoBEO and West Oakland Grown Initiatives
As the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education prepares for the new school year, will they take time to reflect on their effectiveness? Will they reflect on the tension present whenever they are working together? The public sees a very disjointed and antagonistic school board beginning with how they treat each other and the public, especially community members that don’t push the same ideology as the dominant voices on the Board.
I have never experienced public officials refusing meaningful engagement with citizens that disagree with them.
There is a very evident divide that is us against them. Sides are often clashing and talking over each other. The entrenched experience of ideologies makes it hard for discourse and nearly impossible for consensus, a consensus that should be grounded in what is best for all students, and where student outcomes should be the only focus of the OUSD Board.
As an Oakland resident, voter, and parent who has engaged Oakland’s public school system with four amazing children and served on the OUSD Board of Education for 12 years, I along with so many other parents have the right to demand accountability of elected officials.
While we are interested in accountability to ensure academic and healthy development for our children, we are also deeply concerned with whether or not we have a Board of Education that understands their role as members and stewards of the community’s vision and values on Oakland public education. We have little evidence of the clarity of vision and values our board should represent for all of Oakland’s children.
I am only interested in the school board fiercely serving the mission of the Oakland Unified School DIstrict: Exist to Improve Student Outcomes. From my perspective, some board members have demonstrated a greater interest in campaigns of activism, supporting special interests, and even weaponizing social justice tactics and rhetoric.
The Board needs to get focused during this retreat on exactly that: improving student outcomes. I am writing, hoping this retreat might inspire trust in the school board. They must spend time evaluating their behaviors. I recommend a simple exercise: Quiet yourself and play back the tape in their own minds. How have they spent their time? How many of those board meetings spent 50% of their time discussing student outcomes? I believe they spend less than 10% of their time monitoring student progress. Do your own math at the next meeting and prove me wrong!
On average, the Board meetings are 10 hours, held twice a month, and citizens looking on are often aghast at the display of leadership.
This must change.
There has been a considerable amount of mounting division and behaving in ways that directly impact the agency of young people. These unfocused behaviors trickle down throughout the organization and impact classrooms, where children spend most of their time learning and growing!
I hope the retreat will allow them to focus on young people being educated in Oakland as opposed to what they bicker about in their public meetings.
The Board can benefit from having a space to be honest with each other to get focused on improving their governance practice. And learn their time must be spent on the board focused on benefiting students.
One final note: Here is a definition of retreat, taken right from a Google search. Retreat is the act of giving up and withdrawing or a time away in a quiet and secluded place where you can relax. An example of a retreat is when a military force gives up their efforts to gain land and goes home. An example of a retreat is a weekend at a spa where you go to rest and relax.
Let me add my definition: Reflect on Your Behavior and Improve!! Be the Genesis of Transformation!