Loren Taylor is a third-generation Oaklander, proudly serving as the Oakland’s District 6 Councilmember, where he takes a practical, data-driven approach to solving Oakland’s complex challenges. Loren’s accomplishments as Councilmember includes eliminating race and gender-based contracting disparities through his Local Business Empowerment Through Contracting legislation, establishing Liberation Park with the Black Cultural Zone, growing local entrepreneurs through the ESO Ventures Program, securing funding for green spaces and projects, and working with diverse property developers so that development does not lead to the displacement of BIPOC residents. Loren holds a master’s in biomedical engineering from University of Connecticut and an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He launched Custom Taylor Solutions, a social impact consulting firm based in Oakland that works with nonprofits and small businesses to improve outcomes for disadvantaged communities. Loren lives in East Oakland with his wife, Dr. Erica Taylor, and their children, Camryn and Manny.
Great School Voices sat down with Taylor to ask him 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?
The first thing is just to agree and acknowledge that our school system is not performing. It’s actually failing a significant number of our young people when it comes to the outcomes, when it comes to setting our kids up for success, and achieving their full potential from cradle to career. We’ve got a number that we are leaving behind, and that’s not acceptable. When it comes to the City and its role, I do not buy into the belief or the perspective that the City is separate from the school district in a way that we can just throw up our hands and say, “Hey, we’ll let you guys take care of education while we take care of everything else.” It’s all interconnected. The wraparound services, the infrastructure, the safe passages to school, after school programs, the early childhood education leading up to school, the workforce development connection to careers, these are all things that really intersect with the typical eight to 3:15pm school day that our kids experience.
For me, it is important that the Mayor takes an active role and the City takes an active role in supporting the pipeline of education for our young people. Specific things that I intend to do is really make sure that the City and the dollars that we do spend around these wraparound support services are done effectively with a goal of setting our young people up for success. We have the Head Start program that we fund and operate that is supposed to prepare our kids for kindergarten. We’ve got to make sure that it’s doing its job and is accessible and affordable to those families who need it most and getting that leg up and that support relative to preparedness for K through twelfth grade. Also with the after school programs, many folks don’t recognize that 3% of our general fund is dedicated by law to programs that our children and their families.
It’s called the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth. That is one that we can’t simply just give money to our favorite nonprofits or those who may have been doing some type of work for a long time and may no longer be relevant, or valuable, or providing the effectiveness that our kids and their families need. We’ve got to make sure that we’re outcomes oriented so that we are addressing everything from academic enrichment to extracurricular arts programming, restorative justice, career pathways, and everything in between. One example of how the City and its resources can better be used to support the infrastructure that’s happening in the classrooms is the work that my Office has done from District 6 when it comes to partnering with the Sustainable Urban Design Academy at Castlemont High School.
This is a program where our young people are given the training, instruction and projects that support them in becoming designers, urban planners, and understanding what it means to plan for and build the next generation’s neighborhoods, infrastructure, buildings and communities. What we were able to do was identify specific sites within District 6 and use those as class projects. Bringing city staff in to guide our kids in everything from zoning analysis, survey creation, production, to engaging with the community, to learning CAD programming, to design buildings and infrastructure, presenting to developers and contractors and city staff their ideas, and then actually taking those ideas and concepts and actually moving forward in a tangible way so that we’ve actually got building design that is a result of this partnership with our young people on a project that they were able to develop and create. It’s that intentionality, that use of city assets, opportunities, personnel to augment what happens in the classroom that we also have to look for as additional opportunities.
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?
With respect to school closures, I think it’s important to acknowledge that if we keep a school open, but we don’t bring any more resources to support our kids who in many schools, 75% of them are performing below grade level, then we will continue to perpetuate the lack of success, the disparities and poor educational outcomes. If we close a school and simply send kids to another school but don’t invest in the education, the academic outcomes to really change the trajectory are still going to fail our kids. I think the school closure debate is one that misses the mark. We need to be focused on student enrichment, academic performance improvement, and educational disparities discussions. That’s what we need to focus on. We’re going to have to invest more resources into helping our kids move from below grade level to grade level and then surpassing that. That’s the focus that I think we need to have. That’s the focus that we’ve got to bring on outcomes versus these, I will say, side conversations that miss the mark on actually setting young people up for success.
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?
I think the first part with addressing truancy is supporting our young people and their families. Because when young people are supported, their families are engaged, their parents are focused on what’s going on, you have less truancy. You have more folks who see the opportunity, the reason for going to school, staying in school and expanding. When our young people do happen to take the wrong path and potentially get involved with alternative lifestyles that take them away from school and the pathway towards academic and career success, we’ve got to be able to flag that and bring additional resources through relationships. The relationships are key. The standard setting is important. And so those are, I think, some of the things that I would focus on.
Also, our kids have to be motivated to come to school, so we’ve got to give them more of what will help support their interest, enthusiasm and being able to see the pathway for them, to give them sort of the delayed gratification that comes from the investment that we need to make into the K through twelve system.
To get more participation in schools, we got to address the dropout rate. Some kids simply leave school without an alternative, simply because the system isn’t working for them. It’s not engaging and it’s not setting them up. The high school dropout rate is something that we’ve got to address. I think the other side of the coin in terms of why people don’t attend public schools is because our public schools are not attractive, they’re not competitive. When parents have the means to send their kids to a school that does perform better for them, that does set their children up to success, they take that opportunity and you can’t blame them. It’s important that we help our schools be more competitive, be more successful, and address the needs that our parents and our students are looking for so that they do make the choice to be there.
Along with that is advertising and marketing. If we’ve got incredible programs that are happening within these schools, we’ve got to sell it. We’ve got to let people know. We can’t simply let them be a best kept secret and stay under enrolled. We’ve got to build up that because when you build it up, get more momentum, get more family and parent and student engagement, that makes it even that much stronger and better.
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 am fully supportive of dumping the D. I do think that it is a worthwhile initiative. We do need to set our kids up for success and not just fail them forward, which is essentially what the D is. If it’s not going to be a grade that sets them up and allows them to springboard to what’s next, but it’s something that will just hold them back. When it comes to A through G requirements, I think it’s something we have to educate from early days. When our kids are in early elementary school, they should know what the requirements are and that I need towards the checklist. And even if I’m not there yet or not considering it for the next five, six years, it’s still something that you’re aware exists and is out there as a checklist.
It’s also important to partner with parents. Parents need to understand these things so that they can be empowered and advocate. It’s got to be embedded with our administrators and teachers as well so that they’re not neglecting to inform or reinforce or guide curriculum and student pathways.
This is one that needs to be led by the school district that is, I think, key. As we have our workforce development programs, as we have our career pathways, as we have other recreational centers and the programs that they offer, I think that’s the opportunity for us to prepare and support. You also look at the interface with our Head Start program. The supports that are provided there and then it’s also got to be partnered with the County’s. The County has Fathers Corps that focuses on preparing young men to be fathers. There are plenty of workforce training, skill development programs that exist,they should also acknowledge and help to inform around those requirements so that it’s not a mystery and everyone knows what they’re ultimately working towards.
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?
Having police in schools is something that we do need to adhere to, but we also have to have a response team that is ready when something goes down. Just as we had bullets flying in our classrooms at King Estates campus earlier this year, we have to make sure that should that unfortunate situation occur, that we have officers and those trained and equipped to respond do so to keep students from being harmed and eliminate and minimize potential injury.
I think it’s also important to acknowledge that when it comes to violence on campus, they don’t occur in a vacuum. We’ve got to be able to strengthen and reinforce with an early detection system those things that are happening and what’s actually potentially brewing, so that we can have the extra attention and start to engage with deeper relationship and understanding of what is happening so that a situation like that can be curbed and kept from escalating.
I’d say the other thing to focus on is, unfortunately, with the George Floyd Act that the school district adopted, we did not have an MoU or a plan or agreement on how OUSD would end up working with the police department or the City’s Department of Violence Prevention and others, given that they had disbanded their police department.
The George Floyd Act is the Act two years ago where there was a lot of advocacy that called on the school board to eliminate Oakland Unified School District’s police force. What I’m referring to is that when it was eliminated, protocols, processes, communications all changed because now the Oakland Police Department is responsible when things get out of hand. And for some of those things, hopefully a majority of those things that OUSD had previously called on their own police department to respond to, the goal was for that to be addressed with non police responders, non police staff on site and on campus. hat just required a whole new set of protocols, arrangements, agreements, relationships, standards, and that wasn’t formalized between the different agencies who now have to share more of this responsibility.
That is a huge miss. For me, it is critically important that we expeditiously, hopefully even before I take office, establish a memorandum of understanding between these different groups that outlines how they will work together both on the prevention side and the response side when it comes to things that may be brewing or occurring.
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?
Yes. I think my understanding is that the reason Measure QQ wasn’t implemented is because of the cost. We voted for this change, but no one actually assessed and identified how much it would cost to change the voting systems or add to the databases and other things that would occur. That is, unfortunately, the reality of people who are kind of advancing policies, but leaving out a portion of the work when it comes to implementing them. It’s one thing to set a goal, it’s another thing to actually lay down the foundation in order to make that happen. For me, it’s important that where the public, the voters have already spoken, that we make sure to do what’s necessary to resource, implement and support those visions and strategies coming to reality. That means that we’re going to have to find the dollars for it in order to upgrade the County systems.
I think they balked at it because the County is saying, “Hey, this is an Oakland measure, therefore Oakland should pay for it.” Oakland has not had the resources and looked at the County as “Hey, this is a Registrar’s voter’s function versus a city function.” There’s too much finger pointing going on, and as a result, we need to just force folks to sit down in a room, understand the cost, the implications, and come up with a way to get it done.
Do you have any closing words or final statement that you want to make?
I think it is great to have students engaged in a way that they are understanding the nuances, the challenges, the realities, obstacles and opportunities that exist within our City. I think the lens that our young people bring is one that we’ve got to take advantage of more often. I look forward to in my next role, hopefully as Oakland’s next Mayor, to continue partnering with our young people, strengthening those relationships and tapping into your lens, your expertise and your energy in order to advance Oakland forward. That’s really what it’s about. I will say the other thing is it’s never too early to get involved, be active, and transform the community that you’re in.
Voting is one important responsibility, but there are others that I encourage everyone to take advantage of, whether it’s participating on a Board or commission, youth commission, for instance, whether it’s engaging with a nonprofit to help advance their mission and their goals to help improve our community, or even initiating their own efforts. And so I encourage you to continue to explore the opportunities and get involved because we need you.