ELECTION 2022: Mayoral Candidate Allyssa Victory Villanueva Answers to Students in her Interview with Great School Voices

Allyssa Victory (born Villanueva) was raised in North Oakland and has since lived in every district of Oakland and overcome homelessness as a youth. Allyssa has devoted her entire career to advocacy on behalf of the public interest and underserved communities starting with clothing and food distribution with her West Oakland church and as a social justice student organizer with Oakland’s Youth Together. Allyssa is a civil rights leader, educator, and licensed attorney serving across the Bay Area and state of California. She holds a B.A. with Honors in Ethnic Studies and minor in Black Studies as well as her law degree concentrated in Government. Allyssa currently practices in policing and labor law and is an elected ADEM Delegate to the CA Democratic Party for Assembly District 18. Allyssa recently defended our democracy by successfully fighting her illegal disqualification from the ballot.  Allyssa will be the first Black woman elected to Mayor of Oakland.

Great School Voices sat down with Victory (Villanueva)to ask her some questions on behalf of Oakland’s students.

ED REFORM PLANS: The state of public education in Oakland has been in crisis for generations, and with the pandemic, it has only gotten worse, with estimates being that half of high school students haven’t returned.  What will you try differently to improve the outcomes for us students, and how will you measure your success?

I’m Allyssa Victory Villanueva, number seven on the ballot. I’m a lifelong Oaklander, and I grew up in North Oakland. My mother was a teacher. She’s taught at public programs like Almighty County Head Start, but also in private preschools in Oakland. She decided to put me in in Berkeley Unified Schools growing up. That wasn’t a choice that I made, but one she made as an education professional who knew decades ago that our District was failing poor and low income students, was failing Black students to serve us equitably and to graduate us at the same rates and prepare us for college. 

So she put me in a different district and I had to commute to school by bus and BART. I’ve experienced first-hand the failure of our District, the low quality schooling and not being able to go to the school that was in my immediate neighborhood that I could just walk to.

I know the burden first hand that put on me as a student. That commute time and not being connected to the neighborhood around my school and having a whole different community that I went home to as well as my family and other folks in my neighborhood and my church that were all commuting.

As mayor, things that I want to do differently is I want to have a strong partnership with our School Board. The city is separate from the School Board, but our entities still serve the same population.  The families and students don’t necessarily say, “oh, I’m on city land versus school district land.” We’re all serving the same populations. Once students get to school, they are in the hands of our teachers. When they leave, they’re walking our city streets. They’re using our public transit.  They depend on our social services. And so I want to increase partnership, transparency, and planning so that we have a comprehensive plan for how we’re going to serve, how we’re going to address the deep inequalities and understand what the city’s job is to ensure we’re investing in neighborhoods that have been long underserved. 

That we’re investing in cleaning up cities, infrastructure and having safe pedestrian walkways to pick up their children around school. That the School Board is being accountable. Fiscally transparent. That they’re actually engaging with communities and with families before they’re making life altering decisions like closing schools.

I do also support reparative investments to help remedy the students and the families that have already been harmed by the decades of inequitable policies, programs, and the other numbers that we’ve seen coming out of the District. So that’s kind of a summary of having a stronger partnership, more transparency, and I’m committed to delivering high quality services for all the things that touch on our schools and our families. 

SCHOOL CLOSURES: What is your stance on school closures? How do you think Oakland should make sure that students don’t fall through the cracks as schools get larger with consolidation? 

I am opposed to public school closures and the current ones that are proposed.  I opposed them over the last several years when the district has threatened to close schools. I’ve seen and heard the parents, I’ve heard their pleas. I’ve heard the students who do not want to be moved, who don’t want to be consolidated, who will have more burdens to get to school, to access services, and to feel safe, or that they’re in environments that they know and they’re used to. Their teachers, their friends, their counselors. It creates such a disruption in education when you’re closing entire schools of communities, and it also affects not only the students, but the teachers, the staff that may be laid off or have their job shifted elsewhere. I think that there is a real failure to again engage the community, to be transparent, to give people real time and resources of how to make that shift. 

I’m hearing things like, we’re just going to pay for buses to take students somewhere else. I don’t know what happened to all of our school buses in the first place because I depended on AC transit. Even all the schools I’ve visited on this campaign, I’ve taken the bus to visit them. Usually I’m late because the bus is packed with students trying to get to school. So I like us investing more in public school buses and that service but I still haven’t seen real plans and we still haven’t seen that planned in partnership with the students and families that are affected. 

Short answer is that I oppose school closures.  I support rescinding the resolution that has approved the current closures and again, investing in actually keeping more schools open, more education and resource centers, even adult education centers. I don’t think there’s such a thing as too many schools. We should have accessible places of learning for every single person in this community, especially greater investments in special needs students, special ed and students again that have been long underserved.

TRUANCY: Truancy is a pressing issue for a lot of Oakland students who see their friends and classmates become a part of the juvenile justice system, essentially putting a young person through the school to prison pipeline.  Do you think there should be an alternative solution for addressing truancy and what would that be? 

Short answer is yes. There should definitely be alternatives to incarceration of our youth. I work as a criminal justice attorney at one of the most well known civil rights organizations, and we provided data studies around police and juvenile referrals of our youth in OUSD. There are stark disparities — 50 times the rate that Black students are being referred to our juvenile system than white students. So that’s already happening. I don’t want to continue those same policies of inequitable criminalization of our students, especially based on race. I want to invest more in restorative justice programs. We have to have youth employment. 

A lot of youth do not go to school because they are working, because they are homeless, because their families are struggling economically, and they are being expected to provide. Some students stay home because they’re childcare givers or caregivers for their own siblings or for other children in their family. I started working when I was a junior in high school. I was working to help pay bills, to help my mother put gas in her car so that she could take me to school or take herself to work. Having that understanding that youth are dealing with a lot of things that adults are. They’re not able to just go to school and just be in school for their six, eight hour day. They are being tasked with holding responsibilities that we are but don’t have the same power and they don’t have the same rights around employment or those things.

So, we need to make sure that their needs are being met with housing, with economic opportunity, with safety, and as well as with health, so that they can be fully present, so that they want to engage. I don’t believe people are simply trying to skip school, but once they start getting in that habit, more things can happen when our youth are not present at school. I absolutely believe there needs to be more resources around restorative justice and also engaging the families. What is happening with the families? Is there family counseling? We need more actual school counselors and school therapists that can help address what is happening and intervene before we go to law enforcement. 

I think holistically it is building back trust and demonstrating that we’re improving the quality and the service. Again, even my own godchild attends private school in Berkeley. That was his parents choice that I don’t have the power to change. Again, decades later, from when my mother was making this choice, people are still choosing to send their children out of the district to commute 30 minutes, an hour, 2 hours to other districts. If we’re delivering, if we are keeping our schools open, staffed, and resourced, then I think we’ll see our enrollment increase at some of these schools and shift some of the narrative. I’ve been told that some parents aren’t allowed to enroll their children at schools that are being slated for closure. Again, there’s a lack of some accountability and transparency in what the community actually wants to do versus where they’re being forced to enroll their children. 

DUMP THE D: Where do you stand on Dump the D, a campaign dedicated to making D a failing grade so that students can retake courses and get a C or higher so that they will be eligible for UCs, which consider D a failing grade? What are your plans on giving students more information about what it takes to be eligible for a UC before it’s too late? 

I do support the Dump the D campaign. I think it can even go further. I mean, we’re seeing even colleges dump standardized testing and all types of requirements and move to a more holistic review of applications instead of just GPA and extracurriculars. I’ve been helping my college, UC San Diego, revise our application requirements to ensure that we were admitting more students from diverse and low income backgrounds, understanding that many high schools don’t have AP and honors classes, don’t educate around the A through G requirements, or enable students to prepare themselves for matriculation to higher ed. I absolutely support the campaign and again think it can go further in reforming how we’re holding our youth to grades and numbers versus actually providing pathways for them to continue their learning journey, to continue their careers and ensure there’s equity behind it. 

For the A through G requirements, I feel like this is common sense. This is a requirement for college. Every public school student, and even private school student, should be fully educated all throughout their entire high school years. There should be required seminars at every school.  There should be orientation that includes this.   It shouldn’t be optional to take these courses because students needs to really fully understand what state you might find yourself in at the end of graduation if you are not going to take the A through G.  That should be the standard so that everyone is taking them so they are college eligible. 

Not necessarily everybody wants to or is prepared to go to college straight out of high school, but just to be eligible is key. They can’t cram in all the classes senior year. So there needs to be higher levels of expectation. I think just a standard expectation that students will take them, that they know what they are, that families are educated on them, and that we’re actually getting out the information in multiple languages. Multiple forms. Meeting families where they’re at.  When they’re picking their kids up from school.  If they’re coming to PTA or Back to School Night. Ensuring that it’s talked about early and that people have adequate access. 

On the city side, I’m committed to partnering more with our School Board as well as our County Superintendents of Education, to have more educational consortiums, to have updates even at our city meetings from our education side of what they’re doing, what campaigns they’re running, and how people can get information. 

SAFE SCHOOLS: What do you think is the appropriate balance in making schools a safer place without criminalizing students? How do you think schools should address threats of shootings?

I really want to recognize the 10 year long police free school movement that was run by Black organizing projects that culminated in the George Floyd Resolution passed by OUSD to remove our school police department. Again, facts and data show high referral rates of Black and Brown students, and poor students being put in the juvenile system, and the extreme racial disparity, as well as students who have been shot, who have been harmed by our school’s police.

Again, simply,  law enforcement is not the answer. We need more violence prevention around our schools. 

I’m talking to teachers that were part of the King Estates campus shooting that happened last month. Some of those teachers are still traumatized, are not able to come back to work, are on leave and seeking mental health resources.  I’m like, if our teachers can’t get the time they need off, can’t get the resources they need, then how are our students getting it? And who is filling in those gaps while our teachers are healing?

We need more healing, trauma-informed care resources, and again school counseling. We need restorative justice. We need violence prevention tactics like nonviolent communication and deescalation training. We need people to heal so that the violence doesn’t continue, because it is cyclical. 

They’re saying that some of the recent shootings at our schools were gang related. That is definitely cyclical violence that includes retaliatory violence for people that may have been involved. And we’ve had youth groups that have been on that campus intervening already, doing community circles, healing circles. Those are things we need more of, that we need to make a model across the district that is meeting our youth where they’re at, understanding they live in violence even when they’re leaving school. Again, some of them are learning violence even through our law enforcement, who negotiate a lot of our problems with guns and with weapons. 

We need to also remove guns from our youth and from our streets. Gun buyback programs have proven to be very successful. The last one our city had was in 2019. Again, we need to have more of those investments in programs that have already been successful, to partner with community healers and the youth orgs that have already been doing this work for decades. I was a part of Youth Together in Oakland. We had Unity Day assemblies when there were race riots on our campuses with Black and brown students fighting each other. We infused ethnic studies, healing, and really educated our students around stopping the cycles of violence, of hate, of racism. I absolutely want to invest more in violence prevention, but violence is still happening, and so we need to also heal and make sure that people have the tools they need to not reproduce violence or get into the cycle of it. 

MEASURE QQ: What will you do to make sure that Measure QQ is implemented next election, considering the let down that we cannot vote this November?  What can you do to encourage youth civic engagement and involve youth in your role considering we cannot vote? 

I was a proud sponsor of Measure QQ. I canvassed for it. I’ve even had youth interns this summer, early in the year, who were educating other students who were setting up at libraries and schools. We were so disappointed when we found out the county was not prepared to implement this law we passed two years ago, and that we’re looking at a 2024 implementation date. That Measure is supposed to empower our youth, but also our undocumented families and people who have not been able to vote in other elections such as non-citizens who are supposed to have the power to vote in our School Board because schools and education affect everybody. 

And this was revolutionary. Oakland was the first to pass this law, and I am committed to seeing that it’s fully implemented by working with our County Registrar, by working with our City Clerk.

I have a lot of experience already because I went through a lot of drama just to get on this ballot, as I had to fight my way through illegal disqualification.  I am a government attorney. I am a Democratic leader who registers people to vote and educates them on their rights every single day. I will continue to do that with our youth so that they’re prepared, fully prepared and ready to register by this implementation in 2024. 

I’ve also been working with our Oakland Youth Advisory Commission to do education at our public schools. We had a Love our People Oakland kind of ethnic studies educational event last year. I’m committed to empowering that Commission to help lead our partnerships with the school district, our engagement with young people, and absolutely strengthen our civic engagement and voter registration. 

Youth really trust each other. They know how to mobilize on social medias in ways that us adults do not or maybe out of touch with the newest songs or the newest apps. And so we really need to lean into our amazing youth power, our youth leaders, the youth that got that law passed. Right? I’ll continue to work with them and let the youth lead us and make sure that they are informed on their rights and that their rights are protected. 

Do you have any closing words or final statement that you want to make?

Yes, this is a really critical election. The Mayor seat is open, our School Board seats are open, our Council seats are open, our DA seat is open. We have a chance to not change just our city, but the way our education is running, the way our legislation happens, the way that criminal justice happens at the county level. All of those are interconnected to address our public safety issues, our education issues, even our housing issues. I’m committed already to working with leaders in all of these seats. I am a civil rights lawyer who works in 48 out of 58 counties in this state. I am from Oakland and have experienced personally our failures to pay teachers and our failures to deliver equitable education and to be able to go to school in my own city, at my neighborhood school. 

I’m running so that other families don’t have to struggle and suffer through some of those things that I’ve lived through. I’m running because I have the professional expertise and connections. I’m already on the ground working with students, working with our teachers, as well as with our School Board members before I’m elected. Regardless of if I am Mayor, I’ll continue to show up for our young people and to work to implement things like Measure QQ so that our youth have more power in the future of our city, because they will inherit every decision that our leaders are making. I love that Oakland can become a place where we have such strong youth leadership and a youth voice, not just at their own tables, but at City Hall at our decision making, and the Mayor’s advisories. 

So, I thank you for giving me the time to share a bit more about myself and this campaign. We’ve got less than one week to go. My website is victoryforoakland.com if people want to learn more about me and my policies and background. And I am number seven again on your ballot. And this is a ranked choice election, where you have up to five votes for Oakland mayor.

For more information on their candidacy, check out their candidate website linked here and additional information at FIA Oakland.

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